Created By: Maxaxle on February 22, 2012 Last Edited By: Arivne on July 25, 2016

Improvised Lockpick

A non-key object is inserted into a lock and used to open a lock.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
Up for Grabs Rolling Updates (if possible)


People use things that's not a lockpick to pick a lock. It doesn't matter what those things are, but fiction seems to like to come up with increasingly unlikely ideas.

Alice comes to a locked door and realizes that she does not have the key. Improvising, she pulls out a paper clip, picks the lock and opens it. She then locks the door and continues on.

Bob later comes across the same locked door, but does not have the key or any lockpicks. Noticing that the lock is very worn, he pulls out a flathead screwdriver, jams it in the lock, and twists it until the lock gives way.

Super Trope to Skeleton Key Card and Hairpin Lockpick.


Examples

Film
  • Grand Theft Parsons features a yellow hearse, the keys to which have been lost since before the beginning of the movie. - ZCE

Video Games
  • Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars uses a car theft mechanic that involves this with low-end cars. - ZCE
  • In Fallout 3, a screwdriver is used as a torque wrench (the picking itself is done with bobby pins).

Western Animation
  • In Rugrats, Tommy is often able to pick locks with his (toy) screwdriver as easily as he can reach and push latches with it.

Real Life
  • A pin-tumbler lock consists of two surfaces (generally cylinders, since the design is used in cylinder locks), one of which can rotate against the other (and is both connected to the latch and has the slot for the key in it). Both the cylinders have holes in them which line up when the lock is in the "locked position". Above the cylinders are spring loaded pins which fit into said holes, when the pins are down they lock the cylinders together. Each pin is a different length, meaning that it has to be pushed up by precisely the right amount to stop it from preventing the cylinder rotating. The teeth on a key push each pin up by a different amount and (naturally) a key cut to fit a given lock pushes each pin in the lock by exactly the right amount, allowing the cylinder to be rotating and to manipulate the latch. In order to pick the lock two tools (rather than one as is often portrayed) are needed; a torque wrench and a pick. The torque wrench is used to turn the cylinder, while the pick is used to manipulate the pins in such a way to allow it to turn. A flat headed screwdriver can be used as one. In addition, a screwdriver can also be used to force the lock (literally just twist it hard enough to snap the pins) or rake it (drawing it across the pins in a particular way until they snap in place).

Community Feedback Replies: 35
  • February 22, 2012
    Maxaxle
    How do we not have a page about the film Grand Theft Parsons?
  • February 22, 2012
    foxley
    MacGyver does this several multiple times with his Swiss army knife.
  • February 22, 2012
    Bisected8
    This actually has some basis in real life. A pin-tumbler lock consists of two surfaces (generally cylinders, since the design is used in cylinder locks), one of which can rotate against the other (and is both connected to the latch and has the slot for the key in it). Both the cylinders have holes in them which line up when the lock is in the "locked position". Above the cylinders are spring loaded pins which fit into said holes, when the pins are down they lock the cylinders together. Each pin is a different length, meaning that it has to be pushed up by precisly the right amount to stop it from preventing the cylinder rotating. The teeth on a key push each pin up by a different amount and (naturally) a key cut to fit a given lock pushes each pin in the lock by exactly the right amount, alowing the cylinder to be rotating and to manipulate the latch.

    In order to pick the lock two tools (rather than one as is often portrayed) are needed; a torque wrench and a pick. The torque wrench is used to turn the cylinder, while the pick is used to manipulate the pins in such a way to allow it to turn. A flat headed screwdrive can be used as one. In addition, a screwdriver can also be used to force the lock (literally just twist it hard enough to snap the pins) or rake it (drawing it across the pins in a particular way until they snap in place).

    • In Rugrats, Tommy is often able to pick locks with his (toy) screwdriver as easily as he can reach and push latches with it.
    • In Fallout 3, a screwdriver is used as a torque wrench (the picking itself is done with bobby pins).
  • February 22, 2012
    Maxaxle
    I'll put that under Real Life. I know it's possible, it's just a matter of *how* it's done.
  • February 22, 2012
    lebrel
    You know what? This sounds like a case of Missing Supertrope Syndrome. We don't really need a separate trope for every tool that can be used to open locks (and we have one of the most common, Hairpin Lockpick), so how about making this Improvised Lockpick and covering all the "tool not specifically designed for lockpicking" variations? Hairpin Lockpick would then be a subtrope.
  • February 22, 2012
    shimaspawn
    I like the idea of Improvised Lockpick better than just listing ever single one as their own trope.
  • February 22, 2012
    Maxaxle
    Done, and...done.
  • February 23, 2012
    TonyG
    Skeleton Key Card is a subtrope.
  • February 23, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Double Subverted on Get Smart. The Chief has been kidnapped, so Max is filling in in the Chief's office. Chief's private phone line is ringing. Max takes out a locked box in which it is enclosed. Max goes to a special hidden file cabinet, pulls out a piece of paper. He goes to the Wall Safe, uses the paper to open the combination door to the safe. He gets a hammer from the safe, and bashes the locked box with it so he can get to the phone inside.
  • February 23, 2012
    KZN02
    What about those who have Voluntary Shapeshifting and can morph their hand into a key?
  • February 23, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    In X-men , Gambit does the wrong "single tool" version while trapped by Cameron Hodge. He is hanging by his hands trapped in manacles and frees himself by curling up, using his teeth to pull out a metal spike that had been shot through his leg, and using it as a lockpick - with his feet.
  • February 23, 2012
    shimaspawn
    ^^ Sounds pretty improvised to me, but I think there might be a specific trope for that already.
  • November 27, 2012
    Robotech_Master
    Perhaps this should be renamed "Hollywood Lockpicking" or something. There are plenty of instances where a character whips out his utility knife, pokes the awl or nail file blade into a keyhole, and just turns it and it opens with no attempt made to finesse the tumblers. (For instance, Charming does this in the episode "Child of the Moon" in the series Once Upon A Time.) If that were possible in the real world, locks would be a whole less useful!

    That's not "improvised," because there wasn't any air of "improvisation" about it, any moment where the character tries to figure out what he could pick a lock with. He just...does it. It's basically the physical equivalent of a Sonic Screwdriver.
  • November 27, 2012
    StarSword
    Live Action TV
    • In the Vegas episode "Exposure", Jack forces open a locked desk drawer by using a letter-opener on the lock.
    • In one Burn Notice episode Michael steals a motorcycle by turning the ignition lock with a penknife, then kicking the handlebars to break the steering lock.
  • November 27, 2012
    shimaspawn
    Those first two examples violate site rules. They fall under Zero Context Example and don't even list what was used to pick the lock.
  • November 28, 2012
    HaggisMcCrablice
    What about simply kicking the door in? Indelicate, perhaps, but effective.
  • December 24, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In The Great Brain at the Academy, TD makes an impression in wax of the key to a locked room, then carves a duplicate out of wood.
  • July 13, 2015
    Prfnoff
    In the Banjo Kazooie "Banjo is Back!" teaser trailer, Banjo wields Kazooie as a lockpick.
  • July 13, 2015
    Tuckerscreator
    • In Terminator 2 Judgment Day, Sarah Connor steals some paper clips during an interrogation and later uses them to break out of her cell. Her actress Linda Hamilton took training in lock-picking before the film, and shows her work in using multiple clips to hold the pins in place rather than just jiggling a single wire around.
    • Subverted in the last episode of Jackie Chan Adventures Season 4. Viper tries to break the J-Team out of their cell with a hairclip and then a credit card, but the lock is magically sealed shut.
  • July 13, 2015
    henke37
    Telekinesis is very handy for lockpicking.
  • July 13, 2015
    oneuglybunny
    Western Animation
    • Gerry Anderson's marionette series Thunderbirds has the episode "Vault of Doom" wherein the Bank of London installs an airtight vault to discourage safecrackers. One bank employee is in the vault when it gets shut for the day, and the Thunderbirds team race to tunnel through reinforced concrete to rescue him. Happily, Lady Penelope's manservant Aloysius Parker is a former safecracker. He asks Lady P for a hairpin, which defeats the lock and opens the vault door in seconds.
      Bank Manager: Let's go back to the old design; at least it took him five hours to open it.
  • July 14, 2015
    Ellowen
    In the animated movie "Here Come The Littles," Cousin Dinky uses his tail to pick the lock on a trunk, with little success at first.

  • July 14, 2015
    TonyG
    In The Rescuers Down Under, Frank tries to pick the lock of his cage with his tail. It takes him a while but he succeeds.
  • July 14, 2015
    dalek955
  • July 15, 2015
    eroock
    Wouldn't this already be covered under Hairpin Lockpick where it says "When a resourceful character picks a lock [...] with a hairpin, paper clip, or some other everyday object".
  • July 15, 2015
    Koveras
    • In Dungeons And Dragons, characters usually need special lockpicking tools to open doors, but can also attempt it with improvised implements at a substantial penalty to the Disable Device roll.
  • July 15, 2015
    Snicka
    Literature:

    • In Richard Scarry's Best Christmas Book Ever!, Lowly Worm uses his foot (technically the tip of his tail) to pick a lock.
  • July 16, 2015
    JoeG
  • July 24, 2016
    JackG
    • Rome. Titus Pullo keeps one of his thugs in a locked cage, feeding him off scraps, in punishment for trying to steal from him. Unfortunately he picks the lock with a piece of bone and nearly kills Pullo.
  • July 24, 2016
    DAN004
    • Kungfu Hustle: During his infiltration into the asylum that contains the Beast, Sing the protagonist uses a steel wire to open the lock to the Beast's cell.
  • July 24, 2016
    LondonKdS
    In an episode of The Musketeers, Aramis picks the lock of some manacles with a cross attached to his rosary beads.
  • July 25, 2016
    Arivne

    Several OP examples are Zero Context Examples and have been marked as such (ZCE). They need more information to show how they fit the trope.
  • July 25, 2016
    BKelly95
    Video Games
    • In Zak Mckracken And The Alien Mindbenders, the heroes need to access a particular chamber to acquire the crystal that powers their device. The alien who gives them this assignment provides them with the key to open the door, but it disintegrates upon being picked up. How do you open the door it was supposed to unlock? By going to a hair salon and cutting down the giant bobby pin hanging outside, then using it to pick the lock.
  • July 25, 2016
    notShemp
    • In The Proud Family, Season 3 "Thelma and Luis'', when Suga Mama and Penny and her friends break into a retirement home that is secretly an okra farm that forces their residents to work on the fields all day to rescue Papi, they find him in a locked cell. Dijonay fails to unlock the cell with her hairpin so Suga Mama uses her long toenail to pick the lock of the cell.
  • July 25, 2016
    notShemp
    • In Hannah Montana, Season 1 "Good Golly, Miss Dolly" when Miley, Lily, and Aunt Dolly needs to get inside the school to recover a tape on Miley accidentally professing her love for Jake, Aunty uses her long fingernail to unlock the doors.
      Aunt Dolly: I haven't carried a house key in years.
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