September 15, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Simpsons sleuths take heart. On Sept. 17, there will be a satisfying conclusion to the ”Who Shot Mr. Burns?” mystery. Or so says Simpsons creator Matt Groening: ”It’s not going to be a big disappointment, like ‘Who Killed Laura Palmer?”’ Fans have been on the case all summer, sifting through endless speculation on an Internet newsgroup (alt. tv.simpsons) and a Who Shot Mr. Burns? World Wide Web site ( amid, ay caramba!, red herrings galore. Not even mambo king Tito Puente, a season-finale guest star, has escaped suspicion. Some hotly debated cliff-hanger clues:

1. A wounded Mr. Burns falls over the Town Hall sundial with his arms pointing toward S and W (or M), but many characters share these initials (Waylon Smithers, W. Seymour Skinner, Maggie Simpson, and Side show Mel, to name a few). As Smithers says, ”The town’s sundial will be useless.”

2. Several clocks in the episode read 3 o’clock. Executive producer David Mirkin confirms that ”time plays a part.” That may clear Smithers, who claims he never misses Pardon My Zinger, which airs at that time.

3. After Grandpa Simpson whips out a loaded Smith & Wesson and hands it to Bart, Marge buries it in a cigar box — which later turns up empty. This could implicate Marge but seems too obvious to be a legitimate clue.

4. Standing before a sign painted on the pavement, Homer blocks all but the letters N and O and an arrow pointing at him. Even so, ”Homer becomes a big suspect,” says Mirkin. ”That’s a big piece of information.”

5. Burns’ holster is empty as he collapses onto the sundial. Net-heads think his missing gun will play an indirect role in the solution.

6. When Burns strikes oil, he raises his arms in a triumphant Y gesture, which combines with the E and S of the Moe’s Tavern sign in the background — suggesting that Burns is the culprit, accidentally shooting himself. But, Mirkin warns, ”people have seen things that weren’t put there intentionally.”

All well and good. But what about … Tito Puente? Mirkin hesitates. ”It wouldn’t be out of the realm of mystery writing to have a guest that wound up being … ummmm … I won’t make a judgment call on that, one way or another.” Tito, call your lawyer.

Gary Eng Walk, with additional reporting by Jason Kaufman

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