In 2013 a man’s attempts to open a mysterious safe that was found in a basement made him into an internet celebrity. In fact, the discovery sparked furious speculation on reddit and imgur and even caught the attention of the mainstream press. Then, nine months later, the contents of the vault were finally revealed. So, in the end, was it worth the wait?
The saga of the safe began on March 16, 2013. This was when a redditor known as dont_stop_me_smee uploaded a series of images to the online community imgur. According to the post, his friend had just moved into a property somewhere in New Zealand that had been associated with drug crime. And in the basement? He found an intriguing mystery lying in wait.
The images depicted a sinister-looking area sealed with a heavy steel door. And beyond the door, among clutter, was a substantial, locked safe, built into the wall of the house. There was clearly a large space locked behind it, too.
The door to the safe was protected by a dial lock marked around the edges with ageing strips of brown tape. The redditor suspected that the tape might hold a clue to the combination, although he couldn’t figure out how to crack the code.
So, intrigued by the mysterious safe but unable to open it, he turned to reddit for help. It was the start of a story that would leave visitors to the popular site on the edge of their seats for the next nine months.
Dont_stop_me_smee wasn’t the first to stir up excitement about a mystery safe on reddit, however. Two years previously, a user known as secretsafe caused a controversy when he promised to open live online a safe that he had discovered in his father’s casino. Sadly, this redditor disappeared without a trace.
Despite this earlier disappointment, though, dont_stop_me_smee was inundated with advice after appealing for help opening the safe. In fact, the original post attracted almost 6,000 comments from users keen to see behind the locked door.
For instance, user Tof1911, who claimed to work with safes, commented to say that the lock model was a Sargent and Greenleaf 6630. He recommended using a special stethoscope to crack the combination. Failing that, he posited, it could be opened by carefully drilling through the lock.
Other users added various factory setting combinations that they were familiar with from their own jobs in the hope that one might work. Another pointed out that without the handle – which appeared to have been ground off – the safe wouldn’t open even with the correct combination.
Of course, the post also drew the attention of plenty of amateur safe crackers, along with several more destructive suggestions. Yes, jackhammers, grinding wheels and plasma cutters were all put forward as methods of accessing the safe. The fact that the property was rented, however, meant that these were of little use.
In the face of online goading, dont_stop_me_smee was quick to reassure readers that his quest was the real deal. “I know reddit’s history with safes,” he wrote. “If somebody comes up with a useful way to get into this thing I will try it tomorrow and post pics.”
He even started a new subreddit – a section of reddit dedicated to a specific topic – to document the progress of his mission. And in just two days 60,000 people had subscribed to watch events unfold. This was clearly a mystery that had captured reddit’s imagination.
However, as the weeks passed, dont_stop_me_smee’s updates became less and less regular. Meanwhile, the posts that had offered encouragement and helpful tips gave way to nastier comments filled with snide remarks. It seemed that redditors felt as if they had been cheated once again.
Finally, on June 1, 2013, dont_stop_me_smee resurfaced. He posted on a different subreddit on the site seeking emotional support and revealed that he had recently lost his grandfather. With his priorities elsewhere, then, the mystery of the safe looked set to disappear into the annals of internet lore.
Then, in 2014, things took an unexpected turn. A new redditor known as mantisnzl was browsing the site when, shockingly, a picture of his own basement appeared. Amazingly, he had unknowingly moved into the house with the infamous safe and had just discovered that he was now part of an internet phenomenon.
It was a moment that he won’t forget. After all, it’s not everyday that you see a section of your own house being discussed on one of the internet’s most used websites. What’s more, he could provide those talking about it with the answers they wanted.
“[I was] dumbstruck,” he wrote. “[I] was sitting downstairs looking at it, drinking with mates, sucking at pool and thinking of ways to get in there. Come upstairs and there’s a picture of something in my house on the front page.”
Realizing just how many people had been waiting for a resolution, he decided to finally put the issue to rest. Hence, armed with a borescope, cutting blades, a drill and a crowbar, he broke his way into the safe just three weeks after first learning about its online fame.
So just what was the big reveal that thousands of people around the world had been waiting for? And did it finally live up to the hype? Sadly, the answer was a resounding “no.” In fact, the safe was completely empty save for a few spiders and cobwebs.
Online reactions to the revelation were mixed. While some, including mantisnzl, bemoaned the whole experience as a massive letdown, others were quick to see the humor in the fiasco. But even though the ending of the story was something of a disappointment, it has nevertheless left a lasting legacy behind.
For instance, the subreddit initially dedicated to solving the puzzle has since grown to more than 85,000 subscribers. And with the original mystery solved, it now attracts stories of locked objects from around the world. As for the safe that started it all? It’s since been converted into handy storage for mantisnzl’s stash of liquor.
mantisnzl wrote, “After an epic cleanout, it can serve to store enough liquor to drown the despair of any one of us that was hoping for greatness within.” Well, you can’t say fairer than that.
Thankfully, then, the walk-in safe now serves an actual purpose besides harboring spiders. Just look at the shelving unit that mantisnzl and co. found inside; it was the perfect place to store liquor bottles.
One of the shelves, however, remained empty. This is the place where mantisnzl listed his “priorities,” whatever they may be, in descending order. Could they have something to do with drinking, perhaps?
Fortunately, it seemed that the imgur community approved of mantisnzl’s secret drinking den – to an extent. “This helps a little bit,” one commenter wrote, “I’M STILL HURT THOUGH.”
As for mantisnzl, he seemed to be enjoying the safe’s space, getting through his liquor in priority order. Who knows whether he ever closed the door, though; probably not, just in case.