Thursday, August 31, 2017

Alfred Hitchcock Notecard: The Birds

Lorraine Masonheimer has created a series of Hitchcock-themed blank notecards to celebrate the master of suspense and the books that inspired him. The five piece set includes Rear Window, The Birds, To Catch a Thief, Dial M for Murder and Psycho. Today’s card is The Birds.

8 1/2” x 11” cream cardstock
Scrap cardstock
Dark solid color paper
Book page
6 ½” x 6 ½”
Glue dots
X-acto blade

Step One: Card Base
Cut an 8 ½” x 11” cardstock to 5 ½” x 11”. Score at 5 ½” and fold in half. Cut the dark solid paper to 5” x 5” and glue to the front of the card leaving an equal border.

Step Two: Create Templates
Using scrap cardstock, draw a 1 ¾” x 4 ½” Hitchcock. Draw a ½” x 1” bird on twigs. If desired, place your cursor over this image, right click, scroll to “Save Image As” and place it onto your computer desktop. Open a word document, create a textbox, insert the image to size, print and cut. Keep the Hitchcock outline to make the complete set of notecards.

Step Three: Trace & Cut
Take a page or copy of a page from a book (1952 The Apple Tree Collection by Daphne du Maurier would be even better selecting just the right words) and trace the outline of Hitchcock and the bird as shown. Using the x-acto blade, cut the two images from the text taking care to accentuate Hitchcock’s double chin. If desired, cut the images with the type at an angle. 

Step Four: Assemble & Embellish
Glue Hitchcock to the lower right side and the bird to the upper left side. If desired, place a red rhinestone or pearl at the birds eye. Either leave the inside blank for writing a note or “add not keeping in touch is for the birds.”

Step Five: Envelope
Glue a 5 ½” x 2” scrap of the dark colored paper to the inside flap of the envelope. Take a 5 ½” x 2” piece of left over book page, tear along the top and glue to the dark paper for a custom envelope.

Postage is extra.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Halloween Door Mats

Halloween is the official favorite holiday of Mystery Playground, as you might expect, so we start the planning as soon as possible, but not as soon as Pottery Barn. They've already got all of their Halloween merch online and these Halloween door mats are what's new this year. I love the black cat one above.  

Here's another adorable mat:

And if you want something that will work during the entire fall season, you can go for pumpkins...

William Sonoma also has a great mat for black cats fans:

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Cary Grant - Alfred Hitchcock Movie Double Feature

All month long we've been celebrating the movies of Alfred Hitchcock, ranging from martinis with Dial M for Murder to The Birds viewing party to Psycho greeting cards. Today I thought we'd hit a double header of Alfred Hitchcock movies starring Cary Grant - To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest. Both of these are perfect for the last lazy days of summer. No need to get the kitchen hot with all of that cooking. Pick up some cold chicken and beer at the store, just like Grace Kelly does in our first movie in the double feature. 

To Catch A Thief stars Grace Kelly as Grant's love interest, playing new money socialite looking for a husband to Grant's former thief with a heart of gold. The action starts when a cat burglar robs wealthy women of the jewelry on the French Riviera, just as John Robie (Grant's character) did back in the good old days before the war. The police are convinced it's Robie, and he sees no alternative than to catch the thief himself to prove his innocence. It's a race to see if the police arrest Robie, or the real burglar kills him first in this whodunnit. This movie is so easy to watch, even if you've seen it dozens of times before.

North by Northwest amps up the adrenaline as Grant's character is kidnapped when he's mistaken for a government agent. He can't convince the police that he was kidnapped, and the spies are still after him, so he goes on the run.
His love interest here is femme fatale, Eva Marie Saint and she's either a lot of trouble or in a lot of trouble. 
Here's a fun rundown of 15 things you didn't know about the movie from Mental Floss.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

Paperback Book Passport Holders

We love anything bookish and especially if it falls in the realm of Agatha Christie. These passport holders from the BagsyMeFirst Etsy store are so fun.

The store says they can make any paperback into a passport holder, but here are some of the ones they had in stock at the time of writing this post:

The Cambridge Murders - Dilwyn Rees - 1954

Buried for Pleasure - Edmund Crispin - 1948

Appointment in New Orleans - Tod Claymore - 1955

Death is no Sportsman - Cyril Hare - 1955

The Emperor's Snuff Box - John Dickson Carr - 1953

The White Priory Murders - Carter Dickson - 1954

Which one is your favorite?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Review: Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente

Kerry Hammond is here to review a new-to-her author whose book has an Agatha Christie twist.

Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente was published on July 11 in Hardcover by Quirk Books. The book's description: "A darkly clever take on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None" peaked my interest and I was curious to see if it could live up to a comparison to such a famous and memorable work. I also wanted to know how the author would change up the plot to still offer a surprise ending.

The setup includes a cast of nine comedians, at the top, middle—and bottom—of their game. They are summoned to an island to collaborate with Dusty Walker, a well-known and successful comic in his own right. Each of them immediately jumped at the chance to participate and dropped everything to be there, but when they start getting murdered, they all wish they hadn't been quite so eager. Interspersed into the action are transcripts of performances by each comedian who have, over the years, disparaged their host in one way or another, making the reader wonder if the invite wasn’t the good will attempt at a comedic collaboration that it seemed to be. The kicker is that they watched their host commit suicide on camera when they first arrived, so who is the one committing the murders....and why?

This book was oddly mesmerizing. I tend to be skeptical to claims of being just like Agatha Christie, or reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier.  When these descriptors are used, more often than not the books aren't what I would consider even remotely just like or reminiscent of those classics. But this really did read like a more modern, funny, twisted version of And Then There Were None.

Change the location to the Caribbean, substitute the judge for a comedian, the statues for framed headshots, add in some modern technology like cell phones and texting—complete with plausible reasons for their ineffectiveness—and you've got this book. The killing off of the cast, one by one, on a remote island with no outside communication really makes for a great book and Van Lente was able to keep the suspense level ramped up so that I continued to turn the pages. His writing style really appealed to me and I enjoyed this book. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Sherlock & the Smoking Gun

Did you know that Arthur Conan Doyle inspired the now cliche phrase, "smoking gun"? The words, "smoking pistol", first appeared in dialogue from Sherlock Holmes himself. 

This little tidbit was unearthed by the Mystery Playground resident librarian, Pat Hernas, and you can read all about it over on Smithsonian Magazine

Friday, August 25, 2017

Tropic of Kansas and the Michelada

Christopher Brown, the author of the dystopian novel, Tropic of Kansas, is here today mixing drinks and telling tales. Christopher was nominated for a World Fantasy Award for the anthology Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including MIT Technology Review’s “Twelve Tomorrows,”The Baffler, and Stories for Chip. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Tropic of Kansas is a dark road trip through a dystopian mirror America, in search of the better futures that might lie on the other side. It follows two characters on a journey through a barren heartland policed by citizen militias and autonomous drones: Sig, the fugitive orphan of political dissidents who gets deported from Canada back to a U.S.A. that has been walled off from the other side, and his foster sister Tania, a government investigator coerced into hunting Sig after he escapes from a Midwestern Guantanamo.  They seek sanctuary in the run-down cities and colonized countryside of a nation bled dry by greed and injustice, ultimately finding the only way to get there is by fighting to secure a new future, at great personal cost.

Yes, they stop for drinks along the way.

Tropic of Kansas is a book about borders, about the arbitrary lines on the map that define what a country is, lines that can’t change the liminality of identity no matter how thickly drawn or heavily fortified the line may be. It’s a story about regular people, the people for whom the best parts of the future are most unevenly distributed. It's a story about the land on which we live, and our relationship with it. It’s a realist dystopia, constructed from the material of the observed world. 

One of the bars Sig and his information-smuggler buddy Moco visit draws from a real place I have visited in the Texas borderlands, a place where the ingredients of other cultures thrive in the interstices of the American metropolis, hiding in plain sight, mixing with and appropriating the available material to reinvent their own reality. This cocktail is one you could probably get if you stopped for happy hour in El Agasajo, where the Mexican drone techs party after work in the industrial blocks of the St. Louis Restoration Zone. It’s cocktail that hydrates and nourishes, using simple and unpretentious ingredients.

Serve it as cold as you can, because the planet is burning.


100% agave Mexican tequila. 

Inexpensive mass-production U.S.A.-made lager beer, ideally Budweiser repackaged as America. Lone Star will also do.

Clamato, or a mix of tomato juice and clam juice.

Mexican salsa picante, such as Cholula.

Worcestershire sauce.


Himalayan sea salt.  


  • Take about a tablespoon of the sea salt and sprinkle it on a plate or cutting board. Rub sliced lime around the rim of the glass (preferably a 12 oz drinking glass) and then press the rim into the salt, encrusting it2.
  • Fill the glass with ice. They don’t need to be fancy cocktail cubes, just plain old tap water from the fridge or the cooler.
  • Fill the glass 1/3 with Clamato or a mix of tomato juice and clam juice.
  • Add one shot of tequila.
  • Add one lime’s worth of fresh lime juice, two dashes of salsa picante, and two dashes of Worcestershire sauce. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different mixes, or to add weird additional ingredients.
  • Add beer to the rim of the glass.
  • Stir the contents and enjoy the results.
  • Repeat as necessary.