Getting a Clue

Murder-mystery writing is done backward. "You start with the murderee and work your way forward," says Marcia Rankin of Mirthful Mysteries, an Orlando-based mystery-writing team. Beginning with the end of the plot, she and her partner, Mario Santangelo, develop whimsical whodunits, like the one for this year's ClueLess on Las Olas murder-mystery event.

After deciding on a victim -- perhaps "a lousy comic bludgeoned to death with his own funny bone," according to Santangelo -- the writers dream up six suspects and their motives. Next come the weapon, the plot, and the clues.

Solving an imaginary crime is the goal, but according to Santangelo's corny wisdom, "The unabashed purpose of creating a mirthful murder-mystery is for us to place our own comedic stamp on the idiosyncrasies of diverse specimens of the human race. You know what a specimen is, don't you... an Italian astronaut."

The ever-quipping Santangelo writes a pun-filled plot. Rankin, a former newspaper editor, tightens the text and makes sure the facts jibe. During the past dozen years, the team approach has won the pair numerous writing and theater awards. They write interactive murder-mysteries for dinner theaters, conventions, and contests, including all four ClueLess events. During this year's event -- themed "Sweet Revenge" -- players will collect five clues from shops along Las Olas Boulevard and determine who they think dunit.

Following the two-hour sleuthing session, the final clue is given by Rankin, dressed as Madame Zelda Zodiac, "psychotic to the stars," and Santangelo, outfitted as Spam Slade. ("There's a little ham in all of us," he says.) Wily detectives, however, can track down additional clues. The suspects will wander Las Olas in costume prepared for a grilling. A word of warning, though: Their mission is to mislead. On the other hand, "snitches," identified by staff T-shirts, will gladly supply evidence -- if you grease their palms with cash. ("Bribe" money and other event proceeds will go to two Broward County educational nonprofits.)

Wannabe Sherlocks can graze at an elaborate dessert table (the "Sweet" part of the theme) for energy as they vie for the grand prize: a pair of domestic Southwest Airlines tickets.

Naturally, the event being a mystery, not much can be revealed about the case. It's safe to say, however, that clues will favor Baby Boomers. But that's the only hint you'll get from us.

-- Tomi Curtis

ClueLess on Las Olas takes place Thursday, April 22, along Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. Registration begins at 6 p.m. at the corner of SE Ninth Avenue. Cost is $30 (advance) or $35. Call 954-441-1263.

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