Reading Exercise: Cain’s Jawbone

Cain’s Jawbone: A Fiendishly Difficult Puzzle


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In 1930, a book unlike any other that had come before was published. The author wrote under the fake name Torquemada, after the murderous leader of the Spanish Inquisition. The book was a murder mystery called Cain’s Jawbone, and it was a puzzle so difficult that only a handful of people have ever solved it.

The real identity of the author was Edward Powys Mathers, a poet and translator who delighted in constructing impossible-to-solve puzzles. Cain’s Jawbone is his masterpiece. The book is a hundred pages long, but the pages are out of order. It is the reader’s task to arrange the pages correctly. If the pages are put in the right order, the reader will be able to identify six murderers and their victims.

The pages are almost impossible to arrange, however. Every page begins with a new sentence and ends with a period, so the reader cannot connect pages by completing unfinished sentences. There are a few poems that run from one page to another, which gives the puzzle-doer one possible entry point. Still, the book is filled with wordplay and confusing events, all of which make arranging the pages a monumental challenge.

The difficulty of solving Cain’s Jawbone is demonstrated by how few people have done it. When it was first published, only two people were able to solve the puzzle. It was republished a few years ago, and still has only been solved by a handful of readers. One of the most recent solvers started the puzzle while stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, and only completed it after four months of work.