Edward Powys Mathers - a puzzle in the form of a novelette whose 100 pages are bound out of order—by rearranging them into the right order, murders are solved

Edward Powys Mathers, Cain’s Jawbone – A Novel Problem, 1934.
[The Torquemada Puzzle Book. A miscellany of original crosswords, acrostics … etc., & Cain’s Jawbone. A Torquemada mystery novel. Compiled by “Torquemada.”]

James Ryan on Twitter: ""Cain's Jawbone" is a pioneering work of ...

My forgotten book for today is actually entitled The Torquemada Puzzle Book. It is described on the title page as a "miscellany" of original crosswords, acrostics, anagrams, verbal pastimes and problems, etc, but also includes Cain's Jawbone, "a Torquemada Mystery Novel." And suffice to say, I've never encountered a mystery novel like it.
But who was Torquemada? The pseudonym concealed the identity of Edward Powys Mathers, who compiled crosswords for "The Observer" for 13 years. His puzzles were noted for their fiendish complexity, and although so far I have only tried one or two, suffice to say that I think his reputation and pseudonym are well-earned.
Cain's Jawbone is really a novella. The twist is that the pages are not in the right order. The challenge is to work out the correct page sequence. Easy? Not at all, trust me on this. The snag is that the story is told in a strange and mannered style which makes it almost impossible to work out what is going on.
A prize was offered to whoever could solve it. Apparently only three people got it right, and I'm rather surprised it was that many! Suffice to say that it defeated me with ease. Alas, the solution is not included in the book, which must have driven many of its purchasers to distraction. No wonder this 1934 book had no successors. But it's certainly remarkable. And it could just provoke someone to murder... -

The Observer’s first crossword setter, Torquemada, published a collection of puzzles in 1934. Its title read:
The Torquemada Puzzle Book. A miscellany of original crosswords, acrostics … etc., & Cain’s Jawbone. A Torquemada mystery novel. Compiled by “Torquemada.”
Among its “telacrostics” and “triple cricket acrostics” was an intriguing puzzle in the form of a story. Its solution was sadly lost ... until recently. I spoke to Patrick Wildgust of Shandy Hall, home to the Laurence Sterne Trust, about a new edition of the tale – which comes with a £1,000 prize.
Right, so what is Cain’s Jawbone?
Cain’s Jawbone is perhaps Torquemada’s crowning glory. A murder mystery that asks for the identification of the victims as well as the murderers – but only after the pages of the novel have been put into the correct order.
Tell us more.
Opposite the story’s epigraph “How easily murder is discovered!” (Titus Andronicus) and the name of the dedicatee, Dorothy L Sayers, is this introduction:
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 reorder 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.
And you recently acquired a copy: how did that come about?
I was given it by Geoffrey Day, who is a Trustee of the Laurence Sterne Trust and a Sterne scholar. He had had the book for years but had not been able to solve the puzzle.
I could see a link (‘only connect’) to Sterne, who said that writing “when properly managed (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation”. I thought that the 100 pages of Cain’s Jawbone would require some concentration but that the solution would surely be found.
I showed it to friends. I showed it to visitors to the museum. I used it with students and writers and it became more and more fascinating and more and more complex.
Someone did manage to solve it, or so the Observer’s archives suggest. But we didn’t print a solution. Was your call for help in these pages last year helpful? You don’t have to be coy if our readers were no use.
Yes, thanks to that message a contact was made. A significant contact, as it turns out.
OK. And how satisfied are you that you now know the correct solution?Completely satisfied. That’s a short response but I can’t really go into the details.
Understood. Tell us a little about how Torquemada’s work moved between literature and puzzles.
Edward Powys Mathers first came to the attention of the literary world with the publication of his translations and versions of Asiatic love poems. Even at this early stage, there was an element of masquerade, as he introduced poems that were not translations but composed by Powys Mathers himself.
He was heartened by the eager acceptance of his own poems; he created alter egos (Mr J Wing and Mr John Duncan) and disguised his authorship under their names.
Powys Mathers also loved detective fiction and his background knowledge (from the name of Sherlock Holmes’s tobacconist to the reason Father Brown disliked hat-pegs) was matched only by his memory for tales of the supernatural.
His Observer crossword persona, Torquemada, was created in 1926 and he created more than 670 puzzles using the name of the feared Spanish Inquisitor.
Plus Cain’s Jawbone. And now the competition is re-opening?
I kept showing the book to friends and writers who came to Shandy Hall. The conceptual writers Christian Bök and Craig Dworkin were particularly interested, and I set my mind to find a way to bring it a wider audience.
The Laurence Sterne Trust is an independent museum and we couldn’t afford to publish a new edition but the winds of chance blew John Mitchinson [QI producer and founder of the publisher Unbound] and his father into the museum one day.
I was already a subscriber to a couple of Unbound books and had great admiration for this reinvention of the idea of a book’s subscription list (Sterne published A Sentimental Journey with 16 pages’ worth of subscribers); the decision was made to give it a go.
Subscribers to Cain’s Jawbone will receive its 100 pages unbound in a box. This means that they can be spread out and placed next to each other – so much easier than when pages are bound, as in the original publication.
A space for notes is provided as well as a page to submit with the answer. Only solutions submitted on a page from the box will be eligible.
The Trust had a happy success a couple of years ago when Tom Gauld created another nonlinear narrative – a “Myriorama” or “Endless Landscape”. Beautifully executed and mathematically incredible, the game is now in its third issue and bringing income to the Trust.
Cain’s Jawbone is as much a game as Sterne’s Tristram Shandy: a game of words to entertain and amuse. Hopefully, we will reach the target and the book will become a reality.
I hope so, too. More details at Unbound. -    https://www.theguardian.com/crosswords/crossword-blog/2017/oct/30/crossword-blog-a-vintage-mystery-with-a-bizarre-twist

From The Strange World of the Crossword by Roger Millington
If The Times crossword puzzle is the world's most famous, then by common consent the world's toughest are those that have appeared weekly for almost fifty years in The Observer. Only The Listener can claim to rival this series for consistent ingenuity. This supremacy was won for The Observer first by the great Torquemada (Edward Powys Mathers) and then by his successors.
Mathers was born at Forest Hill in 1892, the only son of Edward Peter Mathers, the founder of the newspaper South Africa, and of Mary Powys, through whom he was related to the three Powys brothers, T. F. Llewelyn and John Cooper. In 1924, while earning his living as a literary critic, he came across the crossword puzzle which had then just reached England. At this time crosswords on both sides of the Atlantic employed only the simplest 'dictionary clues' but Mathers realised that with more difficult clues it held the makings of a first-class entertainment. While he may not have invented the 'cryptic clue', there is no doubt that he was the first compiler to use cryptic clues entirely. For the amusement of his friends, he constructed the first Torquemada puzzle, writing the clues in couplets, in the style then current in The Observer. Against his wishes, a friend took it to the Editors of the Saturday Westminster, who persuaded him to produce more. In all, Torquemada published twelve puzzles in this paper; their appearance was heralded by green posters bearing the warning 'Crosswords for Supermen'. Later the twelve were collected in a book entitled 'Crosswords for Riper Years'.
When the Saturday Westminster came to an end, Torquemada was approached by The Observer to contribute puzzles on similar lines. The first was printed in March, 1926, and appeared under the title 'Feelers' as Mathers felt he was feeling his way with his new and wider public. Over the next few months he received a massive correspondence, much of it from readers protesting mildly that they were wasting many hours tussling with his clues. Within a couple of years he already had his copyists employing cryptic clues; at the same time his own 'constant solvers' were getting on his nerves and requesting a fuller display of his invention and ingenuity. He then abandoned the normal crossword grid pattern and devised a form without any black squares. This gave him greater elasticity in the choice of words and enabled him to reduce to a minimum the number of unchecked letters. Only his successor Ximenes had such mastery of the art of composing tortuous and exasperating - but always scrupulously fair - clues. During the years that he worked on The Observer puzzles, he received many letters from solvers indulging in speculations as to his identity. His fondness for Biblical clues led many to endow him with ecclesiastical rank. In fact, Edward Powys Mathers won considerable eminence under his own name as a poet and translator. Even the verse in which he composed his puzzles was often quite distinguished: one of his solvers wrote to say that she had learned many of his rhyme puzzles off by heart.
Enquiries were also frequent as to how he set about composing his weekly puzzles. Several years after his death, his widow answered this curiosity in the foreword to a book of Torquemada puzzles: 'I see him sitting cross-legged in bed, with a puzzle in front of him, looking very like a somewhat relaxed Buddha, a cigarette between his fingers and eyes fixed in the distance - until something clicks and, with a contented smile or discontented shrug, he writes on the list in front of him, and ticks off the word in gaily coloured chalk. Or prowling around his shelves in baggy flannel trousers, his shirt open at the neck and sleeves rolled above the elbow, in search of a quotation through which he would lead his solvers to read or reread some favourite in verse or prose. Or sitting at a table in the living room, kitchen or garden, one ankle resting on the other knee, a hand hugging the foot, drawing marginal decorations in vari-coloured chalks
while he broods on some uninspiring word.'
How long did it take him to compile his masterpieces? According to his widow, the more straightforward puzzles took on average about two hours - although he rarely completed one at a sitting, preferring instead to divide into quarters and sand-wich it with other work. Puzzles with the clues buried in a narrative story or those based on a particular book or author took longer because of' the amount of preparation required. Although his remarkable fertility led many solvers to believe that a Torquemada team was at work, his only collaborator was his wife. Mathers would choose his subject and make a list of words he wished to include. H is wife's part was to select from this list and construct the diagram. From time to time, readers would post him their own 'Revenge' puzzles and occasionally he would borrow a clue from one of these, but less than fifty of the thousands of clues he presented came from these contributions. When his widow examined some thirty thousand clues in The Observer series, she found the same word cropping up fifty times over the years and was astonished at how he succeeded in continually varying the clues.
Considering the difficulty of his puzzles, the wonder is that so many readers were able to solve them. Up to seven thousand correct solutions were received by The Observer each week, and it was estimated that another twenty thousand regularly com-pleted the puzzle without bothering to put the result into the post in pursuit of the prizes for the first three correct solutions opened each week. However, on occasions there were only a handful of successful solvers - on at least two occasions the list of prize-winners was restricted to one lady. Torquemada addicts were widespread. Solutions were received from a man in West Africa who didn't even have a dictionary to turn to. The first air-mail post from India brought a solution, while another came from four men snowed up in Alaska with only a copy of The Observer for entertainment. A Scottish lady of over seventy relied on com-pleting them before Morning Prayer, otherwise her worship was distracted. On the other hand, on one occasion the entire Balliol Common Room admitted that working in combine they still hadn't managed to finish one particular1y brain-twisting puzzle.
A great many solvers worked together in concert sometimes over the telephone: an anguished complaint came from a Scot bewailing the expenditure on trunk calls over one set of clues.
Up to his death in February, 1939, Mathers published 670 Torquemada puzzles in The Observer. It is a great pity that these have so long been out of print for so many years. A selection of 112 Torquemada puzzles was printed in book form in 1942 - Torquemada: 112 Best Crossword Puzzles, published by the Pushkin Press. More unusual is The Torquemada Puzzle Book, published by Victor Gollancz Limited in 1934. This contains a number of crossword puzzles with a Cheats' Dictionary con-taining a list of all the words used in the puzzles, but without definitions. The Torquemada Puzzle Book also includes a section of perforated tracing papers; the idea is that you can tear these out, lay them over the puzzle diagrams and work out your solutions. This way, the unmarked book can be enjoyed by more than one reader. The book finishes with a 100-page detective story called 'Cain's Jawbone'. What makes the story so special is that the pages are printed in the wrong order. Each page has been written so as to finish at the end of a sentence and readers were invited to work out the correct page sequence. Despite the offer of a cash prize, only three correct solutions were received by the publishers!  - http://www.crossword.org.uk/mathers.htm

It might be a sign of the digital times, or an indicator of economic gloom, but working in a secondhand bookshop can be slow. We have many techniques for passing the hours: Theatre-Direction Bingo (works especially well on a Saturday night in the West End), Weirdest Book Title competitions and sneaky behind-the-cash-desk chess to name a few. This week my colleague Jan discovered a book called Torquemada’s 112 Best Crossword Puzzles on a dusty shelf in the basement, a collection of cryptic crosswords with literary themes published in 1942. Rashly confident of our book-geek credentials, we tackled one.
Eight hours of strained, silent effort later, we’d managed half the clues, three of which we got wrong. Cryptic crosswords aren’t one of my strengths at the best of times, and apparently in 1942 their setters expected their readers to have a full-on literary and classical education, preferably at somewhere like Eton. To give you a taste of the kind of clues this Torquemada chap revelled in, give this one a go—it’s one of the easier ones: “Creeper formed of Edmund and his son Charles.” (*Skip to the end for the answer.)
By the end of the day, we were cursing Torquemada and his literary machinations. A quick scan through the introduction to the book revealed that we’d stumbled across a piece of crossword history.
Torquemada was the daddy of crossword setters, and the inventor of the cryptic puzzle. Otherwise known as Edward Powys Mathers, he was a scholar, linguist and lover of puzzles and games who enjoyed setting complex verbal brainteasers for his friends and family over dinner to avoid small-talk. (Sounds like a riot.) In the 1920s a crossword craze was sweeping the nation (the first crossword had only appeared in 1913), but Powys Mathers found the straightforward dictionary-definition clues boring, and created the first cryptic puzzle in 1924. He went on to set cryptics for the Saturday Westminster and the Observer for the next 15 years.
A voracious reader with an impressive memory, Torquemada favoured literary clues, using quotations from poetry, plays and the classics. He was fantastically creative with his puzzles. Many were written in perfectly constructed verse, or delivered mini-narratives to their solvers. My favourite in 112 Crosswords is the puzzle where the clues are knock-knock jokes.
Torquemada also created other forms of literary brain-teaser. One of his triumphs was a hundred-page novel, included in the 1934 Torquemada Puzzle Book, in which all 100 pages were presented in the wrong order. While each followed on grammatically correctly from the last, the story was nonsensical until rearranged into the right order. A prize was offered for solutions, although only three people ever cracked the puzzle to claim it.
Back in the bookshop, to distract ourselves from our woeful performance with the literary cryptic, we tried to list other books that are also puzzles. There’s artist Kit Williams’s Masquerade from 1979, in which a series of beautifully intricate paintings and a fairytale story hold clues to the whereabouts of a real treasure, a jewelled golden hare which Williams buried somewhere in the English countryside. (The sad story of William’s reluctant celebrity status and the betrayal by an ex-girlfriend which led to the treasure being found by frauds, is worth reading up on.)
Then there’s Alice Through the Looking Glass: Lewis Carroll’s wonderfully disturbing and dream-like classic can be played as a chess problem; there’s even a diagram of it at the start of the book, titled “White Pawn (Alice) to play, and win in eleven moves.”
Of course, literature and puzzles have a long and intimate history. Detective stories are the obvious example, and it’s surely no coincidence that Torquemada himself was an addict of classic detective fiction, reviewing masses of it for The Observer. As a young man, he apparently had two ambitions: to create the perfect epigram, and to be a great detective – for him, the tricks and elegant jokes of language went hand-in-hand with the enjoyment of a narrative puzzle with a murder at its heart. The locked room mystery, perhaps the purest form of detective story, is a challenge to the reader to solve a puzzle – how, given a set of apparently unconnected clues, could a seemingly impossible crime have been committed? The best of this genre, like Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, are elegant mini-puzzles, where all the elements necessary for a solution are laid out for the reader to make sense of if they can, before the detective reveals the truth at the end in an act of mind-bending logic. (The links are there with more recent fictional detectives too – Inspector Morse loves a good cryptic crossword, and they pop up in the plots of more than one of his cases.)
The idea that literature hides a secret which the reader must work to reveal was especially popular with postmodernist writers. The work of Jorge Luis Borges was an early influence on them – his stories are like beautiful puzzle-boxes – intriguing, full of mazes, dreams and riddles, with secrets sliding around below the surface, waiting to be discovered. His story Death and the Compass is a great example of his use of the conventions of the detective story to examine metaphysical issues.
Another early postmodernist, Vladimir Nabokov (also an obsessive fan of chess problems), liked his readers to work for their reward, insisting that the best literature was intricately plotted and complex in style and structure. When teaching Joyce’s Ulysses (which itself, in Joyce’s words, contains “so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant”), Nabokov insisted his students plotted the movement of the characters around Dublin on a map.
Nabokov’s masterpiece Pale Fire is both a puzzle and a mystery story, of sorts. It takes the form of a narrative poem by a character called John Shade, with foreword, commentary and footnotes by his self-appointed editor Charles Kinbote. But if the reader interprets the indirect clues in the commentary, a story of death, delusion, fraud and double identity is revealed. Nabokov said that the novel was ‘full of plums that I keep hoping somebody will find.’
The post-modernists used the fictional puzzle to explore the idea of literature and language as a web of clues, signs and meanings, where the revelation at the centre of the maze is often the potential absence of any meaning at all. Perhaps it’s significant that the beginnings of this literary theme coincided with the growth of the cryptic crossword.
It’s a sad footnote to the story of Edward Powys Mathers that he himself harboured literary ambitions beyond the clues of his crosswords. He published several critically-acclaimed translations of Asian poetry, but a lifelong struggle with poor health held him back from fulfilling his ambitions as a serious literary writer, a failing which haunted him until his death in 1939 at the age of 47. Having experienced the linguistically beautiful and challenging construction of his cryptic crosswords, it makes me wonder what torturous literary masterpieces he might have produced had he been given the chance.
*For the answer to the clue, you need to know of the famous 19th-century father and son actors, the Keans, which when rearranged gives the creeper of the answer, “snake”. - Emily Cleaver  https://www.litro.co.uk/2010/06/torquemada-and-the-torturous-literary-puzzle/

Can you solve Torquemada’s murder mystery? An infamously difficult puzzle book in a custom-made box.

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 are republishing the book in a custom-made box so that readers can physically reorder the pages for themselves and then get down to identifying the characters behind the fiendish crimes.
The Author
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.
The Competition
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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