How To Spell Any 4-Letter Word in a Word Lock

“So, I’m a gamemaster and I made a bet with my boss that I could find a 4-letter word lock that we could spell ‘SWAN’ with. I’m struggling!!! Any chance you could help me out? I’ll buy multiple locks and trade the gears if needed. Thank you!!”

Anonymous Gamemaster (who is winning a bet)

This is a fun little problem that you have.

There isn’t a lock on the market that can solve this problem for you, but as you alluded to in your question, there are two locks that can combine to solve the problem.

The Problem

So the issue is that “W” is a rare second letter in English and therefore not included in the second disk on the various word locks with fixed disks.

A 5 disk alphanumeric combination lock.

This leaves you with the customizable Master Lock 1534D 5-digit letter lock… but that’s a problem because it has 5 disks, not 4. Master Lock doesn’t sell a 4-disk letter lock variant.

The Solution

The good news is that there is a solution.

A 4 digit number lock.

The Master Lock 1523D 4-digit number lock uses disks that are functionally identical to the letter disks of the aforementioned Master Lock 1534D 5-digit letter lock.

If you purchase both locks, and swap the disks, you can put in any 4-letter disks you want, in any order, onto the smaller lock. There you have a 4-digit word lock with the combination “SWAN.”

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Master Lock 1590D – All Possible 3 Letter Words

The Master Lock 1590D isn’t an overwhelmingly common escape room lock. (That’s probably a good thing for reasons that I discuss below). That said, it is a strange and interesting device that does show up from time to time.

Blue alphanumeric locker-style padlock.

Since it is commercially available and does show up, I decided to run an analysis against it. In doing so, I learned some nifty things.

The results of the analysis are here. I encourage you, however, to continue reading, as this analysis turned out a bit different from previous ones (this one and this one.)

Letter Distribution

Unlike the previous letter locks that we’ve analyzed, the Master Lock 1590D does not have multiple disks with individual letter distributions. Instead, the 1590D functions like a traditional locker lock. All of its letters are available at once.

The distribution is:

A D E H J L N R S T and the numbers 0 through 10.

There is one interesting thing to note about this lock before reviewing the word permutations.

Letters may be repeated:

There was nothing in the lock’s documentation, nor did I find anything online… but when I attempted to input repeat letters into the lock, it accepted them. “AAA” was a valid combination.

This was a relief because I was pretty certain that I was going to break the lock when I tried it.

Blue alphanumeric locker-style padlock open with a reset key sitting beside it.
Once opened, the lock may be reset by inserting this plastic key into the shackle hole.

What Words Can This Distribution Generate?

We ran two separate analyses.

Analysis 1: Letters Only (Tab 1)

This analysis only used the actual letters on the lock: A D E H J L N R S T

The results generated 59 high-value words.

Analysis 2: Letters & Number Substitutions (Tab 2)

This analysis used the actual letters , plus O, I, Z, G, B (as represented by the letters 0, 1, 2, 6, 8).

The results generated 207 high value words.

Blue alphanumeric locker-style padlock open with a reset key inserted.
It can be reset to a 3-digit permutation.

Analysis Methodology

Once again, Rich Bragg (of Guinness Record, Enthusiast Choice Awards, & ClueKeeper fame) helped conduct this analysis. The mechanics of the analysis were explained in the original lock analysis post… so I’m not going to rehash them here. 

There was one significant differences from the first analysis:

I asked Rich to run the analysis twice, once using only the actual letters, and a second time substituting letters that look like numbers. These tabs are running across the bottom of the spreadsheet.

5 Observations

1. The fact that the 1590D accepts repeated letters really surprised me. This greatly opened up opportunities for making words.

2. Word options at 3 letters are minimal. This isn’t really a surprise.

3. The addition of a few extra numbers as letter substitutions expanded the word pool dramatically.

4. If you look in the right two columns, you’ll find a ton of 3-letter abbreviations. Government agencies (DOJ), stock symbols (JNJ), nicknames (J Lo), and fictional organizations (JLA) seemed interesting and potentially useful. The right most column is far more useful for this lock than for some of the larger locks that we’ve previously analyzed.

5. Master Lock’s commitment to including the letter “J” in their word locks continues to bewilder me as it is not useful for making words. The only reason that I can think of is for making people’s initials, as “J” is a common first letter in names.


I have found that players are generally confused about how to operate this lock.

In my opinion, locker-style locks are a less-than-stellar option for escape rooms. I think they should be avoided most of the time. The same goes for the 1590D.

My opinions notwithstanding, I know that this lock will get used in escape rooms and in classroom games, so I offer this analysis.

WordLock – All Possible 4 & 5 Letter Words

I recently published an analysis on the Master Lock 4 letter combination locks. They have an unusual letter distribution and I was curious how many English words could be generated with those locks. It turned out that those Master Locks could create a lot more words than I had anticipated.

In light of the popularity of that post I once again worked with Rich Bragg of ClueKeeper to run the same analysis on the popular WordLock PL-004 5-Dial.

This lock seems to have fewer clichéd words, but there are a few that pop up a little too often including:

  • BOOK(S)

A 5 letter WordLock closed, the word "Books" appearing.

Letter Distribution

This analysis is focused on the most current 5 disk WordLock model, the PL-004. There are 3 older models with somewhat different letter distributions and WordLock has other 4 disk products. 

The fixed-disk WordLock uses the following letter configuration:

Disk 1: L S W B P F M D T A

Disk 2: A P O R I L C E T N

Disk 3: S E R I L A N U T O

Disk 4: E L D A O S K N R T

Disk 5: R L S N T H Y D _ E

There are two particularly interesting things about this letter distribution.

First, the blank spot on the fifth disk (represented above with an underscore) cleverly allows the WordLock to represent 4 or 5 letter words.

Second, the lock has asymmetrical disks that, when all aligned, defaults 7 of the 10 lines of the lock into words:

  • BRIAN … if you consider a name to be a word
  • ANOTE … while it does have a definition, this more looks like a word than is a word

While the remaining three lines are gibberish, it’s still a nifty and thoughtful feature as the lock looks cool with all of those words on its face.

A 5 letter WordLock closed, the word "Spell" appearing.

What Words Can This Distribution Generate?

Here’s the spreadsheet. The left-most column contains 1,652 core English words. These are the best words that the analysis found. The further right you move, the less useful the words generally are (and the farthest right is mostly nonsense).

Analysis Methodology & Column Explanation

Absolutely everything about this analysis and its outputs conforms to the same information presented in the last letter lock analysis, so I won’t rehash it. It’s on the Master Lock post if you’re interested.

Odd Letter Distribution Hypothesis

After publishing the last analysis some members of the room escape community proposed a hypothesis about the odd letter distribution on those Master Locks:

It seemed like Master Lock may have been trying to make it impossible to spell curse words.

This seems like a valid answer for both Master Lock and WordLock’s letter selection. I cannot prove this one way or another, but you cannot generate the most popular American English swear words with these locks… so that’s probably not a coincidence.

Nevertheless, sifting through the wordlist revealed a few “vulgar” or degrading words… and I’m including them because my inner 10 year-old thinks this list is hilarious:

Vulgar Words: Proceed With Caution

ANAL, ANUS, BALLS, BONER, DORK, PANSY, SISSY, and PENAL (That last one isn’t at all vulgar, but it sure feels like it should be.) You can also generate the word MOIST… which apparently is a word that a lot of people hate.


There are also TONS of innuendo-y words that I didn’t include… because I’m an adult.

WordLock Word List

Master Lock: All Possible 4 Letter Words

Master Lock has many different word combination locks and cable bike locks on the market that have fixed disks. (You cannot swap the order of the disks.)

In the escape room community, the three best known fixed-disk locks are:

Master Lock Model No. 1535DWD

Master Lock letter lock 1235DWD with the word "BOOK" appearing as the combination.

Master Lock Model No. 643DWD

Master Lock letter lock 643DWD with the word "MOCK" appearing as the combination.

Master Lock Model No. 175DWD

Master Lock letter lock 175DWD with the word "TEAR" appearing as the combination.

All of these fixed-disk letter locks have the exact same letter distribution, which made me wonder:

How many 4-letter words can these Master Locks create?

I hope to see more variation in solutions used on these locks in escape rooms. The same half-dozen words show up a whole lot. (I’m looking at you BURY, STAR, & SAND).

Three Master Lock letter locks with the combinations entered as sand, star, and bury.

Letter Distribution

Each fixed-disk letter Master Lock uses the following configuration:

Disk 1: L N B D M J P R S T

Disk 2: O U Y R T L H A E I

Disk 3: C D E O R S T L N A

Disk 4: K Y R S T L N E D H

What Words Can This Distribution Generate?

I asked Rich Bragg of ClueKeeper how he’d determine all the words these locks could generate. A few minutes later he sent me back a spreadsheet filled with words.

Column Explanation

There is no way to generate a single answer to the question “how many English words can this lock create?” English is a constantly evolving language. Words are created, usage shifts, and words fall into disuse.

Column A is the common English word list. This is by far the most useful column. It has 695 words.

Column B is the “ENABLE” word list. These are still words, but they are obscure or old English.

The next three columns are decreasing useful, with the fifth column being words from Wikipedia (which includes acronyms, initialisms and the like).

Each list omits the words found in the previous lists.

I’ve included all of the columns in the spreadsheet because even the less useful columns have some interesting entries… They are just few and far between.

Analysis Methodology

Bragg used TEA Crossword Helper, which is anagramming software on steroids. This is the kind of software that you use if you’re really serious about winning a major puzzle hunt.

From the TEA website:

“TEA comes with a database of over 6 million words and phrases including the title index for the English version of Wikipedia. These answers are classified by their familiarity, so you always see the most likely ones first. You can look up the meanings in the integrated dictionary/thesaurus or on the Internet. TEA is faster and more convenient than word lists in book form such as crossword completers, crossword dictionaries and crossword keys.”

Is There A Better Distribution?

The letters on each disk are pretty curious, especially when you notice oddities like the “J” in the first disk or the “Y” in the second disk.

From a letter frequency standpoint, these are not great letters to drop in those positions.

I reached out to Master Lock to ask how they chose this letter distribution, but they could not be reached for comment.

I suspect that there are more effective letter distributions possible that would generate even more words, but after a quick attempt at doing better, I fell a bit short. If you find one, I’d be curious to see it.

However, whether or not there is a better distribution, this is the one we have on these locks. It’s a lot of options. Feel free to use this list as a tool.

Master Lock Letter Lock Word List