☞ Watch Out For The Full Snowman.
Remember every movie ever when you a kid growing up, where the hero and his ladyfriend were handcuffed together by the villain and left to die by poison gas or lasers or piranhas or badgers or whatever, and the protagonist was going all aggro trying to break free, but then his ladyfriend— calm as can be— takes a bobby-pin out of her hair and picks the lock on the handcuffs no problem?
Confession time: When I was a kid, I always dreamed of being the ladyfriend.
Now, to be clear, I wasn’t looking to sign up for the full ladyfriend package, I just wanted to be able to pick locks with a bobby-pin like she did. I thought that was really cool.
I also thought her heels were pretty nice, as well.
Nice blouse, too. Very practical.
Whether you’ve got your ear up to bank safe or you’re raking some deadbolt pins with a half snowman, there is something inherently cool about lock picking. Sure, using a “master key” (read: “bolt-cutters”) also gets the job done, but that is crude by comparison. That’s the Heinz Mustard to lock picking’s Grey Poupon. The Humvee to lock picking’s Tesla. The Conan the Barbarian to lock picking’s James Bond. Sure, they all do the trick, but lock picking gets the job done with style.
Being able to pick a lock is a triumph of brain over brawn. If you’re going to be nefarious, what’s more nefarious than leaving no trace of your nefariousness?
All of this is to say: I am a lock-picker now.
Well, sort of.
When I say “I am a lock-picker now,” what I mean to say is that I can pick a rudimentary lock in a controlled environment if I’m given an unlimited amount of time.
Ladies, ladies, please, form a line.
Locks have been around forever. Pirates were always locking treasure in chests, jerks were always locking princesses in towers, and your dad was always locking the liquor cabinet when he went out of town with your mother for the weekend and no parties while we’re gone, son, I mean it. Yeah, I know dad, gosh.
While locks have certainly evolved over the centuries, the fundamentals have remained the same. Basically you’ve got a lock with some “pins” in it, you put the key in the lock, the key’s “teeth” line the pins up with the “shear point” of the lock, which allow the key to turn the “plug” which unlock the lock. (That is only the tip of the lock picking jargon iceberg, I assure you… it only gets weirder with “shimming” and “impressioning” and the “snake” and the “rake” and the “tang” and the “tip,” and of course, the “full mortise.”)
I’ve always had a vague notion of how to pick a lock. I think we all have. You get a bobby-pin or a bent paperclip or— optimally— a lock-pick set, you put a flashlight in your mouth, look over your shoulder to make sure no one is around, and then go to town. You wiggle things around, twist some stuff, maybe wipe your brow a bit as you sweat it out, jiggle jiggle jiggle, and then, boom, you’re in. Just like in the movies.
Here’s the thing, though: lock picking is one of those rare instances where the movies weren’t lying. It really is that simple.
A while back at the Maker Faire in New York (basically a science fair for adults) (highly recommended, would Maker again), I learned the principles of lock picking.
I learned you need three things to pick a lock:
1) A pick.
2) A “torsion wrench”
The Lock Pick Pavilion provided the first two, I had to provide the third one.
(Spoiler: I did not provide the third one.)
I managed to provided the third one for a little while, but as I struggled for what seemed like an eternity with a double-pin starter lock, the little girl sitting next to me blew through the double, the triple, the quadruple and finally an actual legit Master Lock lock that you used to lock up your gym clothes in middle school.
At that point I just got up and left. And I took my astronaut ice cream with me.
Because it isn’t a real science fair until you have some astronaut ice cream.
Flash forward to the present… I am now a little older and a little wiser and a little more patient. (I am also now legally required to have a quirky hobby because I live in Portland, Oregon.) So I decided to take a another crack at lock picking. I picked up a lock-pick set and swung by the hardware thrift store (Portland) around the corner from my house and picked up a bunch of locks that were missing their keys, which definitely got me some sass from the sassy black lady behind the register. Rightfully so, mind you.
Armed with proper picks and patience— and no pressure from little girls— I’ve gotten to the point where I can pick a regular door lock in a few minutes. I find this both satisfying and scary. If Pat Rafferty can pick your front door lock in a few minutes with his crappy $20 lock-pick set, what could an actual nefarious-type person do?
Well, pick the lock much faster with a much nicer lock-pick set, for starters, I suppose. Probably some other stuff too, though.
Point is, now that I’m semi-handy with a lock-pick, I look at the locked world a little differently. I count the teeth on keys. I see potential lock-picks everywhere… not just bobby-pins and paperclips, but pen caps and street-sweeper bristles. I am simultaneously more vigilant and less vigilant about locking my front door.
Perhaps most importantly though, I am now fully prepared should I ever find myself dangling over a pool of piranhas while handcuffed to another man.
Dreams really do come true, kids.