Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Lippman and the Lieutenant

Peter Falk in his famous role as Lieutenant Columbo.

This last weekend brought the 16th CrimeFest convention to Bristol, England. Although, much to my regret, I was unable to be there in person, I did play a modest role in its programming.

Two months ago, author and past chair of the Crime Writers’ Association Maxim Jakubowski sent me the following e-mail note:
For the past 10 years or so, I’ve run the Criminal Mastermind quiz at the Bristol CrimeFest. It’s a mystery and thriller variation on a highly popular British TV programme where participants have to answer a set of questions on both a specialist subject and then on general knowledge.

Laura Lippman has agreed to participate and as her specialist subject chosen the
Columbo TV series!

I was wondering whether you’d be willing to set these questions, in view of your own expertise and knowledge of the subject? I’d need 20 or so questions by mid-April ranging from easy to more arduous. The questions should be around 2 lines long. Would you be willing?
Now, I can’t legitimately claim to be a Columbo “authority,” not like writers Mark Dawidziak (The Columbo Phile) and David Koenig (Shooting Columbo and Unshot Columbo), or the anonymous Australian author of The Columbophile Blog. But I have written about that long-running series for The Rap Sheet on many occasions (notably here), and did score a lengthy interview with Columbo co-creator William Link back in 2010. Plus, I own all of the episodes (if not the later teleflicks, which I have never thought quite measured up to the original NBC Mystery Movie drama), as well as Link’s 2010 short-story compilation, The Columbo Collection. So I am at least a fan.

After pondering the matter, I finally deciding to take Jakubowski up on his invitation. It sounded like fun, and the opportunity to test the popular culture competence of Laura Lippman—a novelist I very much respect—at a British crime-fiction convention I hope to someday attend was simply too enticing to pass up.

In the end, I sent Jakubowski 21 questions, just to be sure he had enough good ones from which to choose. I arranged them in descending order, beginning with those I thought were the least challenging and finishing with others that might test a real Columbo nerd’s knowledge. My questions were finally posed to Lippman midday on Sunday, as part of this year’s Criminal Mastermind quiz. Joining her as contestants were Stuart Field, creator of the Detective John Steel thrillers, who had volunteered to answer trivia questions about M.J. Craven’s Washington Poe novels; and Zoë Sharp, fielding queries about the Amazon Prime TV series Reacher, which had been submitted by my friend and fellow Rap Sheet contributor, Ali Karim.

(Left to right) Novelists Zoë Sharp, Stuart Field, and Laura Lippman prepare to meet the challenge of this year’s CrimeFest Criminal Mastermind quiz. (Photo © Ali Karim 2024.)

So how did Laura Lippman fare against my trivia test? “Very well—she is a Columbo fan,” Ali tells me. “And she enjoyed your questions, though she did say they were tough (with a twinkle in her eye), as she got most of them correct.” There was evidently some controversy regarding the breed of the Los Angeles police detective’s dog, but Ali suggests that was provoked by Jakubowski trying to pull Lippman’s leg. (It seems the attendees all had a good laugh about it.) In the end, Lippman earned second place in this quiz, behind Zoë Sharp.

Are you curious about your own Columbo expertise? Rather than shove my quiz questions into a dusty corner of my computer, and forget about them, I have decided to post them below. See how many you can answer. The correct responses can be found here.

1: Richard Levinson and William Link co-created the series, but how many of the shows in which Columbo appeared did they actually write?

2: Link said that he and Levinson never had a first name in mind for Columbo. But in a Season 1 episode, we got a quick screen shot of the lieutenant’s LAPD badge, which featured a first name. What was it?

3: Columbo came from a large Italian family. How many siblings did he have?

4: Columbo often arrives hungry at murder scenes in the middle of the night. What snack item does he commonly bring with him?

5: What musical instrument can Columbo play?

6: Columbo once said that his boyhood hero was who?

7: Name the single most featured recurring guest character on the show.

8: What was his dog’s favorite food?

9: In the Season 10 episode “No Time to Die,” Columbo says that he and his never-seen wife were married where?

10: And what was said to be Mrs. Columbo’s favorite piece of music?

11: Columbo episodes generally followed an “inverted mystery” format, showing the crime taking place first and then having Lieutenant Columbo solve it. But there was one episode that reversed that format, and was a genuine whodunit—what was the episode’s title?

12: Peter Falk personally supplied the tatty wardrobe for his L.A. police detective. He purchased the famous raincoat from a store on 57th Street in New York City when he was caught in a rainstorm in 1967. How much did he pay for that garment?

13: Columbo drove a battered and unreliable 1959 (or 1960) Peugeot 403 convertible. Over the course of the show’s 69-episode run—first on NBC-TV, then on ABC—that car sported two different license plate numbers. What was the second one?

14: In only one episode did Lieutenant Columbo let the killer get away with the crime. Which episode was that, and who was its big-name guest murderer?

15:Forgotten Lady” was one of Peter Falk’s four favorite Columbo episodes. Name one of the other three.

16: Beginning with an ad-libbed performance in the Season 3 episode “Any Old Port in a Storm,” Columbo is periodically heard whistling a traditional children’s song. What is it?

17: It was a love of magic that first brought Levinson and Link together, when they were boys and shopped at the same magic store in downtown Philadelphia. But it wasn’t until Season 5 that they and their writing collaborators finally built an episode around magic. What was the name of that episode, and who played the illusionist?

18: Speaking of that episode, the solution to its crime turned on a once-ubiquitous piece of office equipment. What was that instrument?

19: Columbo’s first police assignment was with New York City’s 12th Precinct. There he trained under an Irish officer who mentored him and who he mentions often. What was that officer’s name?

20: Even before Lieutenant Columbo’s first introduction to TV audiences, in “Enough Rope,” a 1960 Chevy Mystery Show production that starred Bert Freed in the role, Levinson and Link created a prototype for the character in “Dear Corpus Delicti,” a short story they sold to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in 1960. What name did they give to their slight, seemingly insignificant police detective in that story?

21: During the early 2000s, Falk was asked by a newspaper reporter which other actor he could have imagined playing Columbo instead of him. Who did he suggest? (Hint: It wasn’t Bing Crosby.)

I don’t how many of these 21 queries “inquizitor” Jakubowski had a chance to fire at Lippman, or which of them she answered without fault. But the big question is, how did you do at this same game? Please let us all know in the Comments section of this post.


HonoluLou said...

Well, I'm too embarrassed to tell my score. However, are you sure about No. 21? "Hey, Hey, Hey!"

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Hey, hey, hey yourself, Lou. Yes, I'm sure about the answer to No. 21. The story comes from a 2006 interview with Peter Falk, published in Michigan’s Saginaw News (but, sadly, no longer available online). I wrote about it here:



Kathy D. said...

I watched Columbo years ago and liked it so much but I don't remember
much except Peter Falk with the raincoat, looking sloppy, but innately a genius.
Where will the answers beposted?

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Hi Kathy: I've already posted the answers to my Columbo questions here:



HonoluLou said...

Jeff, thanks for setting me straight. Unbelievably, when I read question 21 my minds eye saw Bill Cosby, not Bing Crosby (ref: my Fat Albert tribute.) Thanks for setting me straight. I've followed your answers link and further to your October 2006 post "Styles Point." Thank you so much. Lou

P.S. I will have to quote Detective Chan here on my part:
"All mischief comes from opening the mouth" (C.C. Carries On, 1930)