Learn To Pick Locks, With The MIT Guide To Lock Picking (1991)


When I was young, I decid­ed that I would learn how to pick locks. If count­less intre­pid TV heroes could dis­man­tle a pair of hand­cuffs with noth­ing but a hasti­ly swiped paper­clip, why could­n’t I? The process, it turns out, was quite easy: I prac­ticed on an old, lock­able diskette cab­i­net, and quick­ly fig­ured out how to crack the lock’s mech­a­nism using two paper­clip halves. This allowed me to pro­claim that I was an expert lock pick­er to my friends, and that, real­ly, the whole thing was an ele­men­tary pro­ce­dure.

Although, as the astute read­er would sur­mise, I knew next to noth­ing about lock pick­ing, I was right on one count: it’s easy. Or, at least, so notes the MIT Guide to Lock Pick­ing, writ­ten by the mys­te­ri­ous Ted The Tool. This primer was first pub­lished in 1987 and has been float­ing around var­i­ous web­sites for the past two decades. And it’s still con­sid­ered an essen­tial intro­duc­tion to the art of pick­ing locks. It begins by out­lin­ing lock ter­mi­nol­o­gy:

The key is insert­ed into the key­way of the plug. The pro­tru­sions on the side of the key­way are called wards. Wards restrict the set of keys that can be insert­ed into the plug. The plug is a cylin­der which can rotate when the prop­er key is ful­ly insert­ed. The non-rotat­ing part of the lock is called the hull. The first pin touched by the key is called pin one. The remain­ing pins are num­bered increas­ing­ly toward the rear of the lock. 

The prop­er key lifts each pin pair until the gap between the key pin and the dri­ver pin reach­es the sheer line. When all the pins are in this posi­tion, the plug can rotate and the lock can be opened. An incor­rect key will leave some of the pins pro­trud­ing between the hull and the plug, and these pins will pre­vent the plug from rotat­ing.

Over its 50 pages, the guide explains the flat­land and pin col­umn lock mod­els, and lays out the the­o­ry behind open­ing them. It also includes guide­lines on mak­ing lock pick­ing tools, legal infor­ma­tion, and numer­ous pieces of prac­ti­cal advice. Most use­ful? It con­tains numer­ous exer­cis­es, and stress­es the impor­tance of doing your lock pick­ing home­work:

“Any­one can learn how to open desk and fil­ing cab­i­net locks, but the abil­i­ty to open most locks in under thir­ty sec­onds is a skill that requires prac­tice.”

lia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

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