18 March 2010

An Inspiration

A few years back I hunted a box in Long Beach where the planter appeared to take advantage of a black PVC pipe buried in the ground in a raised planter at a business. It was tucked neatly under some very robust greenery, so if you didn't know it was there, you certainly wouldn't notice it. The black pipe was exposed only a couple of inches and had this cool rubber top on it which covered the contents perfectly, really making it a "hide in plain sight" (HIPS) box. Not sure if the planter put the pipe in the ground or just happened upon it. I suspect the former.

Inspiration comes at the oddest times. This was one of those moments. Fortunately it happened early in my time in this hobby. Unfortunately, it now nurtures my addiction. You see, when it comes to actual letterboxing...not just the fun part meeting the people on the journey along the way...I am fueled by the plant rather than the find.

Those who I've had the luxury of crossing paths with have heard the disclaimer. If you're a purist who really embraces the leaves no trace principles of letterboxing, then my boxes are probably not going to be enjoyable to find. There are times I have gone to great lengths to plant HIPS boxes. Sometimes it means disturbing the environment (urban or otherwise), generally long enough for me to make the box blend in with its surroundings. When I am done, I hope I have left only a little trace of my existence.

I've wandered off track again with philosophy.

The inspiration of that little black pipe manifested itself a few years later. Naturally, I wanted more than the cool rubber cap to protect the contents as the location for the plant couldn't have been more in plain sight. Those who have found the box know what I am talking about.

After spending about a week of designing the device and a couple of weekend days in the shop, I came up with this HIPS letterbox. You'll just have to imagine finding a black pipe with a cool rubber cap on top, sticking out of the ground only an inch or two. Then think about what it took to plant it.

06 March 2010

Simple Cipher Disk

I've got a few old pieces of laser-engraved, 2 inch dowels laying around the shop from when EllBee challenged me to recreate a Jefferson Wheel Cipher. At the time, I had access to a laser at my work and friends in the CAD world to help make sure 26 letters were spaced correctly and precisely around the dowel.

To make a long story short, I presented the wheel cipher to EllBee at a delightful coffee shop named the Java Mio in Petersburg, VA. As we were fondling it, one of the wait staff came by and saw it and said, "Cool, a Cryptex...does it open?" The DaVinci Code has been recently released so I knew what she was talking about. Unfortunately, I had to tell her "No, it was not a cryptex, but rather a reproduction of device used for encoding and decoding messages in the early 19th century." She clearly was not as smitten with the device with that explanation. Her reaction clearly got me thinking, however.

My National Treasure: Book of Six Secrets letterbox was created shortly thereafter. Six different wheel ciphers packaged in one neatly wrapped book, all based on significant historical events of American history. My contribution to the box is based on Thomas Jefferson and his leadership with the Lewis and Clark adventure.

Back to my story...after the release of Six, I began researching and plotting a wooden cryptex. Hadn't seen much on the internet that resembled what I had in mind. There was a creator of a very nice precious metal device ($$$), and of course, the reproduction DaVinci Code model you see in the SkyMall magazines on airliners. Nothing made of wood that resembled my reproduction wheel cipher. After figuring out the mechanism of the inside, my Cryptex! letterbox was born...but that's another long story.

Back to the topic of this blog...the wheel cipher disks are chopped from a 12 inch long, 2 inch dowel that has been engraved on a Universal Laser with a rotary fixture accessory that allows engraving of cylindrical products. I recently found out this process is very expensive in the real world. Fortunately, I had some fellas (with equipment and skills) who helped me out for the small price of a friendship.

The simple cipher disk you see is two sections from that dowel. Each disk is 1/4 inch wide. The two disks together in the photo are about 5/8 inch wide. The offset of the letters in the boxes is to allow for the 1/8 inch saw kerf when chopping them off with my miter saw.

It works by encoding a message.
Take the letter on the right side of the disk. is the decoded letter. The encoded letter you want to use is the letter abeam it on the left. When the reader is deciphering, they naturally start on the left side and read right. Your encoded message of "JKK" means nothing unless you have this disk in front of you. Decoded, the message tells the reader that you are my "Best Friend Forever" or "BFF". OK, I was limited in what I could use with the picture, but hopefully you get the idea.

I recently put a box in the ground that incorporates one of these deciphering tools.