Aristocrat admits tale of lost home was stunt to boost puzzle sales

A SCOTTISH aristocrat who claimed he was forced to sell his ancestral pile after losing a fortune on a $1 million puzzle has admitted that he invented the story to boost sales.

Christopher Monckton, the third Viscount of Brenchley, owned up to the duplicity yesterday as he launched a new version of the world's toughest jigsaw.

The 54-year-old, who now lives in a mansion on the shores of Loch Rannoch in Perthshire, hit the headlines six years ago when he said he had been forced to sell his Aberdeenshire home to help cover the $1 million (500,000) prize he had to pay out after Eternity, a 209-piece 3D jigsaw he had invented, was solved years sooner than he had expected by two British mathematicians.

Oliver Riordan and Alex Selby scooped the prize within 18 months of the puzzle going on sale by designing a computer program they ran on two PCs at their homes in Cambridge.

Undaunted, Mr Monckton is launching his new Eternity II puzzle, with a prize of $2 million, at the London Toy Fair today. He has enlisted two maths experts to ensure that it cannot be solved by computer.

Mr Monckton told The Scotsman that the story about him being forced to sell Crimonmogate, his 67-room pile near Peterhead, had been invented to boost sales. In fact, he said he had made a healthy profit from the first version of the puzzle, despite it being solved so quickly.

"[The house sale] was the story which the PR people dreamed up after we had three months of the best sales that any puzzle had ever had," he said. "They wanted to keep the momentum going to take us through to Christmas.

"I was selling the house anyway and they asked me if I would be willing to tell people I was selling the house because I was afraid somebody might solve the puzzle too fast. I said 'yes'. They said, 'Don't you mind being made to look an absolute prat', and I said, 'No - I'm quite used to that'. History is full of stories that aren't actually true.

"We sold shed-loads of extra puzzles and I made an handsome profit - and I sold the house as well."

Mr Monckton, a former policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher who is reputed to have a personal fortune of 10 million, has already posted the $2 million prize for the new puzzle.

He said he had been planning Eternity II since the first puzzle was designed, and a number of changes had been made from the original concept. The new puzzle consisted of 256 square pieces bordered by coloured patterns which must be correctly aligned to find a solution.

The puzzle will go on sale in the shops this summer with a guide retail price of 34.99. Its maker, Tomy Europe, described it as "one of the most eagerly anticipated launches of the year".