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2011 2011-Story Time

The Black Line Mystery – a story about the most complicated chinese character known to mankind and its community

Presenter: Jess McCulloch
Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


Presentation Title: The Black Line Mystery “” a story about the most complicated Chinese character known to mankind and its community.

Presentation Description: Agent 42, Charles the Basset Hound and The Council of Chiefs have recruited many secret agents to help them save the community from The Doom Of Not Knowing how to read Chinese characters, to save them from seeing just random black lines! But they aren’t without enemies. Agent X tries to stop them, saying that Chinese characters are too confusing for the community – why would anyone need to know about them?! Come along to be swept up in the Black Line Mystery, find out what the most complicated Chinese character of all time looks like, what it means and how it is being used to unlock the mystery of all Chinese characters.

Also hear the story of the agents, both virtual and face to face, and how they have started to build a community of their own around this character – a community for the power of good, for the power of knowledge, all with the power of a story.

Just imagine you received a real paper letter in the mail. There was no return address, just a red chop mark on the back. You carefully open the envelope and take out a single white page. On the page you see this:

the character

You’ve got no idea what it is let alone what it might mean or why it has been sent to you. On closer inspection you notice that at the bottom of the page is this:

Password: hanzi

What would you do?

Go on then, do it.

Additional Information:
Blog: www.technolote.com
The Black Line Mystery: sites.google.com/site/blacklinemystery


  1. Brian Metcalfe

    Hi Agent 42 … You are AMAZING! I just watched your delightful “Black Line Mystery” and found it to be extremely captivating. I can see how students would become so engaged in the learning process. Sharing the excitement of Darren’s children as they opened this intriguing letter from Australia, made your activity come alive.

    Your character reminds me so much of a woman heroine in an old piece of software called “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”. Your slow and ddeliberaye pacing add beautifully to the suspense. I was so impressed with the idea and process that you modeled and am wondering how this mystery activity could be tweaked and applied to another subject.

    On behalf of K-12 educators world-wide, I want to thank you for sharing your talents with us.

    Take care & keep smiling 🙂 Brian

  2. Heather

    This was absolutely amazing. I work in Beijing at an international school and can hardly wait to show this character to my Chinese co teacher. A noodle – you say. 🙂 The first character of my Chinese name Dai has 17 strokes and I thought that was a lot.

    It is a wonderful project and I am hoping that maybe next year I will be able to incorporate it into some of the grade levels learning.

    Agent 42, whoever you are, you rock…..so does your sidekick. It is great to see something like this for the younger students.

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  4. Agent 42

    Hi Brian and Heather,

    thank you for your lovely comments! I certainly have had a lot of fun putting The Black Line Mystery together I can tell you. Of course it could be easily adapted to other subject areas – the main idea is that the narrative engages students and carries them along on an adventure. If you are interested in this sort of thing, check out ‘The Cat Escapes’ from a company called Coney.

    Yes, a noodle! A special type of very thick short noodle from Central China. Search ‘Biang Biang Noodle’ on YouTube and you should find a video of two guys explaining the story behind it – how there was a very fussy Emperor who would not eat anything and then someone invented this noodle for him then that’s all he ate! Crazy story – the kids loved it of course 🙂 But, yes, the most complicated character of all, and it’s a noodle! not a fancy meaning like ‘strength’ or ‘spirit’ or anything, just a noodle. 🙂

    Anyway, thanks again for your comments – it’s so nice to hear them. And keep an eye out as there are other adventures on the way….ghosts are coming…

    Agent 42.

  5. Christina

    I absolutely loved this Jess! How creative! I can only imagine the fun your students have participating in this intriguing mystery. What I like most is the way this goes beyond the 4 walls of your classroom, inviting other students to participate. I didn’t know what to expect when first embarked on the journey but I was very well pleased with the outcome. I’m thinking my 7 year old daughter would love to do this. How do we get on the list to receive the special letter?

  6. Kevin Hodgson

    Wonderful job, Agent. I love how different this is from many other presentations, and I wonder if you might even fold back on the cover on the planning, scripting and reflections on how you pulled it off. (or is that top secret?)
    It was very engaging and I am still working my way through the mystery …

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  9. Heather

    I apologize fore this being my third comment but wanted to tell you about the end of the day in my class today just before the kids went home, I told the kids I had something cool to show them. I quickly found the character and popped it up on the IWB. The kids went crazy. All I could hear was counting as they tried to figure out the number of strokes. My Chinese co-teacher Amy came right over and went “Wow”. One of my students knew what the character meant right away and he went on to explain to the others. (All my students are international but must learn Chinese). This weekend I told them to investigate your great mystery project website if they wish to do so. They begged for me to put it up on our class blog so they could comment when they figured out the number of strokes. They are number driven Year 4/Grade 3 students. 🙂 Thanks again for the idea. I look forward to reading my students comments during the coming week.

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  11. Britt Gow

    Congratulations Agent 42 on this amazing, interactive game for learners. You have blown us all away with your energy, creativity and fresh ideas. Best wishes for a fulfilling 2012!

  12. Agent 42

    Thanks Britt – and Kevin and Christina, for taking the time to comment here! It’s great to get your feedback on the whole idea of the BLM.

    I love that your kids had such a great time with the character Heather! Did they get to exploring the website? I’ d be happy to Skype in to them if you like 🙂

    Kevin I’d be happy to fold back the covers and let you know all about the planning etc. I saw that you posted that on G+ too. What would you like to know?

    And Britt, yes, 2012 is shaping up to be very fulfilling already! 🙂

    Agent 42.

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