Did a Board Game Presage Pearl Harbor?
  • Did a Board Game Presage Pearl Harbor?


    The December 7 anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor is a dire reminder of the 1941 event that precipitated the United States' entry into World War II. There's a conspiracy theory that's been floated for decades that someone was trying to warn us, and it all took place in an ad for a board game.


    The Deadly Double

    Craig Nelson describes the curious ad that may have presaged the attack in his new book, Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness:

    On November 22 [of 1941], a strange advertisement appeared in the New Yorker magazine. It pictured a group of people sheltered from an air raid, playing dice. Under the headline “Achtung, Warning, Alerte!” the copy read, “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. . . . 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.” Scattered throughout the issue were six smaller tag ads referring back to the main copy, with the dice numbered 12 and 7, numbers on no known dice.

    Brent Swancer explains on MysteriousUniverse.org:

    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.

    The subsequent obsession with a potential warning is understandable in light of the dire consequences:

    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.

    You can view the ads in the New Yorker‘s online archive, both the main copy and the “tag ads.”

    A Warning?

    The ads did not go unnoticed. Intelligence officers thought something was up, but were unable to crack the code -- if it even existed, as per Nelson:

    Later during the war, navy transport pilot Joseph Bell was flying a South Pacific route when one of his passengers, an intelligence officer, told him that many in intelligence considered this ad a secret warning. He had been assigned to investigate the matter, but every lead had led to a dead end—the ad’s copy had been presented in person at the magazine’s offices, and the fee paid with cash.

    It wasn't just intelligence officers who noticed:

    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.

    But What Did it Mean?

    It's possible that the dice numbers indicated the date and time of the attack, but that's just one theory. John Costello's The Pacific War: 1941-1945 outlines the possibilities in more detail:

    ...the numbers on the dice might have meant “0” hour for a “double cross” on “12”/”7″ at “5” out of “24” hours. Another interpretation comes from the 1982 Reader’s Digest book, Mysteries of the Unexplained. That work concluded that the numbers 12 and 7 refer to December 7. 5 and 0 were suspected to be the planned time of the attack. XX, or 20 in Roman Numerals, was the approximate latitude for Pearl Harbor. The purpose of the number 24 was unknown (although possibly some sort of code designation). On the Page 86 ad, the top part of the drawing was viewed as a depiction of three airplanes flying over Pearl Harbor, complete with searchlight beams, antiaircraft shells, and even an exploding bomb on the surface of the water. “The Deadly Double” was believed to stand for two of the Axis Powers, namely Germany and Japan. And finally, the double-headed eagle at the bottom of the ad appeared to be a combination of the two versions of the Nazi’s Iron Eagles.

    An Actual Game

    Conspiracy theories abound about the origin of the game, including the fact that the Monarch Trading Company didn't exist, that a mysterious white male handed the advertising plates over to the publisher, and that said white male was later died in a mysterious accident. As it turns out, the game does in fact exist and a real company created it:

    These suspicions were taken seriously enough to be investigated by FBI agents and they made visits to the people who had placed the advertisements. These were a Mr and Mrs Roger Craig. The game turned out to be legitimate and was sold in several New York stores. The fact that the US government had looked into the matter was kept under wraps until 1967 when a U.S naval intelligence officer, Ladislas Farago, broke the story in a press release for a book he had written called The Broken Seal. At the time Roger Craig's widow was emphatic that any connection between the advertisements and Pearl Harbor 'was just one big coincidence.'

    Craig himself (who went on to serve in the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA) responded to the allegations in the Los Angeles Times:

    "If these seem farfetched," Roger Paul Craig, an officer of the company, tells us, "you should see the complicated evidence that was marshaled to show that the numbers on the dice which the game (the Deadly Double) is played clearly announced the date of the forthcoming attack, 12-7."... Just how such a message was supposed to reach all the sons of the Rising Sun through such a medium is difficult to understand, but the message did carry into every section of the country, "and I promise you," said Mr. Craig, "nothing travels as far and fast as a grossly inaccurate and malicious rumor."

    You can see pictures of the game at BoardGameGeek. Given that the game and the person who created it was real, it's seems likely that this was all just an awful coincidence. But The Deadly Double's legacy serves as a stark reminder of how games and reality can converge in unexpected ways.

    Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
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    Comments 8 Comments
    1. thom_likes_gaming's Avatar
      thom_likes_gaming -
      Priceless.
      I'd say, someone went through a lot of trouble, including time travel, manufacturing a mediocre rummy/poker/backgammon blend and lastly placing the ad.

      Where's
      @KevinKulp when you need him?
      #timewatchRPG
    1. trystero's Avatar
      trystero -
      Betteridge's law of headlines in action again.
    1. Lord_Blacksteel's Avatar
      Lord_Blacksteel -
      Oh good lord - more conspiracy nonsense. This is not long after the blitz on London, so "spending a night in an air raid shelter" was not an unheard-of thing at the time. As for the numbers, look long enough at any big event and you can find some kind of a match. I mean, you published this post on December 12th at 5:11 am according to the timestamp I am seeing and THERE'S A 12 AND A 5 SHOWING ON THE DICE! EN World is part of the conspiracy!
    1. EthanSental's Avatar
      EthanSental -
      Never heard of this before, fun read. Thanks for sharing!
    1. Von Ether's Avatar
      Von Ether -
      " ... nothing travels as far and fast as a grossly inaccurate and malicious rumor."
      And that was before FB.
    1. Toriel -
      This is good inspiration material for RPGs. Cool story.
    1. Mavkatzer's Avatar
      Mavkatzer -
      I remember reading about this in my grandma's copy of the Reader’s Digest book, "Mysteries of the Unexplained", back in the 80s! Fun little story. Of course, as they said in "Mysteries of the Unexplained" (and in this article), the matter was investigated and it was just a curious coincidence.
      Still, it's fun to see these little life quirks now and again.

    1. Mad_Jack's Avatar
      Mad_Jack -
      Kind of reminds me of the raid on Steve Jackson Games...
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