Tag Archives: The Deadly Double

Boardgames in the News: The Deadly Double and Pearl Harbor

The Deadly Double is an eighty year old, “put-up and take” dice game with a slightly sinister past.  The game, designed to be played in cramped conditions in while sheltering from air raids, is almost trivially simple.  Each player starts with a pile of chips and contributes a fixed stake or “ante” to the kitty.  Then, players take it in turns to roll the two bespoke dice, one black with yellow numerals and one white with red markings.  The faces of the black die feature the odd numbers from one to nine while the white die has multiples of twelve up to sixty, giving pairs of one and twelve, three and twenty-four etc.  The sixth faces are zero and “double X” (or “XX”) for the black and white dice respectively.

The Deadly Double
– Image from strangefulthings.com

If a pair is rolled, the active player takes the kitty.  In general, players roll once per turn unless they roll a special combination. For example, rolling a zero with a sixty and they contribute to the kitty again; rolling a zero with an even number multiple of twelve, and the player rolls again, and so on.  Rolling the “deadly double”, XX, with a zero means the active player must make a large contribution to the kitty defined by a re-roll – a decision must be made before the re-roll, but neither option is good as both are likely to be large: either the face value of the white die, or the number rolled on the black die multiplied by the number of players.

The Deadly Double
– Image from dicecollector.com

It was perhaps the peculiar numbers featured on the dice that inspired the conspiracy theory that was reported in The New York Times in March 1967.  According to an interview with Lasislas Farago, a former United States intelligence expert and military historian, readers of the New Yorker noticed that the newspaper advert for the game showed the numbers seven and twelve, adverts that were published about two weeks before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7th December 1941.  The Germanic eagle logo and images of a bomb shelter led to the idea that these adverts were in fact warning Japanese agents in the US of the date of the impending attack.  It was thought that five and zero shown in the advert might represent the planned time for the attack while the XX, the Roman numeral for twenty, might indicate the latitude for Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

The Deadly Double
– Image from dicecollector.com

Even the name, “The Deadly Double” could have alluded to the axis powers, Germany and Japan.  According to Lasislas Farago the mystery deepened when the FBI contacted the New Yorker to discover who placed the advertisments, only to find that they didn’t know – the gentleman in question was completely anonymous.  The advert had been placed over the counter and paid for in cash and the clerk had no recollection of who placed them.  Apparently, neither the game that was offered nor the company whose signature was on the advert ever existed.

The Deadly Double
– Image from dicecollector.com

However, The New York Times published a follow-up article the following day featuring an interview with a Mrs. E. Shaw Cole of Montclair, New Jersey.  She claimed that she had helped her late husband and designer of the game, Roger Paul Craig to design the adverts.  Although they were indeed visited by the FBI, she claimed the numbers were all just a coincidence.  Despite this, and earlier comments on the subject from Mr. Craig reported in the Los Angeles Times in 1942, the urban myths and conspiracy theories still refuse to die and the game, The Deadly Double, will forever be associated with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, that ultimately led to the USA joining World War II.

The Deadly Double
– Image from dicecollector.com