If you love puzzles and think you’re great at solving them, try Cain’s Jawbone, the 100-page novel that’s printed out of order.

If you’re the type of person who loves murder mysteries and podcasts, and if you also love puzzles like doing the crossword or doing sudoku on your commute because you think it’s “relaxing” (because sure, the word to describe sudoku is “relaxing”), then Cain’s Jawbone is a novel you need to get into. Well, describing it as a “novel” is a tad bit misleading actually. While it does tell a story, Cain’s Jawbone is actually a puzzle because the pages are out of order.

[Hero image: Unbound]

Cain’s Jawbone: its origins and who’s solved it

Image credit: Unbound

Who wrote Cain’s Jawbone?

Cain’s Jawbone was written by Edward Powys Mathers, who unsurprisingly had a knack for cryptic crosswords. He published it under the pseudonym “Torquemanda” in 1934 and was originally part of The Torquemanda Puzzle Book.

Edward_Powys_Mathers (Image credit: Unbound)

Powys Mathers wrote when the book was first published: “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.”

What’s the book about?

The book itself is pretty simple: it’s a 100-page novel that’s published out of order. Six people are killed in the course of the story. It’s up to the reader to determine who their murderers were and what were the circumstances of their murders.

Has anyone ever solved it?

The book is nearly 90 years old. It has attracted numerous puzzle lovers all around the globe, but to this day, there have only been four people who were able to solve it. 

When the book was first published, a £15 prize was offered to anyone who could solve it. It was solved in 1935 by S. Sydney-Turner and W. S. Kennedy.

For years, the solution seemed to have been lost. But then The Laurence Stern Trust found themselves gifted with a copy of The Torquemanda Puzzle Book. According to The Guardian, Patrick Wildgust, the curator of a writer’s house museum called Shandy Hall, took it upon himself to solve the book. Once he did, the book was republished by crowdfunding publisher Unbound in 2019, who also offered a prize for anyone who would solve it within the year. This time around, the prize was £1,000.

John Finnemore, the furthest on the left, the one who solved the book in 2020, in a promotional image for the radio comedy ‘Cabin Pressure’. No, we’re not joking, that’s really him (Image credit: BBC)

2020 rolled around, the pandemic hit, and lo and behold, someone was able to solve Cain’s Jawbone for a fourth time. British comedy writer John Finnemore, who wrote and starred in the radio comedy show Cabin Pressure with Benedict Cumberbatch and Roger Allam, was the one who succeeded in solving the puzzle. In the same Guardian article, he said, “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.”

Where can I get it for myself?

If you fancy yourself a true puzzle solver and think that Cain’s Jawbone isn’t as hard as it sounds, you can actually buy it from Kinokuniya. But just so you know what you’re up against, there are 9.33×10157 ways that the pages can be arranged, and only one of them is right. You’ve been warned. 

‘Cain’s Jawbone’: the murder mystery that’s out of order

Eric E. Surbano

Eric can be found lost in his own world jamming with headphones on while writing when he’s not prepping for a DnD session or researching ‘Star Wars’ galactic history on Wookiepedia. A proud Ravenclaw, he loves playing (and writing about) video games, humming the ‘Doctor Who’ theme under his breath, and rewatching ‘Friends’, ‘New Girl’, and ‘The West Wing’.

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