The sharp bulky lines of trick lock maker Rainer Popp’s previous release, the T7, have given way to the smooth rounded surface of his latest design, the T8. The T8 is a cylindrical re-imagining of the antique “P lock”. The lock has two tricks that need to be discovered in order to open it. The first can be found without too much difficulty as it is the natural place on the lock to start tinkering. The second is cleverly disguised. It can be found either by chance or by a careful examination of the lock and some keen deductive reasoning. However it is found, it’s hard not to admire its novel ingenuity and charm.
Since his first trick lock, the now legendary T1, was released in 2006, Rainer’s puzzles have become objects of desire for puzzlers everywhere. Rainer makes the locks himself, in small batches, and when they sell out does not produce them again. That these locks are handmade can be seen in their quality and the attention to detail.
In fact, the T8 doesn’t just stand out for its qualities as a mechanical puzzle, but its qualities as lock. In Rainer’s designs his passion for locks is unmistakable. They all have a distinctive look, borrowing and reshaping elements from more lock styles than I previously knew existed. His love of old locks, specifically pre-19th century ones, is noticeable even to someone who knows nothing about this field. One example – and you realise this only after solving one of his locks – is that the shackle isn’t spring-loaded like modern padlocks and doesn’t pop up once it has been opened (making it possible to solve one of his locks without realising that the shackle is free).
After the release of the T8 I caught up with Rainer via email to ask a few questions about the lock and its production.
Saul Symonds: The first thing I noticed about this lock when I took it out of its box was the considerable size and weight. Does the internal mechanism determine these aspects of the lock or are they chosen for other reasons?
Rainer Popp: The internal mechanism always influences the size of the lock as an important factor. Another factor is the size of the key. Further, it is important that all parts can be easily machined, handled and are robust enough to not get bent or broken. When all these factors are met I actually try to make the lock as small as possible to keep the raw material price and the weight down.
SS: You have an extremely unified body of work, having solely produced trick locks at the rate of one a year for the past eight years. Have you ever thought about using your lock experience on other types of puzzles, for example, puzzle boxes?
RP: Of course I had some ideas for boxes or other puzzles but normally I try to map them on a trick lock. There are enough brilliant makers of boxes around. No need for more competition…
SS: Each of your locks has a very distinctive look, often based on the styles of older locks. Can you tell me about the P lock design you used for the T8?
RP: Actually there is a huge variety of antique P locks starting with very simple designs made of old gun barrels, for example, up to fantastically huge and complex trick locks where it is not clear if they were “only” masterpieces or really in use.
SS: Apart from the “P” design of the T8, the other most noticeable feature is its cylindrical shape. Why did you choose to make this lock cylindrical?
RP: The cylindrical shape is easy to machine and pleasant to touch. The actual size was determined by the inner parts, the mechanism.
SS: To what extent does the locking mechanism determine the style and shape of the lock?
RP: That differs. There are designs you could pack into a cylindrical housing as well as in a block. Others will only work with a certain shape of the housing.
SS: When designing a lock, how do you determine the number of steps involved in its solution? Previous locks had up to five steps but there are only two in the T8.
RP: I always try to pack as many different tricks (not steps) in a lock as I think is necessary to make the lock interesting. Another factor is the price. If you sell a expensive lock with only one trick I think it has to be very unique. Some more tricks are always more rewarding.
SS: What was the genesis of the second trick in the T8? Is that something that has been used in antique locks?
RP: No not at all. Many of my tricks you won’t find on older locks because they where not able to machine in very high precision from a solid block.
SS: I have read that your first trick lock, the T1 was so difficult that some people could not manage to open it even with the instruction manual. How do you gauge the level of difficulty on your locks?
RP: Yes, T1 is pretty hard. Actually I think other people should gauge the difficulty of my locks. I always know the solution…
SS: How long does it take you to make each lock? Can you walk me through the steps involved?
RP: I always produce the prototype(s) on my own. Every single part except the laser cuts. When the series starts I decide which parts I can do on my own and which ones I give to my manufacturing partners. When all parts are finished and checked I start to assemble. That I do completely alone, it is a lot of work and takes most of the time…
SS: You make all of your locks by hand, have you considered mass-production of any of your models?
RP: No, because even mass production is a lot of work. I only have the time to produce one model per year in a small batch.
The T8 was released in September 2013 and has sold out. Rainer’s previous designs can be viewed on his website www.popplock.com and he has a mailing list to let you know when new trick locks are available.