Cain’s Jawbone – A Novel Problem
By Edward Powys Mathers
Can you solve Torquemada’s murder mystery - the world's most difficult literary puzzle?
Publication date: September 2019Buy
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In 1934, The Observer’s crossword writer, Edward Powys Mathers, wrote a unique novel Cain’s Jawbone. The title, referring to the first recorded murder weapon, was written under his pen name Torquemada. The story was not only a murder mystery but one of the hardest and most beguiling word puzzles ever published.
The 100 pages of the book were printed and bound out of order and the reader was invited to re-order the pages, solve the mysteries and reveal the murderer(s). There were over 32 million possible combinations of pages but only one order was correct. The puzzle was extremely difficult and was only solved by two puzzlers whose names were revealed in The Observer - but the solution to the problem remained a secret.
The Laurence Sterne Trust is interested in all literary works that challenge the idea of linear narrative (BS Johnson, Marc Saporta, Julio Cortázar &c) in line with Laurence Sterne’s legacy, so the Trust responded with a mixture of surprise and delight when The Torquemada Puzzle Book was donated to the museum’s contemporary collection, even though the solution was missing. Now, after many months of research and good fortune, the Trust has managed to unlock the secret of Cain’s Jawbone.
To share the complexities, red-herrings and literary adventures hidden in the puzzle, Unbound have re-published the book so that readers can reorder the pages for themselves and then get down to identifying the characters behind the fiendish crimes.
The Torquemada Puzzle Book was published by Gollancz in 1934 and written by Edward Powys Mathers (1892 – 1939).
The author’s nom de plume was Torquemada, a name linked to the Spanish Inquisition, for Edward Powys Mathers (known to his friends as Bill) believed that puzzles should be mind-bendingly difficult but equally rewarding when the solution was found. He introduced the cryptic crossword to this country in 1924 through the pages of The Observer newspaper. The British love a puzzle and grow very attached to crossword compilers, always looking forward to next week’s puzzle, and Torquemada had many loyal supporters. John Dickson Carr (US author of The Hollow Man, voted the finest ‘locked-room’ murder mystery of all time) was a friend. He believed that ‘ there has never lived a man with such a wide knowledge of sensational fiction. Torquemada of The Observer read everything that was being written … and was already familiar with everything that had been written. And he never forgot any of it.’
Powys Mathers was acknowledged as a brilliant translator in the early 1920s and was responsible for an edition ofThe Thousand Nights and One Night, more commonly known as The Arabian Nights; Black Marigolds (a favourite of our present Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy) and other ‘Eastern’ texts; as well as detective stories. He was also a critic specialising in reviewing crime fiction.
In 1934 he published a selection of his puzzles under the title The Torquemada Puzzle Book. As well as some gloriously difficult crosswords, the book contained spooneristics, verbal games, telacrostics, triple cricket acrostics and anagrams - enough to keep a family occupied for weeks.
The final 100 pages of the book contained the novel-cum-puzzle Cain’s Jawbone.
The Book (from the 1934 edition)
‘Cain’s Jawbone’, the bald narrative of a series of tragic happenings during a period of less than six months in a recent year, has met with an accident which seems to be unique in the history of the novelette. The pages have been printed in an entirely haphazard and incorrect order, a fact which reflects little credit on somebody. 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. Before they attempt to do this, they may care to be assured that there is an inevitable order, the one in which the pages were written, and that, while the narrator’s mind may flit occasionally backwards and forwards in the modern manner, the narrative marches on, relentlessly and unequivocally, from the first page to the last.
A space for notes is provided at the bottom of each page.
In 1934 a prize of £15 was offered to the first reader who could re-order the pages and provide an account of the 6 persons murdered in Cain’s Jawbone and the full names of their murderers.
Please Note: This is not a competition for the faint-hearted. The puzzle is phenomenally difficult.
Unlike the famous puzzle book Masquerade by Kit Williams, it is not as likely to be solved by a bright child of ten with an understanding of language, simple mathematics and astronomy as it is to be found by an Oxford don.
To coincide with the re-issuing of Cain’s Jawbone, Unbound are also reviving the competition. The prize of £1,000 (roughly how much £15 was worth in 1934) will be given to the first reader to provide the names of the murderers and the murdered, the correct order of the pages and a short explanation of how the solution was obtained. The competition will run for one year from the date of publication.
Acknowledgments: Geoffrey Day, John Price, Ian Simpson, Christian Bök, Craig Dworkin. Thanks to Brian Dettmer for the use of his treated ‘Tristram Shandy’ used as the banner image.
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A Puzzle in a Box
Head to Head
Edward Powys Mathers
Edward Powys Mathers (aka Torquemada) was The Observer's crossword writer. In 1934 he published The Torquemada Puzzle Book which included Cain's Jawbone.
Patrick Wildgust is the curator of Shandy Hall.
- 15th September 2020 Deadline for all Characters
The final date for submission of the solution to Cain's Jawbone is 19 September - this weekend!
Well done to all who have attempted to identify the murdered and the murderers.
Thank you to all who subscribed to this publication; thanks to Tom Gauld for the wonderful cover; thanks to Unbound for breathing life into this adventure.
Edward17th January 2019 Cover Reveal
Thank you for your support and patience on Cain’s Jawbone. We’re sure you’re looking forward to receiving your box and starting to solve the puzzle in autumn this year.
We’re also thrilled to officially reveal the cover, designed by the fantastic illustrator Tom Gauld, in all its glory:
At midnight this Sunday 20 January (GMT) we’ll be closing the supporter list for the book…6th April 2018 Thank you
Thank you to all subscribers who have waited patiently (and why not also to those who have waited impatiently) for this project to reach the target of 100% Funded. It has been reached. All at Shandy Hall are delighted and we wait to hear what is the next step.
Examples of books from Shandy Hall that blur the boundaries
Myriorama for Shandy Hall by Tom Gauld. Twelve pictorial cards that…20th February 2018 John Dickson Carr, Torquemada & Sterne
John Dickson Carr, 1936 (National Portrait Gallery)
A man and his pipe used to be a common pairing for the photographer. The combination denoting a thoughtful man at ease.
John Dickson Carr, The Hollow Man, 1935 - in 1981 was voted 'the best locked room mystery of all time'.
POWYS MATHERS: AN IMPRESSION by John Dickson Carr
ONE evening only a year ago, I met a man and…19th January 2018 More glimpses into the world of crosswords, art and hair-dressing.
Happy End of January!
We are getting closer to the 100% target thanks to your wonderful support.
Congratulations to those who managed to solve all of the clues to the Christmas Pudding crossword.
If you sucessfully completed it then your vocabulary might have been enriched by Torquemada's encyclopaedic mind. We now know the words for a 'seclusion of Indian women' and 'a person who takes care…14th December 2017 A Christmas Crossword
Thank you to all 299 of you who have supported Cain's Jawbone so far. Please share the project with your friends and perhaps pledge a copy of Cain's Jawbone to include their name as a Christmas gift?
To help you get inside Torquemada's brain, and understand how it works, we have taken one of his crosswords from 112 Best Crossword Puzzles …20th November 2017 "Lots of fun, very fair, very hard"
Cain's Jawbone is now 60% funded thanks to your support and enthusiasm for bringing this 'vintage murder mystery' back to life.
[click to enlarge]
Thanks to The Guardian archive for the digital scans of the solution of the first 'Feeler' crossword by Torquemada (Edward Powys Mathers). Though the puzzles are timeless, the type however was not and is, by contemporary standards, somewhat…9th November 2017 THE BRAIN OF TORQUEMADA aka Edward Powys Mathers (1892 – 1939)
All at Shandy Hall would like to thank you for your support for this unusual, ‘Unbound’ book project as we are over half way to funding the publication of ‘Cain’s Jawbone’.
The book will come in a box which will contain 100 loose pages of a murder mystery story which you will be able to spread out over a table and begin to work out which page follows which. That doesn’t sound too difficult…
These people are helping to fund Cain’s Jawbone – A Novel Problem.
Thomas van der Ree