THANK you once again to Hoffmann, the European detective agency, whose worldwide Detectives' Tips newsletter remains the number one do-it-yourself guide to corporate crime. Always topical, as end-of-year stock-takes loom it tells employees who have stolen consistently throughout the year how to make sure they don't get caught when the supervisor turns up with clipboard to count the stock. But that's not the most interesting article. It's the Mystery of the Missing Batteries which is this month's star case. Hoffmann's Sherlock Holmes do-alikes were called into a company that was having batteries, films, cassette tapes and other electrical equipment taken from the store. The clue: lots of discarded packing materials were found in the bin. The management tried everything to find the thieves, searching all employees' bags and pockets, and even reinforcing the ceiling so that people couldn't drop in from the floor above. But one Holmes solved the mystery in no time: ''They were hiding the stolen goods in their underpants. ''Because the packing had sharp corners and was not very comfortable against the body, they removed the goods and threw the packing away,'' the Great Detective said. If Hoffmann was really as smart as it makes out, it could have stopped this in five minutes by refrigerating the store room to minus five degrees Celsius. Only the most desperate thief would put stuff down their underwear if it was freezing. Horse sense RIVER Verdon sure is a smart horse. It's got a telephone. If you don't believe it, look in the blue phone book. Total rubbish IF yours is one of the many companies going through the trauma of installing total quality management (TQM), watch out: TQP is just around the corner. TQP stands for total quality prevention. It is a much smarter idea. It was explained on the BBC World Service last week. The reasoning is that if you don't have any quality, you don't have to have a wasteful, complicated quality management programme. There are many techniques which make up TQP, but most are too familiar to mention. It's very tempting to set up a TQP award programme, which could be handed out to appropriate companies on readers' recommendations. The World Service went on to suggest that management gurus had already gone one step further than TQP, and had invented TBS. However, this is too advanced and secret for anyone to be told what the initials stand for. Number's up ONE candidate for some sort of award is AT & T, which has been bombarding everyone earning more than about $2,000 a week with literature for its AT & T calling cards. These work a bit like a ETC card, giving you unlimited international phone calls - later billed to your credit card - by dialling a special number, then your account number and secret PIN number. Tradelink's Griff Griffith found AT & T had solved the problem of people forgetting their secret number by printing it on the front of the card. Brilliant. Why didn't our banks come up with a nice, simple solution like this? Key decision ''GOOD Morning Dubai!!!'' starts an advert in the Khaleej Times, found by Discovery Bay's David Dunkerley. ''The friendliest real estate in town offers you matrimonial services (in most cases) directly with landlords.'' It's clearly a brilliant idea. Why pay rent? Just marry someone who owns the kind of flat you want. The real estate company keeps a list of eligible types with their square footages, and just matches you up. Half-crazy THE US coastguard has just issued regulations saying that all oil carriers in US waters must carry oil spill prevention equipment. The rules are described as ''interim final rules''. The sequence, as we see it, should go like this: interim interim rules, final interim rules also known as interim rules (final version), final rules (interim interim version), final rules (final interim version), interim final rules, final rules (final version), rules. Winning words DON'T forget you've still got a few days to enter the Lai See competition, with its spectacular array of prizes. The book Free Speech for Me - but not for Thee, a collection of Mao memorabilia, and Hongkong Telecom's Monopoly are all up for grabs. All you have to do is dream up the headline of the article least likely to appear in 1994, either in Business Post or the main paper. The closing date is December 31. But the real prize is the wonderful acclaim of being recognised as a true wit for the whole of 1994. As an extra incentive, the person who gives the most wacky, way-out suggestion will have their name printed in CAPITAL LETTERS. The fax machine has got a new roll of paper and the answering machine tape is rewound. Apologies to those who couldn't get through yesterday, but we didn't foresee the number of entries we would receive. There have been some very funny entries. But there's no doubt that the prizes are still available. Good luck!