A couple of years ago I found myself thinking about Sting, the sword Bilbo Baggins acquired in the Hobbit and bequeathed to his nephew Frodo. As anyone who had watched the movies (or read the books) knows, the important feature of this sword was that it would glow blue when orcs were around. Some say it worked by Elvish Magic. Arthur C Clark said,

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

From this we can conclude that it was not Elvish Magic, but rather, Elvish Technology. In this day and age, we should be able to figure out just exactly how that would have worked. Orcs must have all carried cell phones, and Sting was able to detect their signals. Ever since I came to this conclusion, I have wanted to build a cell phone detecting Sting. This week I got a little closer to that goal.

With the release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit on film, a plethora of movie-related products were foisted upon the marketplace, including a plastic replica of sting which would glow blue when you pressed a button. Pretty useless for detecting orcs, but the basics were there. I looked into buying a cell phone detector, but that did three things: a) it showed me that such devices do indeed exist on the consumer market; b) such devices are not very cheap; and c) if you search for one of them on Amazon, Amazon will think you are interested in looking for ghosts. Apparently either ghosts emit some sort of electrical field similar to a cell phone’s beacon, or ghosts carry cell phones. Or there are a lot of crackpots out there. I deleted the cell phone detector from my search history and turned to plan B.

Orcs like their Internets wireless.

Wifi detectors are a lot cheaper than cell phone detectors. I found a wifi-detecting keychain for something like $5.00. That’s more in my price range. I bought one, as well as a Sting replica.

Elvish Technology

Sting and a wifi-detecting keychain.

The next step was to take them apart without destroying them. The keychain was easy. It just snapped apart. It is a well-built piece of gear too. It was impressive, especially considering how little it cost.

Orc detector innards

Orc detector innards

Sting was a more difficult nut to crack. It took me almost an hour of prying and peering into it to discover that I had to drill out part of the handle that covered the screws. I took this photo before drilling out the last screw cover.

Chinese Technology

Un-drilled screw hole is on the right side of the hilt next to the drill.

Once I got that apart, I was able to probe the switch in the handle and determine that the grey and green wires are connected when the button is pressed. I also figured out which two leads of the switch in the wifi detector connect when its button is pressed. All I had to do was connect Sting’s switch in parallel with the orc-detector’s switch.

I also was delighted to learn that both devices operated on 3 volts. Sting used a pair of AA batteries in series (3V), and the orc-detector used a pair of button cells in parallel (also 3V). All I had to do was connect Sting’s battery leads to the orc detector.

The only electronic part of this project that was left was to connect the two LEDs in Sting’s blade to the LEDs on the orc detector. There was a small snag there. Sting’s two LEDs had a common cathode, while the orc detector LED’s all had common anodes. The easy solution was to remove the LEDs and install them backwards. Then I connected them to the orc-detector.

I also used some hot melt glue to affix the orc detector into the sword handle, and another spot of hot melt to hold the wires in place and prevent them from stressing the solder joints.

Wired up and ready to detect wifi-bearing orcs.

Wired up and ready to detect wifi-bearing orcs.

Then I snapped the handle back together, and noted with some dismay that doing so caused the sword to continually detect wifi-bearing orcs. I took it apart and found a little plastic nubbin in the sword handle that was pressing the wifi-detector’s built-in button. I shaved that nubbin into oblivion, snapped the whole thing back together, and voila!

Wifi-connected orcs must be near!

Wifi-connected orcs must be near!

Let’s hunt some orc.