A literary puzzle in the form of a murder mystery book has been solved for only the 3rd time in a century.
The murder mystery has been constructed with all the pages out of order, inviting the reader to solve the puzzle by reordering the pages as they see fit.
Cain’s Jawbone was was the fiendish invention of The Observer’s first ever cryptic crossword writer, Edward Powys Mathers. The tome was first published in 1934 and contains over 32m possible combinations of the 100 pages needed to solve the murders.
“The pages have been printed in an entirely haphazard and incorrect order, a fact which reflects little credit on somebody,” wrote Powys Mathers when the book was first released. “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.”
Only two readers had solved the puzzle in the early 20th century- Mr S Sydney-Turner and Mr W S Kennedy- and the clever readers both won £25, which was a lot of money in the 1930s.
The solution was then misplaced for a while, and eventually thought to be lost.
Luckily a copy was discovered and donated to the Laurence Sterne Trust 3 years ago, and curator Patrick Wildgust tried to solve the mystery once again. Once he managed to discover who the murderer(s) are/were, the book was reissued by Unbound, who offered a £1,000 prize to anyone who could solve it within a year.
Readers were warned that the challenge was not “for the faint-hearted”, and that the puzzle was “phenomenally difficult”.
British comedy writer, John Finnemore, was one of the 12 entrants, and the only one to get the answer right, saying that Cain’s Jawbone was “far and away the most difficult puzzle I’ve ever attempted”.
“The first time I opened the box, I swiftly concluded that it was way out of my league, and the only way I’d even have a shot at it was if I were for some bizarre reason trapped in my own home for months on end, with nowhere to go and no one to see. Unfortunately, the universe heard me,” Finnemore said.
“It took me about four months – not continuously, but I had it spread out on the spare bed, and every so often I’d potter in, stare at it till my forehead bled, spend an hour online researching the history of Shrewsbury prison or something, swap three cards, move one back, and potter off again. How anyone solved it before the internet, I cannot begin to imagine.”
Finnemore has of course agreed to take the solutions to the puzzle to his grave so as not to spoil it for others.
The Laurence Sterne Trust has the authority to confirm any correct answers when they are submitted.