“The Puzzles are Coming” / “The Duo is Slumming”
Written by Fred de Gorter
Directed by Jeffrey Hayden
Season 2, Episodes 31 and 32
Production code 9731
Original air dates: December 21 and 22, 1966
The Bat-signal: The Puzzler—a Shakespeare-spouting villain—is in billionaire Artemus Knab’s penthouse apartment (for which the Puzzler has a key). Along with his henchmen and moll, Rocket (an aspiring actress, who’s hoping for an introduction to Knab to further her career), they fly a tiny model plane right into Gordon’s office (which happens to be across the street). It drops a smoke bomb and has a note. On one side, it says, “Forsooth, the puzzles are coming.” On the back: “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, inside out the puzzle goes.”
Realizing it’s the Puzzler, Gordon and O’Hara immediately call Batman and Robin. The call interrupts Dick practicing his bird calls, which, amazingly, will actually be important later.
They arrive at GCPD HQ and guess that “bank” and “inside out” point to Knab (sure). The Dynamic Duo head to Knab’s apartment (which, as we know, is right across the street) to find Knab and Puzzler playing a game of Monopoly. The game is regularly interrupted by Knab taking work-related phone calls.
Our heroes are surprised to find that Puzzler and Knab appear to be legitimately partnered up. Knab’s backing Puzzler’s notion of puzzle balloons, which can be used for publicity and advertising. Puzzler gives Robin a sample, which they take back to the Batcave. Blown up, it says, “If you knew a hawk from a handsaw, would you know a parrot from a plane?” The first half is a quote from Hamlet, the second half he assumes refers to Knab’s new plane, the Retsoor, which is having a coming-out party at Gotham City Airport.
At the Knab Aircraft hangar, Knab is christening the Retsoor, intended as a model for a stealth plane for the military. After that, he leaves in his vintage Duesenberg Model J, just as Puzzler arrives to rob the rich attendees of their jewelry while getting pictures of the Retsoor‘s controls. His henchmen give puzzle balloons to the guests, which they then pop, releasing a gas that paralyzes everyone (except for the bad guys, who are wearing gas masks). After sending Rocket off with the loot, Batman and Robin arrive, at which point Puzzler hits them with the paralyzing gas, takes pictures of the Retsoor‘s cockpit, and departs, leaving one puzzle balloon behind for Batman, which reads, “What letter is ne’er perceived in the alphabet?” (The kind you put in a mailbox.) Inside the balloon is a slip of paper that reads, “Yea, verily, the answer is a fence in this world’s globe.”
The Dynamic Duo then engage in some tortuous logic that truly made my head hurt, and eventually leads them to the Old Globe Balloon Facotry, which is adjacent to the railroad yard. (Yeah, I don’t follow, either, just go with it.)
They arrive at the factory to find Rocket pretending to be a secretary blowing up balloons. (That is to say, she’s pretending to be a secretary—she really is blowing up balloons.) She insists the Puzzler doesn’t wish to see anyone, but our heroes nonetheless go to the back room through its entrance (conveniently labelled “OLD GLOBE BALLOON FACTORY BACK ROOM ENTRANCE”).
There, Puzzler and his henchmen are waiting. Fisticuffs ensue, and while the henchmen get their butts kicked, Puzzler tosses model planes with poison tips at the Dynamic Duo, and they fall unconscious. They wake up bound in a balloon. When the altimeter registers 20,000 feet, the basket will release, sending the good guys plummeting to the ground and going splat.
One of the henchmen offers our heroes gum, on the theory that they offer it to people who fly in airplanes, but the Dynamic Duo refuse. The henchmen then tosses his own chewed gum into the balloon, causing Robin to cry out, “Litterbug,” because, dagnabbit, Robin has his priorities straight.
However, his littering is their salvation, as they’re able to snag the chewed gum and use it to (ahem) gum up the works of the altimeter so the needle stops before reaching 20,000 feet. Batman then instructs Robin to use his bird calls to summon the elusive and high-flying giant red-eyed hermit nuthatch birds, which are migrating south for the winter. While Robin hasn’t gotten to that bird yet, he fakes it enough to summon one nuthatch; an ornery sort, the bird pecks at the balloon in annoyance at how shitty Robin’s birdcall is, which opens a hole in the balloon that sends it back earthward.
Unfortunately, it’s going very fast. Fortunately, they land on a copse of trees on a hill that happens to be near an emergency pay phone, for which Batman thanks the taxpayers and Governor Stonefellow (not the scriptwriter??). They then untie each other while standing back to back—why they didn’t do that sooner is left as an exercise for the viewer.
Batman and Robin show up at the balloon factory, to Puzzler’s surprise, but a henchman throws a switch that is not labelled (which we know because it has a sign next to it that says, “NOT LABELLED,” and yes the signs have gotten that meta…), which drops a crapton of balloons all over our heroes, allowing the bad guys to vamoose.
Meanwhile, Rocket is having tea with Knab, ostensibly to help her career, but she mickeys the tea, enabling Puzzler to come in and open Knab’s safe while Knab sleeps off the tea. Inside are the Retsoor‘s plans, which Puzzler photographs. He wants to know everything he can about flying the Retsoor, so he can operate it when he steals it (thus showing he has more foresight than Clock King). He leaves a note for Batman pinned to Knab’s lapel and he and Rocket depart.
Puzzler also sent a package to Gordon’s office. Batman checks it with the Bat-stethoscope, but since he puts the earpieces of the stethoscope over the earpieces of his cowl rather than his actual ears, he not only doesn’t hear ticking, but doesn’t hear the rooster that’s bopping around the cage that is inside the package.
There’s a note attached to the cage: “Batman, how canst thou keep a rooster from crowing on a Sabbath morn?” (By killing him on a Saturday night.) They decide to check on Knab, since he seems to be part of Puzzler’s plan, and they arrive just as Knab wakes up from his gimmicked tea. Knab assures Batman that his interest in going into business with the Puzzler has waned, given his behavior.
Batman opens the note that Puzzler left on Knab’s lapel, but it’s blank. However, Batman detects the odor of secret writing (which is what, one wonders?), so he takes it back to the Batcave to analyze it, only to learn that it just says, “PUZZLES.”
Another tortuous logic session ensues, as they go from “puzzles” having seven letters to a phone number with odd numbers, which they determine—well, I’ll be honest, I’ve got no bloody clue how they worked it out. They just did. Somehow.
They call the number, and Puzzler answers, having expected them to figure it out. (God knows how.) Puzzler throws another gag at them: “An aviator was carrying his clothes home from the cleaners when it began to rain. How didst he protect them?” (He put them inside the hangars.) This leads them to Knab’s hangar (uh, okay), where Puzzler is preparing to steal the Retsoor, then ransom it back to Knab for four million dollars.
Rocket distracts the hangar guards, but Batman and Robin show up and fisticuffs ensue. Our heroes are victorious, and Puzzler and his gang are hauled off to prison. The balloon factory goes out of business, allowing Harriet to get a bunch of puzzle balloons on the cheap for an underprivileged children benefit. As a final insult, Puzzler gets a Shakespeare citation wrong and Batman corrects him.
Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! The Batcave has an air pump for blowing up balloons, though it appears that Batman has to assemble it for this episode, so it may be new. Batman also has a Secret Writing Detector and a Bat-stethoscope that is unable to detect a rooster moving around a cage.
Holy #@!%$, Batman! Upon learning it’s the Puzzler, Robin mutters, “Holy Hamlet,” and upon learning he’s involved with Knab, he adds, “Holy deposit slip!” Upon regaining consciousness in an aerial balloon, he cries, “Holy Graf Zeppelin, an aerial balloon!” As they rise up in the balloon, Robin laments, “Holy stratosphere, if only we were birds.” When asked by Batman to do the birdcall for an elusive high-flying giant red-eyed hermit nuthatch bird, Robin’s response is, “Holy Audubon.” When the balloon starts careening toward the ground at high speeds, Robin cries, “Holy crack-up!” Upon seeing Puzzler’s seemingly blank note with secret writing on it, Robin grumbles, “Holy ghost writer!” When they reach Puzzler on the phone, Robin cries, “Holy miracles.”
Gotham City’s finest. At one point, Gordon is on the phone with Warden Crichton, who is complaining about the overcrowding at the prison, which Gordon credits entirely to his department’s skills, said skills consisting of knowing how to use the Bat-phone…
Special Guest Villain. Maurice Evans is the latest one-and-done second-season villain as the Puzzler, who was created when the producers were unable to come to terms with Emmy-nominated Frank Gorshin, who wound up not appearing at all during the second season, despite being the show’s most popular villain. Evans is best known to genre fans for his roles as Dr. Zaius in the Planet of the Apes films and as Maurice, Samantha’s father, on Bewitched.
No sex, please, we’re superheroes. When Rocket goes to Knab’s penthouse, Knab describes her as very “well rounded.” Pretty sure he wasn’t talking about her tea-brewing skills…
Na-na na-na na-na na-na na.
“Whoever they are beneath those masks they wea—”
“You’ve said that before, Commissioner.”
“And I’ll say it to my dying day, Chief O’Hara!”
—Gordon displaying his man-crush on Batman and O’Hara being snitty about it.
Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 34 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, your humble rewatcher! John and I had fun with the Shakespeare theme, the incoherent script, and the missing Frank Gorshin.
The original script by Fred de Gorter—who previously wrote “A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away”/”When the Rat’s Away, the Mice Will Play” last season—was titled “A Penny for Your Riddles”/”They’re Worth a Lot More,” and was intended for the Riddler. The primary change to the script to accommodate the casting of Maurice Evans was adding all the Shakespeare stuff; the rest is all from de Gorter’s original story.
Because the episode aired Christmas week, the window cameo is Santa Claus, played by Andy Devine, who only succeeds in not being the world’s creepiest Santa by virtue of the existence of the loony Santa played by Jeff Gillen in A Christmas Story. Ho-ho-ho!
Artemus Knab (whose last name is “bank” spelled backwards) was based on Howard Hughes. His plane, the Retsoor, is “rooster” spelled backwards, a play on Hughes’s H-4 Hercules, nicknamed the “Spruce Goose.” (Hughes drove a Duesenberg Model J, too…)
Stonefellow is a play on Rockefeller, at the time the governor of New York.
Pow! Biff! Zowie! “Zounds!” This might have made a decent Riddler episode. It also might not have. On the one hand, one of the biggest problems with the episode is how slapdash the job of filing the Riddler serial numbers off is. The script goes back and forth between the notion of Puzzler being an established villain (Gordon and O’Hara guessing that it’s him right away, Robin warning Knab about his bad rep) and being a new one (Puzzler having to be introduced to our heroes, Robin saying he’s heard that secret writing is a thing of his). The entire telephone-number clue falls totally to pieces because there are no Z’s that correspond to numbers on a 1966 telephone dial (the gag would totally work with Riddler) and, finally, there are no puzzles, just riddles with a Shakespearean bent.
On the other hand, that Shakespearean bent is a big source of the story’s charm. Maurice Evans does a delightful job of delivering the Elizabethan-era quotes that are part and parcel of his dialogue effortlessly and perfectly. (He does far better than Adam West, whose mannered pseudo-British affect when he quotes the Bard is actively painful to listen to.) In addition, Paul Smith’s delightfully over-the-top Hughesian take on Knab is a delight, from his constant harping on his many monopolies to his phone call interruptions during the Monopoly game with Puzzler.
Still, the seams are really showing here, as this is a warmed-over Riddler story that is salvaged only by Evans’s obvious delight in playing the goofy heavy. And even with that, the incoherent deductive process, the weak-sauce moll and henchmen (Rocket’s acting obsession is poorly developed and badly handled, plus Barbara Stuart just isn’t that compelling), and an eye-rolling resolution to a promising deathtrap (I liked the gum idea in the abstract, but forcing it to happen because the bad guy littered, plus the doofy birdcall and the oh-so-convenient phone booth, makes it fall apart) add up to a subpar story.
Keith R.A. DeCandido is at InConJunction XXXVI this weekend in Indianapolis. He’ll have a table where he’ll be signing and selling his work. Please come on by! His full schedule—including a Q&A on Farscape alongside the show’s creator Rockne S. O’Bannon—can be found here.