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IMPORTANT: The information in the Anarchist's Cookbook on this subject is now obsolete. It claims that the new locks are foolproof; the following should disprove that.


The Master Lock should have two parts: the body (the part that has the dial on it) and the U-shaped shackle. Pull up on the shackle (or down on the body, if it's locked to something), but not all the way. Knowing how much to pull is a matter of practice: it has to be enough that this next part will work, but not so much that the dial won't turn.

With the shackle being pulled, turn the dial. It should "stick" in certain places. There should be twelve sticking places; finding all twelve isn't necessary, but it's good practice. Exactly ONE of the sticking places is the correct last number; the other eleven were put there by the Master Lock corporation to keep you from doing exactly what you're trying to do. How to tell them apart:

  • Seven sticking points will be between two marks—between 12 and 13, between 34 and 35, whatever. These are all fake.
  • Four of them will all have the same digit in the ones place: 7, 17, 27, and 37 could be four that you find. These are also fake.
  • One of them won't fit into the above categories, like, say, 30. This is the last number of the combination.


Sorry, the skill part's over; it's all calculation and brute force from here on in. Let's say that (as above) the last number is 30. Everyone remember modulo division? No? Go read up on it, it's critical to this next step. Now, the last number modulo 4 is going to be either 0, 1, 2, or three; in this case,

30 mod 4 = 2.

The first number mod 4 equals the last number mod 4. That is, the remainder of the first number when divided by 4 is also going to be 2. Which limits our first number possibilities to:


And the second number mod 4 equals the last number mod 4 plus or minus 2. So in our case, the second number mod 4 is 0 (since 2-2=0, and 2+2=0, since we're in mod-4-world). So our second number possibilities are:


Which leaves us with (10*10*1)=100 possible combinations, which is a lot, but it's a lot less than the 1500 combinations you'd have otherwise.

A cautionary note: Be really, really, really sure that you've got the right last number before you continue. Few things suck more than running through all 100 combinations to discover that you'd been barking up the wrong tree the whole time.

Source: http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~hillson/master_lock.html

A highly worrying addendum: Yesterday (5/23/02), I was working on a lock with only eleven sticking points—all of which were fake. If anyone else finds something like this, please let me know.

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