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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Deductions add interest to ‘Detectives’

Kevin McDonough United Feature Syndicate

It’s hard to think on television. Or rather, it’s hard to show people thinking, looking at evidence, drawing on their experience and offering their conclusions. It’s hard, but not impossible.

The whimsically intelligent series “History Detectives” (9 p.m., KSPS) enters its third season tonight, demonstrating that deductive reasoning need not be dull.

Part whodunit and part “Antiques Roadshow,” “Detectives” features a panel of fact-finders – an architect, an auctioneer, a sociologist and an art historian. Each week they are presented with interesting artifacts accompanied by a family legend or unusual history that they are asked to debunk or verify.

In tonight’s first story, sociologist Tukufu Zuberi investigates the claim made by two brothers from New Jersey that their uncle built the airplane engine that carried Charles Lindbergh and his Spirit of St. Louis across the Atlantic in 1927.

Another participant offers an artifact that could be part of Cold War history: a tiny pin filled with poison to be used by spy plane pilots (like U-2 flier Francis Gary Powers) to commit suicide rather than fall into Soviet hands. And, to make matters weirder, this secret suicide device was purchased at a backyard estate sale!

In the final segment, a woman offers an old photograph that appears to be the legendary Geronimo with her relatives at their New Mexico ranch.

The best thing about “Detectives” is not just the “stuff” and their stories, but the way it celebrates research and the investigative process. Yes, we actually see people going to the library and using a card catalog. And I, for one, found it entertaining.

A 48-year-old institution expires this evening. Ever since 1957, “America’s Junior Miss Pageant” (9 p.m., PAX) has distributed $89 million in scholarships and has and showcased more than 700,000 college-bound women from every state.

The pageant has always emphasized brains and talent over mere bathing-beauty attributes. But tonight marks the final pageant.

Judges include television host and Miss America 1993 Leanza Cornett and Heisman Trophy-winner Herschel Walker, along with actor David Weincek, America’s Junior Miss 1975 Julie Forshee Thurber, and Ron Moss, dean of admissions for Southern Methodist University.

In addition to being the final America’s Junior Miss, this year’s winner also will receive a $50,000 cash scholarship.

Other highlights

Teens sharpen their No. 2 pencils on “The Scholar” (8 p.m., ABC).

Scientists evaluate a cycling phenomenon on “The Science of Lance Armstrong” (8 p.m., Discovery).

Frank’s tasteless act on “Everybody Loves Raymond” (9 p.m., CBS).

Harrison Ford stars in the 1997 thriller “Air Force One” (9 p.m., ABC).

Less than legal tender on “Las Vegas” (9 p.m., NBC).

Italian cooking on “Hell’s Kitchen” (9 p.m., Fox).

Russian mobsters on “The Closer” (9 p.m., TNT), starring Kyra Sedgwick.

Mass-transit murder on “CSI: Miami” (10 p.m., CBS).

A talk show inspires a vision on “Medium” (10 p.m., NBC).

Cult choice

In “A League of Their Own,” Tom Hanks told us “There’s no crying in baseball.” But he never said anything about football. So grab a box of Kleenex and watch “Brian’s Song” (8 p.m., TV Land) all over again. The 1971 TV sports drama made stars of James Caan and Billy Dee Williams.

Series notes

On back-to-back episodes of “Still Standing” (CBS), a dream deferred (8 p.m.), and Sally Struthers and Paul Sorvino (8:30 p.m.) … Joe Rogan hosts “Fear Factor” (8 p.m., NBC) … Parents outsource parenting on “Nanny 911” (8 p.m., Fox) … Runaways on “One on One” (8 p.m., UPN) … Martha Plimpton guest-stars on “7th Heaven” (8 p.m., WB).

A declaration of independence on “All of Us” (8:30 p.m., UPN) … Joan’s feelings revealed on “Girlfriends” (9 p.m., UPN) … A very special episode about drinking on “Summerland” (9 p.m., WB) … Picking up Charlie’s castoffs on “Two and a Half Men” (9:30 p.m., CBS) … Rupert Boneham guest-stars on “Half & Half” (9:30 p.m., UPN).

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