The year was 1941 and the world was at war. Although they didn’t know it yet, on November 22nd, 1941, the United States was on the eve of entering the escalating war that was raging across two oceans. It was a tense time on our planet, a couple of weeks before Japan would launch its fateful attack on Pearl Harbor, and Americans everywhere were scouring the news to keep a wary eye on the tumultuous events unfolding overseas. On this particular November day, two innocuous ads appeared in the the New Yorker magazine for a dice game called simply “The Deadly Double.” The advertisements were seemingly harmless and looked similar to many other ads that filled the newspapers and magazines of the time, so nobody gave them much thought and certainly no one was aware at the time that these innocent ads would go onto become one of the most perplexing mysteries of World War II.
The ads themselves at first glance seem to have a sort of strange design to them but are fairly nondescript for the most part. The first ad, which was placed near the front page of the magazine, has an illustration of two dice depicted in mid tumble. On the visible faces of one die is written the numbers 0, 5, and 7. The other die shows the numbers 12, 24, and the Roman numeral XX. The dice are positioned under a dramatic heading announcing a warning in a few different languages “Achtung! Warning! Alerte!” At the bottom of the ad the reader is encouraged to see an advertisement on pg. 86, and the bottom reads “Monarch Publishing Company. NY.” It was a little odd that the dice would have numbers that don’t typically appear on regular dice, but it didn’t really raise any eyebrows at the time.
When one follows the instructions and opens to pg. 86, they find another ad that is more elaborate and appears to be the main ad, while the other is merely a teaser. It has the same heading of “Achtung! Warning! Alerte!” with another illustration showing an air raid in progress and under that a group of people huddling in an air raid shelter playing a dice game. At the very bottom is a stylized drawing of a double headed eagle. There is also some copy written in the ad. This first part says:
We hope you’ll never have to spend a long winter’s night in an air-raid shelter, but we were just thinking . . . it’s only common sense to be prepared. If you’re not too busy between now and Christmas, why not sit down and plan a list of the things you’ll want to have on hand. . . .
This is followed by a list of necessary items for an air raid. The list ends with another piece of copy which reads:
And though it’s no time, really, to be thinking of what’s fashionable, we bet that most of your friends will remember to include those intriguing dice and chips which make Chicago’s favorite game: THE DEADLY DOUBLE.
This part is followed by two X’s inside of a shield within the double headed eagle, and finally a tag line announcing that the game was available in department stores everywhere. The ads were perhaps in poor taste and certainly a bit weird, but many ads at the time displayed a certain dramatic flair and nothing about this one in particular really caused any concern. It was not until Japan launched its deadly attack on Pearl Harbor 16 days later that a spotlight would be cast on the advertisements and their mysteries would become apparent.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese sent two waves of a total of 353 fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes, which laid waste to the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and would be the trigger for America’s active participation in WWII. The wake of the devastation would leave an estimated 188 U.S. aircraft destroyed, 30 vessels crippled, 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 wounded. It was in the aftermath of this shocking surprise attack that Americans became obsessed with the idea that traitors, Japanese spies, and Nazi secret agents were infiltrating the homeland. The FBI for its part methodically tracked down and arrested thousands of people it had deemed as “subversives,” and were actively investigating every lead, piece of evidence, or rumor connected with sabotage from enemies of the state.
It was during this rising tension and fear of the enemy among us that the FBI became interested in the New Yorker “Deadly Double” ads, and the previously seemingly harmless ads started to be seen in whole new light. A large number of readers pointed out that the numbers and imagery in the ads were a little too close to the events at Pearl Harbor to be mere coincidence or serendipity, and the FBI started to think that perhaps the attacks were not as much of a surprise for some that it seemed. The ads were soon deemed to be a possible coded communication from Japan and Germany to their agents, spies, and sympathizers within the US warning that war was upon them, and the mystery of the “Deadly Double” would begin its ascent into the annals of great WWII mysteries.
The ads were interpreted by the FBI as conveying several pieces of covert information within the innocent looking ads, some of it subtle and some of it not so much so in retrospect. In the first ad, the numbers 12 and 7 written on the dice were seen as perhaps showing the date of the Pearl Harbor attacks, December 7, or 12/7. The numbers 5 and 0 were interpreted as signifying 5 out of 24 hours, or the time of the attack, and the Roman numerals XX, or 20, represented the latitude of the target. This left the number 24, the exact meaning of which could not be discerned but was deemed to possibly be some kind of code to identify the person or persons who had placed the ads.
The second, main part of the ad on pg. 86 prominently displayed a picture of an air raid in progress, which depicted what appeared to be bombers heading out over water, searchlights, and an exploding bomb on the water’s surface, all imagery that suggests Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The double headed eagle was reminiscent of a sort of combination of the two versions of the Nazi Iron Eagle symbols. Even the product of the ads, “The Deadly Double,” was seen to represent the two main Axis powers, Germany and Japan.
Add to all of this that no game called “The Deadly Double” was found to be available in department stores as promised, or to indeed have ever existed at all, and all of these clues added up to being something that was seen as beyond coincidence. The FBI looked into the apparent publisher of the ad, the Monarch Trading Company, but found that the company did not exist and so it was suspected to be merely a dummy corporation. The FBI then turned its attention to the New Yorker and conducted an investigation of their offices looking for answers, but instead uncovered more puzzles. It was revealed that the ads had been set into type somewhere else and their matrix delivered to the New Yorker by a white male who had not given his name. The man had reportedly physically passed the plates by hand over the counter at the magazine office himself and paid in cash. It was surmised that the man had likely created the plates himself. The FBI was eventually able to track down a man by the name of Roger Craig, who they suspected as being the one who placed the ads, but in a menacing turn of events it turned out the suspect had died in an accident under mysterious circumstances. When Mr. Craig’s widow was questioned about the events, she reportedly told the FBI that the whole thing was nothing more than a coincidence.
Finding nothing but dead ends and being swamped with an ever growing deluge of other leads, the FBI dropped the case and to this day it has remained unresolved. What was The Deadly Double? Were the ads a sophisticated coded message from Germany and Japan to warn co-conspirators of the Pearl Harbor attacks? Was it just a coincidence or the result of people just reading too much into the ads? Over the years there has been a good amount of debate on the nature of The Deadly Double ads and a lot of discussion on the supposed clues hidden within them, yet there has never been any concrete resolution to the mysteries they pose. For now these bizarre ads remain a somewhat haunting enigma and one of the most enduring mysteries of World War II.
Altman be praised!