Ever since we got on the mailing list for Atlas Obscura, we’ve found the most interesting and odd things to do through them. That’s how we got to tour the Corriganville Movie Ranch, the Hyperion sewage-treatment plant, Pasadena Field Trip Day, and The Bunny Museum. Tonight’s adventure was “Locked – A Lock Picking Workshop”. Lock picking has been a minor hobby of mine ever since I read Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman! back in the ’80s. In the chapter about when he cracked the safes at Los Alamos during the war, he briefly described how to pick locks. And after reading that, I taught myself to do it, using a screwdriver and a paper clip. That was good enough to open desks and file cabinets, but not anything harder. Some years later, I was able to obtain a real lock picking kit, and I was even able to use it to wake Lucinda up when she overslept at her mom’s house one time.
We had a full crew for this adventure. Kathleen wanted to learn, Lucinda’s wanted to learn since that day back in 2010, my friends Steve and Morgan from work wanted to learn, and I wanted to learn how to do it properly, and what all those other funny picks in the kit are for. All these years, I’ve pretty much just used the one pick that most resembles the bent paperclip I first learned with. So I thought seeing it done by an actual lock-picking master would be good.
Our instructor for this was Schuyler Towne, who competes in lock picking contests, does security consulting, and leads workshops such as the one we attended. He was really quite a character, and very entertaining. And the class came complete with a set of basic picks, a tension wrench, and two locks to practice on.
He talked about the history of locks, and about how the basic pin tumbler lock we all use today dates back thousands of years, and has been essentially unchanged since the 1800s. He also talked about variations, such as locks with special pins in them to make them harder to pick, and about different types of locks, and how the principles of picking are very similar for all.
Defeating locks can be done in many different ways. He talked about the Kryptonite bike lock recall of 2004, and how Kryptonite basically shot themselves in the foot there. Apparently, the flaw that was discovered in their locks dates back a long time, and their original locks back in the ’70s were not vulnerable to it. But somewhere along the line, they switched to a slightly cheaper locking mechanism, and that’s where the trouble began. And in the end, I know that it cost them customers. They replaced my old lock for free back in 2005. But the new lock they sent me had a locking mechanism that was so poorly made, it barely worked, and it was very hard to open. So in the end, I junked it and bought one of their competitor’s locks, and it has worked well for nearly a decade now.
Another way to defeat locks is just to get an impression of the key in order to be able to copy it. He showed us how to take a quick impression by pressing the key into our wrist. And no, that’s not my house key. That’s the key to the practice lock from the class.
The last trick we learned was how to use an aluminum shim from a soda can to open padlocks and handcuffs. After all, one never knows what the day will bring.
Overall, this was a very good adventure, even if it was kind of a late night for a weekday. Have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy the Obscura adventures?