Source: Condensed from "Murder Ink" by Dilys Winn

Boggs has been found dead in the club lounge, his iced tea poisoned. Four men, seated on a sofa and two chairs in front of the fireplace, are discussing the foul deed. Their names are Howell, Scott, Jennings, and Wilton. They are, not necessarily in order, a general, schoolmaster, admiral, and doctor.

The following are events that occur or true statements that become apparent as their discussion progresses:

  1. The waiter pours a Coke for Jennings and a Sprite for Scott.

  2. In the mirror over the fireplace, the general sees the door close behind the waiter. He turns to speak to Wilton, seated next to him.

  3. Neither Howell nor Scott have any sisters.

  4. The schoolmaster does not drink soda.

  5. Howell, who is sitting in one of the chairs, is the admiral's brother-in-law. The schoolmaster is next to Howell on his left.

Suddenly a hand moves stealthily to put something in Jennings's Coke. It is the murderer. No man has left his seat and no one else is in the room. What is the profession of each man, where is each one sitting, and who is the murderer?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Fowl deed? Did the chicken do it? $\endgroup$ – boboquack Oct 15 '17 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ From the image, I assume this has been taken from a puzzle book. Can you please provide attribution? $\endgroup$ – Alconja Oct 15 '17 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Alconja Thank you for mentioning. The attribution is given in my updated post. $\endgroup$ – Bibliophile Oct 16 '17 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ I am sure that I have encountered this problem before, with a similar, but rather sparser diagram. I am equally sure that I have never read "Murder Ink". Maybe it was Dudeney? I am also sure that in the older version, the two drinks were alcohol, but someone has edited those to be brand name sugary drinks. Odd that discussing murder is deemed cool but discussing alcohol is not. $\endgroup$ – Laska Oct 16 '17 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ "The schoolmaster is next to Howell on his left." Does this mean the schoolmaster is seated to Howell's left, or that Howell is seated to the schoolmaster's left? $\endgroup$ – feelinferrety Oct 17 '17 at 19:01

I am sure that this charming puzzle predates Dilys Winn's "Murder Ink" - I suspect Henry Dudeney as the perpetrator. I have taken the liberty of appropriating Dr t's excellent answer format, but I come to a different (and I believe correct) conclusion about the dark events of that evening:

In chair A:

is Doctor Howell, married to Admiral Jennings' sister.

On the sofa, in seat B:

is Schoolmaster Wilton.

On the sofa, in seat C:

is General Scott who turns to Wilton, but is also about to poison Jennings.

In chair D:

is Admiral Jennings who has a sister.

I come to this conclusion because:

By clue 5. Howell is sitting on a chair (A or D) but has the schoolmaster to his left so he must be in A. The schoolmaster is in B, and since (wisely) he does not drink soda (clue 4) he cannot be Jennings or Scott (clue 1), and by elimination is Wilton. The general is next to Wilton (clue 2) but if he were in seat A he could not see the waiter leave, so is in seat C. Since Howell is not his own brother-in-law (clue 5 again) he must be the doctor, and the admiral is in seat D. By clue 3, Howell is married to the admiral's sister. So Scott is not the admiral but the general, and finally Jennings is thrown into seat D. Only the person in seat C could reach to poison Jennings.

An earlier version of the problem title described it as a "locked room mystery", which implies an apparently impossible crime. The earliest locked room mystery, I believe, was the atmospheric "Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Poe. At heart this theme involves conjuring, and so the greatest modern exponent I know of is David Renwick in the UK TV show "Jonathan Creek", where the detective's day job is inventing magic tricks. Despite the stupendous implausibility of the plots (I don't know how the actors keep straight faces at the denouement) his conjuring ideas are very clever.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ $\raise-5mu{\Huge\color{#aea}\bullet}\llap{\large\color{#7a7}\bigcirc} \llap{\raise0mu{\large\color{#090}\checkmark}\kern0mu}~$ This is what I get too $\endgroup$ – humn Oct 17 '17 at 1:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Interesting note about locked room mysteries, Laska, though you might want to slightly reword it now that I revised the puzzle's title accordingly. (The title already was the result of an edit by someone else other than the puzzle's author.) $\endgroup$ – humn Oct 17 '17 at 4:39
  • $\begingroup$ I propose it's also possible for Jennings to be the murderer - he could have stealthily added alcohol to his own drink. $\endgroup$ – Chelsea Oct 17 '17 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Chelsea: yes that's possible. But as Sherlock Holmes did not say: "When you have not eliminated the impossible, you must take the most probable to be the best working hypothesis." $\endgroup$ – Laska Oct 17 '17 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ @humn & Laska -- My apologies, I'm responsible for that offbeat title. I had improved the language across the problem and since we encourage people to have more descriptive titles, I went ahead and edited that too. I went with it due to a statement in the puzzle that there were no changes to the room from its initial state once it had been shut. I was wrong in calling it a "locked room" mystery given the "impossible" implication. $\endgroup$ – feelinferrety Oct 17 '17 at 18:52

My answer diagram got far too messy to post but I will offer this conclusion:

In position A:

Admiral Jennings is an innocent man.

In position B:

Schoolmaster Wilton is an innocent man as he listens to whatever the General is about to tell him

In position C:

The poor General Howell is about to be poisoned by the man in position D.

In position D:

Doctor Scott is sneaking some poison into General Jennings's Coke

I come to this conclusion because:

The Admiral must be Jennings and he has to be in a chair with somebody on his left. He must be in chair/position A. The schoolmaster is on the left of Howell and so must be in position B. The general sees the door close in the mirror and turns to talk to the innocent man (not the poisoner...otherwise he wouldn't be able to do the poisoning) and so he must have someone on his left which places him in position C. That leaves the killer in position D and the only one left is the Doctor...Scott.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Ere.. You seem to have messed up admiral and general. 😊 $\endgroup$ – Sid Oct 16 '17 at 11:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Sid I haven't tried it but I think that it could work either way. They might be able to switch positions...haven't tried it but it looks like if they did switch then a serious argument could be made that the general could not see the door close behind the waiter. $\endgroup$ – Dr t Oct 16 '17 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Sid I did make the change that Bibliophile suggested. That fixes my typo. May be able to switch the two...admiral/general but i have not tried it thanks for the catch $\endgroup$ – Dr t Oct 16 '17 at 15:30
  • $\begingroup$ You have two Jennings! $\endgroup$ – Laska Oct 16 '17 at 23:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Laska Thank YOU!! I do believe that it is now right and true. Whew. Just follow the box with the conclusion in it. $\endgroup$ – Dr t Oct 16 '17 at 23:32

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