critical thinking challenge

Think Critically to Solve the Case!

You get a call late one stormy night from Scotland Yard, telling you that a car will come by to pick you up. Sherlock Holmes has requested that you assist him in solving a recent theft at the vacation residence of the Royal Family. His usual sidekick, Dr. Watson, is out sick, so Holmes is desperate for you to serve as his trusted advisor in sorting through the clues to solve this case quickly.

When you arrive on the scene, a local constable explains that a priceless, historically significant letter from Queen Victoria has been stolen off the very desk of Queen Elizabeth's study. The constable escorts you to the hallway before the study, where you find Holmes discussing the case with a local inspector.

"Not sure what you're doing here," the inspector says to you, "but as I was telling Mr. Holmes, I've already got the case figured out, and it's clear that it was that no good butler that I'm having detained over there! Since you're so new to this, I'll explain how I solved it. Pay attention - you might learn something."

"First," starts the inspector, "I discovered his tracks all over that study."

Holmes turns to you and asks, "He seems to be assuming that those tracks were made by the thief, or am I mistaken?"

"You're correct, sir, he is indeed taking this for granted."
"Incorrect, sir, he hasn't made any assumptions yet."

"Please, allow me to continue," requests the inspector. "When we questioned the butler, he was emphatic that he's 'always loved the royal family.' To me, it's obvious we're dealing with someone who's obsessed and probably stalking them, picking up valuable mementos wherever he can."

Holmes raises an eyebrow and again turns to you, "That's quite an argument he's put forward based on the butler's statement. What do you think?"

"Quite a strong argument, sir. Airtight, in fact."
"Rather weak, I must say."

"I think he may be working with a co-conspirator," continues the inspector. "We haven't found the letter on him yet, which makes me think he slipped it out the window to someone waiting outside." "Curious," remarks Holmes. "When I was looking through the room myself, I couldn't help but notice that its only window was sealed shut with paint. It looked like it hadn't been opened in years. Your thoughts on the inspector's conclusion, friend?"

"It seems to follow quite well, sir."
"It doesn't follow in the least."

"Look, you two," the inspector retorts, "I've had enough of this. We've got stolen, royal property to deal with here, and -"

Holmes interrupts, "So you would infer that because the property is valuable and missing, that it has indeed been stolen?" He turns to you, "How valid do you think that inference is, my friend?"

"It's probably true, sir - what other explanations could there be?"
"It's probably false, sir - you could also infer that it has been misplaced."

The inspector begins to turn red in the face. Before he can say anything, someone hands a piece of paper to Holmes, who reviews it, grins wryly, and then hands it to the inspector to read.

"My dear friend," he turns to you, "if that paper verifies that all servants have been in a staff meeting this entire day, and the butler is considered a servant, would my conclusion follow that the butler could not have been in this study to be stealing any such letters today?"

"Yes, sir, that conclusion most certainly follows."
"No, sir, I'm afraid you've overlooked something."
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