THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS CAKES

In this exclusive mystery, writer Nury Vittachi, author of The Feng Shui Detective series of novels, challenges readers to solve a potentially tasty puzzle



COOKING FOR CRIMINALS is not something that most of us do regularly.

And I'm not talking about cooking for the criminally unappreciative, which is something most parents do every day. I'm talking about the time C.F. Wong, the feng shui master, had to bake cakes for an arms smuggler. It was all very distasteful---as indeed were the cakes he and his assistant ended up baking on that occasion.

But the story itself is worth telling, as it throws an interest light on how few clues you sometimes need to solve a puzzling mystery. It happened like this.

Mark Porkus, a businessman from Bogata, was bringing his family on holiday to his private luxury villa on the outskirts of Beijing.

But Interpol had found out that the real purpose of the Beijing trip was for a secret meeting with criminal masterminds from Hong Kong and Macau. Police planned to arrest all three together.

It wouldn't be easy. No one knew the interior layout of Porkus's Beijing villa --- except feng shui master C.F. Wong, who had feng shui-ed the place two years earlier for a previous owner, and who still had his hand-drawn floor plans.

Two hours before the three master criminals were due to arrive at the villa, a squadron of armed police had entered the building, taken away the staff, and planted officers throughout the building, disguised as serving staff, waiters and butlers.

Now they had nothing to do but wait for the three master villains to arrive.

Geomancer C. F. Wong and his assistant Joyce McQuinnie had hidden in the kitchen, hoping it would be the safest place to be in case a gunfight broke out.

But then came an unexpected call. The kitchen telephone jangled. Wong reluctantly picked up the handset.

"This is Johnny Bruta, Mr. Porkus's assistant," a dangerous-sounding voice barked. "Is that housekeeping? Don't forget to make a number-shaped birthday cake for each of the boss's kids. We arranged for the cake mix and stuff to be delivered this morning. We'll arrive in an hour or so. You better do a good job. The boss is not in a good mood." He rang off.

The feng shui master hurriedly transferred the job to his assistant Joyce. "Bake cakes. Woman more good at cooking," he argued.

"I'll try," she said, resigned to the fact that to men above a certain age sexism was not a crime, but a way of life. "But how many kids has Porkus got? And what are their ages?"

Neither Wong nor the police officers stationed in that part of the house knew the answers to those questions.

So they started looking for clues. A bag on the kitchen table contained two boxes of cake mix and 16 handmade candles.

"There's only enough mixture for two cakes, so I can reckon there must be two kids, and their ages must be single digits," said Joyce. "But how am I supposed to guess how old they are? How can I make number shaped cakes if I don't know which numbers? And how many candles go on each?" She sounded on the edge of panic.

Wong agreed there was a problem. "We don't have enough information."

They were stumped.

Then the kitchen phone jangled again. Once more Wong heard the voice of Mr. Porkus's assistant Johnny Bruta. "Housekeeping? Are the bedrooms ready? Don't forget. The youngest kid sleeps in the south-facing bedroom with the red duvet. See you in about 55 minutes."

Wong's eyes lit up. "Did you hear what he said? The youngest kid sleeps in the south-facing bedroom with the red duvet. Now we have the answers." He scooped up the 16 candles and started dividing them into piles.

"We do?" asked Joyce. "You worked it out using feng shui?"

The old geomancer shook his head. "No. Only I use logic."

How many children does criminal mastermind Porkus have, how many candles go on each cake, and how did Wong work it out?

Click here for the answer.