“A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away”/ “When the Rat’s Away the Mice Will Play”
Written by Fred De Gorter
Directed by Tom Gries
Season 1, Episodes 11 and 12
Production code 8711
Original air dates: February 16 and 17, 1966
The Bat-signal: King Boris of, er, some country or other has landed at Gotham City International Airport. A woman doing Madeline cosplay approaches him and hands him a set of roses, proving that whatever country he’s the king of, they have crappy security for their heads of state. The flowers explode in a barrage of fireworks, a recording of the Riddler’s giggle, and a sign that reads, “When is a person like a piece of wood?” (Wah-hey!) The GCPD is, of course, helpless before this baffling riddle, so they call Batman.
Alfred interrupts his polishing of the bat-pole (wah-HEY!) to answer and summon Bruce and Dick, the former having just beaten the latter at chess. They slide down the newly polished bat-poles and head to police HQ. Robin solves the riddle: that a person is like a piece of wood when he’s a ruler, showing that a) he doesn’t have a dirty mind and b) plastic rulers weren’t very common in 1966. Gordon figures it has something to do with King Boris, and Robin makes the leap in logic that it has to do with the chess competition with a $25,000 reward, but Batman thinks that’s too small potatoes. The king’s itinerary includes the Miss Galaxy competition and an appearance at the Queen of Freedom monument. Both involve queens, who are also rulers—the Miss Galaxy winner gets a tiara made of diamonds and emeralds.
Cut to the lowest-budget beauty pageant in the history of the world—seriously, I’ve seen high school auditoriums more sophisticated than where they hold this pageant—and Batman and Robin are backstage observing the pageant, waiting for the Riddler to strike and checking out the ass on the contestant at stage right. The winner, a busty blonde with an aggressively worked-on tan, is crowned, and then the Riddler pops up from a trapdoor in the stage and steals her tiara. Batman and Robin stand with their thumbs in their ears, but it turns out it was for a reason: they replaced the tiara with a fake, that also has a homing transmitter.
They race to the Batmobile, but then the Riddler pops out of the sewers to say he knew it was a fake all along, and gives him a new riddle: What room can no one enter? Then he tosses them the fake tiara, which has another riddle attached to it. Riddler gets away—easy to do when Batman and Robin again sit with their thumbs in their ears, not moving until after he escapes into the sewer. They open the second riddle: What is the beginning of eternity, the end of time and space, the beginning of every end, and the end of every race? (Except the piece of paper has bad punctuation—missing a comma and no question mark at the end. Shame on you, Riddler!)
They go to the Batcave. The first riddle’s answer is a mushroom (okay, sure), and so Robin looks up the Royal Mushroom Club. (Seriously?) Robin’s about to look it up on the bat-computer, but then Batman chastises him by channeling cranky old people in the 1990s by saying that he should just use the phone book instead of the computer, and Robin apologizes for being so lazy. At no point do they ever actually solve the riddle that was in the tiara, the answer to which is the letter E.
The Riddler’s current henchmen are the River Rat Gang (including Mousey, the woman who gave Boris the flowers), who are slicing cheese with the world’s most ungainly cheese slicer, when the Riddler gloats that Plan 13Z will be a great crime.
King Boris is hosting a reception at the Royal Mushroom Club. He is offered a tour of the wine cellar, which he is very excited about—he analogizes it to a little boy being shown expensive bicycles. Okay, then. But the steward who invites him to the wine cellar is one of the River Rat Gang. Batman and Robin show up and warn King Boris that he’s in great danger. The king poo-poohs the notion two seconds before he’d kidnapped through another trapdoor. (This city is chock full of them…) The Riddler has left two more riddles: How much dirt is in a hole three acres square and two hundred feet deep? (None—it’s a hole.) What won’t run long without winding? (A river.)
They go to the Batcave, where Batman has elaborate drawings of sections of Gotham City scanned into the Bat-computer. At one of the bends in the river is the now-closed Gotham Water and Power Plant, which is three acres square and two hundred feet deep. At the plant, where the king is all tied up, the Riddler assures Boris that he will return him unharmed to Gotham once he’s lured Batman and Robin to their doom. (One of the River Rat Gang offers Boris some cheese, but he refuses on account of there’s no port.)
Batman and Robin arrive and, naturally, climb the wall of the power plant. Batman reminds Robin that the most important thing is to reassure the world that anyone may visit the United States and be safe: it’s the essence of our democracy, which is news to me, as I always thought one-person-one-vote was the essence of democracy, but never mind. They break in on the Riddler, but the criminal was ready for them, dropping a sticky net right on them. They’re then tied to two drive shafts that will spin fast enough to tear Batman and Robin to pieces. He leaves them with a final riddle: When is a woman in love like a welder?
Riddler then leaves them to spin wildly (or rather for their spectacularly unconvincing stunt dummies to spin wildly), and then the mechanism shorts out. (Batman somehow managed to free his hand from the net and use a torch to damage the mechanism.) Batman very dizzily frees himself and then unties Robin. The unsteady heroes head out.
Back at his hideout, the Riddler gloats over his triumph over Batman and Robin. He asks the River Rat Gang what is it that is always coming but never arrives? The answer is “tomorrow.”
King Boris reports what happened to Gordon, and then Batman calls Gordon and tells him to keep it quiet that the two of them are still alive. The presentation of the miniature replica of the Queen of Freedom by King Boris is being broadcast on live television. The king presents the replica, which is placed in the Museum of Fame, located in the Queen of Freedom’s torch. The TV host then shows off some other items in the museum, including a model of the old commodities building, a bust of Gotham’s first mayor, and a really terrible painting of Batman and Robin.
Mousey—now back in the Madeline outfit—places a small explosive in a police callbox, which draws attention to the note she’s also left: a ransom demand for a million dollars, or the Riddler will blow up the Queen of Freedom. Batman suggests they give in to the ransom demand, but the City Council won’t meet until the next day, after the Riddler’s deadline, so there’s no way to get that kind of cash. Batman suggests a private source, and it’s Gordon who actually suggests Bruce Wayne.
Bruce, claiming ignorance of what it’s about, gladly hands over the money, showing uncharacteristic behavior for a millionaire. And while he meets with Gordon, “Batman” climbs in the window—one of the River Rat Gang wears a Batsuit—and tells Gordon to let Batman and Robin handle the money delivery, with no cops around. Bruce, knowing it’s a fake, tells Gordon that it’s a good idea. Luckily, Gordon’s not quite as stupid as he seems. He saw through the disguise, but said nothing because he wanted to keep Bruce safe from danger.
In the Batcave, Batman finds Robin fiddling around with the atomic pile (yeeeeeeeep) because he thought he heard some rumbling and wants to make sure there isn’t anything wrong (YEEEEEEEP!). Batman pulls him off that to help solve the last riddle: a woman in love is like a welder because they both carry a torch. The bomb is in the torch, placed in the replica when King Boris was Riddler’s prisoner. (They show a rather appalling lack of concern for the possibility of their friggin atomic pile malfunctioning, but whatever…)
Riddler and the River Rat Gang wait in the torch room while the cops leave Bruce’s bag of filthy lucre, and then depart, enabling Riddler to enact Plan 136AAA. He picks up the money, and then goes to deactivate the bomb—but the replica is gone! In its place is a note, in which Batman totally trolls Riddler by leaving him a riddle: what squeals louder than a caught rat? The answer: several caught rats.
The Dynamic Duo then strike a blow for art lovers everywhere by jumping through the painting, destroying it. Fisticuffs ensue, damaging a considerable amount of artwork in the process, and the bad guys are hauled off to jail.
Later, back at Wayne Manor, Aunt Harriet announces that she’s bringing some out-of-town friends to see the Queen of Freedom monument. She invites Bruce and Dick along, but that’s the last place they want to go.
Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! They use the very conveniently located Homing Receiver Scope on the Batmobile dashboard to try to trace the Riddler. The Batcave also has a computer with a weird ergonomic keyboard that can summon up elaborately drawn images of Gotham City rather than photographs for some reason.
Holy #@!%$, Batman! Not a particularly religious pair of episodes, as we’ve only got two holies: In “A Riddle a Day…,” when the Riddler pops out of a sewer cover, Robin says, “Holy sewer pipe!” Upon realizing the bomb is in the torch of the Queen of Freedom in “When the Rat’s Away…,” he cries, “Holy conflagration!”
Gotham City’s finest. While the GCPD is initially stumped for hours by a riddle that a teenager who avoids his algebra homework solves in half a second, they generally perform better than usual this week. In particular I’m grateful that Gordon saw through the fake Batman.
No sex, please, we’re superheroes. Mousey says that Batman and Robin are kinda cute, even though they’re on the other side of the fence.
Also, I never noticed this until Alfred was polishing them, but Bruce’s bat-pole is much thicker than Dick’s. Ahem.
Special Guest Villain. Frank Gorshin is the show’s first returning villain, back after having survived the explosion at the end of “Smack in the Middle.” When he thinks he’s killed the Dynamic Duo, he expresses glee at the fact that he did what the Joker, Mr. Freeze, and Penguin couldn’t.
Na-na na-na na-na na-na na. “Gee, I never met royalty before. It’s pretty thrilling.”
“Royalty? You’ve never met royalty? And just whom do you think stands before you, my cherub? I am the prince of puzzlers! The count of conundrums! The king of crime!”
Mousey forgetting that she met royalty earlier in the episode when she gave him flowers at the airport, and the Riddler showing his skill with alliteration.
Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 6 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, your humble rewatcher! Yes, it was me talking with John about this episode on the podcast…
The cliffhanger this time says that the next episode will be tomorrow, same time (without prefix), but same bat-channel. I had honestly forgotten how long it took them to settle on the iconic “same bat-time, same bat-channel” thing in both voiceover and text.
While the show filmed in Los Angeles, and any outdoor shots were done there, they would often use New York City as the background whenever it was blue-screened in or stock footage was employed. Gotham City has traditionally been a stand-in for either New York City or Chicago, and the former seems to be the primary model in the TV series, as the Queen of Freedom, complete with torch, is an obvious stand-in for the Statue of Liberty (though the torch interior of Lady Liberty doesn’t have a museum and is way smaller).
Reginald Denny plays King Boris. He’ll return in the Batman movie as Commodore Schmidlapp, which would be his final role before his death in 1967.
Mousey is played by Susan Silo, who switched to voice acting in 1974 and never looked back, having worked extensively in voiceover work in the intervening 40 years, most recently as Yin on Legend of Korra and Nettie Pisghetti in Curious George. She was also Jungle Janet on The Tick and Dr. Karbunkle on both iterations of Biker Mice from Mars.
Pow! Biff! Zowie! “One bad turn deserves another.” This episode, and The Batcave Podcast, are kinda responsible for this rewatch. See, when my cohort on The Chronic Rift podcast, John S. Drew (also one of my oldest friends) started up TBP, he cast around to the various Rift regulars to serve as second commentor, and I jumped at a Riddler episode because I always loved Frank Gorshin’s giggling bad guy the best. John assigned me to this one.
It was, honestly, the first time I’d watched the 1966 Batman in a dog’s age. I had long avoided it as a campy relic of my youth, but I found myself falling in love with it all over again. As a child, I just viewed as fun. As a young adult, I dismissed it as absurd. As an older adult, I’ve circled back around to fun again.
And this episode is pretty much a quintessential Batman episode. The GCPD are stymied by simple detective work, Batman and Robin make stunning leaps in logic to track down a villain who’s so caught up in his gimmick he sows the seeds of his own defeat. I mean, think about it, if the Riddler just went ahead and committed the crimes, he’d be in much better shape. He could’ve stolen the Miss Galaxy tiara and kidnapped King Boris while Bruce and Dick were still playing chess.
But ultimately what makes the episode shine is the same thing that makes every Riddler appearance but one shine: Frank Gorshin. He’s just as manic and gleefully insane as he was last time. The screen just lights up when he’s on it. Which is good, as the riddles aren’t as much fun this time, and to make matters worse there’s one that winds up not being solved nor having anything to do with the plot….
Also, the cliffhanger is spectacularly lame, as it happens entirely off-camera in “A Riddle a Day…” and thus does nothing to make our hero look resourceful, instead making the writer look lazy. It’s the first time we don’t really see how the cliffhanger is resolved, and it just feels horribly anticlimactic. (It doesn’t help that the dummies used for the rotating scenes are incredibly obviously fake.)
Keith R.A. DeCandido has a bunch of things out now or being released very soon: “Back in El Paso My Life Will be Worthless” in The X-Files: Trust No One (now available in trade paperback, eBook, or audio), “Streets of Fire” in V-Wars: Night Terrors (now available in audio, paperback and eBook available for preorder), “Send in the Clones” in The Side of Good/The Side of Evil (paperback and eBook available for preorder), and the Stargate SG-1 novel Kali’s Wrath (on sale soon).