Carmen Sandiego

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Well, she glides around the globe and she'll flimflam every nation
She's a double-dealing diva with a taste for thievery
Her itinerary's loaded up with moving violations
Tell me, where in the world is... Carmen Sandiego?

Edutainment Game series created by now-defunct Broderbund Software in 1985. The series became phenomenally successful in the 1990s, spawning no fewer than three television shows, two on PBS and one on FOX, then falling into obscurity shortly around the Turn of the Millennium before resurrecting around The New Tens, starting on FaceBook. The series is now owned by the Learning Company, which hasn't made a new Carmen Sandiego game since the World Trade Center was still standing, though it did license the character for Secret of the Stolen Drums, released in 2004 for home consoles.[1] There probably have been plenty of games released, and Carmen just stole them all.

The standard case involves an educational quest to find The Loot, The Warrant and The Crook.

TV shows in the franchise include:

Carmen Sandiego is an International thief, and it's down to the Interpol-esque ACME Detective Agency to stop her plans. Fortunately, she plays Criminal Mind Games with her pursuers to provide the obligatory Alphabet Soup Cans. But don't worry; she's a Friendly Enemy — at least some of the time.

Her Backstory? Carmen was a star ACME agent until she decided that catching crooks was just too darn easy. Therefore, she did a Face Heel Turn and became a Gentlewoman Thief. Then she decided to have Fun with Acronyms by founding an organization called the Villains' International League of Evil (V.I.L.E.). Although V.I.L.E. is progressive enough for Equal Opportunity Evil, you absolutely must have a Punny Name to join.

Given a massive Darker and Edgier Homage here. It's now playable on FaceBook and coming to WiiWare.

Netflix released a new version of the animated series in spring of 2019, casting Carmen as an Anti-Hero type, with Gina Rodriguez as the title role.

The following tropes are common to many or all entries in the Carmen Sandiego franchise.
For tropes specific to individual installments, visit their respective work pages.
  • Academy of Evil: In the Netflix version, V.I.L.E. is a school for thieves, where Carmen (who was called "Black Sheep" at the time) was a student of before turning on them.
  • Acceptable Breaks From Reality: In Great Chase Through Time, the manual points out that you couldn't really have spoken to any of the people (except maybe a few in English-speaking areas). You also really couldn't have been able to approach any of the royalty figures and have a chat with them. And Yuri Gagarin probably wouldn't have been too eager to help a couple of Americans who decide to help him launch into space — you and Ivan would have been arrested in a heartbeat in addition to Carmen.
    • It is possible that the same device used to talk to people of all different languages all over the world in "Where in the World..." is also in use during "Great Chase...", but as for the other issues, yeah, acceptable breaks...
  • Acme Products: Possibly parodied, as the name is given to a detective agency rather than a product.
  • All There in the Manual: In a rather strange variation, some of the background information for the Acme detectives introduced in Treasures of Knowledge appears in the manual for Secret of the Stolen Drums.
    • For that matter, a lot of information in "Great chase through time" is in the manual. Justified as you are supposed to read the Chronopedia.
  • Alphabet Soup Cans: Newer games are generally worse offenders here than the earlier ones.
    • Justifiable in the sense that you are trying to find a culprit, so are gathering evidence to suggest where they went. Some clues make sense, such as they describe where the suspect is going, but other times it seems rather contrived, such as naming the country where something was invented or finding the birthplace of a celebrity.
    • "Great chase through time" also has a few justifiable examples; such as where one must use the accounting systems employed by the Incans, put movable type on the right way (Mind you this was backwards) or properly balance a brick of salt with gold to make a fair trade. A few were rather contrived though - in 1776 for example, you give Thomas Jefferson some paper so he can draft the Declaration of Independence before taking it to Continental Congress. Somehow in the trip, he completely forgets which order he wrote what clauses on.
  • Alternate Continuity: FOX's Where on Earth... series appears to have its own continuity. The two PBS shows may be set in the same universe, but that's not too clear since they have No Fourth Wall and are game shows. And don't even try to figure out which of the computer games take place in the same universe...
    • It could be said Treasures of Knowledge, Secret of the Stolen Drums, and the DS game do form one continuity as they share a few common characters and Carmen's backstory, but the games can be played without Continuity Lock Out being an issue.
  • Ambiguously Evil: Carmen has been up and down the whole Sliding Scale of Anti-Villains. The most malicious she's been is in the game show Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego, while the least malicious is likely the 2019 remake, where her victims are other crooks.
  • Awesome McCoolname: Carmen herself, for starters.
    • Chase Devineaux from the Word Detective, Math Detective, and ThinkQuick Challenge games.
    • Shadow Hawkins from Treasures of Knowledge is actually a subversion, the manual for Secret of the Stolen Drums reveals Shadow's real name is Shannon.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Carmen Sandiego's signature red Badass Longcoat and fedora.
  • Big Bad Friend: The Facebook version occasionally enlists people from the player's friends list as some of Carmen's mooks.
  • Broken Bridge: Carmen Sandiego's Great Chase Through Time and Treasures of Knowledge
  • Brought Down To Badass: The Netflix series makes Carmen seem far more mortal, possibly necessary to make her a complex character with an equally complex backstory. She's no longer the Invincible Villain she used to be, as she can be hurt (even getting the crud beaten out of her in the Season 1 finale by her former Evil Mentor), she can no longer transverse the globe instantly (relying on conventional means of transportation(, and while still a master thief, all her heists are within the bounds of possibility.
  • Canon Immigrant: Where on Earth established Carmen's Backstory as a former Acme detective, adopted by later games in the franchise.
  • Cardboard Prison: Extremely blatant: Carmen gets captured at the end of every computer game and maybe 30% to 50% of the time on the PBS game shows. Despite this, she's at large in the next game/episode. This also applies to many of the lesser villains.
  • Classy Cat Burglar: Carmen's practically an archetype.
  • Collection Sidequest: Finding all 450 amulets in Secret of the Stolen Drums. Not necessary for 100% Completion, but on the Sliding Scale of Collectible Tracking, it varies from "Could Be Anywhere" to Lost Forever, especially since once you moved to the next location there was no way to travel back to a previous location. Just to make things worse, the PlayStation 2 version has one amulet Dummied Out for no apparent reason.
  • Continuity Reboot: The recent[when?] Wii Ware games.
  • Copy Protection: Horrible, horrible copy protection. Arguably some of the most frustrating of all time. You can play all you want, but to get promoted and even have a chance to capture Carmen, you have to enter certain words from certain pages of the included travel guides every few cases. Sound easy enough? Then remember that these games were incredibly common in schools...where the manuals would often get lost. And even the teachers couldn't exactly summon new copies of a travel guide (now often several years, if not a decade) out of date at will...
    • Where in Time... came with a hefty paperback desk encyclopedia in the box.
      • Ironically enough, the later CD games had no protection at all.
    • At least with World, the reference was an Almanac; most of the information in one of those can now be found on Wikipedia. Europe used an atlas and asked questions about what color country X on page Y was. Have fun guessing!
  • Criminal Mind Games
  • Da Chief: Who the protagonist in the games answers to.
    • The game show has a rare female version of the Trope as the emcee.
    • The first cartoon averts the Trope, as the Chief is a pretty mellow (and kind of spacey) computer A.I.
    • In the Netflix version, Da Chief seems to be a composite, having the personality and looks of the one from the game show with the high-tech theme of the one from the first cartoon.
  • Difficulty Levels: In Word Detective, Math Detective and the awful ThinkQuick Challenge games
  • Disc One Final Case: Johan Gutenburg's Printing Press case in "Great chase through time". You appeared to have caught every case...yet you're still in the 15th century, and there's another disc. Not to mention, Dee Cryption is still out-Oh wait.
  • Equal Opportunity Evil
  • Expy: Most likely an unintentional example, but Ivan Idea from the v3.0 games/Great Chase, Ben from the junior novels, Shadow Hawkins from Treasures of Knowledge, and Adam Shadow from the DS game share similar traits with Zack from the cartoon (blonde-haired male detectives who happen to be tech-savvy). However, Adam borders on being not just an expy but also a Suspiciously Similar Substitute - not only does his default outfit looks near identical to Zack's outfit, considering the DS game is set in the same continuity as Treasures of Knowledge, Shadow is nowhere to be seen.
  • Face Heel Turn: Carmen, way back when...
  • Failed a Spot Check: In "Great Space through time", you have to arrest criminals in rather...obvious places. (See Idiot Ball) At least some spots make a bit of sense. (Such as how one time, Buggs Zapper is hiding underneath a table that has a cloth over it, or where Jane Reaction is hiding inside a bag attached to a llama.)
  • Feelies: The oldest games in the series from the 1980s and very early '90s
  • Fetch Quest: Carmen Sandiego's Great Chase Through Time, Word Detective, Math Detective and Treasures of Knowledge
  • For the Evulz

The Nostalgia Chick: Carmen's not really in it for keeping the stuff but more the thrill of the hunt, but most of all, just proving she can.

  • Friendly Enemy: Carmen, especially in the Earth continuity
  • Fun with Acronyms: V.I.L.E. stands for Villains International League of Evil in the video games, game show, and first cartoon. This is also true in the Netflix series, but the name "Valuable Imports, Lavish Exports" is used as a front.
  • Genre Shift: Secret of the Stolen Drums is a platformer, which is a far cry from previous games in the series.
    • A more minor example is Where in Time/Great Chase Through Time. The original Where in Time from the 1980s played very much like Where in the World, only with picking the correct time period in addition to the location; Great Chase Through Time plays more like an adventure-lite game in the vein of Monkey Island.
  • Gentleman Thief: Carmen is a female version
  • Guide Dang It: There are a few examples where they give a rather obscure hint that's not explained in-game because you're supposed to look in the guide book. The Facebook game justifies this because they know you're going to use Google.
    • Only in one case of "Great chase through time". You have to find a Carmen note in Japan by talking to one of the guards who saw the thief run by and drop a piece of litter on the ground. There is nothing indicating that it's the guard of the winter room. But to be fair, for one, the manual actually outright tells you this and two, an adventure-gamer would assume that they can brute-force their way through until they find a guard who has seen the thief walk past.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: The Chief of Acme Detective Agency is a mysterious, shadowy character in the early games.
    • Unless the Chief is Lynne Thigpen.
    • Or a posh British gentleman.
    • Or the Hologram Chief from "Earth" cartoon.
  • Hidden Villain: In most of the original games, Carmen would only become involved if the player was promoted to the highest tier ranking - naturally, this was the chance needed to nab her.
  • Horny Vikings: Where in Time/Great Chase lampshades this. If you click on a helmet in one part of the Viking level, your guide will mention this trope, and a nearby Viking will scoff at the idea of horned helmets.
  • How We Got Here: Secret of the Stolen Drums starts out with Cole explaining why he failed to obey the Chief's orders to return to headquarters. Repeatedly.
  • Hurricane of Puns: Oh, is it ever.
  • Idiot Ball: In Great Chase through Time especially. You often have to check locations that are out of place or hinted by Carmen to arrest the criminals. Several times it's actually kinda blatant, or where the criminal was hiding in plain sight. (Wouldn't Isabella have found something odd about a chart in her room? Shouldn't the person holding the camel Bugg Zapper was behind have noticed it was a cardboard cutout? Why in the heck did Beethoven not see a friggin SOUSAPHONE in the orchestra?!? And how come Thomas Edison didn't see Dee Cryption hiding right behind a box in plain view of him? And Julius Caesar must have never looked behind the Ionic Pillar that had a crook behind it).
    • The Beethoven one deserves plenty of mention...for one, the crook was technically hiding in plain sight, Jacquelin Hyde had a sousaphone in an orchestra. Shouldn't Renee Santz have spotted something was up immediately? (Beethoven pointed out that it sounded odd.)
    • All of the early games had Idiot Ball in the form of the battery-powered translator. With no spare batteries. Or, say, a charger.
  • Impossible Thief: The Trope Codifier. In addition to landmarks and buildings, she can steal things like lakes and rivers, imaginary features like the International Date Line, and concepts like languages and alphabetical order. She's stolen all the salt from the Dead Sea, and the Mona Lisa's smile. She even managed to steal Saturn's rings.
    • The Netflix series, however, notably averts this. While Carmen is able to filch jewels from the most heavily-guarded vaults, her thefts are at least within the bounds of possibility. Her most elaborate heist was the complete works of Verneer.
  • It's a Small World After All: The clues you are given are about the entire country the crook went to rather than any specific place. Fortunately, knowing just the country is always enough to get you to another destination with more clues.
    • Handwaved in one of the re-releases of Where in the World... where you have to find the torch from the Statue of Liberty, even though you investigate San Francisco. The Chief mentions that it 'appeared seconds after the theft' in San Francisco. Oookay then...
    • Subverted in the Facebook game, the clues point to a specific city within a given country as some countries have multiple locations. The developers confirmed the game was created with the mindset that people would use Google for the clues.
  • Joker Immunity: While difficult, it's possible to catch Carmen, but nobody will ever be able to hold her for long. In the game show, a contestant winning the bonus round meant she was apprehended and arrested, but she'd free herself before the next episode. They've yet to make a jail she can't slip out of.
  • Just Like Robin Hood: Carmen specifically targets other criminals in the 2019 version.
  • Monumental Theft: She used to be the Trope Namer, because when she isn't committing them, she's sending out her henchmen to do so.
  • Mooks: Carmen has quite a few of these.
  • Nice Hat: Carmen's ever-present wicked-cool red fedora; she has been known to leave it behind as a "calling card" at the scene of her crimes, when she's especially proud of her work.
    • The Netflix series reveals that the hat led to her naming herself; she stole it and the fedora in order to escape from V.I.L.E., and was about to throw it away when Player - her accomplice - told her she'd need a passport. She noticed the label inside the hat said "Carmen Brand Outerwear" and "Made in San Diego", so she decided to keep it, calling herself Carmen Sandiego from then on.
  • No Name Given: The chief of Acme Detective Agency is unnamed beyond the title of Chief.
    • One series of Carmen Sandiego junior novels named the Chief Velma. She was made an aunt of one of the Kid Detectives and seems to have been loosely based on Lynne Thigpen's portrayal on the game show.
    • The Chief in the DS game was named Margaret O'Hara.
  • Pet the Dog: One episode of the Fox series establishes Carmen has a deep fondness for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, her favorite book as a kid. Of course, in that episode she's after the Smithsonian's pair of Dorothy's slippers...
    • Not to mention, the Fox series apparently states that Carmen doesn't want to hurt the ACME Detectives.
  • Player Versus Player: Carmen Sandiego's ThinkQuick Challenge
  • Plot Hole: You don't arrest Dee Cryption in Disc 1 of Great Chase Through Time. And yet you see her in'd she get in there?
  • Product Placement: Back in 1998 there was an Amtrak-skinned version of Where in the USA, titled Where in America...The Great Amtrak Train Adventure. It basically added in Amtrak-themed clues and Amtrak-dressed cartoon employees as additional witnesses. It also included a promo advert for Amtrak in the in-game database.
  • Punny Name: Absolutely ubiquitous in the Brøderbund games; the Learning Company apparently didn't like them as much.
    • Just for fun, have a gander at the following baddie names from the Choose Your Own Adventure book Where In Space Is Carmen Sandiego?: Bea Miupscotti, Avery Littlebit Phelps, Morton U. Bargandfore, Kit Incaboodle, Astro Fizzix, and Hanover Fist.
    • For the Facebook game, it's initially subverted as most of the crooks have mundane names. It's played straight once you start solving the Hard cases that Punny Name criminals start showing.
  • Race Lift: Carmen is usually unambiguously Hispanic, but at times she has been changed to a paler skin tone. Arguably she just gets turned into a Mukokuseki type lighter skinned Hispanic though.
  • Recycled in Space: Where In Space Is Carmen Sandiego, naturally. Thankfully the game is a good example of this trope because it was one of the best in the series.
  • Red Baron: Carmen's been referred many times as the Queen of Crime, and less often as the Duchess of Thievery.
  • Regional Riff: Used, often quite beautifully, in Treasures of Knowledge whenever Hawkins and Argent arrive in a new country.
  • Retcon: Lots of 'em. Most notably, Carmen's original Backstory had her being a former spy for the Intelligence Service of Monaco — don't expect that to show up in any game made after Czechoslovakia split up.
  • Rewarding Vandalism: In Secret of the Stolen Drums.
  • Rogues Gallery: V.I.L.E. in the PBS shows
  • Saving the World
  • Shout-Out: The Facebook game has a few, mostly to previous TV shows.
    • The Chief looks very much like Lynne Thigpen from the game shows, specifically Where in the World.
    • Carmen's wanted poster references lyrics from the theme song to the World game show.
    • While Carmen has yet to make an actual appearance, her characterization and described appearance from the various papers on the bulletin board and databases share similarities with how Carmen was portrayed on Where on Earth. Even the logo for the Facebook game looks similar to the logo from Where on Earth. Word of God has not confirmed this, though.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Treasures of Knowledge spells Carmen's middle name as Isabela. The manual for Secret of the Stolen Drums spells it as Isabella.
  • Spy Catsuit: Carmen wears one in ThinkQuick Challenge as an alternate outfit to her red trenchcoat and Nice Hat.
  • Supervillain Lair: Carmen occasionally has one of these.
    • In Word Detective and Math Detective, you teleport between various V.I.L.E. hideouts around the world (and one, from Math Detective, in outer space) to find the games needed to unlock the Plot Coupons.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: V.I.L.E. seems to be stocked with complete idiots; given a Hand Wave in one of the game manuals, which said that Carmen has a soft spot for people less capable than herself.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: While every Carmen TV show and game has its own cast of characters, many fulfill similar niches.
    • Scientists: Dr. Belljar, Sarah Bellum, Jane Reaction
    • Musicians: Sarah Nade, Mel Ancholy, Carri Daway, Esther Odious
    • Aliens: Kneemoi, Dr. Ima LeZaard, A. Leon Being
    • Nobles: Contessa, Baron Wasteland, Baron Grinnit
    • The Pig Pen: Hugh Stink, Top Grunge
    • Hackers: Dee Cryption, Cy Berpunk, Telly Phone
    • Robots
  • Take Your Time: Sorry for the pun, but in Great Chase Through Time, quite literally.
  • Time Police: Whole point of Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego? and Where in America's Past as well.
  • Time Travel: Where in Time and America's Past, obviously, and there were time machines in Where On Earth.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Tacos, something established as early as the first game. In most games, identifying a suspect's food preference was one of several clues you would need to identify him or her, and if the suspect was Carmen herself, the right choice would be "Tex/Mex".
  • Unwinnable by Design: If you spend too much time going to the wrong places, before you figure out some of the more obscure hints (Especially in the later cases where there is almost no room for errors), you'll run out of time or battery power.
  • Unwinnable By Mistake: In Great Chase Through Time, it's possible to trigger a glitch that'll make the mission unwinnable. Before you can arrest the thief, you have to assemble a "Carmen Note" which tells you where the thief is hiding. In the Aztec Empire level, you have to assemble a headdress for Montezuma, and when you complete it and add it to your inventory, a Carmen note appears. However, if you give the headdress to Ann Tikwitee when taken from your inventory, another one will spawn on the wall, meaning you have to take it again to get the Carmen note. You give it to Montezuma...but you still give it to your inventory and you're not allowed to leave the room, making the game unwinnable.
  • Updated Rerelease
  • Victory Pose: Lampshaded in Carmen Sandiego's ThinkQuick Challenge
  • Video Game Remake
  • Villain Based Franchise
  • You All Look Familiar: The bystanders in the 1996 versions of Where in the World... and Where in the USA...

  1. There was a DS game released in 2009, see No Export for You in the Trivia tab.