The Great Brain books were some of my favorite when I was a kid, but I hadn't thought of them in more than a decade. Then, as I was trying to expand the scope of this project to include books, an old memory, from long before I knew anything about locks or lock picking, came to the fore. I vaguely remembered the great brain making an impression of a key!The Great Brain at the Academy:
The Great Brain (Tom) has been sent to a very strict boarding school where he quickly gets a reputation for being a trouble maker. The school uses a system of demerits and Tom racks them up with abandon...until he gets a project in his head. When sentenced to clean the bathroom every day for a month, Tom discovered a passage into the attic where he promptly sets up a secret candy store where he resells 5 cent candy bars for 10 cents to the other students. He is making money hand over fist, but runs into a problem. He hasn't gotten in enough trouble to keep his punishment!
Tom sure as heck didn't feel like being congratulated. He felt like giving himself a hard kick in the behind for not remembering to get some demerits so he wouldn't lose the washroom job. Without it the Academy Candy Store would be out of business. He had to keep that job.
Unfortunately for Tom, it wasn't to be. He had to devise a new plan, and in talking to his friends, he started to get an idea.
Jerry shook his head sadly. "Good-bye, candy store," he said. "The washroom is the only way to get into the attic."
That made Tom's great brain wake up in a hurry. "Wrong," he said. "What about the storeroom on the third floor? I bet there's a trapdoor into the attic from it."
"So what?" Jerry asked. The door is always locked. And Father Rodriquez carries the keys on that ring and chain he always has with him."
"Maybe not," Tom said. "Remember the ring of keys hanging on the wall in his office? I'll bet they are a duplicate set in case one of the priests needs them when Father Rodriguez isn't there. There is only one way to find out."
Like a scene out of a heist movie Tom & his 3 friends set up an elaborate system of movements and lookouts and secret knocks to get him access to the keys when the office is empty and no one is within sight of the hall. Tom snags the keys, then the next stage of sneaking gets them to the storeroom. After three failed attempts, the door opens with the 4th key on the ring. With the right key identified, Tom gets down to business:
Tom and Jerry went down to the washroom on the second floor and Tom made an impression of the key in a bar of soap. He wiped the key off carefully before going back to the third floor and hiding the bar of soap under the statue of Saint Francis.
Saint Francis is the patron Saint of merchants, which is right up Tom's alley. Now, while it's cool that he took an impression of the key in a bar of soap, it doesn't lend itself to casting or even a great deal of fidelity in the impression. So, Tom has to carve a key just using the impression as a reference.
Tom met with his three friends at their usual tree in the yard the next afternoon. He had a piece of wood, the bar of soap, and his pocketknife. He sat on the far side of the tree so his three friends could warn him if anybody approached. Tom was an expert whittler and could carve just about anything, but it took him more than an hour to make a wooden key from the impression in the bar of soap. He hid the key under the statue of Saint Francis.
So, we now have a wooden key that has been hand whittled from a soap bar impression. The chances of this key actually working in the lock? Not good.
That night he lay awake until all the other boys were asleep. He got a black crayon and his pocketknife and crept into the hallway. He removed the wooden key from under the statue and tried it in the lock of the storeroom door. It didn't work. He then rubbed the black crayon on the key and tried it again. He went into the washroom and turned on the lights. He could tell from the crayon marks that the key had to be carved in two places. He did the carving and once again tried the key in the storeroom lock. It turned halfway and stopped. Again he rubbed the black crayon on it and tried again. He went into the washroom. The crayon marks told him that he had to make the notch on top deeper. He did this and once again tried the key. This time the wooden key opened the lock. Thanks to Tom's great brain the Academy Candy Store was back in business.
This is awesome! Tom has not only done a slick impression in a bar of soap, he actually carried out what is called the Wax Pad Attack. And he did it perfectly!
A warded lock works very simply. If you look at any of the keys on the key ring on the cover of the book you'll see a relatively simple shape. Inside the lock is the negative image of that shape, set in pieces of metal called "wards." By applying wax from the crayon to his makeshift key, Tom makes it possible to see where, exactly, the wards are hitting the key. He then removes wood anywhere he sees missing wax, and tries again. On his second attempt the key goes a bit farther before hitting another ward, which is a great little detail, as wards were spaced throughout the travel area of the key inside warded locks. He again applies wax, gets a new impression and whittles his key down to work perfectly in the lock.
This is hands down the best representation of an entry technique in any fiction book, film, television show, game, etc. that I have seen. And this is a children's book from the 70s! Very cool.If you'd like to let me know about scenes from a book, television show, film or any media, really, please fill out this form: Lockpicking in Film & TV