MakeShift Challenge: Retrieve Your Keys from a 15′ Crevice: Most Plausible

Mark Boyd’s Most Plausible Winning Entry
by Lee D. Zlotoff
September 25, 2007

First, I’ll explain to my mate that I’ve been a bit boneheaded, but that I can fix it! (Please, please, dear, be patient! I’ll buy you a nice dinner on the way home to make up for it!) I’ll have her sit off to the side with the snacks and drinks, in the shade, while I get to work.
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There are three types of nylon rope. Braided around a core, braided without a core (called hollow core) and solid braid. The setup didn’t say for sure, but the chance is 2/3 that I did NOT purchase a solid braid nylon rope, sold braid is bad for my purposes. If I got the rope from Wal-Mart then I probably have the type with a core that could be removed by cutting off the ends and pulling it through.

So, the first thing I do is remove the core from the rope, if it has a core.

Next, I’ll get some wire. Since the barbed wire fencing I climbed over is “old” then it is probably twisted wire around barbs. I use the snippers, pliers or whatever to cut off a hundred foot section of the wire, and then untwist it from the barbs. (I might cut off one end first, and untwist it while still attached to the fence. It might be easier to untwist with a fence post “holding” one side.)

Then I’ll slip the nylon rope “sheath” over this wire, making one hundred feet of covered wire.

Now, I’ll look for a suitable chunk of metal around the mine. I’m looking for something like a steel spike, large nail, or something like that. If I can’t find anything, I’ll use a large screwdriver or medium box wrench from my basic tool kit. Ferrous metal is best. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

I’ll start from the middle of my un-barbed, sheathed wire and will wrap it around and around the piece of metal or tool that I’ve found suitable. The wrapping shouldn’t require more than 20 feet of sheathed, un-barbed wire. I’ll use tape from my standard tool box to keep the wire in place on my home-made electromagnet. (If I don’t have tape, I can use cloth from my shirt, or even drop the electromagnet into one of my socks and tie it off.)

This leaves 80 feet of wire, doubled to a distance of 40 feet with my electromagnet at the end – more than deep enough for a 15 foot fissure.

Next is power! How do I get power to my electromagnet? If the wire is dropped down the fissure a full 15 feet, I’ll have 25 feet left over to work with. If my Chevy Tahoe (an OnStar equipped SUV) is close enough to the fissure, I’m almost immediately in business. I’ll unscrew a tail light to get to the brake light bulb, and using the snips cut the negative side of the circuit. I’ll then strip these wires and twist them around the ends of my un-barbed wire. I can hold them separate with strips of shirt, my other sock, or some tape from my standard tool box. It is important to leave the light in the positive side of the circuit, in serial with the electromagnet to act as a current limiter.

My spouse becomes my “on-off” switch for me. She sits in the driver seat and hits the brake when I yell, “Brake!” Like all vehicles, the keys are not needed to activate the brake lights when the brake is pressed.

Now I can use the stiff wire with the electromagnet on the end to troll the depths of the fissure, hoping to catch my keys by the steel Swiss Army knife. It will probably require some finesse and some fishing, but at the least I’ll be able to pull them into sight where I can then use more fence wire to fish them out the rest of the way.

This is the basic method – but there could be other problems. For example, my Tahoe might be too far away. No problem!

If the Tahoe isn’t close enough I can open the hood and take out the battery and move it closer to my electromagnet. I’ll remember to include a brake light in the circuit as a current limiter – I don’t want to arc the battery! Maybe the brake light can be removed from it’s socket and fence wire crimped strategically around it. (Jumper cables could be used too, if I have them.) Or failing that, I can clip the wires to the brake light assembly, remove the assembly (or the brake light socket, which ever is applicable) and leave the light in it’s socket while twisting the assembly wires to the fence wire and battery terminal. Touching the fence wire to the battery terminal will turn the electromagnet on and off. To protect the operator (my mate) I can use a piece of wood and a fencing nail to hold the wire at a safe distance.

Another possibility is that I’ve purchased the wrong type of nylon rope. If I’ve included tape in my toolbox I could use it instead. Ever since I blew a radiator hose in the middle of the Mojave desert and saved it with duct tape, I’ve carried a fresh roll in the back of my vehicle. So equipped, I could sheath quite a lot of wire by using lengths of duct tape, perhaps enough for a 15 foot electromagnet.

But if I can’t use the rope or tape, then I’m still not licked. I could pull out 30 feet of wire from the Tahoe’s brake lights. I’m reluctant to do this because it will take a moderate amount of effort, and I probably won’t be able to fix the light for the drive home. (I’ll try to use the wire to my license plate light and backup lights – I don’t want a ticket for not having working brake lights!) I’ll use the brake light as a current limiter as before – and move the battery if needed.

Once I get my keys, I’ll replace the battery, reinstall my brake light assembly (or socket) and twist the wires back together. (I can tape them in place, or use cloth to keep them from shorting.)

Finally, I’ve earned myself a drink, and a snack if my mate has left anything for me.

Best of all, my metal detector hasn’t been disassembled, so now I can spend the rest of the afternoon using it to hunt for cool stuff around the mine! My day hasn’t been ruined and my mate didn’t have to work too hard to help me out, which means that she’ll be more agreeable to going on another outing in the future!

I wonder if I’ll find someone else’s keys?

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