The Locked Room Reader IX: The Problem of the Intoxicated Thespian: An Addendum

Several years ago, I cobbled together a series of blog-posts about real-life examples of locked room mysteries and impossible problems, which you can read by following these links: I, II, III, IV, V and VI. In my first post, "Just About As Strange As Fiction," I went over six of such examples and christened the first one The Problem of the Intoxicated Thespian.

Wilfred Lawson
I found this locked room anecdote on another blog, Shadowplay, which has a 2008 blog-post, simply titled "Locked Room Mystery," recounting the story of a "character actor and celebrated inebriate," Wilfred Lawson – who could "function quite well with a skinful." According to one story, Lawson was to do a live radio show and a minder was given "the task of keeping him from the demon drink." A sober Lawson was escorted to a windowless dressing room and was locked inside with the only key in the custody of the minder.

The dressing room had previously been the subject of thorough search and not a single drop of alcohol was found, but, when the minder returned an hour later, he found Lawson "utterly rat-assed, pissed beyond language." So how did he manage to get completely smashed when he was locked inside a room?

As the resident locked room fanboy, I have to compliment the comment-section of Shadowplay, because they came up with a treasure trove of potential (false) solution in the tradition of Anthony Berkeley and Ellery Queen – here are some great examples:

1: Lawson acted intoxicated and got drunk after being released from the dressing room.
2: An accomplice disconnected the water supply and pumps whiskey into the room, which would be "a drunkard's dream" to "drink booze from the fawcett of a sink."
3: An accomplice pushed a drinking straw through the keyhole.
4: Lawson had swallowed a condom filled with booze and regurgitated it as soon as he was left alone (yes, disgusting).
5: A normal, healthy looking orange injected with liquor.
6: Vodka ice cubes.

Well, I provided an alternative explanation in my blog-post, which goes as follow: a character actor is likely to pick up certain skills for their roles, such as pick-pocketing, but a professional alcoholic would know a sly trick or two in any case. So what if Lawson came to the radio studio armed with a flask of hard liquor and

I provided an alternative explanation in my blog-post, which goes as follow: a character actor is likely to pick up certain tricks for their roles, such as pick-pocketing, but a professional drunkard would have trick or two up his sleeve in any case. So what if Lawson came to the radio studio armed with a flask of hard liquor and slipped into the pocket of the minder. Before being locked inside the dressing room, Lawson shook the hand of the minder or padded his shoulder. He had to do this so the minder wouldn't feel, or notice, how the actor fished the flask from his pocket with the other hand. When the minder returned, the flask was secretly put back in his pocket and, when they found no alcohol on either the actor or inside the dressing room, he again fished the flask from the minders pocket – leaving everyone baffled. Lawson basically turned the poor minder in unwilling drug mule.

Recently, I read back this old blog-post of mine and only then I noticed a glaring flaw in my reasoning. You see, I doubt a single flask is sufficient to render a veteran boozer, like Lawson, completely shitfaced, but immediately another explanation occurred to me. A solution inspired by and based on the comments that were posted on Shadowplay. So I would like to pause here for a moment and pose a challenge to the reader.

You have to keep in mind that the problem here is not how the alcohol could have been smuggled inside the dressing room, but, as the comments suggests, the quantity and disposal of the container. Some of the ideas presented in the (false) solutions form many of the puzzle pieces. One last hint: think back of the scene from The Seer of the Sands (2004) when Jonathan Creek explained the ghostly message in the bottle to Carla.

So take a moment to go over all of the information and turn it over your mind. Let's see if we arrived at the same conclusion.

"Well, you've seen all the clues. Have you get it? I think I do."
My solution depends on how much time Lawson had at his disposal to prepare, but if had known in advance that they would lock him inside his dressing room, he could have found an accomplice at the radio studio. A monetary compensation would have done the trick. After all, this was not a crime. A stone-cold sober Lawson is locked inside a dressing room without a drop of alcohol, but he took an empty balloon with him and, when the accomplice softly knocks on the door, Lawson places the mouth of the balloon over the keyhole – while the accomplice fills the balloon with a short, spray-gun powered tube. Lawson literally has a skinful at his disposal!

After he finishes his skinful, he can simply rinses out the balloon at the sink and buries it at the bottom of the waste bucket. Who would think a balloon in the waste bucket was used as a modern-day wine-skin? A relatively simple trick, if you can find an accomplice, but it gets the job done. 

So we have arrived at the end of this filler-post, but you enjoyed it and perhaps gave you an idea why I love locked room puzzles so much. Or why I can't get enough of them. 


  1. I actually really like the solution with the straw, it's just too ingenious.
    Your balloon variation is also nice.

    Btw since balloon tricks are all the rage in the blog these days may I suggest chapter 62 of CMB( parnetp manga to QED) which features an absolutely bizarre balloon trick?

    1. Yes, the straw-trick is a good one, but is it a good way to get completely drunk? I can't imagine Lawson kneeling in front of the dressing room door draining an entire bottle of whiskey through a straw that was pushed through the keyhole.

      Thanks for the suggestion, but I still have to get around to reading vol. 3 of QED.

    2. Yeah, it's not very realistic for getting pissed off, but I really like the idea behind it.

      Ok, not worries! It's not the best of stories, but has a really-really weird idea. If you ever read it, you'll see!

    3. I would probably bribe an electrician from the theatre and have him turn the lightbulbs attached to one of those dressing-room mirrors for actors into tiny semi-tranparent flasks. I would then fill them with something colorless like vodka or tequila. The lightbulbs would obviously not be working, but during an inspection people would use the main lights, not those ones... let's say there's twelve lightbulbs: three shots of vodka each mean a thespian would have 36 shots... that would be enough to get him pretty drunk I think!