The history of the Cryptex(R)


#1

essa:
i remember reading somewhere that cryptex’s were invented by dan brown

essa:
is there a website you sell them on @justin_cryptexmaker::

justin_cryptexmaker::
nope. invented by me

justin_cryptexmaker::

justin_cryptexmaker::
Dan Brown came up with the idea of one, but I was the first to actually make one.

justin_cryptexmaker::
I guess it depends on your definition of “invent”

windblossom:
Wow, did not know that you were the first, that is uber cool!

essa:
seriously cool. did any of your cryptex’s make it into a dan brown movie? + you own the cryptex name @justin_cryptexmaker::

justin_cryptexmaker::
https://tsdrapi.uspto.gov/ts/cd/casestatus/sn78528756/content

justin_cryptexmaker::
Not in the movie… but I made one for the movie… and then they stole the concept and made a knock off. There was a bit of a legal battle over this, but surprisingly Columbia Pictures/Sony have a little bit more legal budget than I do so we settled out of court.

justin_cryptexmaker::
http://www.cryptex.org/uploads/2/9/9/0/29902363/3707832.jpg (32kB)

justin_cryptexmaker::
movie companies have no ethics. and then THEY get upset about intellectual property rights.

justin_cryptexmaker::

justin_cryptexmaker::
this is the one I made for the Movie… but they didn’t use it

essa:
not a cool move by the movie makers. awesome though that you won out & got the cryptex name

windblossom:
Man, that sux.

keygirl:
#1 that video was AWESOME. #2 your story is even more awesome. And #3 cryptexes (cryptices?) are a new invention? love this thread

justin_cryptexmaker::
funny you should say “Movie Maker” as that was actually the passwords to the one in the picture (white one is MOVIE), small black marble one is MAKER)

justin_cryptexmaker::
Yea, I made the first Cryptex on March 1st, 2004 and trademarked the word. Started selling interstate commerce in April of 2004, made some for Dan Brown (8 of them overall I think) and later for movie executives (you can see the one above was made for Amy Pascal - chairman of Columbia Pictures)

keygirl:
Super cool!

keygirl:
Was it inspired by the book?

justin_cryptexmaker::
Then I get a call from Dan Brown one day asking if I would abandon my trademark… to which I said “uh… no.”

keygirl:
I don’t remember if the description was that detailed

justin_cryptexmaker::
yes, it was inspired by the book, I give him credit for that.

justin_cryptexmaker::
It said 5 donut sized rings in a brass framework , but marble is too fragile to make rings in motion with it, so I reversed it and made 5 brass rings in a marble framework

justin_cryptexmaker::
Then we do this whole legal dance and my lawyer said I couldn’t talk to him anymore, which was really sad because he was really a great guy.

keygirl:
Seems like the invention of the mechanism should have been patentable too

justin_cryptexmaker::
yea, I get asked about patents all the time… want to hear that story? Or stick with the legal stuff?

essa:
so while dan brown inspired the cryptex, you made the cryptex that actually worked/figured out the materials

essa:
more stories please 

justin_cryptexmaker::
So in my convo with Dan I said “I’m not even sure how to go about abandoning my trademark” (knowing full well I had no intention of doing so).

keygirl:
Whatever you want to tell…it’s all fascinating!

justin_cryptexmaker::
yes @essa he inspired it, came up with the name, but I actually made it a reality.

justin_cryptexmaker::
OK, continue with the legal story as I find that the most interesting…So Dan said that he would have his lawyers call me and they could help me through the process.

essa:
was this before or after you made the cryptexs for the movie?

justin_cryptexmaker::
Oh, by the way, Dan called me because we had a relationship (or connection or whatever, we had spoken and emailed quite a bit). His lawyers contacted him to tell him about the trademark and so he said he would call me and talk to me (like a man, instead of a sniveling, lawyer), which I appreciated.

justin_cryptexmaker::
um… after, definitely after as I was in a conference call with Dan Brown, Ron Howard, Amy Pascal (chairman of Columbia Pictures) and Brian Grazier (producer) and we were all cool then. That call was pretty cool as I sent the nested Cryptex and didn’t tell them the passwords so they had to call and talk with me to open it.

justin_cryptexmaker::
That was pretty fun… until the end when I said I’d like to make them for the movie and they were all “Uh… so how about them Mariners?” (Seattle Baseball team) and I knew they were going to screw me.

justin_cryptexmaker::
So a couple days later I get a call from a Junior Attorney in Dan Brown’s lawyers office and he starts talking me through the process of how to abandon my trademark (as if I am really going to do this). I do a lot of playing dumb and asking a bunch of questions and saying I will do something (and then not do it or “forget” because I’m really busy). I’m just sitting there thinking “The second I abandon my trademark, they are going to snatch it up and sue me for using THEIR trademark”.
So there is NO WAY I am going to abandon this!

justin_cryptexmaker::
Sorry, I didn’t know people would be all that interested. I will continue the story now… now where did I leave off… oh yea, Dan Browns lawyers trying to intimidate a poor starving artist… (just kidding)

justin_cryptexmaker::
So this goes back and forth for a while. They keep asking me to abandon the trademark and I keep playing dumb or making excuses and promise I’ll get to it right away.

oddling:
Why out of curiosity? I mean why were you just playing dumb?

justin_cryptexmaker::
Finally it gets down to only 2 days before the opposition period of the trademark application ends (people have a period of time to oppose a trademark, say why someone shouldn’t have a trademark or claim that they have been using it first in interstate sales, or that this trademark is too similar to a trademark they have and could cause confusion between the two products.

justin_cryptexmaker::
@oddling Well if I outright refused, they would file an opposition paper and have plenty of time to write it. So I kind of played dumb so they would not see me as a threat or they would think that they had totally swayed me to their will. I knew that they were going to file an opposition, I just didn’t want them to have any time to do it.

oddling:
Ah ok gotcha, just was curious as you said Dan Brown was a pretty night and straight forward guy. That makes sense though.

justin_cryptexmaker::
so finally 2 days before the opposition is due, I get a panicked call from the junior attorney who was responsible for getting me to abandon (who’s name coincidentally was also Justin) saying that we need to get the opposition paperwork filed right away. He offers to fly a currier out from New York with the paperwork so it can get notarized and filed in time.

justin_cryptexmaker:: [15 minutes ago]
Dan Brown IS a really great guy and I would never say anything negative about him… it is lawyers I have a problem with (and movie company executives).
I don’t like being bullied.

keygirl:
You must play great chess

justin_cryptexmaker::
Unfortunately my lawyer said I couldn’t talk to Dan Brown anymore so we have not spoken since this incident. This makes me very sad.

keygirl:
I harbor similar disdain for entertainment executives

justin_cryptexmaker::
So then I started feeling a little bad because I didn’t want them to fly someone over with documents I had no intention of signing

justin_cryptexmaker::
@keygirl: (they are the WORST!)

justin_cryptexmaker::
So I told him… “You know what? I don’t think that will be necessary. I have no intention of abandoning my trademark.” He understandably freaked out and started saying things like “You made a verbal agreement to abandon your trademark!”

keygirl:
Lol a lawyer tried to use verbal promise as an argument… hahhaha

justin_cryptexmaker::
To which I replied “Correction… I never said I would abandon my trademark. I said ‘I wouldn’t even know how to go about doing something like that’ and ‘I don’t know how to fill out the paperwork’ or ‘I haven’t got to that paperwork yet’. I was very careful to never explicitly state or verbally imply that I intended to abandon my trademark”

keygirl:
Wow

justin_cryptexmaker::
“But… but… but…”

justin_cryptexmaker::
"Go back and look at all of our correspondence and if you taped our calls, listen to the tapes. I NEVER said I would abandon the trademark, you just ASSUMED I would be stupid enough to throw away my livelihood and allow you to trademark the word and force me to stop doing what I do for a living.

justin_cryptexmaker::
So they filed an opposition paper…It was awesome… awesomely funny. The phrase that stands out in my mind is:
“If Justin Nevins is allowed to trademark the word ‘Cryptex’ it will severely and irreparably damage Dan Brown’s Reputation…”

justin_cryptexmaker::
To which I countered with 156 emails from Dan Brown praising my work with phrases like “Of all of the gifts and recognitions I have received from this book, your Cryptex is far and away the most amazing thing!”
Also a copy of the hand signed book he sent me with the inscription “To Justin Nevins, a modern day Leonardo”
And a personally written letter on his gold embossed stationary that said:
November 11, 2004 Dear Justin: What can I say? Your Cryptex is ingenious… not to mention absolutely gorgeous. I am deeply grateful for this truly special gift. After opening it, I decided to spend some time perusing your website - some stunning work there. Congratulations. Once again, thank you for this unique and wonderful artifact, which by the way, looks perfect in my library. I know I’ll have years of fun challenging people to open it. With sincere best wishes, Dan Brown

justin_cryptexmaker::
It was almost 13 years ago… I understand why my lawyer said no contact. Don’t want me saying anything that would ruin my case. “let the lawyers handle it” and all that. but it made me sad.
I was supposed to make a really cool nested box for him, but that sort of fell to the wayside after all this.
Maybe I will do that anyway and just send it to him.

jamescobalt:
Ugh can’t follow on app. Every few seconds the text collapses or jumps way up. Slack mobile thread fail.

oddling:
You could still do it at this point.

justin_cryptexmaker::
yea… I think I will @oddling

justin_cryptexmaker::
A few weeks ago I went back and looked at our emails… it was really flattering.

oddling:
Sure he would love to get another one, not that your older ones were bad but surely you have tweaked minor improvements since then right?

justin_cryptexmaker::
Oh, so yea, after showing them how much Dan Brown liked my boxes (and he ordered 8 of them from me… the really nice hand sculpted ones that go for like $3K now, ) their argument about damaging his reputation went out the window.

justin_cryptexmaker::
Oh dude… the stuff I can do now… it would blow your mind.

justin_cryptexmaker::
so anyway, my lawyer wrote up a brief of whatever to counter their opposition.

oddling:
I find that just kind of amusing… how would it damage his reputation? He made up something for a book and you brought that to life. Obviously until you showed what was possible they hadn’t pursued making it or they would have already had a patent on it…

oddling:
They saw $$$ with licensed merch and went after you… typical big business bullshit

justin_cryptexmaker::
I was totally legally allowed to have this trademark and there was basically nothing they could do (other than claim his reputation would be damaged, but even HE said they were amazing). I had a Use Based Trademark (meaning I spent several years selling my products with Cryptex and the little TM thingy on it), I had sold in interstate commerce, international commerce, and had claimed the trademark in 2004.

keygirl:
Exactly why i hate executives that try and make $$ off someone else’s creativity and labor

justin_cryptexmaker::
@oddling Yup, it was that exactly., They had already sold the licensing rights to Nobel Collections to make the piece of crap movie prop replica that everyone in the escape room industry complains about because it breaks after 2 seconds.
They were in a bind because they sold something they didn’t own.
My lawyer (who was my best friends step mother) was doing this work for me pro bono. She wrote up a masterful brief countering their opposition (which by the way looked like a book report written by a middle school kid the night before it was do who had not read the book)
(part of the reason I delayed so long… so they wouldn’t have time to write a good argument… it showed)
So she showed the brief to her boss who said:

keygirl:
Wow… I thought they were just greedy, now they were also doing something that could bring them lots of trouble

justin_cryptexmaker::
“I’ve never seen a more concise, stronger argument or better written brief countering the opposition of a trademark… now throw it out and make a deal”

keygirl:
(btw… is this the first centithread in this forum?)

keygirl:
was that the outcome you wanted?

justin_cryptexmaker::
I said "SCREW 'EM! NAIL THEM TO THE WALL!!! Let’s take this all the way to the supreme court! They can’t get away with this kind of crap! NO JUSTICE! NO PEACE! Lets organize a protest march! and riots and all that shit!
The she reminded me (based on what her boss advised) that the law firm representing Dan Brown was one of the biggest and most prestigious law firms in New York. If a little old patent and trademark attorney and a little artist took them to court and won, it would be a massive embarrassment for them. They would not let that happen.

keygirl:
orrrrrr… include as part of the agreement that they could have the rights to the movie version of your story as long as they let you win

justin_cryptexmaker::
They would throw every brief, objection, argument, and what have you at the case until we were so buried in paperwork we would never get out. I might get to keep my trademark, but it would cost me hundreds of thousands in legal fees to get it through the courts.

keygirl:
ugh… yes,… a tried and true… and disgusting… legal tactic

justin_cryptexmaker::
they have a legal budget of… some such millions… I had a legal budget of $300.
keygirl:
hubby has been through a court case like that

keygirl:
(he was NOT on the fun side of things)

justin_cryptexmaker::
So… as @keygirl: suggested, we made a deal. I gave them the rights to use the word for their stupid movie prop replica, and they removed their opposition to my trademark.
I just wanted to make my art. I mostly got the trademark so that someone else couldn’t come along and trademark it and tell ME I couldn’t do what I do for a living. It was more of a defensive thing on my part anyway.
I figured the movie prop thing would fade after a while and it was cheap crap made out of die cast zinc and tickytack plastic.
I focused on quality and functionality and customer service and artistry. They make something inexpensive that looked like the one in the movie.

justin_cryptexmaker::
But they had the marketing machine and mass production and low prices… so they flooded the market.
Then the Chinese company that they hired to make these props filled their orders and then (as some, but not all, Chinese manufacturing companies will do) they used the tooling to produce more of these and flooded the market even more with lower cost versions that they made for pennies on the dollar.
(talk about reputations being severely and irreparably damaged… what about MY reputation!?)

keygirl :
You’re listed on the cryptex wikipedia page! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptex
Wikipedia
Cryptex
The word cryptex is a neologism coined by the author Dan Brown for his 2003 novel The Da Vinci Code, denoting a portable vault used to hide secret messages. It is a portmanteau word formed from Greek κρυπτός kryptós, “hidden, secret” and Latin codex; “an apt title for this device” since it uses “the science of cryptology to protect information written on the contained scroll or codex” (p. 199 of the novel). The first physical cryptex was created by Justin Kirk Nevins in 2004. (55kB)

justin_cryptexmaker:
But I got enough demand and business to keep me working on making custom and “standard” (what at the time I called “Replica” boxes) Cryptex® Security Boxes <— note the ® for REGISTERED trademark) full time and do it for a living. That was really all I ever wanted,

Keygirl:
Is there going to be a danger of the word passing into common usage? Since you don’t defend the trademark and all that…

justin_cryptexmaker:
then it MUST be true @keygirl

justin_cryptexmaker:
@keygirl yes, there is that danger. In fact, thanks to stupid noble collections, and flooding the market, it is becoming common usage term and I couldn’t afford to go after everyone that was using this word to describe a similar device.

strype :
great story! glad you are on a positive end of it.

justin_cryptexmaker:
I’ve never really wanted to stop people from making things similar to this. So like another guy early on came out with a vertical stacked wooden octagon thing that he sold for like $70 or something… I didn’t really go after him because it was so different than what I made. He offered a low cost alternative to my $1500 hand sculpted art that I didn’t mind. Plus it looked very different that what I did.

justin_cryptexmaker:
My main thing was that I wanted to make sure that “I” could make these without someone telling me I couldn’t.

justin_cryptexmaker:
It does bug me a little that there are cheap pieces out there that use the word “Cryptex”, but many of them are made overseas and U.S. trademark law is really difficult to enforce internationally.
I’m not a big enough company to have a legal department to send out cease and desist orders all the time (although I’ve personally done this a few times when someone comes out with something they are selling).

justin_cryptexmaker:
mostly it’s people that do 3d printed versions for themselves or hobbyists that want to try their hand at making one. I have no problem with that.
I always felt that the best way to compete and maintain market share was to make the best product I possibly could and sell it for the lowest price I would fell comfortable selling it for. If I make the best product out there and do it for a fair and reasonable price… I will stay in business.
If I can’t make a good product that people are happy with, or I can’t do it for the price people are willing to pay… then I fade away.
justin_cryptexmaker: [3 minutes ago]
customer satisfaction is my HIGHEST priority and I am constantly trying to improve my products and keep my costs low as possible (without compromising quality… quality is ALWAYS the most important thing).

Stripe:
can always do it as long as you are happy, then find someone who wire hire lawyers to go after people for you

justin_cryptexmaker:
It is sort of like that in the Escape room industry as well. If people in the industry make a really quality room that people love and think it is worth the money, they will survive. If you make a crappy cheap room that sucks and you charge too much for it… you will eventually die out.
obviously it is more complicated than that… but the basic principle is true.

justin_cryptexmaker:
So to address the other question about patents…
I do not have a patent… I get asked that ALL the time.
The reason for this is that it would have cost me around $8K to get the patent (I did investigate this). With engineered drawings, filing costs and all that stuff, it would have racked up a lot of expenses.
The problem with a patent is two fold (at least). First and foremost for me was that I didn’t want to have engineered drawings of my boxes in the public domain. This is a REALLY easy way for someone in a country that does not care about intellectual property rights to have a blue print for how to make your product.

justin_cryptexmaker:
Oh… so the introduction of Escape Rooms…

keygirl:
ooo… bet that changed the popularity of cryptices (?)

justin_cryptexmaker:
So I was just going along, making Cryptexes, custom designed boxes for rich people (anyone that can spend $3K on a Cryptex is rich in my mind)

justin_cryptexmaker:
and the “replica” version for people who liked my boxes but couldn’t afford the custom hand sculpted ones made from real marble, etc.
Then I get an order from a guy in Spain who seems really adamant that they are durable.

justin_cryptexmaker :
“How durable are your Cryptexes?”

justin_cryptexmaker:
“Uh… very?”

justin_cryptexmaker:
“No, I mean how durable are they… can you drop them?”

justin_cryptexmaker:
“Sure… why, do you plan on dropping one?”

strype:
haha

justin_cryptexmaker:
“What if you bang it up against a counter… or a wall?”

keygirl:
ROTFL

justin_cryptexmaker:
“You might put a hole in the wall if it is sheet rock.”

justin_cryptexmaker:
“Can you make it out of metal?”

justin_cryptexmaker:
“They ARE metal… they are solid brass components with polycarbonate spacer rings… same material in bullet proof glass.”

keygirl:
(I’ve played a room with 4 of those cheap replicas, painted different colors, but one had a broken-off end cap that still needed to be there because it was part of the puzzle… my teammates were confused by it)

justin_cryptexmaker:
"Well I just want to make sure they are durable.’

justin_cryptexmaker :
“OK, well I don’t know what sort of abuse you intend to put the box through so I can’t really say if they will hold together. I’ve taken one outside and thrown it in the air as high as I could and let it land on the concrete and it was find… a little scuffed, but fine. I’ve smacked one with a baseball bat and it dented one of the rings a little, but it still worked. What do you want me to do? Shoot it with a shot gun?!!” (I am going to try shooting one this summer by the way)

justin_cryptexmaker:
He said… OK, I’ll buy one.
A few weeks later, he bought two more… then 3 more… then a few more… after 17 boxes I finally asked him:

justin_cryptexmaker:
“Excuse me, I hope you don’t mind my asking, but what possible use do you have for 17 Cryptexes?”

justin_cryptexmaker :
“I run escape rooms.”

justin_cryptexmaker :
"Cool… what’s that?

justin_cryptexmaker:
he went on to explain to me what escape rooms were and I swear the skies began to clear and I heard angels singing…

justin_cryptexmaker:
I tear came to my eye and I thought… I have found my people! So I went back through my orders and saw that I had a number of companies who had been buying my boxes for escape rooms (mostly in Europe).
Then someone posted about my boxes on the Enthusiasts group. Someone asked if anyone knew of a high quality, durable Cryptex because they had boxes full of broken movie prop boxes.

strype:
how long ago was that?

justin_cryptexmaker:
The guy who replied was a customer of mine from 10 years earlier (he runs a teambuilding event company). HE sent me an email saying to expect to get a lot of orders in the near future… which I did.
Maybe 6-9 months before the Chicago Transworld show? I’m not sure. But one of the people who saw the post called me and started asking about Cryptexes more.

justin_cryptexmaker:
He asked if I was going to have a booth at the Escape Room Trade Show.

justin_cryptexmaker :
“There is a TRADE SHOW for Escape Rooms?!”

justin_cryptexmaker:
So I got a booth, and went to the show. I didn’t know if anybody would be interested so I didn’t bring much inventory…
I was sold out in like 20 minutes.

strype:
you looked like you were having fun at the last one, i bet the first one was a blast!

justin_cryptexmaker:
Oh man… I LOVE these tradeshows! I get to meet so many cool and interesting people! It is the most fune thing in the world! (well from a professional standpoint that is). I met David and Lisa and Roberta from Saskatchewan and Nate Martin and just a ton of really interesting people. It is so cool because people will come to my booth and want to talk about something I am very passionate about.

justin_cryptexmaker:
Anyway… so I love escape rooms, not just because they buy my products, but because my products really fit well in this environment. They are designed to be high quality, low price (or reasonably low), highly functional, durable parts of games, puzzles or treasure hunts. What better place to have them used to their fullest potential

I also love escape rooms because they really stress test my products for me. As everyone knows ER customers don’t treat props all that well… so they put my boxes through the ringer. And I get feedback on this.

I take this information and try to solve potential problems and make things better… stronger… faster than before (but for under $6M). I’ve already made two improvements to my designs based on ER usage and I’m planning for a third.

keygirl:
I don’t think I’ve seen your creations in the wild yet… sadly

justin_cryptexmaker:
I love hearing when people see them in the wild!

justin_cryptexmaker:
So I guess that is about it…


#2

Hey all, sorry for commenting on an old post, but I just finished reading, and wow! I would have never ever thought there would be such history to the cryptex! What a story in and of itself! Thank you for sharing it.

I adore the design of the cryptex, and have been captivated by it since I first saw it available as part of the Da Vinci Code Blu Ray Gift-set (I know, just a cheapy imitation… and much less appealing now that I know the back story). Nevertheless, my ignorance at the time got me interested to pursue it more, which actually allowed me to find Justin’s website and products a few years ago.

I just recently learned that Dan Brown had “invented” (conceived the idea of?) the cryptex, and it kinda shocked me (I actually did think it was a Da Vinci invention, though I never even thought to verify it until now). But I am even more in awe of the story behind Justin’s real-life invention, and how that evolved as a result of the legal disputes, and subsequent copying of the design by so many other third party groups. Just the incredible amount of design and creativity, and no doubt countless prototypes to get this little device working, and looking so good, must have been a monumental feat on its own!

I myself have been lured and tempted by those cheaper imitations too, though I have never bought one specifically (indirectly through the Da Vinci Code Gift-set BluRay).

Couple years ago I learned about your original cryptex’s (cryptices? haha) in my search for higher quality replicas of those I saw on the movie. I think I ran across yours on Amazon, first. Not knowing the history behind them at the time, I had to overlook them due to their price tag (despite adoring their design, and obviously high quality…being in Canada, a $300 item ends up being closer to a cool $3M here :P). Hearing your story now, though, makes me even more eager to get one (and I was already pretty eager before)!!

A silly question I have (if anyone is monitoring this thread anymore), is… have you ever created the mechanism together with the glass vial to be broken if the safe were ever forced? I see you have a picture online of your Da Vinci Code line, one has the glass vial, but is that just for form, and not function?

Also, going back to the legal disputes, why did the film studio not just license your term to begin with? Was it really that costly for a huge company like Columbia Pictures? Is this not what ended up happening in the end anyway?