Royal Mail Competition: Win a Holmes holiday

ROYAL MAIL today marks the centenary of the death of Sherlock Holmes with the launch of a set of special stamps. Five 24p stamps depict scenes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories. They are unusual not only in being inspired by a fictional character - stamps on a literary theme normally pay tribute to the author - but also because they contain a unique mystery element.

In keeping with the detective theme, the stamps incorporate a challenge to decipher some extremely well-disguised clues. Throughout this week the Independent will be running an exclusive competition with Royal Mail to test your powers of detection. Each day until Friday, one stamp will be featured; today's is The Reigate Squire.

Your first task will be to find the five letters hidden somewhere in the scenes, one on each stamp. These letters should then be rearranged in an order with strong Holmesian connections. Your second, and more taxing, problem is to solve the five clues, saving your answers for the reply coupon which will be included, together with further hints, on Friday.

The winner will receive a week's holiday for two in Switzerland's beautiful Bernese Oberland region. Flying Swiss Air and travelling with the tour specialists Kuoni Travel, they will stay at the picturesque Park Sauvage Hotel, overlooking the stunning Reichenbach Falls, where Conan Doyle himself stayed and plotted the death of his most famous creation. Accommodation is half board and the holiday must be taken between 1 April 1994 and 31 October 1994, subject to availability.

Three runners-up will also win a copy of The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes, containing four novels and 56 stories, including The Reigate Puzzle. There will be 100 further prizes of beautifully illustrated presentation packs of the stamps - a valuable addition to any collection, or a fine start to an interesting, inexpensive hobby enjoyed by some 4 million people in the UK and millions more throughout the world.

The second stamp in this set shows Holmes and Dr Watson in a scene from the story The Reigate Puzzle, originally featured in the 1894 Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes uses his powers of deduction to unmask the murderers of the Cunningham family's coachman.

The Clue

'Talking of Reigate,' said Dr Watson, 'reminds me of the Giant Rat of Sumatra. Whatever happened to that rodent?' He gestured towards the instrument on the table. 'I suppose your violin playing frightened it off.'

'My violin?' queried Holmes in surprise. 'I fancy that some sort of rat Aids virus is the answer.'

The Question

What had Holmes been playing?

Answers will be given and winners announced in the 8 November issue. Standard Independent competition rules apply.

(Graphic omitted)

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