March 3, 1926. A man enters Café Emke in Budapest, orders something, and tries to make several phone calls. An hour later, unable to find the person he was looking for, he enters the bathroom and shoots himself in the chest, and to ensure his death, in the head. It wasn’t something so incredible in Hungary at that time, which, in fact, earned the nickname “city of suicides.” But this had something special: an envelope between the dead man’s fingers that to this day remains unsolved.
To rack one’s brain
When the police arrived at the scene, they could identify him: it was Gyula Antal, a waiter who had been living in poverty for a while and had just been evicted from his home due to inability to pay rent. To pay off his debts, in fact, he had left behind all his clothes. The motive for what he did seems obvious, right? Well, there’s a piece of the puzzle you don’t know. Or rather, the crossword.
On the envelope that Antal had between his fingers, there was a note that read, “The solution will give you the exact reasons for my suicide and also the names of the interested parties.” Inside was an unfilled crossword puzzle that the police started to complete but stopped because they found it “too complicated.” It sounds like the beginning of a good detective novel, but the story isn’t quite that thrilling and ends here.
It’s important to consider that in the 1920s, there was a whole craze for crossword puzzles, much like there might be for video games or Marvel movies today. Just as newspapers now predict the decline of crosswords in the years ahead, people back then viewed crosswords as the most modern thing in the world. To some extent, they were.
As we approach the hundredth anniversary of Antal’s death, and knowing that the story is true and not an urban legend thanks to newspapers from that era, we’re left with questions: Will we ever get to see the unsolved crossword? Did the police throw it away? Why aren’t there five or six writers right now crafting a story about a detective who has never been seen in one of these? Questions upon questions. Hopefully, someday we’ll have the answers.
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