Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Cain’s Jawbone - A literary puzzle solved for just third time in almost 100 years!!

I stumbled across an interesting article this morning on The Guardian's website titled, Literary puzzle solved for just third time in almost 100 years. In the article, I learned the following bit of information:

One of the world’s most fiendish literary puzzles – a murder mystery in which all the pages are out of order – has been solved for just the third time in almost a century.

Cain’s Jawbone was dreamed up by the Observer’s first cryptic crossword inventor, Edward Powys Mathers, who was known as Torquemada. First published in 1934, it invites the reader to reorder the book’s 100 pages – there are more than 32m possible combinations – and solve the murders within.

“The pages have been printed in an entirely haphazard and incorrect order, a fact which reflects little credit on somebody,” wrote Powys Mathers at the time. “The author assures his readers, however, that while it is now too late for him to remedy the ordering of the pages, it is quite possible for them, should they care to take the trouble, to re-order them correctly for themselves.”

Just two readers managed to solve the puzzle in the 1930s, Mr S Sydney-Turner and Mr W S Kennedy, both of whom won £25.

The solution was then thought to be lost, but three years ago the Laurence Sterne Trust was presented with a copy of The Torquemada Puzzle Book, and Shandy Hall curator Patrick Wildgust embarked on a mission to solve it. Once he did, the mystery was reissued last autumn by Unbound, with the publisher offering a £1,000 prize to anyone who could solve it within a year. It warned, however, that the competition was not “for the faint-hearted”, and that the puzzle was “phenomenally difficult”.
John Finnemore, British comedy writer and creator of Radio 4’s Cabin Pressure, was one of 12 entrants, and the only one to get the answer right. He said Cain’s Jawbone was “far and away the most difficult puzzle I’ve ever attempted”.

Wow, Cain's Jawbone sounds like an incredibly difficult literary puzzle to solve with 32 million possible combinations!! I wish I had known about Cain's Jawbone earlier in the year (around the time the initial pandemic lock down began) as it would have been fun staving off boredom by attempting to solve this literary puzzle during shelter in place with all that extra free time... I suppose it is never to late to begin trying to solve this literary puzzle on my own though. 

I'll let you know if I decide to move forward in trying to solve Cain's Jawbone!


  1. This sounds really intriguing. I definitely think you should try to solve it!

  2. Wow, sounds highly interesting. Let us know if you start it.

  3. This sounds amazing!!! I need to get this for my hubby since he loves cryptic puzzles.

    1. My hubby loves cryptic puzzles too. I was telling him about Cain's Jawbone.

  4. Replies
    1. I saw that too, but think I saw used copies of it for sale on Amazon.