Monday 19 February 2024

'Untitled Mystery' the untitled mystery update: now titled.

Do you happen to remember I said last year I was writing a murder mystery puzzle in the form of a box of postcards? Well... I've written it. I'm very proud of it. And this is what it's called:


Alt text: A trailer, made by the excellent people at Stage Fright Films, which eventually tells you it's called 'The Researcher's First Murder', and revealing the excellent cover illustration by Tom Gauld.

You can pre-order it here, and I won't at all mind if you do. 

Friday 16 February 2024

But sure, as it happens number 12 would have been: Put wooden chopping boards in the dishwasher.


1) Order the fish in a restaurant on a Monday. It'll be three days old. 

2) Base-jumping. He just doesn't see the appeal.

3) Cheat on his wife. Sandra is his world. 

4) Open a new battlefront without adequately securing supply lines first. This one probably won't come up. But still, he'd never do it. Look at Napoleon. 

5) That. He'll do anything for love. But. 

Edit: For some reason, a lot of people seem to be complaining that none of these have anything to do with dishwashers. Why should they? Our dishwasher expert knows a lot about dishwashers, sure, but they're not his whole life. Get some perspective, people.

Tuesday 19 December 2023

More Things Than None - One of Them

 Alt text: poire à la éléphant

Monday 18 December 2023

Some Things - Two of Which are These

Alt text: a nautical bear, in complacent mood.

Alt text: the same bear, allowing the strain of command to get to her a little.

Three thousand internet points, redeemable nowhere, for anyone who recognises her costume.

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Things - A Thing

 There have been monster sightings in our neighbourhood lately, and I occasionally moonlight as a sort of monster-hunter’s sketch artist, taking down descriptions from eye-witnesses, and trying to build up a picture of just what we’re dealing with. 

Sunday 10 December 2023

As Someone Quite Rightly Points Out, Actually an Entirely Uncertain Number of Things - Things Eight and Nine

Alt Text: Two dog walkers, walking two dogs. (It looks as if I've whimsically made it look like one of the dogs is interested in a butcher's signboard advertising sausages, but actually it wasn't me who did that. It was the dog.)

Saturday 9 December 2023

A Certain Number of Things - Thing Seven

Alt Text. Two elephants, conferring.

Thursday 7 December 2023

24 Or So Or Less Or Not Things - Thing Six

Alt text. A lady peering round in a car window. She seems cross, but I think she's just checking to see if there's anything coming. I mean, she might be cross as well. I don't know her.

Wednesday 6 December 2023

24 Things -Thing 5

Alt text: A stegasaurus standing on its head. A commission.

Monday 4 December 2023

24 Etc Etc - Thing Four

Alt Text: In a word: Penguins.

Sunday 3 December 2023

Far Fewer Than Twenty-Four Things - Thing Three

Alt Text. A blue man with a long neck appears sceptical about something.

Saturday 2 December 2023

Somewhere Between Two and Twenty Four Things, Somewhere Between One and Twenty Three of Which are Elephants.

Alt text: a cake, of sorts. Decorated, in a sense, to look like an elephant. Definitely.

Friday 1 December 2023

24 Things, Many of Which Are Still Likely To Be Elephants or Bears, Especially Elephants; But Also It’s Vanishingly Unlikely There’ll Actually Be 24 of Them, or Even Close - Thing One. And Possibly Only.

Alt text: a stylish woman in a coat, who is emphatically neither an elephant nor a bear. Not everyone is.

Monday 4 September 2023

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 21


Alt text - two friends go looking for an adventure, and a sun rises.

Thursday 31 August 2023

Brigham Young is sure Anthony Trollope is a miner.

 The Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope, on a tour of the United States, passed through Utah, and decided to drop in on Brigham Young. It did not go well. From Trollope's autobiography:

"I did not achieve great intimacy with the great polygamist of Salt Lake City. [...] He received me in his doorway, not asking me to enter, and inquired whether I was not a miner. When I told him that I was not a miner, he asked me whether I earned my bread. I told him I did. "I guess you're a miner," said he. I again assured him I was not. "Then how do you earn your bread?" I told him I did so by writing books. "I'm sure you're a miner," said he. Then he turned upon his heel, went back into the house, and closed the door."

Alt text: Anthony Trollope. Looking, as usual, exactly like a miner. 

Saturday 26 August 2023

Four expressions I didn't know until today came from rhyming slang

- Scarper; British slang for 'run away'. From Scapa Flow - Go. 

- Grass; as in informant. From Grasshopper - copper (and from there to copper's nark) 

- Dukes; slang for fists, as in 'duking it out'. From Duke of York - Fork. ('Forks' being now-forgotten slang for hands.) 

- Donkey's years; a long time. From Donkey's Ears, rhyming slang for Years... but then the Y crept back in. 

Alt Text: Donkey's ears. And between them, a donkey. Well, I suppose there's always a donkey between a donkey's ears. I mean: another one, framed in the photo between the ears of the first donkey. Glad we've got that clear. It doesn't matter in the least. 

Monday 13 February 2023

"Untitled Mystery", the untitled mystery.

I briefly interrupt this parade of elephants and bears (not usually a wise thing to do) to bring you news of a new project of mine. 

It's a murder mystery. But really, it's a set of very difficult, interconnected puzzles. But really... it's a box of one hundred picture postcards. I mean, if that's all you need to hear, by all means go straight here to buy it. But for a little more explanation, read on.

In 2020, I spent some of my lockdown trying to solve the newly republished murder mystery / puzzle Cain's Jawbone, written by the famous cryptic crossword setter Torquemada in 1934. The puzzle consisted of a box of one hundred pages of a novel, in a random order. The solver had to work out the correct order of the pages, and then interpret the strange and allusive narrative so as to deduce the killers and victims in the six murders in the story. It turned out to be ridiculously difficult, as it was meant to be; but if the spring of 2020 was good for anything, it was for spending far too long on almost impossible puzzles. Eventually, I submitted a solution, which to my enormous surprise turned out not only to be right, but also the only correct one submitted.  I won a thousand pounds, bought a piano, and thought that was that.  

But then, two things happened. The first was, thanks in part to TikTok, Cain's Jawbone took off in a surprisingly big way. And the second was, I found I missed it. I really wanted to try solving another puzzle in that style. But Torquemada never wrote another one, and nor did anyone else. So it seemed the only thing to do was to try to create one myself.

So this year Unbound, the publishers of Cain's Jawbone, are publishing a new mystery puzzle box by me, the title of which is still secret for now. This time, solvers will receive a box of one hundred picture postcards. As with Cain's Jawbone, they will need to arrange the text sides in the correct order, and understand the story told there, in order to identify the killer and victim in a series of ten murders; as well as a certain crucial address. But in order to do this, they will also need to solve the various puzzles presented by the picture sides.

The picture side puzzles allow me to do two things: firstly, compensate for the arrival of the internet since 1934. You may now be able to google an obscure Walt Whitman quotation, but you can't google 'How on earth is this picture of a tree a puzzle?' Secondly, if Cain's Jawbone had a flaw (which I don't admit) it's that it's a little off-putting and seemingly impenetrable until you make a certain breakthrough. I think a lot of people had a brief look through the cards, thought 'Well, that's impossible' and gave up. I certainly did, before lockdown came along and invited me to have another go. So the picture puzzles - which are also, to be clear, ridiculously difficult - give the solver something they can immediately get their teeth into, while they're grappling with the madness on the other side.

Lastly, they're there because they have to be. There is, within the story, a reason why these cards exist, why they have puzzles embedded in them... and why one of the murderers now keeps them safely locked in a drawer. I hope you enjoy trying to work out what it is. 

For more information, to pre-order a copy, and to gaze in wonder at some exhilaratingly expensive pencils... step this way.  

Oh, and the postcards shown here are not solvable with the information given, so don't torture yourself. Yet. 


Tuesday 31 January 2023

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 20

 ALT TEXT: Daddy Bear and Baby Bear in bath. Baby Bear did big jump, and splashing, splashing. Such, at least, was the commission. 

Sunday 1 January 2023

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 19 (Surprise!)

It’s not an actual bear at all, Visually Impaired Squadron. Possibly you already suspected as much. It’s a 45 year old man with his face clumsily painted to resemble a bear.

ALT TEXT: It’s simply a picture of an actual bear.

Wednesday 21 December 2022

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 18

ALT TEXT: A cardboard box, on which is drawn a family of hippos gazing in delight at a shower of cupcakes falling towards them like manna. This reflects my patron's short-lived hippo phase. However, elephants are just about visible on two other flaps of the box, so yes it does count, thank you.  

Monday 19 December 2022

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 17

 First, an apology. It has been brought to my attention that I have been irritatingly coy about the identity of my patron for this series of pieces, and the precise nature of my relationship with him. This is of course information you have every right to know, for reasons too obvious to explain; and which you could not possibly in a million years have guessed. No-one’s that clever-clever. 

So let me now be perfectly straightforward with you: my patron is His Serene Grace Archduke Gustavus Von und zu Schellenhuber, Prince-Elector of Westphalia. I recently had the honour to be appointed his Court Artist (Ursine and Elephantine works only). 

Here is the latest piece I have completed for His Grace. I believe he intends it as a fresco for his refectory.

ALT TEXT: A felt-tip drawing of an elephant, with a sign on his side reading ‘Cat Bus’, carrying several cats, represented by stickers. (His Serene Grace the Archduke loved this one. He laughed his gold epaulettes off, and then spent some time repeatedly counting the kittens held in the elephant’s trunk- although not, it must be said, with remarkable accuracy.)

Saturday 17 December 2022

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 16

ALT TEXT: A quick scribbly biro bear head. I did a ‘proper’ version of this to put up here, with lots more pen-strokes and anatomy and shadows and what have you, but to my irritation the quick scribble looked more like a bear. 

No knees, either. I’m in big trouble.


Friday 16 December 2022

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 15


ALT TEXT: The head of a bear, figured in every artist's medium of choice: yellow Playdoh. And looking considerably more apprehensive than the artist intended, although I suppose that makes a change from all the inane grinning. 

The 'head only' approach is by far my patron's least favourite. He loathes it, and any such submission is immediately met with outraged cries of 'Knees! Knees!' However, as I believe Caravaggio used to say to Cardinal Del Monte, "There's only so much Playdoh in the tub."

Thursday 15 December 2022

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 14


ALT TEXT: A drawing of an elephant, seen from the front. This view of an elephant is less favoured by my patron, but he will allow it occasionally, so long as all four knees are clearly visible. 

Wednesday 14 December 2022

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 13

ALT TEXT: A rough guide to telling which kind of bear your bear is, so long as it’s one of two particular kinds, and also that you have an example of the other kind handy to compare it to. Anyway, dish shaped faces come into it, as do throat ruffs.

Monday 12 December 2022

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 12


ALT TEXT: A drawing of a cheerful white bear. They seem more trustworthy than Thursday's bear, but maybe that's just because they have their eyes closed. Long claws, though. Too long for comfort. 

Sunday 11 December 2022

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 11

ALT TEXT: One of the many, many one to two minute thumbnail sketches I have found myself called upon to make this year of the comedy double act partner of the late Queen. 


Saturday 10 December 2022

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 10


Secret actual alt text for bona fide members of visually impaired squadron, rather than the rest of you chancers who just want a joke: it's not an actual elephant. Its me wearing a mask I've made out of a large cardboard box and a sharpie.

ALT TEXT: It’s simply a picture of an actual elephant.

Friday 9 December 2022

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 9

 ALT TEXT: An elephant - if it is an elephant (and it is an elephant) - marching dynamically from right to left. Images of elephants in motion are particularly prized by my patron, and successful examples of the genre are met with an approving 'hup two three two!': a quotation (with minor numerical modification) from The Jungle Book. 

Thursday 8 December 2022

24 Elephants or Bears - Elephant or Bear 8

 Alt Text update from yesterday- it seems alt text is a nightmare, and can only be accessed by certain people, on certain makes of phone, and only then by answering three riddles set by a manticore. So I’ve come up with a cunning alternative.

ALT TEXT: a cartoonish sketch of the head of a brown bear. He or she is smiling at us pleasantly, but there’s something a little off about their eyes. I feel you should not entirely trust this bear.