“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Dimensions: Body, 1.75 inch (4.5cm) wide 1.5 inch (4 cm), shackle height 1.5 inch (3.9cm), shackle width 0.25 inch (0.6 cm)
Price: $10-25 (depending on the color)
Manufacturer: Master Lock
What the Master Lock 410 lacks in durability it makes up for in aesthetics… at least for escape room design purposes.
For the right escape room theme, this is a clever lock to use in place of “do not touch” stickers. It could also work well just as an eye-catching lock.
From a user standpoint, this is a keyed padlock. There is nothing unique about its operation.
From a construction standpoint, the Master Lock 410 is an utterly bizarre lock. Its body is made of plastic and its shackle is not hardened… but it has the most pick-resistant core that Master Lock produces.
The Lockpicking Lawyer did a humorous analysis of the paradox that is the Master Lock 410:
Use in Escape Rooms
There are two clear uses for the Master Lock 410 within escape rooms.
Do Not Touch Indicator
The Master Lock 410’s aesthetic makes it jump out as a natural “do not touch” indicator.
Its unique look and feel – compared to other locks – makes it obvious and memorable.
Additionally, the plastic body means that while its durability may be questionable, it is unlikely to damage anything on your set if it swings against props.
Depending upon the game environment, the Master Lock 410 could look like a natural part of the set while still standing out. The same cannot be said for most “do not touch” stickers.
The Master Lock 410’s interesting aesthetic means that it could play a unique role as an active padlock within an escape room.
My big concern for this padlock as an active prop is durability.
The unusual Master Lock 410 is a Lockout/ Tagout lock (LOTO).
Lockout/ Tagout is an industrial safety precaution whereby all of the workers involved with a dangerous piece of machinery place a lock on the device that prevents it from working until all of them remove their locks.
This ensures that no one is stuck in a dangerous position when the machinery is activated. These locks come in multiple colors and have labels so that individual workers can identify their own locks.
Incidentally, the Master Lock Hasp that occasionally shows up in escape rooms is a different LOTO device… but that contraption is a story for another day.
➕ Master Lock 410’s plastic body means that this lock will not damage anything that it is hanging on or near.
➕ The soft shackle of the Master Lock 410 means that an escape room operator could easily cut this lock open with bolt cutters in an emergency.
➕ The unique aesthetic of the Master Lock 410 could make this lock look at home in certain escape room environments.
➕ There are many color options for the Master Lock 410 including red, black, green, orange, purple, yellow, and blue. Prices may vary for different colors.
➖ The plastic body calls the durability of this padlock into question. Its body is far more likely to suffer serious damage than most other padlocks.
➖ From a security standpoint, the Master Lock 410 is utterly insufficient as it has no hardening to physical attack. This is a product that makes more sense in an escape room than in most real life situations.
➕ The shockingly robust core of the Master Lock 410 makes it an ideal practice lock for pickers. It’s a really tough pick compared to just about everything else that Master Lock sells.
Tips For Using
You may want to apply some lacquer or resin on top of the sticker to prevent it from peeling off.
Buy your copy of Master Lock’s 410, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.
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.
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:
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.
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.