Brian Krausz

I build internet things

Key Adventures

January 16, 2009

Fun story: I needed to borrow a friend’s car today. He gave me his set of keys, and said if he found his spare he would swap them. As I was leaving, he ran out. He had found his spare, and tossed them to me. My hands being full, I missed them, and they slid right into the vent behind me. They made a cluck as the hit the bottom of the vent. Then a few seconds later they made another clunk as they flew into the wall below. We both looked at each other and burst out laughing.

The next hour and a half was a parade of ideas and experiments trying to get to the keys. The opening in the vent was about 3 inches thick and twisted around a block of cement such that hands wouldn’t fit in the gap. Throughout the evening ideas were suggested that ranged from a coat hanger with a hook to an electromagnet plugged into a 110-volt outlet (we have a lot of Physicists and Mechanical Engineers in the house…).

We started with an exploratory mission: we taped a flashlight to the top of a webcam, taped the whole thing to a coat hanger, and lowered it into the vent. After a bit of digging we found the keys:

Keys in a Hole Keys in a Hole

We then spent about an hour sticking every contraption imaginable into the vent trying to grab the keys: magnets, hooks, balls of duct tape. The gap was just too small to maneuver. Finally, everyone had given up as I struggled with the hanger, and I too eventually gave up and went downstairs. That’s when another friend and I decided to try to get into the ceiling of the second floor instead of the floor of the third floor. We took apart a big light fixture, stuck our heads up, and lo and behold, we saw the light from the webcam contraption we still had sticking down the vent. From there it was a hooked wire and some careful reassembly, and we were golden.

Lessons Learned:

  • Open vents on the floor are a bad idea
  • Either I suck at catching or my friend sucks at throwing
  • If your current approach isn’t working, try a completely different one
  • When you get your friend’s keys back after he throws them in a vent, don’t scare him by throwing them at him

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