Cain’s Jawbone: TikTok helps reissued literary puzzle fly off the shelves | Books

A re-release of the “impossibly difficult” literary mystery from 1934, which has only been solved by four people, flies off shelves after a popular TikTok user begins sketching her own attempt at solving the puzzle.

Cain’s Jawbone is a murder mystery invented by the Observer’s first cryptic crossword puzzler, Edward Bowes Mathers, who was known as Torquemada. The story sees six people murdered – but in order to discover the wrongdoing, readers must rearrange the jumbled 100 pages. The number of possible combinations is a 158-digit number, and so far, only four people have found the solution.

Two of these were in their 30s, Mr. S Sydney-Turner and Mr. W.S. Kennedy, both of whom earned £25. The mystery, named after the first recorded murder weapon, was out of print for years, until a copy of the Torquemada Mystery Book, containing its text, was submitted to the Laurence Sterne Trust, and Shandy Hall Treasurer Patrick Wildest to solve it. Once he did, publisher Unbound re-released the title with a £1,000 prize in 2019. There were 12 participants, and the only British comedian John Fenimore was given the correct answer.

The Unbound Foundation and the Laurence Sterne Trust decided to keep the solution secret, and published Cain’s Jawbone as a paperback in July. Sales have crossed the ceiling last week, after US TikTok user Sarah Scannell began sketching out her attempts to solve the mystery, decking out her room in the pages of the book as she tries to decipher the code. Scannell, a communications assistant at a non-profit documentary production company in San Francisco called Citizen Film, is known on TikTok as saruuuuuugh and has more than 60,000 followers.

In a video that has been viewed more than four million times, Scannell says, it has garnered more than 5,000 comments.

Her subsequent attempts to solve the mystery saw copies of Cain’s Jawbone sold on Unbound and Amazon. The publisher, which sends inquiries about foreign rights from around the world, says orders in the United States have exceeded 10,000 copies, and in Canada over 3,000 copies. It is now reprinting 10,000 copies in the UK, and plans to hit stores by mid-December.

Scannell was at a local independent bookstore near her home, Green Apple Books, when she discovered the address.

“I thought $10 wouldn’t be a very big loss if I couldn’t figure it out,” Scannell said. “As I said on one of my TikToks, I’ve never read a book about mystery murders before but I love logic puzzles, which is why I bought the book in the first place.”

She’s read the book twice now, and while she thinks she’ll be able to put the pages in the correct order, she’s not confident she’ll solve the puzzle next.

“I can already say that the linguistic and cultural differences between not only 1934 and now but also England and America would be very difficult to navigate. But I put it all on my bedroom wall so that it would be easier for me to work on it in short batches,” she said. “I officially started on November 2, but I’m really taking my time because my goal is just to get an answer I’m happy with before the deadline next December. I wasn’t really expecting 4.5 million people to join me in this activity, but I really don’t care if someone Don’t solve it before me. I’m just here to have my own time.”

“What makes me happier about TikTok’s success is that half of the profits will go to the Laurence Sterne Trust. Unbound co-founder and publisher John Mitchinson said he loved setting literary puzzles and finding clever ways to market his books. People forget Tristram Shandy was a bestseller in 1759: Stern literally laughed all the way to the bank.”

Mitchinson said Cain’s jaw bones were “almost impossibly hard” as a puzzle. It took…comedian John Fenimore four months of research. The number of possible combinations of odd pages generates a number with 158 zeros. It’s full of red herrings and blind alleys.

Although Finnemore has already claimed the main prize of £1,000, Unbound is still accepting and marking entries, and anyone who solves the puzzle before December 31, 2022 will receive £250 to spend on supporting other book projects on Unbound.

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