Frederick M. Hueston, PhD

It is funny how every night I set my alarm clock and I always wake up before the alarm goes off. I guess that’s a sign that I’m getting old! Little did I know that today was going to bring another eye-opening case, and what I call a head shaker. 

I woke up, got out of bed and turned the alarm off minutes later. I got dressed and headed out to my favorite greasy spoon for a cup of joe and some ham and eggs.

I arrived and took a seat, and Flo was pouring my coffee before I could even say “Hello.” I love being a regular.

I was reading the newspaper as Flo poured my second cup of joe. For a moment, I daydreamed I was Clint Eastwood in that scene in Dirty Harry where he was getting his coffee. I stopped and looked around to see if there were any bad guys with guns, LOL!

I finished my paper and coffee, and I was headed out the door when my phone rang. Before I answered it I turned to Flo, winked, and said, “Go ahead and make my day…”  Sorry, just had to say it. 

“Stone Detective, here,” I said, accepting the unknown phone number from Dade County. A gentleman introduced himself as the manager of a condo complex in Miami. He told me that they had a travertine floor installed in the lobby about six months ago and they have a reoccurring problem with it getting very dirty. I didn’t think that was unusual, and all they needed was the proper cleaning solution. He went on to say that not all the tiles were getting dirty but just some, in like a checkerboard pattern. He went on to tell me that they have tried everything to clean them. Some of the cleaners worked, but the same tiles kept getting dirty. He asked if I was available to come take a look at them. It just so happened that I was headed to Miami in a few days, and I told him I could stop by.

The day had arrived, and I was off to Miami for my inspections. But first, I stopped by to see Flo and grab a cup of joe for the trip. When I walked in she pointed to me and said, “How’s it going, Dirty Harry?”  I guess that means she got the cultural reference to “make my day,” which really did make my day.

Anyway, as I was waiting for her to pour my coffee, the old admiral was mumbling something about his world turning upside down. I kind of shrugged it off, as he’s always muttering to himself.  Little did I know that would be the key to the problem I was going to investigate that afternoon.

There’s a “right” side and a “wrong” side on crosscut stone. You can spot the marks left by the blade, if you know what to look for – here, in the upper right corner

There’s a “right” side and a “wrong” side on crosscut stone. You can spot the marks left by the blade, if you know what to look for – here, in the upper right corner

I arrived at the condo and pulled up to the valet. The sharply-dressed, polite young man opened the door, took one look at the manual transmission and said, “Sorry, dude. I can’t drive a stick,” So, he asked me to pull it up to the parking lot.  As I parked the ole Woody a gentleman approached me. He was a short, round guy, and the spitting image of Lou Costello. He even had a voice like him! (Is my life weird, or what?) 

I was half tempted to ask him if he was ever told he looked like Costello. I resisted the urge, and introduced myself. He led me into the lobby. 

My first glance at the floor, it looked good. It was a honed crosscut travertine. He walked me to the back of the lobby and then I noticed it. About 25 tiles were soiled badly. The interesting thing was it was random. There were tiles that were completely soiled and adjacent tiles that were perfectly clean. 

I asked him the standard questions, then reached into my test kit and pulled out some alkaline cleaner. Sure enough, the tile cleaned up perfectly. At first, I didn’t see any difference between the tiles that didn’t soil, and then I looked closely and discovered the problem. I noticed a light circular pattern in the dirty tiles. I rubbed my hand across the tiles and could feel the swirls. I knew right way what the problem was. 

I turned around and felt like yelling “Hey, Abbott!” but again I resisted. I went up to “Lou” and told him that the tiles that are soiling had saw marks from the fabrication of the tiles. In other words, these tiles were installed upside down! The fix was simple: hone these tiles to match the rest of the floor, and that should solve the problem.  Another case solved — and now you know how my world was turned upside down.

The Stone Detective is a fictional character created by Dr. Frederick M. Hueston, PhD, written to entertain and educate. Dr. Fred has written over 33 books on stone and tile installations, fabrication and restoration and also serves as an expert for many legal cases across the world. Send your email comments to him at