Archive for the ‘Puzzles’ Category

Cain’s Jawbone: Where He Who Drinks Is Deathless   5 comments

This is where I’m leaving the book for the moment; it’s hard with this sort of puzzle to ascertain if you’re sure you’ve made progress but — I feel like I’ve progressed to the point where I can explain the overall logic of the puzzle, even if I’m still very confused on the plot.

If this is where you’ve landed you should read my prior posts about the book first. And of course, this is about as extreme as spoilers can be. While I have to severely disappoint anyone who arrives typing “cain’s jawbone solution” into their favorite search engine, this does establish quite a bit of scaffolding; however, I still have to disclaim that some of this may still be wrong.

From AbeBooks.

The basic gameplay logic is to notice connections about a character that let you organize pages together. They might be personal tendencies to use particular items, or they might be relationships (especially to Henry the dog). As Peter observed with my last post, the narrator lights a “Nestor” (cigarette brand) on both pages 6 and 54, so we can assert (at least temporarily) that those two must be connected. The page 54 mention is explicit, the page 6 one is not:

…venerable whose winter Achilles thought to take from the lips of Cressida. Why not? I set fire to one end of him, gloatingly, and my nerves benefited.

On some pages, the author talks about their own name. I am still unclear if any of these overlap with first name-last name or if they are all different.

Page 15: Alexander, the only noteworthy Pope of my native land, was demonstrably affected. And my namesake wrote a letter, in which he said that Sarah’s left eye was injured, and there appeared a black spot on her breast.

Seems to indicating the author’s name is Pope, although it could be Clement repeated who is simply associating himself with Popes (see page 24).

Page 18: He would be, even to start with, for a course of soup, and then another of dishes, as my namesake said, and another of birds.

Based on the textual reference, seems to be Paul (of Paul’s letters in the Bible).

Page 24: I had always thought that to carry the name of fourteen popes and two anti-popes meant nothing to me either way.

I’ve gone through this one before, based on the pope count (and the fact the name occurs on another page) likely it is Clement.

Page 43: Alexander’s my name. They ca’d me Ecky when I was a boy.

Almost certainly a fake-out; the whole quote is from Robert Louis Stevenson. (It isn’t the only RLS quote, suggesting this particular narrator likes RLS and any other quotes are also from the same person.)

Page 58: Considering it was my name month, I wasn’t having too much luck. Henry, though a bit on the spectacular side—to fly the viscera of his third, of the old family lawyer, at his small flagstaff, a little argued the exhibitionist—was sane enough.

Is this person May?

Page 61: I had always been proud of my namesake, the Great Lexicographer, as we, not unnaturally, called him in the family. But I wondered if part of my life would not rather horribly reverse his. After all he had been born at Colney Hatch.

Based on the birthplace, this has to be John Walker, who wrote a Rhyming Dictionary. (The reverse also hints at the author dying at Colney Hatch?) Is the person just John, just Walker, or both?

Page 73: All the artist in me flared up. After all, my given name was world-famous as the inherited one of a bold, subtle and delightful painter. I was, perhaps, unreasonably proud of that ; took a sort of proprietary interest in “The Mumpers.” Why not? It would have been absurd to concern myself with Hamlet’s one, a thing of dreams only, or to have let my spirit flutter around Runymede.

Another name I’m unclear on; any guesses? This may require more connected context to make sense.

Page 85: I had, it occurred to me, been something of an automaton. But wasn’t I thrusting my head, when bent on such a business in this street, into the twin mouths of two lions, of Mycroft’s brother and of the pale but multitudinous Blake? Often as a schoolboy they had guyed my name to a whiskified objectionable one.

Includes a quote from Giffen’s Debt which suggests the name Giffen.

Page 91: In my youth I had been worried that I bore the same name as Newbolt’s admiral and Shakespeare’s sergeant, and it had irked me when, in my student days, I had been known as the Smiler with the Knife.

I’ve been through this one; the current best guess is De’Ath as a surname.

Page 93: Naturally I looked up. And I tell you I found it awe-inspiring enough to actually see my own name through the window, printed there in great letters for the gaze of all and sundry. With a blush I concentrated again on Henry, and asked myself if his recent activities did or did not constitute the darbs.

I’m not sure what name this is; I would assume some church in the narrative is identifiable enough that it is also possible to identify stained-glass with a name.

The general logic thus seems to be to use these clues shown to establish exactly who the narrators are, connect pages in sets by personal tendencies (and possibly events, but the plot is too confusing to make much headway), and once the pages are in the right sets, it likely will be much more plausible to sort things in order. There might be some finesses to make things easier, like each narrator appears in a “block”, but it’s not certain at this point. I’ve seen a few “murder wall” pictures that attempt to smooth everything out into one line but it really seems like the best bet is to sort by blocks, and not try to connecting everything chronological in one fell swoop.

I still feel satisfied I have some grasp of going on but … I’d still like to finish? I’m still going to keep thwacking at intervals, and if significant progress is made I’ll give an update. In the meantime I do have adventure games to keep writing about, including two (two!) games that were previously lost, one for home computers, one for mainframes.

Oh, and many thanks to everyone who contributed to the Google doc. It’s almost readable sometimes now!

Far, far from here the Adriatic breaks in a warm bay among the green Illyrian hills. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Read Mark Twain and inwardly digest. But I had to keep my wits about me. He pottered about with me and succeeded at last in making friends with Henry. Already he felt that I was leading him to the fountain Ponce de Leon sought, where he who drinks is deathless. And he was not so far wrong.

Does this suggest the killing of De’Ath?

Posted June 8, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Gamebook, Interactive Fiction, Poetry, Puzzles

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Cain’s Jawbone: Two Pages   9 comments

I really want to get to a point where I can say “this is general logic and structure behind Cain’s Jawbone”, just so I have something substantial to think of in a history-of-game-design sense. However, the book is really elusive and I’m not sure I’m probably going to need to do more guesswork than I like. For this penultimate post I’m going to throw out two pages to look at in detail, and I’ll try to get at the whole mystery of Who Are the Narrators for my finale.

Cain killing Abel with a jawbone, from the British Library. The actual tradition of a jawbone of an ass being the weapon of choice in the very first murder dates to the 7th century.

Speaking of the Narrators, that’s something I’m definite on now: there are multiple narrators. How many is still an open question. Page 3 talks about “my meeting with Clement yesterday” (and is clearly not a dog or a brand of knife or some other trick) while page 24 says:

I had always thought that to carry the name of fourteen popes and two anti-popes meant nothing to me either way. To share it with Giulio de Medici might sound more sinister to the uninstructed.

The number of anti-popes is actually fuzzy, but only one name was on fourteen of the regular popes, that of Clement. So the narrator on page 24 is being referred to by the narrator on page 3.

On one bit I quoted earlier, page 91, I need to backtrack a little:

In my youth I had been worried that I bore the same name as Newbolt’s admiral and Shakespeare’s sergeant, and it had irked me when, in my student days, I had been known as the Smiler with the Knife. Afterwards I found it better in practice to capitalise my third letter. The Blue Rocket was still going down next day ; in fact, I knew too much to let it go up. It even seemed to be succeeding. The snowy-banded, dilettante, delicate-handed?

Somehow I was misreading on the Admiral-Shakespeare portion and I came up with Henry; while there’s a chance one of the narrators is a person-Henry (rather than a dog) the actual admirals referenced by Newbolt in Admirals Are are

William Howard of Effingham
Richard Grenville
Walter Raleigh
Francis Drake
John Benbow
Cuthbert Collingwood
John Byron
Robert Blake
Horatio Nelson

It is unclear if first or last name is meant here. If we go for the big one, the Lord Admiral Nelson, it turns out “Horatio” has an interesting Shakespeare connection, from Hamlet, speaking to the aforementioned character:

I am dead, Horatio. —Wretched queen, adieu.—
You that look pale and tremble at this chance,
That are but mutes or audience to this act,
Had I but time (as this fell sergeant, Death,
Is strict in his arrest), O, I could tell you—
But let it be.—Horatio, I am dead.

Is Shakespeare’s sergeant death? Then, as Nina Reid noted in the comments given the odd reference to the third letter being capitalized, the name here could be De’Ath. (The family name comes from the town of Ath in Belgium.) Death also fits well with the “Smiler with the Knife” clue.

This nearly feels like a slam dunk to me except the surface level text isn’t quite perfect. “I bore the same name as Newbolt’s admiral and Shakespeare’s sergeant” implies that the same name is for both the admiral and the sergeant, and what the logic above does is use the name of Newbolt’s admiral as a clue to find a reference to Shakespeare’s sergeant (of death). However, keep in mind (as I indicated in an earlier post) the cryptic crossword format wasn’t airtight as to rules yet, so a slight deviation might be acceptable here. (At least, for the moment, for my final character list, I’m including De’Ath as one of them. The name also allows for the character to potentially be referenced later in a punny manner where it isn’t clear otherwise who it is.)

On to the two pages! The first one I wanted to bring up is marked page 1, and it does read as if it is the beginning of something, or at least the start of one narrator’s thread:

I sit down alone at the appointed table and take up my pen to give all whom it may concern an exact account of what may happen. Call me nervous, call me fey, if you will ; at least this little pen, this mottled black and silver Aquarius, with its nib specially tempered to my order in Amsterdam, is greedy. It has not had much work since it flew so nimbly for the dead old man. As I watch the sea, Casy Ferris passes with down-dropped eyes. Of course, to-day is the day. Her father reminds me of a valetudinarian walrus. But she has, I suppose, to have somebody. St. Lazarus-in-the-Chine is full, no doubt, already. I think she is rash ; but it is none of my business. Where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups are crying, my heart remembers how. Strange that he comes into my head so much to-day. I hope it’s over some flotsam fish that the birds are making whaupee. But all the nice gulls love a sailor. Ugh.

The “mottled black and silver Aquarius may be referring to this type of pen, although Peter De Wachter points out that the actual name of the pen is Waterman and Aquarius is just the English translation for the constellation. Given how many names are twisted in the story that doesn’t mean it isn’t the same one, though.

It has not had much work since it flew so nimbly for the dead old man.

This implies the same pen was once held by another; are they one of the other narrators who (at the time of the writing of this page) is now dead? Or is this a reference to the farther past?

As I watch the sea, Casy Ferris passes with down-dropped eyes. Of course, to-day is the day. Her father reminds me of a valetudinarian walrus.

This feels like it should be all sorts of clue in terms of an exact day of writing (“to-day is the day”) perhaps indicated somehow by “Casy Ferris”. But who is that? I would think there is some sort of pun/wordplay and the author is referring to something or someone specific, and the father being a “valetudinarian walrus” is another wordplay-addled hint to the same. Anyone with wordplay skills see something useful?

(Incidentally, one of the wordplay elements I have not been looking for but was used by our author in crosswords was hidden words, that is, where words are secretly put within the exact letters used. “Melon garden hides a secret” could indicate “LONG” as hidden in the letters MeLON Garden”.)

St. Lazarus-in-the-Chine is full, no doubt, already.

Is this referring to St. Lazarus in China? If so, why?

I think she is rash ; but it is none of my business. Where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups are crying, my heart remembers how. Strange that he comes into my head so much to-day. I hope it’s over some flotsam fish that the birds are making whaupee. But all the nice gulls love a sailor. Ugh.

Peter points out the “graves of the martyrs” line comes from Robert Louis Stevenson. There is the occasional recurrence of authors and I’m wondering if some of the narrators can be thought to have “preferred authors”; that is, if someone quotes Hardy, they’re a Hardy fan, and only person X is a Hardy fan, so that helps establish which page goes to which narrator. Maybe?

“All the nice gulls love a sailor” is probably a pun on the song All the Nice Girls Love a Sailor. Again, maybe it’s just to indicate what character this is?

The other page I wanted to look closer at is page 54:

I was feeling about as good as man could feel that day. Everything horticultural, in the awful and literal sense of the word, was lovely. Green blood, as I considered before breakfast, I delighted to conserve. I received a letter from Miss Doncaster over the crumbs of toast and the last clear smear of marmalade, telling me that the old man would be coming to-day, on her advice to take mine. I admit that she had stirred me strangely. I lit a Nestor and considered her letter once more. To pestle a poisoned poison behind his crimson lights. That was a nice thing to ask of a comparative stranger. It would have to be scanned. Poor old man ; but everyone must bump up against his Waterloo, and to-day was the day of the meeting at La Belle Alliance. It was not appropriate.

This struck me as the very start to a novel, maybe even the first narrator? It sounds like a 1930s mystery opening, which often has some sort of discussion of a brand new day and a discussion of food. There’s also a clear date indicated near the end of the page; Wellington and Blücher met at La Belle Alliance on the 18th of June, 1815, and I would say “to-day” makes it fairly explicit that the 18th of June is the date of this specific page.

From The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher by Daniel Maclise.

Going back to the text:

I was feeling about as good as man could feel that day. Everything horticultural, in the awful and literal sense of the word, was lovely. Green blood, as I considered before breakfast, I delighted to conserve.

I don’t think there’s any clever puns or secret clues here other than the attitude of the main character (other than it probably is a “man”, and at least one of the other pages might indicate a woman).

I received a letter from Miss Doncaster over the crumbs of toast and the last clear smear of marmalade, telling me that the old man would be coming to-day, on her advice to take mine. I admit that she had stirred me strangely. I lit a Nestor and considered her letter once more.

Is “the old man” the same one being referred to in the pen excerpt?

Nestor Gianaclis was an early cigarette industrialist who put his first factory in Egypt.

To pestle a poisoned poison behind his crimson lights. That was a nice thing to ask of a comparative stranger. It would have to be scanned. Poor old man ; but everyone must bump up against his Waterloo, and to-day was the day of the meeting at La Belle Alliance. It was not appropriate.

This feels strongly like plotting a murder, although the nebulousness of phrase (“poisoned poison”, “It would have to be scanned”) makes me uncertain. If we’re assuming this is the Start of Everything, so to speak — and honestly, this is just intuition and the fact that 1930s British mystery starting with breakfast was a Thing — then maybe this is the first murder that sets things off? There’s reference to a will later, perhaps there is some scheming for money?

I might still be completely off on everything, so feel free to keep contributing comments to the Google Doc which has the text of the novel. Also feel free to simply drop comments here. I’m going to do at least one more post before leaving this behind, and I’d like to have at least a notion where things are going; I’ll probably then keep adding to the Google doc when inspired but will only make future posts if any big breakthroughs happen.

Posted May 29, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Gamebook, Interactive Fiction, Poetry, Puzzles

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Cain’s Jawbone: Deceptions   Leave a comment

I am unfortunately still not able to declare victory in any kind of holistic organizing, but there are two mysteries worked out, one minor worked out by myself, one major worked out by Voltgloss in the last comment section.

The original printing’s introduction, from James Ryan’s feed. Note that it is quite clear the six months happen in a “recent year”, which isn’t the same wording as in my recent paperback; I briefly had a theory about the years being spread out which is squashed by this comment.

The minor mystery involved my staring at page 28, which has a paradox in the text that was puzzling me. I’ll quote it in its entirety:

I found myself by that one of the windows which overlooked the stone broach spire—a rarity in Kent—of Pluckley church, and the light would strike my book from over my right shoulder. I drew a volume from my pocket; blind-tooled on the green in a double circle was a single star above what was perhaps a sea. I have had very little experience of it myself up to the present. I have only been married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person, and I wondered if such a reason for marriage would ever have occurred to me. I had never married, and scarcely felt like beginning now. It was the tenth edition, of 1917. No, Sir; it is not a very interesting subject. I never think of it myself. Not a woman had entered as yet. I was in for a ticklish business, and I knew it. Forging ahead, I supposed they would call it, since the woman was not yet dead. You might not hear of her again.

The person was married yet never married? I thought, briefly, that perhaps this was a conversation between two people with the quote marks removed, but notice the first section refers to getting out a book. “I drew a volume from my pocket; blind-tooled on the green in a double circle was a single star above what was perhaps a sea.” To remove any suspense, here’s the book:

This is from a 1910 printing, but the play has a 1917 10th edition which I think we can safely assume is the same, because immediately after the book reference, the play gets quoted. Let me put boldface around the quotes:

I found myself by that one of the windows which overlooked the stone broach spire—a rarity in Kent—of Pluckley church, and the light would strike my book from over my right shoulder. I drew a volume from my pocket; blind-tooled on the green in a double circle was a single star above what was perhaps a sea. I have had very little experience of it myself up to the present. I have only been married once. That was in consequence of a misunderstanding between myself and a young person, and I wondered if such a reason for marriage would ever have occurred to me. I had never married, and scarcely felt like beginning now. It was the tenth edition, of 1917. No, Sir; it is not a very interesting subject. I never think of it myself. Not a woman had entered as yet. I was in for a ticklish business, and I knew it. Forging ahead, I supposed they would call it, since the woman was not yet dead. You might not hear of her again.

Now the parsing makes sense: he’s quote a character in the book talking about being married, before switching to musing about never being married. This isn’t even the only page with the same play; Peter de Wachter noted that on page 9 (which I quoted in a previous page) it included the quote directly in the middle. My guess is, as far as the author’s logical framing goes, the earlier reference was intended as a secondary hint to keep an eye out for the play’s occurrence later, and by knowing it shows up, it becomes possible to make sense of the actual narrative. In other words, just like a cryptic clue in a crossword, there seems to be double reference to make it more possible to understand what’s going on!

This double reference also shows up in the discovery Voltgloss made, regarding page 82:

Bartholomew pawed my ankles even, but I am not superstitious, to ladder danger, desiring sweet biscuits. They were so bad for him. He was the third dog I had had in London. I was afraid, I realised, that I did not notice him enough. It was the first dog I noticed, and at the very beginning. You might have thought it strange for me to say these things, but you never knew Henry.

I was assuming all the occurrences of Henry was of a person, but this clip makes it clear on second glance that at at least one of the “Henry”s is a dog. (Probably not all of them.) This suddenly makes the earlier scene with Henry’s casual treatment of corpses make sense:

They said that it made the heart grow fonder. What had I actually seen? I had seen Henry—surely I had heard him called so—bending innocently over an innocent corpse of his own making.

Speaking of secondary references, there’s another reference elsewhere to Thomas Hardy’s poem Ah, Are You Digging on my Grave? which is narrated by a dog:

O it is I, my mistress dear,
Your little dog, who still lives near,
And much I hope my movements here
Have not disturbed your rest?

Thomas Hardy is explicitly mentioned as an author elsewhere in the text, I’m assuming again because it would be otherwise difficult in the 1930s to realize the poem connects to the author. Page 12:

What, I wondered, would he have said about an abstracted will? He might answer to the same name as the man who sang: “Ah, are you digging on my grave?” But a softer fellow I had rarely seen. On velvet, yes, on velvet I would have trusted him ; but not on cinders, by no means on cinders. Yet the keen eyes bent like small topaz searchlights over the writing. I would get, I felt, what I wanted from this man.

This incidentally is also a name clue, as it is hinting … Thomas? … for whoever “he” is right here. I still need to finish managing all the “name clues” which I’ll get to next time. (I promised at least four posts, and the next post will be #4. I’m guessing now at least five?)

Posted May 27, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Gamebook, Interactive Fiction, Poetry, Puzzles

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Cain’s Jawbone: To Reckon With Henry   8 comments

I’ve done a run through all the text, and before I get into some insights, I want to set some ground rules in case anyone wants to join in. You are absolutely welcome to. If for some reason you’ve made significant progress on an aspect before coming here — that is, you know “spoilers” and are not just playing along — I would prefer any comments be held off.

I have a copy of the text here with comment permission. I’m holding off on a spreadsheet until I have a better idea of what the layout should be (more on that in a moment).

To reckon with Henry! That was never easy. Just beyond the laurels, I turned sharply and there he was, bending over the body of his latest victim. There was blood all about. I called to him sharply and he seemed dazed.

— Page 21

I also want to caution is I’m about to make a guess here that might be gigantic spoiler — it deals with a fundamental aspect of the story. If you want to take your own shot at reading and theorizing first without being tainted you might want to veer away until later.

The modern box set, picture from Ash Digital.

For my readthrough I decided to go backwards, 100 to 1, for no particular reason. This led to a rather intense start, which feels like it might be a genuine ending:

I dimly guess why the old dead so wanted this. I had worked for him, Henry had worked for him. If I could get up, as, believe me, I cannot, I would have a thing to say to her. She lolls over at me gloating, her mouth blood-tinted on the puma freckle of her beauty. Why should I think of Henry at this particular juncture? I have it. Scotland Yard, of course. And little ‘twill matter to one. A sorry thing to be last noticed : the buttonhole has escaped from the buttonholer. He, the reckless old cock, slips down past Woolworth’s and she continues full-sail toward the Kursal, as flush—oh, you wicked woman—as May. The girl is smiling at me. That’s not so good. Here I shake off the bur o’ the world, man’s congregation shun. O beastly woman. You know not how ill’s all here, about my heart ; but I know. Henry, I feel it, is for the first and last time getting out of hand. Good-bye, Henry. He drops awa. . . . .

In terms of surface understanding, “I” the narrator here is “working for” someone and “Henry”, who shows up a great deal in the story (more than any other character, I think) also “works for” the same person. This is followed by some stream-of-consciousness which may or may not be wordplay, and then … some kind of death? “He drops away” being cut off sounds akin to a murder happening, but of who? “Goodbye, Henry” makes it sound like Henry itself, but their earlier “Why should I think of Henry” seems to disabuse that notion.

What really popped out was an immense number of references to Henry — searching yields 56 mentions — including this one, page 91, that I found baffling.

In my youth I had been worried that I bore the same name as Newbolt’s admiral and Shakespeare’s sergeant, and it had irked me when, in my student days, I had been known as the Smiler with the Knife. Afterwards I found it better in practice to capitalise my third letter. The Blue Rocket was still going down next day ; in fact, I knew too much to let it go up. It even seemed to be succeeding. The snowy-banded, dilettante, delicate-handed? At least I was the last. I would not say at last I was the least. I tried to interest him in my little Black Museum, and indeed elicited a frisson with the preserved eyeball of the well-known and respected Cadaver Charlie. The eye in which, just before its fellow was shot out by the Chicago sleuth, he had asked that suave detective if he, the detective, could see any green. It looked, though, as if Henry had been playing about with this exhibit. I would have to take steps.

First off, “Newbolt’s admiral and Shakespeare’s sergeant” are both references to Henry. So on this page, the narrator here seems to be admitting their name is Henry. But what is with capitalizing “my third letter”? This feels like it has to be wordplay, but I’m not sure what it indicates. Even more mysteriously, Henry then is referred to later as someone other than the narrator “It looked, though, as if Henry had been playing about with this exhibit.”

I also quoted another excerpt last time about the narrator being called “Hal”, and there’s this bit from page 94 which seems to hint at another name: “Naturally I looked up. And I tell you I found it awe-inspiring enough to actually see my own name through the window, printed there in great letters for the gaze of all and sundry. With a blush I concentrated again on Henry, and asked myself if his recent activities did or did not constitute the darbs.” And yes, there’s Henry again.

Holistically, I really got the sense of different people with different attitudes. Some people were stern and upper-class; some were not. 60 seemed to outline the pieces of a murder, and are very explicit about calling Henry “my peerless investigator” — like Henry is working for the narrator.

I had sufficient knowledge to realise that I had succeeded. I ordered Charles to spare no expense in confecting that Sundae known as Lover’s Delight for my companion. I believed in letting a man have a bit in. A couple of hours later the parson in the pulpit had, with his collaborator, done the trick. I looked down on what I had accomplished. Death closes all : but something ere the end, some work of noble note, may yet be done. That figurehead beard would plough the pseudo-scientific seas no more, at least. There had been other murders, of course, to-day, and with greater consequence. Francis Ferdinand’s, for instance. But never one that had left a man more dead. I gave the huddle farewell, and forbade Henry, my peerless investigator, to pursue the matter further. I climbed down from the short flight of folding steps upon which I had secured my inevitable heliographic record of success. No more by thee my steps shall be for ever and for ever.

So, here’s my grand theory: there is not only just one narrator. There are, perhaps, six narrators, one for each murder; since the pages all continuously use “I”, it gets disguised who is talking on a particular page. So the first task would be to figure out who the six people are, and sort the pages appropriately. (In fact, perhaps, the narrator is the murderer in all the cases?)

I still have yet to think much of the chronology. You might notice in the last excerpt a reference to Francis Ferdinand’s death (kickstarting WW1), which happened on June 28, 1914. I don’t think this implies the story is happening in 1914 — although it’d add an extra wrinkle if it was — but rather the specific day of June 28 matches with the page. Then, perhaps, each month of the six months of the story neatly encapsulates a narrator and a murder.

(There is, at least mercifully, a few pages where the connection is obvious. There are pairs of pages that all involve poems and breaks mid-poem, but the beginnings and ending of the poems are mixed up. The actual list is: 12->50, 23->87, 49->13, 86->24, 92->42, 41->93. So we have at least six pairs linked up.)

I probably next need to give the whole thing another read, with the notion of mind of separating pages into narrator-characters. This supposition may be entirely false. Certainly the multitude of Henrys is disturbing. The page where the character says he is Henry but also talks about one: maybe there’s more than one Henry, just with different last names? (I could of course also be solving the puzzle wrong.) Is Henry sometimes used not even for a person but an object? There are too many occurrences for him to just be illusory.

Posted May 25, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Gamebook, Interactive Fiction, Poetry, Puzzles

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Cain’s Jawbone (1934)   12 comments

It is unknown who actually was the first to put words crossing in a grid, but the earliest example we have is from a piece of 2nd century wall found at a Roman house in Cirencester.

The same words are spelled across as down.

ROTAS
OPERA
TENET
AREPO
SATOR

Word squares became a popular pastime in 19th century England, and eventually, clues started to be made in order to generate them. For example, these clues from Guess Me (1872) make a 5 by 5 square:

1. To watch over
2. Below there
3. A fair lady's name
4. A memorial of the feast
5. A severe lawgiver

Other shapes, like a diamond or a triangle started to be used, but it wasn’t until Arthur Wynn’s Word-Cross for 1913 did “across” and “down” get turned into separate clues, with arbitrary shapes. This eventually kicked off a crossword craze that lasted all the way through the 1920s on both sides of the Atlantic.

Our protagonist for today’s story, Edward Powys Mathers, was on the British side. He originally distinguished himself as a translator and poet, but also was a prolific writer of puzzles under the pen name Torquemada (he of the Spanish Inquisition). There was, for example, the 1925 volume Cross-Words in Rhyme for Those of Riper Years.

We’ll try a sample from here in a moment.
As the title indicates, all clues are in rhyme, and already are much more elaborate than the “American” style crossword.

In 1926 started publishing crosswords with The Observer, and importantly, continued developing what is essentially his invention, that which is sometimes in the United States called the “cryptic crossword”. Unlike regular crosswords, the clues in a cryptic involve a double-indicator, one which is a “straightforward definition”, one which is generally wordplay, and the two are merged together in such a way it can be difficult to discern which is which.

I say “essentially” because it’s important to note that the puzzle type was being developed before “fairness rules” were established; Torquemada was followed by Ximenes (aka Derrick Somerset Macnutt) who quite clearly articulated that there should be a definition, a secondary wordplay, and absolutely no extra words, but that was not the case with all of Torquemada’s puzzles.

For example, try this clue, 3 letters:

The sluggard’s pet abomination
Got all mixed up when dealing with this one

Don’t try too hard; I honestly don’t understand the answer even after reading it. Still, let’s give a period postcard for some spoiler space.

The “got all mixed up” seems to be an anagram signal, but as opposed to the letters being there, you have to figure out what the pet is first:

NTA, Anagram of ant, of whom the sluggard must be heartily sick.

What does NTA stand for? I’ll assume that’s something that made sense in the 1920s, but given how mysterious some of the other clues are, maybe not?

All this is important for the work in question today, that of the Torquemada Puzzle Book published in 1934.

By this point, Torquemada was a well-established puzzle writer, and embedded in the volume of EXCLUSIVELY UNPUBLISHED MATERIAL there was a 100-page mystery novel by the name of Cain’s Jawbone. It is a story over the span of six months where there are six murderers and six victims. There is the slight catch that a.) the identities of the victims are unknown b.) the identities of the murderers are unknown and c.) all 100 pages are out of order. The goal of the puzzle is to reconstruct all three.

A 2019 republication of Cain’s Jawbone as a standalone novel — with an accompanying contest which is still active until the end of 2022 — recently went viral; well, recent-ish, by Internet time. (I can say I was cool enough to know about the book before it went famous. I did not predict it would be the source of Youtube videos with nearly half a million views.)

My skill at cryptic crosswords is only middling-to-fair, so I’ve up to now resisted an urge to take a crack at the puzzle, but I took a gander through the text recently and it’s pretty good even just read as experimental literature. Edward Powys Mathers had genuine literature chops.

The sound of the bell, as of a boding gnat, just came to me. The finger causing it was, I knew, the index of a most skilful hand, one I had commanded, one that would pluck me from embarrassment, and yet one I vaguely distrusted. Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of responsibility…. One had to be in the key for such things.

The impression is a tactile mix of a well-characterized narrator, social commentary, and what likely are some gnarly puzzles mixed in. A good cryptic crossword clue often has surface meaning indistinguishable from normal text. This clearly isn’t … normal text … but yet somehow fits directly into what I’d expect from experimental modernists in the 1930s.

No doubt — especially given the book cover indicates such — there is hidden wordplay that is part of the puzzle. But there’s also still a story here, and a narrative logic, and if I’m going to take a crack at solving Cain’s Jawbone the first thing I want to try to do is sequence by raw intuition.

I’ll be tackling more specifics next time, but I do want to linger a bit more on the narrator character. The narrator himself (herself?) may be one of the murderers.

In one way, of course, I was glad they were married. I had always been rather a stickler for purity in family life. That scandalous rumour of a Maltese landing on our island and seducing an ancestress of mine—or was it an ancestor?—from the path of duty, I never had and never would believe. If I had had a real education, instead of just listening to him, I could have told—it was bad that day—how I detested being called Hal. It was she that did it. But he was pleased in a way, and said to her, out of a book, the original ground of the transaction appears to have been sentimental : “He was my friend,” says the murderous doctor ; “he was dear to me.” Some Tom, not the one I killed in the matter of Jasmine, had done that, I gathered. He was enthusiastic and provided a chop for me, and said it was good he had visited England to-day for the first time.

Is “the one I killed in the matter of Jasmine” referring to “the murderous doctor” or is it referring to the narrator?

From what I’ve sampled so far, I also get the sense that chronology does not flow exactly (the setup material for book even indicates that the narrator’s mind will sometimes flit about “in the modern way”) and it’s certainly possible not everything said is reliable, not even accounting for some text probably being there for literal wordplay rather than indicating real events in the world universe.

I don’t expect to get a solution — nobody seems to be, except for one person — but I would like to get some insight on the puzzle design in general, and especially just what the frame is. Is there a specific way each name gets encoded? Is there a strong indicator across every page that allows checking the page sequence? I was going to commit to writing four posts, and like my writeup on Alkemstone, I’m hoping to at least get a fair notion of the central puzzle, even if I don’t know enough 1930s British references to make much headway. If nothing else, John Finnemore (the solver I just linked to) said “it’s a well-designed puzzle so when you start to make some headway, you know it” meaning despite the obtuseness, it’s probably at the very least a tighter design than Alkemstone.

Posted May 24, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Gamebook, Interactive Fiction, Poetry, Puzzles

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