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Become an Expert Crime Buster with These Tips


Victoria Li

ScioVirtual Instructor



ScioVirtual Instructor



ScioVirtual Instructor


     Hello! If you’re on this article then you’re most likely planning to compete in the Division B event Crime Busters (CB) and hopefully continue on with this glorious topic into Division C Forensics. This event is unique in that you don’t really need to have a strong foundation in any topic. CB is technically under the “Chemistry” category, but let’s be honest, you’re more likely to see bio-based questions about DNA testing than you are actual chem calculations. 

     In that sense, the event is easy to get into, but difficult to progress higher past that point. Every single test will be structured around a crime case: Division B will usually be some sort of theft or vandalism, but I’ve found that Division C is just full of murders. Therefore, the first thing you should always do is skim through the crime scene and suspect descriptions and underline important information. 

     Crime Busters (when in-person) can be generally split into a lab portion and a test portion. The lab consists of powder, and sometimes liquid, identification. It would definitely be helpful to have a comprehensive chart of how each substance reacts and behaves to aid you during the lab. Do not just have a flowchart in which some of the substances will be identified by process of elimination (i.e identifying a substance because it reacted with nothing)— you’re going to be screwed for certain competitions in which not all reactants will be available (i.e. iodine, hydrochloric acid, etc.). Especially since a lot of competitions have been virtual lately, so you’ll just be given descriptions instead, which often will not include things like visual and smell but have “mistakes” in the descriptions they offer. For example, if they give you a chart with 5 reactions for each powder and ask you to identify, 1-2 of the reactions will be incorrect and you’ll have to list out the mistakes as well. 

     *Ignore for virtual competitions* There are often other smaller labs throughout the room, usually chromatography. It takes a good 10-15 minutes for chromatography to develop, so if you notice your test having one, it’s a good idea to get one set up first. Chromatography itself is not hard but it’s easy to mess up. Make sure to:

  • Label each sample (with pencil) if there are multiple 
  • Keep the sides of the beaker where you are performing the chromatography dry 
  • Try to keep an eye on the clock → letting a chromatography sit there for 50 minutes isn’t a good idea
  • Keep an eye on the beaker → don’t let paper fall over (it may be a good idea to just skewer a pencil or stick through the paper and rest it on top of the beaker)
  • Listen carefully to the instructions your proctors give. Stations may be set up for each team or as communal ones for every team. Pay attention to which stations are available and where they are. Because sometimes if you ask your proctor where the chromatography paper is, they’ll just answer with “Everything you need is in this room.”

     Overall just know which partner is going to do which section (the person who does lab will likely finish early and help with sections of the test). Keep an eye on the clock so you’ll have time to discuss, choose a suspect, and write out your reasoning. Also try to keep a mental checklist on who the most likely perpetrator is based on your evidence so you won’t have to go back later. 


     Crime Busters Scioly Wiki is always a good place to start with learning the basic info and adding it all to a cheatsheet. The rest of the info you can find online → make sure to get a detailed list of uses for all substances (powders/liquids/fibers/plastics). Sometimes the suspect description will give you the use for a substance instead of the actual name: for example, a suspect that wears glasses can match with polycarbonate. 

     In my opinion, the best way to study for CB is to get hands-on practice, whether that’s taking an entire mock test or doing some lab work. If you don't have the powders or liquids available, it’s easy to go onto YouTube and search for things like “Iodine and Cornstarch Reaction”. 

     For hairs and fibers, is a good source with tons of pictures of all different types of hairs. 

Some Other Tips

     If the test writer list is released ahead of time, try to look for previous tests that they have written. If not, look at a test from the same invitational from the year before. This’ll give you a good idea of what the test might contain, whether it’ll just be repeated info from old tests, or be styled like an Among Us game where there’s a chat log instead of a suspect description. For example, I remember there was one specific test writer that always wrote scenarios where there were two perpetrators that worked together. 

     Color code your cheat sheet. If you’ve read ScioVirtual’s Create your cheatsheet with tips from pros article, you’ll already be aware of the benefits. For CB especially → since it’s split into different sections with plastics, fibers, and powders, color coding will make it much easier to find information. 

     Continuously add to your cheat sheet. There will always be random trivia that you don’t know for forensics, and sometimes they’ll constitute a pretty decent chunk of the test. After all, there’s only so much information you can add through Google.  Go back through after a competition and note down the problems that were marked incorrect to update the cheat sheet. 


     Hopefully you now have a better idea or what to look out for and expect when competing in CB. 

     Good luck!

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