MacGyver Season 2 Episode 9 Science Notes: CD-ROM + Hoagie Foil

Brute force code breaking

Brute force is a real thing in both science AND in code breaking. The idea is that instead of spending time trying to solve a problem, you just try all the possible answers until you get it right. Yes, you’ve done this before. Remember that silly online quiz that you had to take in that one class that one time? The quiz had 5 multiple-choice answers and you could submit as many attempts as you like. Here’s what you did:

  • Try answer A. Nope. That didn’t work.
  • Try answer B. Nope. That didn’t work.
  • Try answer C. Boom. That worked.

That’s brute force. But really, you should have just read the book and tried to figure out the right answer without brute force.

In code breaking, a brute force attempt just tries ALL the different combinations. Sometimes this can work—but sometimes not. Take the iPhone for instance. After you incorrectly try a pin number to get in, it makes you wait some time before the next attempt. The more failures, the longer the wait. Brute force doesn’t really work for the iPhone.

But this door. This door doesn’t have that feature. So MacGyver build this device that just tries all the codes. Actually, it looks pretty awesome.

This brute force code breaker is something that you could build yourself. Here is a short video showing how this would work. I didn’t use pencils—but lights instead (to make it easier to build) and it uses a Raspberry Pi (a super cheap tiny computer that is super awesome).

Oh, if you don’t have a Raspberry Pi, you can still try this code out with an online simulator. Here is a video that covers that.

Here is the online code that you can play with. Oh, and you SHOULD play with it—that’s how you learn stuff.

Stealing a car with a key fob.

Let’s talk about stealing cars. DON’T STEAL CARS. Stealing is bad. Anyway, it’s pretty darn tough to steal a newer car. Here is a great video that goes over the three ways you SHOULDN’T use to steal a car.

However, in this case MacGyver uses a trick. Some newer cars don’t use a key. They instead have this fob. You just get in the car, the car detects the fob and presto. It starts when you push a button.

The hack is basically a key fob extender. One person uses a small radio device near the car owner and the other person has another radio device near the car. The devices basically trick the car into thinking the fob is right there and it let’s you start. Yes, this is a real thing.

DIY Tear Gas

Yes, you could probably make some tear gas—especially if you are in a lab with tons of supplies. Let’s just leave it there. Is that OK?

Hood from a CD-ROM and Hoagie Foil

I work in a building with chemists. They are mostly nice people even though I’m a physicists. But whatever. The one thing that just about all chemists use—the hood. What the heck is a hood? It’s basically a big box with a window that they have in chemistry labs. Inside the hood is a fan that blows air up and out of the building. By putting stuff in the hood, you don’t have to worry about fumes and stuff since they get pushed out of the building.

But there is something kind of sucky about hoods. They mess up the pressure in a room. If the hood blows air out of the building, then new air has to come into the room. This makes the inside of that room a little bit lower in pressure. You can feel it when you open the door.

I thought for sure that I had a picture of a chemistry hood—but I can’t find one. Sorry.

OK, in this case MacGyver is in a room and needs a hood to vent the VX gas. He opens a sewer pipe (I think that’s what it is) and then just needs a fan to blow out the air (and gas). He uses the motor from a CD-ROM drive (who uses those things any more?) and builds a fan out of a CD. To seal it up, he uses hoagie foil. Title of the episode.

Yes, this should mostly work.

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