Harriet the Spy, The Adventures of Mary-Kate & Ashley, Ghostwriter, Penny from Inspector Gadget, Clubhouse Detectives, Cam Jansen… if you were a child of the 90s (and even before or after), you probably enjoyed a mystery or two solved by a kid with exceptional investigative skills and maybe some stalkerish tendencies. If you were like me, being a detective-spy was the dream job… deep down I might still harbor dreams of snooping on neighborhood bad guys and solving a mystery that will lead to a super villain.
Until that day arrives, I’ve prepared a guide for everything you need to become a ’90s-inspired detective.
You’re really not a detective-spy at all if you don’t have the super cool gadgets and gizmos to get the job done. Harriet M. Welsch, the namesake protagonist of Harriet the Spy, has a whole arsenal of spy gear complete with a belt to hold said gear*.
*Refer to the 1996 movie adaptation for a full tutorial.
Basic gear checklist: magnifying glass, binoculars, flashlight, tape recorder, invisible ink, camera (Polaroid or disposable works fine), walkie-talkies, backpack/belt/fanny pack to hold it all
Advanced gear checklist: bedroom door alarm system, voice changer, metal detector, Nerf gun, night goggles
If you’re a ’90s kid detective, you’ve got street smarts to outwit any adult, you’re a super genius or you’re a prolific writer in the making.
Penny, Inspector Gadget’s 10-year-old niece, pretty much did all his work for him while he was off “go-go Gadget ‘copter”-ing. As a child genius with the same penchant for tech as her uncle, Penny, with the help of her dog Brain, was usually the one to foil Dr. Claws nefarious schemes.
The kids of Ghostwriter had to put their comprehension skills to work as they solved mysteries left by a ghost via word clues (probably the ghost of a SAT tutor).
The Meddlesome Sibling or Parent
While you’re hard at work investigating, you might hit a few setbacks due to interfering siblings or parents. Harriet the Spy’s notebook was taken from her by her parents, halting her daily spy routine.
Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen solved “any crime by dinner time” in their namesake musical mystery video series. However, The Olsen and Olsen Mystery Agency hit a roadblock every time younger sister Lizzie Olsen (Elizabeth Olsen pre-Scarlet Witch) tried to tag along on their adventures.
There has to be a reason to pick up the magnifying glass and look deeper into the surrounding world. The Clubhouse Detectives wanted to expose their homicidal neighbor. Cam Jansen used her photographic memory to solves crimes. Penny helped her uncle stop villains. Harriet M. Welsh wanted a deeper understanding of the people around her.
Whatever the reason, these detectives used their critical thinking skills to bring truth to the surface. They inspired us armchair detectives to take a closer look at the world and ask questions.
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