lowkey September 29, 2008 7:16 AM

Every time they talk about the back-scatter x-ray systems, I picture a line of t-shirts with messages than only appear to the tsa technician. Imagine the near naked body on the screen with the message “Not a terrorist” or “Hot or Not” right across the chest.

AnonymousForGoodReason September 29, 2008 7:58 AM

Is he TRYING to get the “special treatment” by the gloved individual in the back room?

just another sheep September 29, 2008 8:55 AM

For years I’ve wanted to place a wire-frame hand raising a middle finger in my luggage but I’ve been too eager to actually fly than to do it.

clvrmnky September 29, 2008 9:40 AM

If you wanted to risk carrying one of these, but actually want a chance of flying on time, arrive early and have one that can be explained away with some ridiculous (but plausible) story. Maybe an eye chart?

It occurs to me that you could use the same technique to attempt to /hide/ stuff you didn’t want to be caught, by creating a silhouette of something more mundane.

I mean, once you’ve decided to take the risk…

As a tool for terrorism, this might actually be useful as a device for a part of a movie-plot threat.

Albatross September 29, 2008 10:02 AM

Wouldn’t a metal plate be usable as a weapon?

I’d say the more cunning option would be to deliberately arrange mundane items in different layers so that when viewed from above via X-Ray they would resemble a handgun, but when disturbed the image would fall apart.

Then when you got out of Gitmo, you could try to sue for false imprisonment. Or at least for missing your flight.

bobechs September 29, 2008 10:15 AM

Just in case writing “Kip Hawley is an idiot” on a piece of paper and putting it in your carry-on doesn’t meet your minumum daily requirement for being detained and interrogated.

js September 29, 2008 10:33 AM

I’d like to see a publisher print a life-size silhouette image of a handgun on a book or magazine cover. In metal foil. Then sell it at an airport newsstand.

Greg September 29, 2008 11:51 AM

I have been contemplating this “prank” for several years now and keep chickening out (namely because I want my body cavities unexamined). Of course, the very fact that I’m scared to do something harmless because of a governmental agency is a sad comment on where we are.

Oh, I was planning on having mine say “If you can read this, you’re screening my luggage.”

Bernie September 29, 2008 11:59 AM

I’m surprised that no one has suggested a portrait of Bruce Schneier, maybe with one of the Chuck Norris-ish sayings.

stenboj September 29, 2008 12:04 PM

In the early days of x-ray carry-on inspection I cut large block letters spelling HELLO out of 1/32″ brass sheet stock and taped them into a file folder. They appeared on X-ray as a transparent grey, visible but not obscuring. Carrying them in my briefcase I got interesting responses from the fairly laid-back screeners we had then. One woman whipped around in her swivel chair and faced me to ask “Did you do that just for me?” I smiled and said that I had indeed done it just for her. She smiled and said “Thank you”. Another, when something else in the case obscured the last letter, mumbled a puzzled “Hell?”. I put the folder away when things got crazy, like they are now.

TSA September 29, 2008 12:24 PM

NOTE TO U.S. GOVERNMENT: when you become totalitarian, make sure to close this blog. It looks like a breeding ground for all sorts of bad bad ideas and comments.

dave September 29, 2008 12:30 PM


That would probably pass through without notice.

To folks who don’t read Arabic (and really, how many TSA screeners do you think know Arabic?) it just looks like the recharging cable for a cell phone got tangled up with the USB cable for a mouse.

Sparky September 29, 2008 12:42 PM

A bit like Albatross’ idea, I thought it might be fun to have a book with small pieces of metal embedded in the pages, so that then you flip through it, there is nothing to see, but when you x-ray it, it looks like it’s been hollowed out and has a handgun inside.

Of course, whoever is carrying this book in his or her luggage doesn’t necessarily know about it.

Thomas Crowne September 29, 2008 12:59 PM

Picture a seventeen people going through, each with a single letter to the message in their bag. Spelling out “Y-O-U-M-I-S-S-E-D-I-T-I-N-B-A-G-2.”

Creating a “run on security” at the checkpoint, and a mad scramble for the holder of bag 2 as they are getting on a flight.

“IT” was, of course, in bag four. Or five. Or both. Or neither.

Bleyddyn September 29, 2008 1:14 PM

From the looks of the examples it might be hard to fit, but I’d want something like:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

OldFish September 29, 2008 1:47 PM

When the mm wave stuff started showing up in the news I figured you could put some very rude messages on the inside of your shirt in foil. Why not? We do have a 1st amendment. Sort of.

On another note: a number of comments seem to imply that the TSA can drag you to a back room and cavity search you if you so much as displease them. I don’t know for sure but that doesn’t really ring true. In fact it sounds like nonsense except perhaps at the customs and immigration stops for international arrivals.

Clive Robinson September 29, 2008 2:05 PM

Just a thought,

Why bother paying money etc for this sort of thing.

Go down to an auto shop and get a tin of red lead powder and some cellulose paint. Mix the two well and screen print away 8)

Depending on the resolution of the scanners then Bleyddyn’s suggestion might easily be possible.

If you realy wanted to be cute make your stencil in 1/32 plastic card and put sticky back plastic on one side of it, fill the stencil with the red lead mixture let it dry and put another sheet of sticky back on the other side to seal it. Then run it through a laminator at slightly to higher a temp to bond the laminate to the sticky back. What you end up with is a stiff coloured plastic file / folder divider with your chosen message embedded 8)

Bernie September 29, 2008 3:25 PM

OldFish said, “On another note: a number of comments seem to imply that the TSA can drag you to a back room and cavity search you if you so much as displease them. I don’t know for sure but that doesn’t really ring true. In fact it sounds like nonsense except perhaps at the customs and immigration stops for international arrivals.”

It should not be true in the USA; but, unfortunately, that is the way things are in America today. That is why so many of us are upset with what the government has been doing since 9/11.

ed September 29, 2008 3:51 PM


I’d use barium sulfate instead of red lead. It’s white, so if you paint it on the back of a white paper, it’s less obvious. Less toxic than lead, too.

It’s not hard to find barium sulfate vendors.

Petréa Mitchell September 29, 2008 3:56 PM


That is a hundred times more clever than anything I’ve been able to think of putting on one of the plates yet.

Everyone else: Go read The Cyberiad…

John Campbell September 29, 2008 4:17 PM

“Got Boredom?”

“If you can read this…
You are using an x-ray machine to check my knickers”

I’ll admit that I like the backscatter idea though mine would read “Got anti-nausea meds?”

John Campbell September 29, 2008 4:35 PM

This hit me, more or less out of the blue, after reading all of the other comedic comments…

Consider… subliminal messages.

Or other patterns that the human brain my be affected by…

Luggage with water-marks, like a portrait of Thomas Jefferson or James Madison that is only viewable when x-rayed…

(The hell of it is that I’ll bet someone will decide that water-marking one’s luggage with one’s own picture might become a requirement in the future to ensure bag-matching… ’tis a pity I can’t really patent this idea…)

Yes, a written message can be nice and blatant, but, then, a little bit of subtlety might be far more fun, kind of like an IQ test for the screeners.

“If you look closely at my life you will not suffer from insomnia”.

(laughs maniacally)

And lets not get into the x-ray detector that runs a sound chip from a greeting card, yelling “I’m trapped in this bag!”

Clive Robinson September 29, 2008 5:15 PM

@ ed,

“I’d use barium sulfate instead… …Less toxic than lead, too.”

Yes I’ve used barium sulfate, pharmacutical grade in solution and it rates as one of the less enjoyable 48h of my life due to the gas tabs that precede it. And yes I do remember it every so often in the early hours of the morning 8(

Which gives me another idea. In the U.K. at Heathrow airport they used to randomly pull people asside for an X-Ray search. If you’ve recently had a “barium meal” I guess it would freak out some of those “live baggage” checkers.

Charles Decker September 29, 2008 5:17 PM

I see everyone has covered the humor angle, so I will take a different approach.

Why not a plate of varying thickness/metals/composition with familiar shapes, etc. cut into it?

Lay it on top of your bag, and when it goes through it looks like, well, whatever you wanted it to look like.

tensor September 30, 2008 1:31 AM

Have four of us go through with these signs. The last person’s luggage shows “Burma Shave”. Wonder if anyone (under the age of 70) would get that joke?

Roger September 30, 2008 3:59 AM

  1. A lot of people seem to think that x-ray image density depends purely on the density of the object being x-rayed. It doesn’t. It depends (approximately) on integrated areal density over the path through the object, which for a straight line path through a homogeneous material just works out to density x thickness. So a thin film of barium sulphate or lead-based paint is NOT going to be particularly noticeable.
  2. If I was a screener who saw this, I would be forced to assume it might be intended to be a distraction to stop me from noticing some contraband.

So if you do this, and the screeners are efficient and professional, you WILL be hand searched.

If you do it, and the screeners are pompous jerks, …

Paul Renault September 30, 2008 6:25 AM

“The bag after this one wasn’t really packed by the person holding the boarding pass – and his mother dressed him”

John Campbell September 30, 2008 8:12 AM

“Laugh, I’m being X-Rayed”


I have a hypothesis that the majority of people do not want to be (knowingly) guilty of more than one infraction at a time, which explains some of the stupidly low speed limits on Bruce B. Downs Hwy up towards New Tampa… if someone is seen driving at the speed limit, the police or sheriff’s deputy will realize that they are acting suspiciously and trying to keep from attracting attention.

So, in this model, the people who stand out as “feeling guilty” for some other non-speeding infraction are the ones who are doing 40MPH while everyone else is doing 50+MPH.

I believe that anyone putting a message in their bag will be paying attention to making sure that their hands are, otherwise, “clean” and un-interesting.

When I sent off a computer to be fixed, the post office asked if there was anything in the box that would be considered hazardous. I answered “Only if you read the jokes on the hard drive…”. I can see how someone may not be… ummmm… flexible. I’m a lot more careful, now that so many places are Non-Levity Zones. There is far too much gravitas around to people to cope with Iain M. Banks’ “Culture” stories.

John Campbell September 30, 2008 8:14 AM

Here’s one that goes the other way:


By the time this is read, it is kind of too late, isn’t it? Make sure to pre-pack the back with pre-fogged film…

mcb September 30, 2008 11:38 AM

If we really want to spend more quality time with the TSA’s finest how about we pack a motorized articulated metal sculpture of an alien facehugger? “May I open your bag?” “Hey, better you than me…”

Peter E Retrep September 30, 2008 5:28 PM

I think @ Thom Welsh meant to url us to: “Food items, like cheese or chocolate, can be mistaken by bomb-detection machines for explosives and generate a “false positive.” TSA screeners will hand-search bags that register a positive reading.” which underscores Bruce’s basic point of [dys]functional hypocrisy. If you really believed it was a bomb, would you open the bag and thrust your hand into it?

Tritium September 30, 2008 7:03 PM

@tensor: I’m 27, and I recognized that it was a joke about a commercial I’ve heard before, but forgotten (probably because I’ve only encountered it once before in my life) and had to look it up on Wikipedia to remember how it went.

Wim L October 2, 2008 1:52 PM

Albatross (Sept 29), I did that once, by accident. I had a blacksmith puzzle (you know, where you try to get the iron ring off of the hooks or whatever) which had arranged itself into a vaguely pistol-like shape. The xray operator was concerned enough to call me over and ask what the strange shape on the screen was, but I guess it didn’t look gunlike enough they felt they had to hand-search the bag. (This was pre-9/11-insanity, natch.)

Enno October 6, 2008 2:42 AM

See I had this idea a few years back (and didn’t act on it for the obvious reason of not being into that impromtu german porno scene in the back room). Of course the whole metallic paint/tape/metal plate thing sounds way too much work.

In my estimation the easiest way was to use some copper clad PC board material, photo resist and etchant in the same way PCBs are fabricated. All the material is available in your local electronics hobbyist supplier. If you have talent at freehand art you can even use a phto-resist pen. If you don’t, use a PC paint program for text or photoshop on a picture (use a newsprint style output filter to give you grayscales with dithered dots…) For extra points you can use that flexible PCB material and sew it into the lining of the bag in a what would be close to undetectable if done carefully… at least until they crank up the x-ray gear for a more thorough search.

Jake October 9, 2008 11:37 AM

I’m 27 and I can recite a few of the rhymes! (then again, I collect 1930s highway memorabilia!)

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