A vintage murder mystery that puzzled puzzlers in the 1930s has become wildly popular thanks to TikTok users desperate to solve the clues.
First published in 1934, Cain’s Jawbone: A Novel Problem is a 100-page crime novel that tells the story of six murders, each involving a different victim and killer.
But unlike a traditional novel, the pages of the book are printed on separate, loose cards that have been jumbled and randomly placed back into a carrying case.
And while the puzzle was once solved by four people, all that could change after the book saw a new boom in popularity thanks to TikTok.
Sales have gone through the roof in the past week after American TikTok user Sarah Scannell revealed that she had found the book in a store and tried to crack the code.
First published in 1934, Cain’s Jawbone: A Novel Problem is a 100-page crime novel that tells the story of six murders, each involving a different victim and killer, and sold out online after TikTok users discovered it.
The challenge is to put 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 great against the reader that only two people have ever correctly solved the puzzle, both men alive in 1935.
Cain’s Jawbone was originally conceived by Edward Powys Mathers, The Observer’s crossword puzzle compiler, who used the male name Torquemada.
Sales have gone through the roof in the past week after American TikTok user Sarah Scannell revealed she found the book in a store and tried to crack the code.
When the murder mystery was first published in 1934, the reward for whoever solved it was £15.
This puzzle novel was only solved twice in 1935 by two men, each receiving a reward of £25.
The solution to the problem was kept secret and is said to have died along with Mathers in 1939.
The book resurfaced after it was donated to the Laurence Sterne Trust, based at Shandy Hall, in York, and Trust employee Patrick Wildgust began to figure out the right 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 appealed to the Observer’s readership for help, and in 2017 he announced that it had been answered by a “very important contact” and that he was absolutely certain he had the only correct answer to Mathers’ new problem.
The book was re-released in 2019, with the publisher Unbound offering a prize of £1,000 by September 19, 2020 to each reader who successfully cracked the puzzle.
A leaflet in the card box read: ‘Be assured that there is an unavoidable order, that in which the pages are written, and that although the narrator’s mind may flicker from time to time in the modern fashion, the story progresses. . , 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 who got the right solution.
TikTok user Sarah discovered the book in a bookstore last week and decided to solve the puzzle
The TikTok user has created a murder wall on her bedroom wall in an attempt to solve the challenging puzzle
Ever since Sarah’s video went viral on TikTok last week, social media users have loved the puzzle book (left and right, some puzzle solvers are 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, while others have created similar solution walls
At the time, he said Cain’s jawbone was “by far the hardest puzzle I’ve ever tried.”
He told the guard: ‘It took me about four months – not continuously, but I had it spread out on the guest bed, and occasionally I would sit in it, stare at it until my forehead bled, spend an hour researching Shrewsbury’s history online prison or something, swap three cards, slide one back and leave again. I can’t imagine how anyone solved it for the internet.’
TikTok user Sarah discovered the book in a bookstore last week and decided to solve the puzzle.
She shared snaps and videos as she papered her room into the pages of the book, saying, “I’ve decided to use this near-impossible task as an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream and turn my entire bedroom wall into a murder sign. ‘
Many other social media users tore the pages from the book and looked 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 that orders in the US have surpassed 10,000 copies, while in Canada it has exceeded 3,000 copies.
They also plan to reprint 10,000 copies in the UK to meet demand.
Social media users love the puzzle, with many pinning the pages of the book to their bedroom walls to try and solve it.
The Laurence Sterne Trust is the only entity in the world that owns the solution to the problem.