The Scotland Yard Puzzle Book

Test Your Inner Detective by Solving Some of the World's Most Difficult Cases


By Sinclair McKay

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Pit your wits against the brilliant minds of Scotland Yard and see if you have what it takes to solve dozens of the world’s toughest crimes.

“Scotland Yard” conjures up so much more than just London’s Metropolitan Police. Since it opened its doors in 1829, Scotland Yard has been synonymous the world over with the highest level of detective work and famous for its ability to solve the most macabre of murders and catch the most audacious of thieves.

The Scotland Yard Puzzle Book mines the history of this famous institution to recreate some of the most complex conundrums its detectives have ever faced. Armchair detectives can now try their hand and keen powers of observation and deduction to solve for themselves dozens of the most difficult and challenging cases.

Activities include:
  • Anagrams and cryptograms
  • Logic, linguistic, and mathematical puzzles
  • Map puzzles
  • Coded and visual puzzles
  • Brainteasers
  • Hidden messages
  • And more (answers are provided in the back of the book)!




There is a pitch-black irony in the fact that Scotland Yard itself once became the centre of a macabre murder mystery.

It began when the headquarters were being rebuilt in autumn 1888. As workmen hauled white Portland stone and thousands of red bricks into place to bring architect Norman Shaw’s vision into being, an excavation of an old vault on the site yielded a hideous discovery: the body of a dismembered woman wrapped in black cloth, tied up with string. The newspapers were jumping up and down with excitement. Here, on this site between the banks of the Thames and Downing Street itself, was the sort of murder that Scotland Yard’s detectives were now internationally famed for tackling.

All the newest techniques of the Yard were brought to bear upon this perplexing puzzle in its own precincts. The body had lain in the darkness of that cellar for a relatively short time, and police surgeon Thomas Bond was able to match it to an arm that had been found a short distance away on the Thames foreshore. He was also able to determine that the victim had been a woman about 24 years old and that she had been wearing a satin dress at the time of the murderous attack.

The national scope of Scotland Yard kicked in and detectives were able to pinpoint the fact that the dress had been made in Bradford, and the dress’s pattern had last been used by that firm some three years previously. Surgeons and detectives were able to establish that the victim had not been in any trade that required hard physical labour. Tragically, though, it proved impossible to pinpoint the cause of death and the mystery remains unsolved to this day. But the Norman Shaw Scotland Yard buildings–the red brick alternating with the white stone in horizontal layers–were finished regardless and quickly became a national landmark and centre for ground-breaking criminology. The puzzles in this chapter reflect those early days of policing: tricky mental work-outs and tangential brainteasers, and an induction into sharp-eyed quick-wittedness.

The Metropolitan Police was established in 1829 after the Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel decided that law enforcement for the dark, grimy streets of the fast-growing capital should be centralised and not left to local parishes. From the start the Met was based close to Downing Street, at Scotland Yard. Sir Robert’s inspiration saw an initial staff of 895 constables, 88 sergeants, 20 inspectors and 8 superintendents. By 1888, the institution was world-renowned and those new headquarters, mystery corpse aside, reflected the character of this proud body. The corridors within were said to be rambling and labyrinthine, but in a way, this was appropriate for an institution that specialised in detecting and exploring the mazes of the criminal mind.

Part of the enduring fascination of Scotland Yard involves the steps that one must take in order to become a detective. This is a line of work like no other. There is the sense of being inducted into secrets; an idea of arcane, esoteric knowledge. From the very start of the first detective department in 1842, some thirteen years after the Metropolitan Police was founded, the public have been mesmerised by the investigator’s blend of preternatural perspicacity blended with low-down street cunning.

One of the most dramatic initial cases to be confronted by detectives at the Yard was known as The Bermondsey Horror. Marie La Roux was a Swiss national who had moved to London and was working as a maidservant for the grand society hostess Lady Blantyre. She was stepping out with–and later married–a man very far from that gilded milieu. Frederick Manning had a murky past and a track record of thieving. After their marriage the couple plotted and the cunning Marie found herself a rich lover, an administrator at the London docks called Patrick O’Connor, who had become disproportionately wealthy by making loans and charging high interest.

Marie invited her lover for dinner at her marital home in the south London suburb of Bermondsey, and at some point in the evening, O’Connor was murdered. The couple buried his body under the flagstones of the kitchen and Marie swiftly took herself to O’Connor’s smart lodgings in Mile End and helped herself to certificates detailing his extensive share portfolios. Double-crossing her husband Frederick, she then escaped into the night with the lion’s share of the bounty. With what ill-gotten loot was left, Frederick also fled. Marie booked herself a ticket on one of the new steam locomotives that now ran all the way to Scotland, while Frederick’s train journey took him to Southampton, from whence he set sail to Jersey.

Both Marie and Frederick might have been confident that they could get away with it, but the absence of Patrick O’Connor–and gossip from his landlady about the loose morals of Marie Manning–led detectives and constables to the house in Bermondsey. They examined the abandoned property with care and came at last to the kitchen. After diligently poking around with trowels, they partially lifted a flagstone, and discovered the remains.

Here began an early high-speed manhunt with the police finding novel technological means of tracking down their quarry. Superintendent Haynes, following a tip from the driver of a horse-drawn cab, made enquiries at the grand terminus of Euston and was able to establish through witnesses that a well-dressed woman with a heavy French accent had the previous day bought a ticket to the Scottish capital. Haynes then utilised the Met’s new technological marvel, the telegraph, to communicate instantly with Edinburgh colleagues. She had arrived in the city and had found lodgings. Indeed, Haynes learned that the Scottish police were investigating Marie for another reason: they had been tipped off that a lady with a French accent was attempting to sell suspiciously large quantities of railway stock. And so it was that the Scottish police moved in, and Marie was returned to London by rail, under police escort. Swifter travel also figured in the arrest of her husband, with Detective Langley speedily travelling by rail to the south coast, and thence sailing by steam to the Isle of Jersey, where he followed a trail of drunken boorish behaviour in hotels that led to Frederick Manning’s side.

The husband-and-wife killers were executed together, a rare and unusually macabre event that earned the disapproval of none other than Charles Dickens.

But from the point of view of the police, the case had been a fine testing ground for a new age of velocity. By combining diligent detail–questioning everyone from landladies to cab drivers–and shrewd reasoning–where would the fugitives flee to?–the detectives set down the broad foundations for a new, wider-reaching way of policing. The public now began to see that the Yard had powers that could never have been imagined in decades previously; a national reach that made it difficult for criminals to evade their attention; and a knack for analysing the criminal mind, enabling them eventually to catch up with their prey.

And nor was this skill merely confined to horrible murder: it extended to thefts and frauds and other transgressions. Indeed, in response to the Yard’s growing cerebral muscle, some criminals themselves became more sophisticated; jewel robberies, for instance, were planned with the meticulous care of an architect or landscape artist.

In the mid-nineteenth century, there was a case involving a luxurious London hotel and a spate of baffling thefts from within its rooms. The hotel management knew that the crimes could not possibly have been committed by someone wandering in off the street, nor indeed breaking in around the back. Their security was simply too fine for that. The detective assigned to the case approached the mystery with guile; rather than focusing on the items that had been stolen he decided to look at what had NOT been taken from the rooms that had been broken into. In one such room, he found a gentleman’s shirt with one button missing. And it is this clue that unlocked the mystery, for in another room he found a corresponding button. The solution was socially unthinkable, yet it was the only possible answer. The thief was one of the hotel’s grand guests, who had somehow gained access to keys, and had lost the button throughout the course of his burglarising mission. The evidence was circumstantial but the guest quickly confessed.

This was a case with no fingerprints or DNA; just a moment of insight prompted by the most raptor-eyed observation. Sometimes cases of theft need a different sort of sensitivity, that of a spider feeling the tiniest vibrations along the threads of a huge and complex web. This breakthrough came not so much from a eureka moment as the ability to interpret those tiny stirrings of the thread.

Another such case was that of the serial thief Harry Williams, who pulled off audacious thefts in the late nineteenth century and came to be known to the Yard and to the criminal underworld as ‘Harry the Valet’. The particular crime that had the newspapers levitating with excitement was the spiriting away of pearls and other stones set in gold which belonged to the Dowager Duchess of Sutherland and were almost beyond value. The story began with a perfect head-scratcher.

When the theft occurred in the summer of 1899, the Duchess was travelling from Paris to London–a first-class journey by train and Channel steam boat–with her husband Sir Albert Rollitt MP plus a couple of domestic servants and a number of her relatives. In her portmanteau were pearls and jewellery valued then at £30,000, a figure that would run into the millions today. The fascination with the robbery lay in this: how did a thief, presumably from the lower orders, gain access to this guarded sanctum of wealth?

The answer to this was threefold. First, Harry the Valet–who was later to write highly romanticised accounts of his life of crime–didn’t dress like a member of the lower orders. He blended in by dressing in the same style as his victims. Secondly, he had a talent, especially at railway stations, for looking sufficiently distracted and harassed to evade any second glances, while keeping a keen eye on his prey. His warped genius lay in spotting the exact moment of maximum distraction–in this case, a great number of platform farewells at the Gare du Nord amid swirling crowds, noise and smoke. Thirdly, he did his research. Prior to their journey across the Channel, Harry had staked out the Duchess and her staff, observing their habits and movements. He prepared himself carefully and swooped with split-second precision when the entire party was focused on boarding the train.

The detective assigned to the case was Frank Froest, who had an unusual reputation among his colleagues–and indeed known criminals–for wild physical strength. It was said that he could tear a pack of playing cards in two. However what he needed for this case was a certain amount of mental stability first to deal with the pressure of the Duchess’s incandescent fury but also, working on the assumption that the thief was British and had returned, to somehow track down this elusive, unspotted figure.

As clues to the nature and timing of the crime were few and far between, Froest decided to keep a close eye on the sorts of pawnbrokers and rather less scrupulous tradesmen through whom stolen jewels might be sold on, while staying alert to London gossip of unlikely figures suddenly flashing some cash.

‘Harry the Valet’ was one such man, having been observed spending freely around the pubs of South Kensington. He had always been a flashy dresser but his expenditure was causing even old acquaintances to raise eyebrows. Froest and his young colleague Walter Dew (who was later to help run Dr Crippen to ground, as we shall see in chapter 3) managed to track down a disaffected girlfriend; and from thence to an address on the Fulham Road where they lay in wait for their quarry. The detective had been alert to every vibration along that thread of the web; and now his quarry was stuck fast. Harry the Valet received seven years, though according to his own account, had the vengeful last laugh of refusing to disclose what had happened to a significant number of the jewels that he had stolen. Still, Froest had his man.

The cases outlined above are intended as an induction into deduction. A quick historical taste of how everyday detectives faced crimes that were quite out of the ordinary and set about them with common sense and organisation. Uniting them, no matter the apparent complexity of the problem or enigma, is a refusal to accept the possibility of insolubility. For this reason, the detective’s mind must not only be open but also, fundamentally, optimistic too. Nothing within the bounds of human nature is beyond the wit of man, or woman, to solve.

And so the puzzles in this section are themselves intended as a rough induction; fast, furious, twisty, and filled with points at which even the most dedicated puzzle enthusiast will throw the pencil aside with frustration. But that moment of frustration might just be the one immediately prior to the bright light of revelation. This refusal to give up intrinsically links the first Victorian detectives of the Met with the fantastically agile crime fighters of today.



Look at the words below. Make it to the front line by finding a word which can go in front of each set of words listed.


































A bank manager has vanished and no one knows the full combination of the locked safe. Individual members of staff, however, can recall pieces of information.

The safe number used the digits 1 to 7 and each appeared once.

No two odd digits are next to each other.

The difference between adjacent digits is always greater than one.

The penultimate digit was twice the value of the final digit.

This information is enough for the Inspector to work out the code and open the safe.

What was the code number?



A British bobby and a bicycle go together like a horse and cart or fish and chips. The question is, which bicycle appears in the most rectangles in the drawing?



It’s not just stealing the gems which presents a problem, it’s where to hide them before you sell them on, or how to successfully send a ransom note to their owner without being caught. The names of precious gems are hidden in the sentences below. Find them by joining words or parts of words together.

1 He is going to chop a lot of logs for the fire.

2 I am leaving for my train trip early tomorrow morning.

3 The crook dressed as a beggar netted a good haul of valuable items.

4 Rest assured, I am on duty this evening and you are in safe hands.

5 Is that the shrub you only planted last year? It’s beautiful!

6 Escape. Rid others of your presence here!



Portable posts are used in setting up barricades to block off roads or crime scenes. These particular posts are hexagonal. They were hastily stacked in a storage cupboard and haven’t made best use of the space. What’s the most number of posts that could have been stacked in the cupboard?



Solve the clues below and slot the answers into the spider’s web. Each answer starts in a numbered space, with remaining letters moving inwards to the centre of the web. The clues are in no particular order. When the answers are in place the two shaded areas read clockwise will spell out the name of a famous London location.









The wealthy Victorians loved to fill their houses with fine furniture, books, ornaments and artwork. Having valuable possessions meant a greater need for security which in turn meant the mass production of locks, bolts and keys.

Here is a collection of keys. There are only two keys that are identical. This challenge requires a sharp eye. Which keys are the same?



There are six glasses in a row.

Three are empty.

Three are full.

You can only move or touch one glass.

Make a line in which all the glasses are alternately empty and full.



Detective work often involves discovering a series of links and joining together clues that do not seem connected. Here’s a note that was left behind at the scene of a crime.

Can you work out what the message conveys?

1 SKELETON ( _ _ _ ) RING

2 RUG ( _ _ _ ) GONE

3 IN ( _ _ _ _ ) WAY

4 LOT ( _ _ _ ) WARDS

5 ROB ( _ _ _ ) SIDE

6 DARK ( _ _ _ _ ) MATE

7 SOME ( _ _ _ ) SELF



You are coming to the end of the first chapter of this book. The limbering-up exercises are over and you have a taste for what lies ahead. It’s now time to find the real detectives amongst you. The gloves are off and there is no fair play when it comes to crime!

Can you solve these brainteasers?

1 Hendon Police College opened in the 1930s. Which word was consistently spelt incorrectly on exam papers in its early days?

2 In the last century what could travel around the world and always stayed in the same corner?

3 An ill wind blows no one any good. Such was the case when a gust of wind blew off all the helmets belonging to ten police officers while they were on crowd control duty. Fortunately, a couple of nimble young lads came to the rescue, scooped them all up and returned them to their rightful owners. What is the probability that nine police officers each received his own helmet?

4 You follow a suspect to a notorious East End hostelry. He nods to the barman and asks for a glass of H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O. What happened next?

5 Peter the pickpocket returned home with a banknote he had eased out of a gentleman’s pocket. When asked where he got it from he said he had found it inside a book; someone must have been using it as a bookmark. When asked which pages he answered, ‘between pages 5 and 6’. Was he believed?



Truly great detectives have always had the wisdom to see that sometimes it takes the intertwining of intelligence, inspiration and good fortune to solve the knottiest cases, and this was even more true before the advent of forensics. The early days of Scotland Yard now provide a fascinating insight into the inspirational deductions of long ago–the way that detecting minds worked on the trickiest of cases without the fallback of technology.

Accordingly, the puzzles in this section have a period flavour about them. A series of challenges calculated to produce chewed lower lips while suggesting something of historical criminals who deliberately set out not only to deceive, but also to bedazzle with apparent impossibilities. And here we go back even further in time than the formation of Scotland Yard, to the ancestors of the Met, the Bow Street Runners.

In the 1700s, the primitive policing for the city was carried out by watchmen and parish constables, and was simply not sufficient for the maze-like and teeming streets of London with their ever-widening range of crimes. Parish councils employed ‘thief takers’, an early form of arresting officer, whose job it was to catch felons and bring them before the magistrate. But the work was difficult and dangerous and gained no respect either from criminals or law-abiding members of the public.

The novelist Henry Fielding, best known today for his rambunctious Tom Jones, was to change this; he was also a magistrate. His house in Bow Street, near Covent Garden, doubled as an extemporised court, and in 1749 he and his brother, Sir John, had the idea of recruiting a group of men whose job it would be to apprehend suspects. These men–six of them at first–became known as the Bow Street Runners. They were initially funded by the Fielding brothers themselves, but after a few years this would change and they would be the first kind of police funded by the government. The Fieldings made it quite clear that for investigations to have any solid legitimacy, and indeed the respect of communities, the men carrying them out had to have the official backing of the state.

Sir John Fielding was blind but his insight was strong. At this time, many crimes went unsolved simply because criminals moved around the country and there was no centralised record system or way of keeping track of them. Magistrates in the north, when faced with wrong-doers who stood before them under assumed identities, claiming to be from towns in the south, had no means of checking, other than sending messages to grand local social acquaintances in the hope they might help.

And so it was that Sir John Fielding laid down the first foundation stone of a national crime database, a means not only of holding details of each offender, but also a way of alerting others in faraway parts that an offender was in their midst. The hot new media of the late 1700s was the newspaper, and so Sir John produced a special version, intended for circulation among town crime fighters up and down the land. It was called Hue and Cry.

This newspaper publicised every crime committed: from forgery of papers to theft of antiques, from violent assault to the darkest murders. The reports carried all the relevant details of these murky cases and when there were suspects, they were named, alongside their full descriptions. By this method–combined with the then dazzlingly fast new services of the Royal Mail, which could carry letters across the country under an unprecedentedly efficient system at speeds of just a few days–criminal profiles began to be built. And with these profiles came the first glimmering of the discipline of criminology: the first sense that patterns could be detected in the actions of certain antisocial recidivists.

Thieves would have had their own idiosyncratic methods; and murderers too would have had a signature style, occasionally unmistakeable. This was the beginning, in effect, of the first criminal database and also the first time that it became clear there was a general fascination with the contest between criminals and law-enforcers. As well as publishing Hue and Cry


On Sale
May 5, 2020
Page Count
272 pages

Sinclair McKay

About the Author

Sinclair McKay is a features writer for the Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday. He is also the acclaimed author of the bestselling The Secret Life of Bletchley Park.

Learn more about this author