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It's not what you have, it's what you don't have that counts.

A murder-mystery epic Newbery Award winning novel by Ellen Raskin about sixteen heirs who compete to win a $200 million inheritance from the late Samuel W. Westing. Westing, for his own reasons, has set up a game of his own, set in a very large, cushy building where the heirs and their families are basically trapped into staying; the only clues he gives the players are seemingly nonsensical words printed on paper towel squares. Figure out the clues and the answer should be obvious.


This book contains examples of:

  • Arranged Marriage: The subtext behind Angela Wexler and Dr. Denton Deere's engagement is that Grace hand-picked a brilliant doctor for her perfect daughter, who went along with it because she's The Good Daughter. It's outright stated that Westing's wife Crow did the same thing with her daughter and a politician, which led to the daughter's suicide.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral
  • Berserk Button: Don't pull Turtle's braid. Seriously, don't.
  • Beware the Nice Ones Angela is the bomber.
  • The Big Race: For Doug.
  • A Bloody Mess (tomato sauce)
  • Captain Obvious: Sydelle, when trying to get someone to admit to being a twin.
  • Cassandra Truth: "It's not what you have, it's what you don't have that counts." No one even thinks about that until the final meeting, and they still misinterpret it, and yet it was completely accurate. The goal of the Westing Game was to deduce the fourth alias used by Sam Westing. Three of them were known acquaintances of all the players, although the players didn't know those people were alter egos of Sam's. Once the winner of the game figured out what the real goal was, it was very easy.
  • Catch Phrase: Otis Amber exclaims "Boom!" at random times to scare people after the first two bombings.
    • Also, "purple waves."
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Otis Amber. Also Sandy/Barney Northrup.
  • The Chessmaster
  • Chess Motifs: Judge Ford recalls that during her final chess game with Sam Westing, he tricked her into letting him checkmate by giving her the opportunity to take his queen. She later draws a parallel between the "Queen's Sacrifice" and the Westing Game, since exposing Crow as a murderer would distract most of the heirs from the real objective.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Otis Amber appears to be one of these, but it's actually Obfuscating Insanity. In different ways, Sydelle Pulaski and Crow also qualify, the latter even having qualities of The Ophelia.
  • Color Coded for Your Convenience: Invoked in-story by Sydelle, who always paints her crutches to match her clothing as a form of attention. Played for particular relevance when she dressed in the colors of the U.S. flag to sing "America the Beautiful".
  • Consummate Liar: Westing, and Turtle. Unsurprisingly.
  • Conservation of Detail: To an extreme degree.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The reason Otis Amber was put on the Westing case (not once, but three times, once in the Backstory!) is because his name was the second listed in the phone book under private investigators and the first name's phone was busy. Maybe--Ford and Westing (the first time) may have picked him in this way, but as Northrup he knew exactly who Amber was.
  • The Coroner: Sikes
  • Death by Newbery Medal: Turtle has to face death: first by finding Westing's dead body, then by witnessing the fatal collapse of her doorman friend Sandy, and finally (as a grown woman) by staying at the bedside of dying Mr. Eastman. The book is a very convoluted puzzle-mystery; all three are the same man, who'd faked his death twice.
  • December-December Romance: Otis Amber and Crow
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: Prior to the final meeting of the game, Jake and Grace Wexler fill out their forms under the influence of alcohol, causing Jake to list his position as "bookie" and Grace to include her Embarrassing Middle Name. Or so they assume. It's possible that Sandy altered their forms.
  • Do Not Pass Go: There's a message left like this by Westing when the person in charge of opening the envelopes with his messages inside is late in opening the next envelope. It essentially tells the players where to go with the addition of, "Do not collect $200."
  • Eccentric Millionaire
  • Embarrassing Middle Name: Grace Wexler has a tendency to list her maiden name as "Windsor" instead of "Windkloppel." Sam Westing also had "Windkloppel" as his last name before he changed it for commercial reasons
  • Eureka Moment: Turtle has a very quiet one during the trial. There were also earlier examples, such as Sydelle realizing the clue words formed "America the Beautiful" and Ford realizing Westing had played them with the "Queen's Sacrifice". Numerous Red Herring examples occur also as the various pairs have "breakthroughs" with their clues that they think are the answer. (Example: "Ed Purple-fruit!")
  • Exposition Party
  • Faking the Dead: Sam Westing. TWICE.
  • Gainax Ending: There is absolutely no one who manages to figure out all of what just happened the first time around.
  • Game Between Heirs: The main premise. Samuel W. Westing chose sixteen people apparently at random as his heirs; the book opens with them summoned to hear the reading of the will. He leaves everything to the winner of the puzzle he calls The Westing Game. Who will win?
  • Generation Xerox/Mistaken Identity: Angela's Arranged Marriage echoes Violet Westing's, which at one point causes The Ophelia Crow to think she is Violet, and to treat her like a daughter all the same. Considering Grace may actually be related to Westing after all, this may not be far from the truth.
  • The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry: Subverted; Turtle and Angela seem to be the textbook Smart One and Popular One, respectively, but they're closer to each other and probably understand each other better than anyone else, and Turtle probably has more friends than Angela, while Angela is very smart herself.
  • Haunted House: The Westing mansion, supposedly.
  • Hidden Depths: Applies to nearly every character.
  • Hidden Purpose Test: The entire Will
  • Ill Boy: Chris Theodorakis
  • Incredibly Lame Pun: Grace Wexler creates one when she decides to rename James Hoo's restaurant "Hoo's On First". James understandably complains that his restaurant is on the top floor of the tower, and that people who come looking for Hoo's On First might just assume that the Theodorakis coffee shop (which actually is in the lobby) is it.
  • In Name Only: The 1997 TV movie, which lacked four characters (pairing Turtle with Chris as a result) and changed Sydelle's and Sandy's personalities, among other things.
    • The DVD takes this one level lower, if that's possible, by using the title Get a Clue!
  • Irony: For the entire book, Grace claims she is the only true heir of Sam Westing. With her maiden/middle name having been "Windkloppel", the same as Westing's real name, it seems she, and by extension Angela and Turtle, are the only actual blood relatives among the heirs.
  • It Amused Me: the entire plot amused Sam Westing.
  • It's the Journey That Counts: Although no one wins the game or inherits the fortune (except Turtle), everyone's lives become better for having been part of it and the Character Development they gained from it. As Chris said of the Odd Couple pairings, "Everyone was paired with the perfect partner, given exactly who they needed" though they didn't know it at the start.
  • The Judge: Josie-Jo Ford, who in the book is identified as the first female and/or black person elected to a judgeship in the state.
    • And possibly the first black woman to sit on the United States Supreme Court, according to the epilogue.
  • Little Girls Kick Shins: Turtle
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Every character has a role to play.
  • Location Theme Naming: The clue to winning the game.
  • Lost in Translation: "The heir who wins the windfall will be the one who finds the..."
  • Madness Mantra: "purple waves" supposedly was for the ghost story told at the start of the book.
  • Meaningful Name: "I am Berthe Erica Crow. I am the answer and I am the winner." Also, Windy Windkloppel and his various aliases scattering to the four winds... WESTing, NORTHrup, EASTman, and McSOUTHers.
  • Missed the Call: Sybil Pulaski was the intended heir, but the PI screwed up and found Sydelle Pulaski instead.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The windows of the heirs' apartments at Sunset Towers face east, the direction in which the sun rises.
  • Not So Stoic: J.J. Ford deliberately embraces this trope so people will take her seriously.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Otis Amber, Sandy
  • Odd Couple: The players are paired up, usually with someone they seemingly have nothing in common with.
  • Odd Friendship: The result of several Odd Couple teams.
  • One Degree of Separation: While at first it seems none of the heirs have anything in common, or even a reason to be heirs, it turns out every character or their family does have a connection to the Westings. Grace and her family are actually related; Theo and Chris's father dated Violet Westing; Flora Baumbach made her wedding dress; Ford's family worked for Westing and he put her through school; Hoo was a competitor who blamed Westing for stealing his invention; Crow was his wife; Amber had worked for him as a detective; Sandy supposedly worked at the Westing factory; and Sybil Pulaski, for whom Sydelle was confused, was a friend of Crow's.
  • Playing Sick: Sydelle Pulaski and her "wasting disease."
  • Pretty in Mink: Grace Wexler during the reading of the will.
  • Rear Window Witness: Not a crime, but Chris is a witness to Sikes going into the Westing House just before Westing's body is discovered, thanks to his bird-watching.
  • Red Herring: A number of them many planted by Sandy/Westing himself.
  • Running Gag: Many, such as Dr. Deere incorrectly and/or sententiously diagnosing people's illnesses, Sydelle's crutches, "Boom!", Turtle kicking shins, "Windkloppel"...and almost every one ended up being relevant and important!
  • Scars Are Forever: Angela
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Grace Wexler, probably others too.
  • Small Reference Pools: Used by the characters; except for one joke vote, everyone thinks the quote "May God thy gold refine" comes from either Shakespeare or the Bible. It's actually from a lesser-known verse of "America the Beautiful", and is a clue.
  • Smart People Play Chess
  • Snowed In
  • Solve the Soup Cans: The closest thing to a pure literature example.
  • Spotting the Thread: Sandy's limp, when Turtle knew she had never kicked him gave away he was actually Barney Northrup.
  • Stealth Pun: As each heir fills out forms prior to the reading of the will, Jake Wexler lists his "position" as "standing or sitting when not lying down."
  • Stepford Smiler: Angela Wexler and Flora Baumbach
  • Sticky Fingers: Madame Hoo steals random objects from other heirs in hopes of raising money for a return to China. In a possible Crowning Moment of Funny and/or Heartwarming, she confesses in the middle of Turtle's trial (she thought the meeting had to do with plans to capture her) and returns the things she stole.
  • Taking the Heat: The bomber was Angela, but Turtle willingly takes the blame to protect her sister.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: The winner never tells anyone else that the game was won, nor what the answer was.
  • The Tape Knew You Would Say That: Subverted, though, because the man who recorded the tape (well, in this case wrote the letter) was also the man who provided the convenient interruption, and he did it specifically to break up the flow of the message to obscure a clue. Played straight at several other moments, however.
    • "Sit down, Grace Windsor Wexler!"
    • "Sit down, your honor, and read the letter this brilliant young attorney will now hand over to you."
  • Theme Naming: turns out to be a plot point. Everyone knows that the Eccentric Millionaire Sam Westing was born Windy Windkloppel. Sandy McSouthers was one of the potential heirs and contestants in the game, and Barney Northrup was the landlord of the building all the contestants lived in. The winner of the game is the first person to realize that they should be looking for someone with the word "east" in their name.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Turtle and Angela Wexler, respectively.
  • Too Clever by Half: Turtle
  • Trademark Favorite Food: James Hoo eats plenty of chocolate bars during the course of the novel, because of his ulcer.
  • Two Aliases One Character: Zig-zagged with four aliases.
  • The Unfavorite: Turtle
  • The Un-Reveal: During the reading of the will, Sandy McSouthers makes a joke, cutting off the lawyer before the last word in the third section is read. We never do find out what the last word is... because there is no last word; the will only reads, "The one who wins the windfall will be the one who finds the... FOURTH;" referring to the fourth identity of Westing himself.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Bordering on Gambit Roulette. Westing pretty much manipulated everyone, but as Sandy points out he did make at least one mistake when Sydelle Pulaski. Of course, Westing is Sandy...
  • Where Are They Now? Epilogue: The last three chapters detail significant events the heirs experienced during the twenty years after the solution.
  • Will: Used to set up the plot
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