THE CASE OF THE CRIMINAL COLOURS

Can colours calm criminals? Novelist Nury Vittachi challenges readers to solve a mini-mystery puzzle.



One of the oddest weapons ever used for fighting crime was a house-paint color chart. That's right, one of those brochures featuring small rectangles of colour bearing names such as biscuit and ecru and sandstone and muffin.

It came about when feng shui master C.F. Wong was commissioned to renovate a house for Broken Tooth Liu and his family.

Broken Tooth Liu was a well-known criminal in Beijing. Despite this, Wong couldn't bear to turn down the commission, since he could make good money on it. The Liu family lived in a large apartment in Tiantan Park, and Wong charged by the square meter.

Wong tried to justify his acceptance of the job by maintaining that he could do a significant amount of good. He determined to use calming, positive colours and designs, which would drive out negative forces and instill some good in the "inner" beings of the villainous residents.

He ordered that the bedrooms be painted colours which would quieten the ch'i energy from the particular direction of each room, following the Eight Directions feng shui colour chart. This meant that the north bedroom would have to be pale green, the east bedroom would be lilac, the southwest bedroom pink, and the south bedroom yellow.

The actual work was hard going. The four Liu family members stood around and sneered nastily at the work. The family consisted of Broken Tooth Liu, his wife An, their son Lian, and Jin, her daughter from a previous marriage.

After a while, Wong could stand it no more. He left his assistant, Joyce McQuinnie, to oversee the repainting at the Liu apartment, while he went to work on the home of another client in Beijing.

Two hours later, Joyce sent him an SMS message from her mobile phone.

AN REFUSES 2 HVE YLLW OR GRN RM.

An hour after that, he got a second message.

JIN REFUSES 2 HVE GRN OR LILAC RM.

The third message was a bit more positive.

BTOOTH CHOSE LILAC RM.

And the fourth message suggested that things were sorting themselves out.

OK NOW. LIAN PICKD COL THAT JIN & AN REFUSED TO HVE.

Wong relaxed and busied himself with his alternative commission on the other side of town: an easy assignment in which he had to deflect some negative ch'i emanating from an odd-shaped piece of modern architecture.

But the period of peace did not last long.

In the middle of the night following the completion of the assignment, Wong received an urgent call from a police officer.

"There's been a murder in town at the Gaslight Courtyard Club," the officer said. "We've traced the two assailants back to the sixth floor of a block near Tiantan Park. We've been told you've just renovated that apartment."

Wong asked which bedrooms the suspects were in.

"Lights came on in the bedrooms to the south and the east of the apartment," the cop said. "Whose bedrooms are they?"

The feng shui master thought for a while. "That's the lilac bedroom and the yellow bedroom," he said. "But I don't know who is in which room."

"I thought you were in charge of renovation?"

"Just wait a minute."

Wong had an idea.

The four family members were Broken Tooth, An, Lian and Jin.

The four colours were green, lilac, pink and yellow.

He looked back at the four SMS messages he had received from his assistant Joyce. He realized that by thinking hard about those four messages, he could work out precisely who had which bedroom.

Within a minute he had the answer, and told the officer the names of the two suspects.

By looking at the four SMS messages, can you work out which member of the Liu family had which bedroom? Click here for the answer.