Cain's Jawbone is a murder mystery puzzle written by Edward Powys Mathers under the pseudonym "Torquemada". The puzzle was first published in 1934 as part of The Torquemada Puzzle Book. In 2019, crowdfunding publisher Unbound published a new stand-alone edition of the puzzle in collaboration with the charity The Laurence Sterne Trust.

Cain's Jawbone
Front cover of Unbound edition.
AuthorEdward Powys Mathers as "Torquemada"
CountryUnited Kingdom
SubjectPuzzle book
PublisherVictor Gollancz Ltd (1934 edition)
Unbound (2019 edition)
Publication date
Media typeHardback

Both editions, when published, were accompanied by a competition which offered a cash prize to the first reader to solve the puzzle. Cain's Jawbone has been described as "one of the hardest and most beguiling word puzzles ever published."[1][2]

Title edit

The phrase Cain's Jawbone refers to the Biblical stories of Cain and Abel and Samson.[1]

Puzzle edit

The puzzle consists of a 100-page prose narrative with its pages arranged in the wrong order. The first edition is part of a hardback book. The second edition is a boxed set of page-cards. To solve the puzzle, the reader must determine the correct order of the pages and also the names of the murderers and victims within the story. The story's text includes a large number of quotations, references, puns, Spoonerisms and other word games. The pages can be arranged in 9.33×10157 (factorial of 100) possible combinations, but there is only one correct order. The solution to the puzzle has never been made public.

Competitions edit

When the puzzle was first published 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."[2] Two people, Mr S. Sydney-Turner and Mr W. S. Kennedy, solved the puzzle in 1935 and won £25 each.[3][4]

The publishers of the 2019 edition ran the competition a second time, saying "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."[2]

In November 2020 it was announced that comedian and crossword compiler John Finnemore had correctly solved the puzzle,[3] doing so over a period of six months during the COVID-19 lockdown. Finnemore said "The first time I had a look at it I quickly thought 'Oh this is just way beyond me.' 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".[3][4]

References edit

  1. ^ a b "Exhibitions and events: Cain's Jawbone". The Laurence Sterne Trust. Archived from the original on 11 November 2020. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Cain's Jawbone – A Novel Problem. Unbound. 8 October 2019. ISBN 9781783527410. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Flood, Alison (10 November 2020). "Literary puzzle solved for just third time in almost 100 years". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  4. ^ a b Carpani, Jessica; Goldsbrough, Susannah (4 November 2020). "British comedian solves world's 'most difficult literary puzzle' becoming third winner in 100 years". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 November 2020.

Further reading edit

  • Kenna Hughes-Castleberry, "A Murder Mystery Puzzle: The literary puzzle Cain's Jawbone, which has stumped humans for decades, reveals the limitations of natural-language-processing algorithms", Scientific American, vol. 329, no. 4 (November 2023), pp. 81–82. "This murder mystery competition has revealed that although NLP (natural-language processing) models are capable of incredible feats, their abilities are very much limited by the amount of context they receive. This [...] could cause [difficulties] for researchers who hope to use them to do things such as analyze ancient languages. In some cases, there are few historical records on long-gone civilizations to serve as training data for such a purpose." (p. 82.)