The Schiensh of Bond: You Only Live Twice

It’s month five of The Incredible Suit’s BlogalongaBond, and, despite a watery splutter with last month’s Thunderball, I’m still hanging in there for You Only Live Twice.

I couldn’t start my YOLT post without showing you guys this – My Mum’s first edition from 1964, which I “borrowed” last year… Though I must have missed the toad in the film.

SPECTRE is stealing spacecraft from space in order to cause SHENANIGANS between the US and Soviet Union. Those smart Brits notice that the spacecraft are going down near Japan, so they fake James Bond‘s death and send him to investigate. I’m not entirely sure why they fake Bond’s death. But this is a Bond film and asking “why” is never going to get you anywhere. Despite complaints by some people that YOLT is gadget-heavy , I tend to disagree. Universal Exports lists only eight gadgets. Here, they have included the Intruder spacecraft that captures the US and Soviet shuttles, the car and Blofeld’s volcano lair. Anyway, let us start with…

Safe Cracker

While scoping out Osato Pharmaceuticals, Bond tried to crack open a safe to find anything that might link Osato to Blofeld and SPECTRE. Normally one can hide documents perfectly adequately on an untidy desk, but this is besides the point. From what we’ve seen in the movies and on TV, safe-cracking is an art and can be accomplished by diligent use of stethoscope. The old style safes were combination locks. I’m guessing that the safe in YOLT is one that contains a wheel pack. Here is a rather nice animation.

The dial on the front of the safe rotates several wheels. The number of wheels depends on how many numbers there are in the combination lock. Each wheel has a notch and a sticky-outy tab. When the dial turns, the first wheel will turn and catch on the next wheel, the second wheel will catch on the third and so on. When all the wheels are lined up, the safe opens (as a simple explanation). Though simple(ish), these aren’t that easy to crack. The easiest way to break into a safe is to try the factory default settings and see if anyone has bothered to change them. Perhaps some moronic henchman has left the safe code lying around. I don’t remember my work password most of the time and have been known to leave it on a post-it under my keyboard. If the safe hasn’t been properly closed, it may not even be locked, or will open if only the last digit is guessed. If the bad guys aren’t morons, you’re going to need your stethoscope. And a shit-load of patience.

The idea is that you are listening to the clicks that occur when the wheels fall into place. But, first you have to figure out how many wheels there are, which way to turn the dial. Then it gets really complicated, requiring numerous twiddlings. Once you’ve got the numbers, you’ve got to guess what order they’re in. It takes a long time. I’d be impressed if Bond’s thingamyjig can do this; I’m guessing that the gadget “listens” for the right sounds and picks the number accordingly, but for this, it must be very sensitive to sound, and be able to recognise the right type of sound for this specific type of safe. But safe-cracking is a real skill – master hacker and lockpicker Barry Wels says it’s all about experience – a human skill that is difficult for a machine to accomplish. You’d do a lot better drilling your way in.

Giant Helicopter Magnet

When Bond and Aki are on the run from Osato’s men, Tiger’s people use a helicopter and a magnet to pick up the bad guys’ car and throw it in the sea. You may have seen magnets and helicopters in other places such as Grand Theft Auto (google it, you’ll see what I mean). It’s an electromagnet, which allows it to be turned on and off and if the helicopter can provide enough lift, it should be possible to lift the car. This is the type of magnet used to move cars around junk yards.

There are two types of magnet – the regular type of magnet – a permanent magnet, usually metal and generates a magnetic field. Notably, it attracts objects containing iron, but also nickel, cobalt, and some rare earth metals. Magnetic fields are created by electric currents (they are two sides of the same coin); when a material is magnetised, the spin and orbit of all the electrons (the particles in an atom that carry negative charge) align creating a magnetic field. In electro-magnets, the material is only magnetic when an electrical current is passed through it. Which is useful as it provides a means by which a magnet can be turned on and off.

Little Nellie

When Bond hangs out with Tiger Tanaka at his school of ninja, he asks everyone’s favourite gadgeteer Major Boothroyd to bring Little Nellie. It turns out that Nellie is a miniature helicopter-majig, more precisely it is an autogyro, which can be assembled from the contents of four suitcases and is large enough for a man to fly. Like the jet-pack in Thunderball, this gizmo actually worked, though possibly not in the way you would assume. The autogyro was invented by a Spaniard called Juan De La Cierva in 1923 as an aircraft capable of flying at low speeds. By the 1930s, several manufacturers were building gyrocopters and they were being used by the military before they were superseded by helicopters.

They don’t work in the same way as helicopters. While helicopters produce lift by the rotation of the blades (the engine powers blades which force air down to produce lift). In an autogyro, the blades aren’t powered by an engine, they rotate because air pushing the autogyro up forces the blades turn – a phenomenon known as autorotation. As the rotating blades of an autogyro are unpowered, propulsion must come from elsewhere, such as propellers or jet engines. Little Nellie was built (and actually flown) by Wing Commander Ken Wallis and is powered by an engine behind the pilot’s seat.

Adapted from a diagram on Wikipedia

This guy has a really nice essay on autogyros.

Volcano Lair

No self-respecting Bond villain would be seen dead without an overly-elaborate lair and Ernst Stavro is no different. YOLT’s volcano lair set a new standard by which bad-guy lairs should be judged.

James: This volcano isn’t active, is it?
Kissy: It never has been. Not in my lifetime.

– You Only Live Twice

The volcano is described as dormant, but the categories “active”, “dormant” and “extinct” are essentially meaningless to scientists. Though I assume Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh is hardly likely to erupt any time soon. Many of the volcanoes considered extinct are unlikely to ever erupt again and no longer have a lava supply, due to the movements of tectonic plates away from “hotspots“. It would be difficult and unwise to attempt to hollow out a volcano that is not extinct; an active volcano will likely have lava near the surface and digging may lead to henchman meltage, not to mention damaging the drilling equipment (hey, tools are expensive). A dormant volcano is considered capable of erupting (although it won’t have erupted for some time) so there would still be a magma supply. It looks like Blofeld’s lair is probably a dormant volcano (somewhat consistent with Kissy Susuki’s experience of the volcano). However, there is no real way of distinguishing an extinct volcano from an active or dormant one.

Blofeld activates the self-destruct of his volcano base and causes the volcano to erupt – which leads to the questions: can one cause a volcano to erupt by using explosives? I found this from Popular Science written by Howard O Whitnall, an eminent geologist, in 1944. He may or may not be mental. He believed that

…explosives dropped down their [volcano] throats may cause such a vomiting of lava and as as to hasten the day of unconditional surrender.

He proposed that bombs be dropped on the solidified crusts atop volcano craters. But this assumes that the bombs would have enough force to blast through the solidified lava plugging the volcano.

Whitnall has, unfortunately, ignored other elements that would cause an eruption: volcanic eruptions occur when there is an increase in pressure under the earth’s crust caused by changes in the magma flow (there’s a nice discussion here). Thus, I believe it would be unlikely that the self-destruction of Blofeld’s volcano would be sufficient to cause it to erupt, unless it was going to erupt anyway.

Curiously, Shinmoedake, the volcano used for the location of Blofeld’s base erupted earlier this year. In fact it’s fairly active having erupted in 2008 and 2009 as well.

The Schiensh of Bond will return next month with On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

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