‘The Dancing Men’ Has an Intriguing Name…

And an Equally Intriguing Plot!

“What one man can invent, another can discover.”

When I think of the story that has the most interesting story name out of all Sherlock Holmes stories, I’ll have to say this story has one of the best names. 

‘The Dancing Men’ is definitely a very intriguing name!

Yes, there are many interesting Holmes story names…

There’s The Adventure of the Speckled Band. There’s The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb.

There’s The Sussex Vampire and there’s even – The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot…Grr..

But, the name of this story definitely makes you sit up and think:Who are these men who are supposed to be dancing? Is the story about some crazy men who can’t stop dancing?

A young boy enjoying 'The Adventure of the Dancing Men'

Thanks to mycutegraphics.com, ofalls.wordpress.com and hhhints.com for their help in this picture!

Well to be honest, there are no real men who dance in the story. In fact, there’s tons of code-breaking and cryptoanalysis to be done. The ‘men who dance’ are simply part of a code that Sherlock Holmes has to decipher…

It is this code-breaking – and how Holmes goes about it, that’s fascinating in this story. 

If you love deducing things from or rather uncoding secret messages, you’ll love this one. Holmes’ deductions in here are unforgettable.

Here go my ratings for the story…

Average Rating: 8.75/10

What’s the Mystery/Problem Here?

There’s this man called Hilton Cubitt from Ridling Thorpe Manor in Norfolk, England.

This man has a very interesting problem: he’s been receiving funny dancing men pictures every few days!

Sometimes, these dancing men are scrawled on the door, sometimes, they’re written on a paper kept outside the house.

A man and his wife find funny 'dancing men' drawings around the house...

Thank you Openezx.net for help with this picture.

Now, I would be shocked out of my wits if that happened. (Wouldn’t you?)

But there’s more! Hilton Cubitt’s wife Elsie is actually becoming more and more nervous and scared ever since these messages have started showing up…

In fact, she wants her husband to not do anything about these pictures while she keeps getting more and more scared!

Is there a secret here that she won’t tell her husband? Why is she so affected by these notes? Why is she stopping her husband from taking any action?

I’d say there’s quite some mystery in here! Anyone would be tempted to rush to Holmes in such a situation – if Holmes lived in the same country.

But…can Holmes make sense of these dancing men? That’s what the story is about.

Magical Moments From ‘The Dancing Men’

1 The Moment When Holmes Figures Out That Watson Won’t Invest in South Africa…

The Dancing Men starts on a very Holmesian note when Holmes suddenly says to Watson:

“So, Watson, you do not propose to invest in South African securities?”

Of course this startles Watson! I mean, he had told Holmes about his interest in South African securities but how could Holmes guess whether he was or was not investing?

Holmes however, explains clearly, exactly how he deduced this fact about Watson not investing.

The explanation makes Holmes’ deduction seem extremely easy…and makes you relax into your…”let me savour what’s coming next” pose. 😉

I like this scene because it’s got that typical Holmesian dramatic humour in it – you know – the scene where Holmes makes a startling deduction and explains it convincingly. 🙂

Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t read the story yet, skip to the Cool Trivia section!

2 The Moment When Holmes Comes to Know About His Client’s Death

Yup – that’s definitely a sad moment in the story. I wouldn’t say it’s a magical moment, but it is a defining moment in the story.

Holmes and Watson are on the way to Hilton Cubitt’s house, when they hear the sad news: both Hilton Cubitt and his wife are dead.

This news does come as a shock in the story. Even to Holmes. It’s not every time that Holmes’ client dies.

As Watson says about Holmes’ reaction to his client’s death:

“Seldom have I seen him so utterly despondent.”


The good part however, is, that Sherlock Holmes bounces back with a vengeance and then cracks the case left, right and center. 🙂

3 The Moment When Holmes Finds Out That Hidden Bullet Hole

One of the uber-cool moments in the story is when Holmes finds a bullet hole in the lower sash of the window of the room where Hilton and his wife’s bodies are found.

What does “the lower sash” mean? Well, take a look at the picture below.

That's a sash window

Everyone thinks that Hilton and his wife killed each other. But Holmes is like, “What if there was this third guy outside who fired? That’s also possible! And what if Hilton fired back and his bullet hit the window sash?”

I think that’s a really cool thing to think of.

And…that hole in the sash immediately changes things in the story.

It confirms that there was definitely a third person involved!

That’s because it is now clear that a total of three bullets have been fired while only two were from the only revolver found on the scene.

A magical moment for me.

4 The Moment When Holmes Explains the Meaning of The Dancing Men

Now – that – is the moment you’ve really got to wait for and savour in the story. What the heck do the dancing men mean?

What Holmes finally comes up with his explanation with crystal clear logic about how he figured it out, it’s awesome. It is absolutely a magical moment!

Here’s what Holmes finally deduces by the way:

The code of the dancing men

Aren’t those figures funny?

Well, Holmes deduces 18 out of 26 letters of the alphabet. The rest are not used in the secret messages, so we don’t know what the symbols for the other letters are.

The Dancing Men: Cool Trivia!

1 What Exactly is a Sundial?

In The Dancing Men, 3 out of the 7 hieroglyphs (picture scripts), are found on a sundial outside Hilton Cubitt’s house.

When I read that, these questions rang in my head:

What exactly is a sundial? Was it common to use it in those days?

What I’ve found out is that a sundial was used in the olden days to figure out the time based on where a shadow was formed by the sun. As the sun appeared to move across the sky, the shadow cast by it would also move…and people could tell the local time.

Of course, there are some equations and errors involved in this method – but it was useful then – because mechanical clocks were expensive.


By the 1880s and 1890s however, people had stopped using sundials. They used clocks just like we use clocks.

So a sundial might actually have been a fancy accessory at Hilton Cubitt’s place…maybe his grandfather used it?

Or, he might also have been using it to correct the time by his clock. You see, when your clock’s telling you the wrong time, you can always trust your sundial and correct your clock.

BUT – I don’t think this is true, especially because people had stopped using local time in the 1880s and 1890s. They had started using Greenwich Mean Time.

Well, what’s the final deal? I’d say the sun-dial was there just like that – like a family thing.  It wasn’t used.

2 The Dancing Men was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Third Most Favourite Story!

In 1927, Arthur Conan Doyle compiled his list of top 12 best Sherlock Holmes stories. This list was published in The Strand Magazine.

Now, Conan Doyle wrote 56 stories in total – and he ranked The Dancing Men as the 3rd best story ever!

Hmm. That says something about The Adventure of the Dancing Men. 🙂

Spoiler Alert: Not read the story yet? Skip this and read it!

3 Where Are All the Places Mentioned in The Dancing Men?

There are quite some places mention in The Dancing Men: there’s Ridling Thorpe Manor in Norfolk, there’s East Ruston, there’s North Walsham… Where are these places – and are they real?

Here they are!

Those are some important places from 'The Dancing Men'

While all the other places are real ones, Ridling Thorpe Manor is a name that Arthur Conan Doyle invented.

4 Some Interesting Things Written Using the Dancing Men!

Now, I find codes and cyphers to be interesting. And this dancing men code is even more interesting because it has so many fascinating characters.

Just for fun…would you like to write some things using the dancing men? Here are some very common things written using this intriguing script!

Here's how you would say some simple things in the code of the dancing men!

And yes, if you’d like to try writing more things using these funny characters, you will find this site to be really cool.

You can type anything you want, and you will see a “dancing men depiction” of what you have written.

Well, so that’s it about The Dancing Men. If you haven’t read it – ‘now’ is the time to start reading the story!

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