Vintage 1934 puzzle which challenges readers solve a murder mystery by putting 100 jumbled pages of a crime book in the right order sells OUT online thanks to TikTok (but it’s only been solved FOUR times!)
A vintage murder mystery that flummoxed puzzlers in the 1930s is booming in popularity thanks to TikTok users who are desperate to solve it’s clues.
Cain’s Jawbone: A Novel Problem, first published in 1934, is a 100-page crime novel that tells the story of six murders, each with a different victim and killer.
But unlike a traditional novel, the pages of the book are printed on individual, loose cards that have been jumbled up and placed back together in a carry case at random.
And while the puzzle has only ever been solved by four people, this could all be about to change after the book saw a new boom in popularity thanks to TikTok.
Sales have gone through the roof in the last week, after American TikTok user Sarah Scannell revealed she had found the book in a shop and was trying to crack the code.
Cain’s Jawbone: A Novel Problem, first published in 1934, is a 100-page crime novel that tells the story of six murders, each with a different victim and killer, and has sold out online after TikTok users discovered it
The challenge is to piece the story back together so that all six murders are solved.
But while there are 32 million possible combinations of the order in which the cards can be placed – only one is correct.
The odds are so heavily stacked against the reader that only two people are thought to have ever solved the puzzle correctly, both men alive in 1935.
Cain’s Jawbone was originally devised by The Observer crossword compiler Edward Powys Mathers, who used the men name Torquemada.
Sales have gone through the roof in the last week, after American TikTok user Sarah Scannell revealed she had found the book in a shop and was trying to crack the code
When the murder mystery was first published in 1934, the reward to whoever solved it was of £15.
This puzzle novel was only solved twice by two men in 1935, who received a reward of £25 each.
The solution to the problem was kept a secret and thought to have died with Mathers in 1939.
The book resurfaced after it was donated to the Laurence Sterne Trust, based at Shandy Hall, in York, and Trust worker Patrick Wildgust set about uncovering the correct solution to the puzzle.
John Finnemore, British comedy writer and creator of Radio 4’s Cabin Pressure, solved the puzzle last year
In 2016 Wildgust called on the Observer’s readership for help and in 2017 announced it had been answered by a ‘very significant contact,’ and that he was completely certain to have the one correct answer to Mathers’ novel problem.
In 2019, the book was re-released, with the publisher Unbound offering a £1,000 prize for any reader who successfully cracked the puzzle by 19 September 2020.
A leaflet contained in the card case read: ‘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.’
John Finnemore, British comedy writer and creator of Radio 4’s Cabin Pressure, was the only person to get the solution right.
TikTok user Sarah discovered the book in a book shop last week and decided to embark on solving the puzzle
The TikTok user created a murder wall on the wall of her bedroom in an effort to solve the challenging puzzle
Since Sarah’s video went viral on TikTok last week, social media users have been going crazy over the puzzle book (left and right, some of the puzzle solvers trying to crack the code)
After the video went viral online, copies of Cain’s Jawbone have sold out on the Unbound site, Bookshop.org and Amazon, with others creating similar solution walls
At the time, he said Cain’s Jawbone was ‘far and away the most difficult puzzle I’ve ever attempted’.
He told The Guardian: ‘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.’
TikTok user Sarah discovered the book in a book shop last week and decided to embark on solving the puzzle.
She shared snaps and videos as she papered her room in the book’s pages, saying: ‘I’ve decided to take this nearly impossible task as an opportunity to fulfil a lifelong dream and turn my entire bedroom wall into a murder board.’
Many other social media users ripped out the pages from the book and searched for solutions with annotations (left and right)
After the video went viral online, copies of Cain’s Jawbone have sold out on the Unbound site, Bookshop.org and Amazon.
The publisher has said orders in the US have topped 10,000 copies, while in Canada are more than 3,000 copies.
They also plan to reprint 10,000 copies in the UK to meet with demand.
Social media users have been going wild over the puzzle, with many pinning up the pages of the book onto their bedroom walls to try to solve it.
The Laurence Sterne Trust are the only entity who possess the solution to the problem in the world.