A group of enthusiast needs a hero. The one for them has always been Edward Powys Matthews.

Edward (or Bill, to his friends) was a tall, balding man who lived in the 1930s. He sat with his eyes closed in his pajamas and enjoyed a light cigarette while smiling contentment.

As crossword lovers in Britain know, his’reign in terror’ which saw him set crosswords in the Observer between 1926-1939 is still a topic of intense discussion. It wasn’t only crosswords.

Cain’s Jawbone, a novel about a murder-mystery plot of 100 pages was written by him in 1934.

The name of this place was inspired by the jawbone that Cain used to kill his brother Abel, according to the Bible.

Mathers’ novel recounts six victims being murdered in six ways by six killers.

Mathers wrote the mystery and then set the readers the task of placing them in a new order. Not only was Mathers tasked with revealing a murder mystery but also providing an account of the victims. 

Each page is written so that the sentence ends at the end.

The publishers then offered a £25 prize (about £1,000 today) to anyone who could solve it.

Edward Powys Mathers (pictured), or Bill to his friends, was a balding, bearded chap who, in the 1930s, set fiendishly difficult clues as he sat in bed in his pyjamas with a cigarette and a contented smile. But in 1934, he wrote a 100-page murder-mystery novel called Cain's Jawbone, which only a handful of people have ever cracked

Edward Powys Mathers was known as Bill (pictured), a handsome, bearded man. He set fiendishly hard clues while lying in bed with his cigarettes and smiling contentment in the 1930s. In 1934, he published a murder mystery novel of 100 pages called Cain’s Jawbone. Only a few people know the details.

Back in those days, nearly everyone had an opportunity to have a go. It was sometimes hard to believe that the nation could wrestle with Cain’s Jawbone.

However, the total number and length of combinations within the re-ordered books was only 158 bytes long so it took a while to find the right solution. 

It is true that only a small number of people have managed to crack it.

Two of these — a Mr S Sydney-Turner and Mr W S Kennedy — did so in back in 1935, claiming the original prize money. John Finnemore was a comedian writer who cracked it last year during lockdown to much fanfare.

A new Cain’s Jawbone craze has emerged, 87 years later than it was published. 

It’s all because of Sarah Scannell (communications assistant) at Citizen Film, San Francisco.

A copy was found in her local bookshop. She ripped the pages out, stuck them on her bedroom wall and recorded her attempts to solve it using TikTok.

“I have decided to make this almost impossible task a chance to fulfill a lifelong goal and transform my entire bedroom into a murderboard,” said Scannell. He is also known as @saruuuuugh on TikTok. 

7 million people watched her videos.

Second-hand bookshelves have been scoured by enthusiasts and both Amazon and publisher Unbound has sold out — the latter, inundated with tens of thousands of orders from around the world, is frantically reprinting so copies are available for Christmas.

Cain’s Jawbone’s latest edition comes now with loose-leaf pages in a box. They don’t require tearing apart.

Sarah Scannell (pictured) found a copy of Cain's Jawbone in her local bookshop, ripped out the pages, plastered them all over her bedroom wall, and charted her efforts to solve it on TikTok

Sarah Scannell, (pictured) took a book from her local bookshop and ripped it up. She then plastered the pages all over her bedroom wall. Then she charted her efforts on TikTok to find a solution.

He was born in London, 1892, and attended Trinity College Oxford and Edinburgh Public School Loretto. The self-effacing man behind all this was an English poet, translator, critic, and literary critic.

At a time when crosswords only came in the concise, literal form, Mathers — along with Adrian Bell at The Times and Afrit at The Listener — came up with an alternative approach. The cryptic crossword was created by Mathers and Adrian Bell at The Times.

Most good crossword setters work behind a nom de plume and, under the pseudonym Tomas de Torquemada — after the first Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition — Mathers joined The Observer in 1926, where his weekly puzzles became fantastically popular.

Even though the problem was difficult, the newspaper received an average of 7,000 answers each week. Another 20,000 readers, however, were also estimated to have solved the puzzle.

Frenzied speculation also existed about Torquemada, especially when Cain’s Jawbone was first released in 1934. 

So, naturally, when — after 670 puzzles in The Observer — Mathers died in his sleep aged just 47, the puzzling community was devastated.

But in 1939, there were, of course, other distractions and, in due course, The Torquemada Puzzle Book — a compendium of his work that included the murder mystery novel — was largely forgotten.

Until four years ago when Laurence Sterne Trust in York received a book copy as a gift.

Cain's Jawbone, which describes itself as 'the world's most fiendishly difficult literary puzzle'

Cain’s Jawbone describes itself as the ‘world’s most fiendishly hard literary puzzle’

It contained Mathers’ most difficult riddles and Cain’s Jawbone. Shandy Hall curator Patrick Wildgust promised to find the solution.

And so he did, following a public appeal and the help of a ‘significant contact’ — an elderly gentleman who had apparently solved it the first time round and still had his written congratulations from the author to prove it.

With the solution a fiercely guarded secret, in 2019 Unbound reissued the title — and the competition — now with a £1,000 prize.

There was not as much of the excitement that the 1930s brought, but this time. Of the 12 entrants, John Finnemore, a British comedy writer — who also writes crosswords for The Times under the name Emu — was the only one to solve it after spending four months of lockdown focused on 100 pages spread around his spare room.

He took oath to secrecy, and it caused no ripples beyond the crossword cognoscenti.

Then, earlier in the month everything turned sour when Scannell began charting her TikTok progress.

“I thought $10 wasn’t too large a loss even if it didn’t work out,” she stated. Although I have not read any murder mysteries before, I enjoy logic puzzles and that is what drew me to the book.

The £1,000 prize, of course, is long gone, but Unbound is apparently still accepting and marking entries, and anyone who solves the puzzle before December 31, 2022 will receive £250 to spend supporting other book projects on the Unbound site.

The cash is not what anyone cares about anymore. The glory is all that matters now.

Scannell read the book two times so far and she is certain that she will be able place the pages correctly. However, Scannell is less confident about the solution to the mystery. Certain, she will.

Thanks to her videos there are thousands of literary sleuths worldwide who want the thrill of solving Torquemada’s difficult, fiendishly complex puzzle after it was created, 87 year ago. He should have known.