Attorney E. J. Plum has never actually met Samuel Westing, but he testifies as to the legality of the will, which has been signed by the deceased and two witnesses—Julian R. Eastman, President of the Westing Corporation, and Doctor Sidney Sikes, the county coroner. In the document, Westing names the sixteen heirs present as his “nieces and nephews” and says that tomorrow his ashes “will be scattered to the four winds.” He then asserts that his life has been taken by one of his heirs, and he promises that the heir who finds something will receive the inheritance. What the players are supposed to find is never stated because, to lighten the mood at that point, Sandy shouts out facetiously, “Ashes!” Attorney Plum does not go back to clarify what, exactly, the winner will need to find.
The next point, which has a patriotic flavor, reads:
Hail to thee, O land of opportunity! You have made me, the son of poor immigrants, rich, powerful, and respected....Take stock in America...and sing in praise of this generous land. You, too, may strike it rich who dares to play the Westing game.
The heirs are then asked to say a silent prayer for “good old Uncle Sam” and are directed into the adjoining game room.
Upon entering the game room, Theo Theodorakis’s attention is drawn to a finely carved chess set laid out on a table. Noticing that someone has moved a white pawn, he idly makes a defensive move with a black knight. E. J. Plum then calls everyone to attention, and he begins to read the next section of Samuel Westing’s will.
The rules of the Westing game are simple. The sixteen players will be divided into eight teams; each pair will receive ten thousand dollars and a set of clues. Absent pairs will forfeit their money, and if one member of a team drops out, his or her partner must leave as well. The object of the game is “to win.”
Jake Wexler and Mrs. Hoo are immediately disqualified as the first team because neither of them are present. Turtle Wexler and Flora Baumbach form the second team, while Chris Theodorakis is paired off with Dr. Denton Deere. Sandy McSouthers is partnered with Judge J. J. Ford, and Grace Windsor Wexler and James Shin Hoo make up the fifth team. Grace Wexler, ever opportunistic, is excited at the prospect of having access to her own clues as well as those of Angela, Turtle, Denton, and Mr. Hoo’s “obedient son.” Mr. Hoo gripes irrationally about being cheated by Sam Westing again because his absent wife is missing out on her five thousand dollars. Berthe Erica Crow, who lists her occupation as a worker at the Good Salvation Soup Kitchen, is paired with Otis Amber on team six. The two high school students, Theo Theodorakis and Doug Hoo, are assigned together on team seven. Theo had expected to be partnered with his brother but is nonetheless delighted to be paired with his friend. Sydelle Pulaski, who describes herself as “secretary to the president,” and Angela Wexler, who tellingly lists her position as “none,” are an unlikely combination and make up the final twosome.
Each team receives a check for ten thousand dollars with the admonition, “Spend it wisely or go for broke. My God thy gold refine.” They then are given an envelope with a set of clues written on strips of paper; no two sets are alike. As the players pore over their clues, trying to make sense of them, Sydelle Pulaski covers the envelope containing her team’s clues with her...
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hand. She directs her partner to listen and observe as the others examine their own clues; Sydelle has shrewdly perceived the benefits of looking out for “clues to [the] clues of the others.” As Sydelle and Angela watch, Otis Amber makes a boisterous comment to his partner about “Queen Crow and King Amber,” and Doug Hoo wonders aloud if one of his paper strips reads “on” or “no.” Judge Ford appears to be angry, and Sandy appeals to her about “nonsensical words.” Turtle and Flora Baumbach memorize the words on their slips of paper, after which Turtle chews and swallows them one by one. Sandy jokes about “purple waves” with Turtle, and several of the others ask E. J. Plum for a copy of the will. Unfortunately, Mr. Plum will not be allowed to show the players any of the documents until the game is over; some players look calculatingly over at Sydelle Pulaski, whom they realize has the shorthand copy taken during the reading.
Sam Westing closes his instructions with a final cryptic statement observing that death and life are senseless unless one knows “which way the wind blows.” He cautions his heirs, “Be aware...some are not who they say they are, and some are not who they seem to be.”