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Things Only Adults Notice In Carmen Sandiego

For decades, audiences have been entertained and educated by the exploits of Carmen Sandiego, the star of a franchise that has expanded to a line of computer games and television series. Following intrepid detectives traveling around the globe to track down and apprehend the eponymous master thief and her associates, the Carmen Sandiego franchise has always been one that asks its audience to leave common logic to the side as it teaches them about culture, geography, and history. However, just because Carmen Sandiego is rooted in the world of education, that doesn't mean it's without its fair share of head-scratching elements that defy conventional wisdom.


Here are the biggest moments and tropes in the venerable edutainment series that will boggle the mind of any adult who takes the time to actually think about Carmen Sandiego's overarching premise — something perfectly suited to educate a younger audience, but one that doesn't pass logical tests under additional scrutiny.

The world's most wanted thief exclusively wears the same signature outfit

Carmen Sandiego is the most wanted thief in the world, stealing priceless artifacts and entire cultural landmarks from countries all over the globe. This criminal notoriety has expanded to include Carmen traveling through space and time to pull off even more ridiculous heists that could shift the balance of human civilization permanently if left unchecked. And despite all of this infamy, Carmen is rarely seen without her signature crimson outfit.


Consisting of a bright red trench coat and matching fedora, Carmen's usual attire doesn't exactly scream inconspicuous, even at first glance, but she wears this outfit at virtually all times, including while pulling off epic heists and running around the world to evade the long arm of the law. While certain animated iterations depict Carmen using disguises and covert outfits while carrying out thefts or infiltrating restricted areas, most incarnations have her in her scarlet ensemble for the majority of her various adventures, suggesting that Carmen is practically daring the authorities to catch her — or maybe she just buys her clothes in bulk.

Carmen Sandiego pulls off impossibly big scores

Most thieves in the Carmen Sandiego mold, mirroring that of classic heist films, are after vast sums of money or valuable jewelry. This is all far too pedestrian for Carmen, who instead prefers to steal not only priceless artifacts but entire landmarks and geographic locations. This is the cornerstone of the entire Carmen Sandiego franchise but, as later games in the series were released, this premise progressed toward some fairly ludicrous heights.


While stealing building-sized landmarks comes with its own suspension of belief, the logical limits of the franchise were tested by the computer game "Carmen Sandiego: Math Detective." In addition to the usual cultural landmarks that Carmen absconds with, the game has Carmen steal things like the Nile River, Grand Canyon, or Mount Everest. At this point in the franchise's history, the well of targets for Carmen to steal began to noticeably run dry as the games scraped the bottom of the barrel for subject matter.

Carmen Sandiego is able to store all her stolen goods

Objects like the Taj Mahal or Mount Fuji are as invaluable as they are massive — which is to say that these stolen goods aren't exactly things Carmen and V.I.L.E. can sell off to a fence. This means the criminals need to resort to more inventive means to adequately transport and store their ill-gotten gains. Of course, doing this with an entire geographic landmark or national monument is no easy feat, but the franchise hinges on this impossibility for virtually every single mystery.


Several computer games, such as the deluxe editions of "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?" and "Where in the U.S.A. Is Carmen Sandiego?" reveal that V.I.L.E. has a shrinking ray to reduce its targets to the size of something that can be transported away in one's pocket; this experimental tech is so precise and effective it would make Ant-Man jealous by comparison. The computer game "Carmen Sandiego: Math Wizard" offers an alternative explanation, with V.I.L.E. transforming its stolen objects into small crystals that are easily transported away from the scene of the crime.

Carmen provides limitless financing for her organization

Carmen heads V.I.L.E., one of the most notorious crime syndicates in the world, boasting the most skilled, ambitious thieves on Earth. The shadow organization is armed with some of the most cutting-edge technology to exist, occasionally venturing into outright science fiction. Carmen and her V.I.L.E. associates can coordinate and execute massive heists, traveling all over the world on a moment's notice to elude the authorities. How is it all paid for? It's probably best not to think about it.


Prior to leading V.I.L.E., Carmen was a private investigator for the ACME Detective Agency, and before that she reaped a small fortune from winning a game show as a child, revealed in 2001's computer game "Carmen Sandiego: Treasures of Knowledge." This fortune led to her passion for international travel and foreign cultures, but there's no way it would have been enough to finance an entire criminal network spanning the globe. There is always the idea that V.I.L.E. could be pulling smaller scores to fund their landmark-stealing operation, but the resources at V.I.L.E.'s immediate disposal rival powerful governments.

Only ACME can stop V.I.L.E.

Carmen Sandiego and her nefarious associates in V.I.L.E. are pulling off heists that could reshape the natural geography of entire continents, to say nothing of the artifacts and landmarks included in many of their targets around the world. This has made Carmen the most wanted thief on the planet, with many of her close accomplices similarly wanted by the authorities worldwide. Despite the threat that Carmen and V.I.L.E. pose to the whole world, the only apparent law enforcement agency properly equipped to thwart V.I.L.E. is a private organization: The ACME Detective Agency.


Federal or intergovernmental law enforcement organizations like the FBI or Interpol should be the first call made to recover the stolen goods and bring the culprits into custody but, in most Carmen Sandiego stories, these agencies are usually conspicuously absent. ACME is often presented as the only organization capable of saving the day, normally working without outside assistance in its investigations. No wonder Carmen is able to pull off such daring raids; law enforcement in this particular universe is completely outsourced to a single detective agency.

Carmen and her associates never stay imprisoned

Successful players always end an investigation by not only recovering the stolen goods but by arresting whichever thief was responsible for the heist, occasionally including Carmen Sandiego herself. However, this conviction and incarceration only appears to be a momentary setback for V.I.L.E., with Carmen and her most notorious associates right back to their thieving ways shortly thereafter, committing even bolder acts of grand larceny to keep ACME on its toes.


The regular escape of V.I.L.E. criminals is never called into question over the course of the games but it appears whatever penitentiary that Carmen and her accomplices are confined to practically has a revolving door that would give Arkham Asylum a run for its money in poorly imprisoning its inmates. The 1994 animated series "Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?" expands on this, revealing that, because of Carmen's sympathetic background and moral code, several operatives within ACME experience remorse after jailing her despite the crimes she and V.I.L.E. have committed. Perhaps Carmen has someone on the inside helping her escape?

ACME's standards are unforgivably high

The ACME Detective Agency is the world's first and evidently only line of defense in stopping Carmen Sandiego and the forces of V.I.L.E. from running rampant around the globe, carrying out their heists without impunity. The scores that Carmen and her associates pull off involve priceless hallmarks of human achievement and history, and protecting them should be a top priority. But despite all of this, ACME imposes a bafflingly strict schedule on its detectives for solving each case.


The classic "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?" gave players approximately six days of in-game time to solve a global heist committed by Carmen and V.I.L.E. This extraordinarily brief time limit was levied on even the most high-profile investigations, such as the theft of the Great Sphinx of Egypt or the United Kingdom's Big Ben. Surely for something so important to be stolen, ACME would be willing to extend the investigation's total time to more than a single calendar week before abruptly declaring the trail having gone cold and immediately moving on to the next case. Maybe ACME isn't willing to shell out for overtime?

ACME has vast resources ... until it doesn't

Whereas V.I.L.E. appears to have bottomless resources to operate its global criminal cartel, the ACME Detective Agency's financial backing seems much less consistent. ACME can afford to send its sleuths all over the globe on a moment's notice to pursue Carmen and her accomplices, with later games and television series expanding the agency's resources to include the means to travel through outer space and time. However, this impressive level of support quickly proves to have its limits whenever it's narratively convenient.


The 1993 computer game "Where in Space Is Carmen Sandiego?" has ACME prematurely call off investigations if the player character runs out of fuel while scouring the solar system for Carmen and the forces of V.I.L.E. This is made all the more puzzling when ACME is immediately able to fuel up their detective to investigate the next interplanetary heist. Still, this rationale for failing an investigation still makes more sense than closing a case because the player took more than six days to track down a perp for stealing an international landmark.

Jet lag is nonexistent in the Carmen Sandiego universe

Virtually every single iteration of the Carmen Sandiego franchise, whether it's a television series or computer game, features constant travel for the characters. While something like "Where in the USA Is Carmen Sandiego?" or the franchise's more science fiction-oriented adventures makes it easier to forget about the physical demands that come with any amount of travel, the more globetrotting adventures in the franchise omit the jet lag that would naturally come with traversing so many different time zones so quickly.


As mentioned earlier, ACME usually only gives its detectives approximately six days to solve any given case. With most cases involving detectives visiting different continents to track down the thieves, that's a lot of mileage to put on someone traveling nearly nonstop to solve a mystery. The detectives in question better sleep well on planes and other forms of mass transit to get the necessary rest to keep their minds sharp in the face of travel's mental and physical toll.

Carmen is more evil than she appears

While Netflix's Carmen Sandiego animated series presents Carmen as more of a Robin Hood-style thief who targets the impossibly rich to benefit the less fortunate, the classic Carmen is a significantly less noble figure. Whether it's stealing cultural landmarks or leading her vast crime syndicate V.I.L.E., the Carmen of the video games tends to lean more toward outright villain than misunderstood antihero with a penchant for larceny. And on the game show "Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?," Carmen's attempted heists make her unforgivably evil.


Among the scores that Carmen targets throughout the 1996 television series is the history of medicine. Whether intentional or not — and Carmen is certainly smart enough to know what she's doing — the end result would mean human history being completely upended, causing the deaths of untold millions by depriving them of access to modern medicine over millennia. Carmen gets a slap on the wrist when she steals something like the Liberty Bell, but attempting to wipe out modern medicine? She needs to be stopped at all costs.

Carmen has attempted to steal the concept of language

In addition to trying to steal the history of medicine, Carmen has also attempted to plunder the concept of language, which would plunge the world into total chaos. The 1997 computer game "Carmen Sandiego: Word Detective" saw Carmen invent a device known as the Babble-On Machine, which instantly turns language into unintelligible gibberish. Carmen's ultimate goal in "Word Detective" is to render the world illiterate, with only the player character, Agent 13, able to stop her by reversing the machine's effects.


By the time "Word Detective" was released, the Carmen Sandiego franchise was already veering into more outlandish premises, completely abandoning narrative logic in favor of paper-thin plots to accommodate the educational content presented. Having said all that, the idea of Carmen stealing the concept of language itself just doesn't make any sense: If Carmen got into a life of crime for the professional challenge, eliminating language to make pulling off thefts easier directly contradicts this motivation.

Carmen's career started with professional boredom

As revealed by various animated series and games, before being constantly pursued by the ACME Detective Agency, Carmen used to be a detective for the agency herself — years before players started leaping into action to stop her and V.I.L.E. This backstory itself is a retcon — the original 1985 computer game "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?" describes Carmen as a former spy for the Monacan government who turned to a life of crime.


The 1997 game "Carmen Sandiego's Great Chase Through Time" revealed that Carmen felt catching criminals working for ACME was far too easy for her talents and decided she would be better professionally motivated to outsmart her former employer as a criminal herself. In the age of the Great Resignation, this perhaps resonates more than most convoluted backstories, with Carmen effectively sticking it to her old boss all over the world.

Carmen's heists have a strange purpose

Carmen Sandiego has been given different motivations for wanting to pull off her complex and borderline impossible heists over the years, from the thrill of the crime to continuing to build her criminal empire through V.I.L.E. The strangest motive for Carmen wanting to steal entire landmarks, however, comes from the 1998 computer game "Carmen Sandiego: Math Detective," which explains how Carmen is able to steal such massive monuments while revealing a surprising twist — specifically, that she's chasing immortality.


In "Math Detective," Carmen utilizes an experimental device known as the Quantum Crystallizer to shrink landmarks and convert them into crystals. More than simply giving Carmen the means to make off with the Great Wall of China and Roman Coliseum, the accumulated energy from these crystals will supposedly grant her eternal youth. In contrast to other iterations of Carmen, "Math Detective" presents a version with a surprising amount of vanity, and one fueled by technology that feels better suited for a lesser episode of "Star Trek" than the venerable computer game series.