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 2019
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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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Hello! If I order the "read with a friend" package, do the 2 books come in 2 separate boxes? Thank you!
Hi HJ, The read with a friend books would come as one package and are shipped together to the same address. I hope this helps. Many thanks, Unbound Support
Also: (sorry for all the questions) Do you have any idea when this will be shipped? Am trying to work out where to ship it. Thanks!
Dear HJ, Thank you for your questions - the 'read with a friend' copies would be two separate copies in two boxes, shipped to the same address. Regarding shipping, we can only have an idea when they would be shipped once the project is fully funded which could take any amount of time due to the nature of fundraising. We hope to have the project funded sooner rather than later so please share the project amongst friends! Thank you for supporting Cain's Jawbone. All best wishes, Shandy Hall
Hi ! I was wondering if a non-native english speaker has a chance to resolve all the puzzles. Specifically, as a french. Thanks in advance! Stelio
Dear Stelio, The book contains a number of literary references and 'wordplay' for example: puns and spoonerisms, if those references are difficult the solving of the puzzle might be too. But why not give it a try! All best wishes, Shandy Hall
The references to other works of literature in the novel were relevant over 80 years ago. Although the Internet contains a wonderful set of tools, parts of it are limited to what it's users _currently_ think is important or interesting, and so I suspect more traditional methods of investigation may be needed. In your opinion, will the research needed to solve the important literary clues be harder now in 2017 than originally in 1934?
Dear Mark Thanks for your question. In many ways it will be easier and quicker in 2017 than it was in 1934 as the quotations that Torquemada pillages from literary works are from the works of writers whose importance has not diminished. RC Mathers (wife of Edward Powys) says, " What quotation book do you use?" was a question asked by a number of solvers, though the more observant must have realised that no standard work existed which could account for the range covered. Cruden and Cowden Clarke he always kept by him, but generally only to locate a passage...." The authors here referred to (Charles and Mary Cruden) were responsible for the Dictionary of National Biography and concordances of Shakespeare and the King James Bible. So many books are now available on the internet and the search for a full text of a quotation is so much quicker and easier - but that is where Torquemada's Spoonerisms and puns come into play. Words in disguise. I hope you give it a try. Like Torquemada's original crossword audience you might want to thank him "for helping us to rediscover forgotten beauties in prose and verse to which we might never have returned but for the stimulus of the weekly chase." This was from his crossword audience but the same can be said about 'Cain's Jawbone'. I hope you give it a go best Patrick
Dear good folks of Shandy Hall, I've pledged for the book box. It's a gift for a big crossword fan and I gave the name and address of the intended recipient as the delivery address. I also ticked the 'is this a gift' box. I saw all supporters get their name printed in every edition of the book. My name has appeared in the online supporters section and I was wondering if there is a way I can have my name in the book replaced with the name of the person who will receive the gift? Best, Holly
Dear Holly, Glad to read hear that this is now sorted - if in doubt the good folks at Unbound (email@example.com) are very helpful via email regarding these matters. All best wishes, Shandy Hall
Your 'Christmas Pudding' update isn't visible. Following the link from yesterday's email results in the message "Only logged in Authors can see their drafts". I have a crossword addict here who is itching to have a go! Jan
Dear Jan, Sorry for the technical hitch - you should be able to see the crossword now. Good luck! All best wishes, Shandy Hall
Hi - I see someone else has requested that their name be replaced with that of the intended recipient of the book. I'd be grateful if you could do the same for me - so Jeremy Carver, rather than Freddie Carver. Many thanks, Freddie
Hi Freddie, Once you've pledged to a project you can change the name which will be listed in the book over in your account. More details on how to do this here: http://help.unbound.com/unbound-for-readers/managing-your-subscriptions/changing-the-supporter-name-thats-printed-in-a-book. I hope this helps! Best wishes, Caitlin - Community Manager
Hi! I've just found out about this, it sounds like a lot of fun and I'm disappointed to have missed out. Will the book remain available to buy anywhere now the competition is over? I can't find it if it is.
Hi George, Thanks for getting in touch. We're not reprinting the boxed edition, but we are turning the puzzle into a paperback and you can pre-order your copy here: https://unbound.com/books/cains-jawbone-paperback/. Thanks! Unbound Support
Hi, I understand that this puzzle was solved and the prize awarded, but also that the solution would remain undisclosed. As the project achieved above its target funding, is there scope for a supplemental publication of the solution, should the solver(s) be willing? I tried my best to solve, but came up short. Best wishes, Simon Bailey (Subscriber)
Hi Simon, Thank you your submission! We are actually continuing to accept submissions for the puzzle but the answers remain with the Laurence Sterne Trust, who are the only keepers of the solution as the intention is to preserve Edward Powys Mathers' secret in the spirit of his original publication.