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THE TERRIBLE RIDDLES A SCHOOLBOY SOLVED

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Full Name: Alan Ross
Nationality: British
Organization: British Secret Service
Occupation Other - Schoolboy

Creator: Unknown
Time Span: 1936 - 1936

ABOUT THE SERIES

Alan Ross is a code-breaker with the British Secret Service.

I started to write 'agent' but realized that would be too big a stretch considering that the young man is only 15 years old and does not actually take part in field work. What he does is break the complex cyphers that he is given, often in remarkably short time, much to the amazement of the adults who come calling.

His father, John Ross, had been a police detective for many years and had earned a reputation with the underworld as someone to be feared and avoided. The last couple of years, however, he "ceased to be engaged in active police work" as he had been attached to the Secret Service and "his life these last few years had been more dangerous than ever before".

Ross Sr., codenamed Number 49, answers to Sir Anthony Fairway, head of the agency. It is Fairway who sees the tremendous potential in Ross Jr. and calls upon him ofte.

Alan Ross's entry into this line of work came when his father had given up trying to crack a short but vital intercepted message. In just a matter of a couple of minutes, young Ross had decrypted the text which gave his father the answer to how to snatch an international criminal and spy who was trying to sneak back into England.

Dear old Dad initially marked it up to a fluke but young Ross disagreed, telling his father, "I have always been interested in ciphers and codes. I have never found one yet that's made me really think". At that point, to let his son prove himself John Ross handed him a previously broken message, one that took the elder man "a whole after to decipher". Alan Ross had it cracked in a matter of a couple of minutes. The same held for several more tests. While his father was astonished, the teen shrugged off his gift as "just a way of passing an idle half-hour or so".

The wily Sir Anthony, when told of the boy's prowess, decreed that it was "the last brick in the structure [he'd] been patiently building for months". That plan included the establishment of a special listening post in an area of England that has the best reception. That place was the school of Mountcliffe, a prep-school of the finest reputation. In one of the buildings he sets ups a secret base where radio telegraph operators "tap many code messages passing between foreign governments, the messages passing between foreign secret service men, and very often the secret messages passing between gangs of international crooks". Those operators, however, had no skills in decoding these messages, which is where young Ross came in.

Ross is thrilled with the offer; not only can he expect to get loads of challenging puzzles to solve, he gets to attend a prestigious prep school, something that had been beyond his expectations.

He will find, though, that there will be a good number of challenges. He cannot let anyone, not fellow students or teachers, know what he is doing 'on the side' and he is expected to drop everything when an important message is received to be decoded. This will lead to punishments (caning!) and harassment and more. He will also find there are a good amount of skullduggery going on at that school.

NOVELLAS AND SHORT STORIES

Number of Stories:20
First Appearance:1936
Last Appearance:1936

       According to Wikipedia: "The Hotspur was a British boys' paper published by D. C. Thomson & Co. From 1933 to 1959, it was a boys' story paper; it was relaunched as a comic in October 1959, initially called the New Hotspur, and ceased publication in January 1981."
       In its initial run the magazine came out weekly (except during and just after WWII) and amazed an impressive 1,197 issues. In its second run, it would continue on for another 1,111 issues.
       In both iterations of the magazine, it was consistently an anthology with each issue have several series going on. Many were serialized so each issue would have a part of the whole story while most were single-issue adventures, like this series.

1 The Code Expert The Code Expert
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #137, 04/11/1936.
Describes how Alan Ross is brought into the British Secret Service as a cryptographer and sent to the fancy boy's school, Mountcliffe.
Click here to read the story.

2 The Challenge The Challenge
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #138, 04/18/1936.
Alan Ross has a run-in with the school bully, James Huckster, and they agree to meet off-campus for a fight. Ross is kept from the rendezvous by an urgent message to decrypt so his troubles with the bullies intensifies. Worse yet, one of the Masters has confined him to the Punishment Room which means getting the decoded message where it belongs gets complicated.
Click here to read the story.

3 Joe Huckster's Hunch Joe Huckster's Hunch
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #139, 04/25/1936.
"How Alan Ross disappeared, and how the whole school was turned out to search for him."
"The puzzle of the schoolboy who risks being expelled - so he can solve puzzles!"
Click here to read the story.

4 Huckster, First Reserve Huckster, First Reserve
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #140, 05/02/1936.
"How Alan Ross was forced to decode a secret message in the middle of an important cricket match."
"He's the best cricketer in the school - yet he has to be dragged out to the cricket field and forced to play!"
Click here to read the story.

5 The New Master The New Master
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #141, 05/09/1936.
"How Alan Ross got the job of seeing that one of his teachers is sacked from the school. The teacher is a spy!"
"Meet the schoolboy who got the job of getting a master the sack!"
Click here to read the story.

6 Number Seventeen Must Go! Number Seventeen Must Go!
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #142, 05/16/1936.
"The fight against Mr. Rudd continues!"
"When the brainiest burglar in Britain was betrayed by a code that lied."
Click here to read the story.

7 The Message Of Dread The Message Of Dread
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #143, 05/23/1936.
"Another terrible riddle for Alan Ross! He has to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance."
"The boy who solved Britain's biggest puzzle in the middle of a cross-country race."
Click here to read the story.

8 The Puzzle of the Porter The Puzzle of the Porter
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #144, 05/30/1936.
"Alan Ross saves hundreds of lives by solving a puzzle."
Click here to read the story.

9 The Lost Secret The Lost Secret
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #145, 06/06/1936.
"How a new spy got on the trail of Alan Ross at Mountcliffe School."
"The boy who swallowed the biggest secret of the century."
Click here to read the story.

10 The Strange Visitor The Strange Visitor
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #146, 06/13/1936.
"The murder plot against a Rajah, and how Alan Ross took the Rajah's place just before the murder was about to be committed!"
"The cricket ball that turned into a bomb! Read what happened when it was thrown to a fielder in a school cricket match!"
Click here to read the story.

11 The Mystery of John Travers The Mystery of John Travers
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #147, 06/20/1936.
"The telegram that came in the middle of a cricket match and told Alan Ross that the secret wireless room at Mountcliffe School had been discovered by a gang of spies!"
"How the biggest and most important puzzle in Britain was solved on a school cricket field."
Click here to read the story.

12 An Appointment With a Bully An Appointment With a Bully
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #148, 06/27/1936.
"How Alan Ross got himself kidnapped so he would escape being expelled."
Click here to read the story.

13 The New Sports Master The New Sports Master
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #149, 07/04/1936.
"The torch message that betrayed Alan Ross."
"The boy who proved he was 'wide awake' - by going to sleep!"
Click here to read the story.

14 Two Messages for the Secret Solver Two Messages for the Secret Solver
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #150, 07/11/1936.
"How Alan Ross and his father were both kidnapped on the same day!"
"When the secret solver found that he himself was the answer to the queerest puzzle of the year."
Click here to read the story.

15 A Ducking for Huckster A Ducking for Huckster
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #151, 07/18/1936.
"How Alan Ross was sent to the punishment room, with the threat of expulsion hanging over his head!"
"The school with eyes and ears in its walls."
Click here to read the story.

16 Alan Ross in a Fix Alan Ross in a Fix
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #152, 07/25/1936.
"A whole class of boys try to decipher one of Alan Ross's secret messages."
"The teacher who gave his class a British Secret Service message to decipher."
Click here to read the story.

17 Beware of Number 17 Beware of Number 17
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #153, 08/01/1936.
"How Alan Ross got the job of spreading disease germs through Mountcliffe School."
"The boy who held the lives of all his schoolmates in a bottle."
Click here to read the story.

18 The Mysterious Hunchback The Mysterious Hunchback
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #154, 08/08/1936.
"How Mr. Cobb resigned, and how Alan Ross used the Secret Service to make him change his mind."
"When the Fifth Formers at Mountcliffe School got the British Secret Service to help them!"
Click here to read the story.

19 The Water Wonder The Water Wonder
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #155, 08/15/1936.
"Alan Ross is 'sent to Coventry' by the whole of Mountcliffe School."
"How Alan Ross turned traitor to his school? His Form master thinks so. His pals think so"
Click here to read the story.

20 The Great Match The Great Match
Written by Unknown
Copyright: 1936

Published in Hotspur #156, 08/22/1936.
"How the secret wireless room was discovered and raided!"
"The school cricket team the deserted in the middle of a match and left to join the British Secret Service!"

MY COMMENTS

This is a fascinating look into the lives of British boys living in boarding schools during the 30s. It looked like a lot of work and little fun and the constant hazing and bullying by fellow students coupled with not infrequent caning and solitary confinement by the Masters. Ah, not for me, thank you.

The puzzle solving, as Ross think of it, vital code decrypting to us former professionals (ha!), are interesting but there is not a lot of time spent actually doing it and even less explaining the least bit about how it was done. The stories really deal with Ross's life in the halls of a prep school.

GRADE

My Grade: B-

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