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This has been bothering me for a while but I was reminded of it when I started playing Skyrim again. In the dungeons there are some mechanic works, examples including:

  • Lever controlled heavy doors and bridges
  • Pressure plate controlled traps
  • Traps disabled by levers
  • Puzzles that require a certain combination
  • Even more crazy things in Dwemer Ruins (I guess magic shenanigans are involved there so no need to consider this)

These systems don't seem feasible because:

  • Heavy doors and bridges require a high amount of power. Some of those doors are made out of steel and I guess some must weight up to 2 tons. How can a mechanic structure lift it in a world when there is no electricity, with just a pull of lever?
  • Some of the bridges that are controlled by levers are across a gap, so there is not a direct connection. I guess the chain mechanism goes around the gap but wouldn't that increase friction and need more power?
  • Combination puzzles require some kind of logic, right?
  • These ruins are ancient. How could the traps and such still work? Don't they get rusty? What if a rat sneaks in to the mechanism and gets stuck there?
  • These systems are not even uncommon. You can find one dungeon in every 10 minute of walk.

How these systems work would and how feasible they are? Also some examples from real world would be good.

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  • $\begingroup$ Note that not every trap/puzzle/whathaveyou in Skyrim is useable. Some have broken down or fallen apart, others are partially buried, and I can think of four off the top of my head that are jammed and need to be cleared before they'll work. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Dec 12 '16 at 13:54
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not too concerned about the mechanical switches. what I want to know is who lit all those candles?? $\endgroup$ – Innovine Dec 12 '16 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ Google for railway lever. Historic ones. I'll try to write an answer, but no promises and here's a hint. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Dec 12 '16 at 16:31
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Heavy doors and bridges require a high amount of power. Some of those doors are made out of steel and I guess some must weight up to 2 tons. How can a mechanic structure lift it in a world when there is no electricity, with just a pull of lever?

Counterweight. As long as you have strong enough ropes, you can lift anything as long as you have counterweight of similar weight. This is how pyramids were built. The critical problem with this is that the mechanism is one-use only. After the mechanism is triggered, it needs to be manually reset.

It is also not that big a problem to create a mechanical system that turns small force of a lever or pressure plate into big force, like moving a stone or springing a trap.

Some of the bridges that are controlled by levers are across a gap, so there is not a direct connection. I guess the chain mechanism goes around the gap but wouldn't that increase friction and need more power?

You can have small wire/string going across the gap. And the counterweight could be on the other side.

Combination puzzles require some kind of logic, right?

Mechanical ancient locks are good example that simple "logic" is possible, as long as that logic is about "set this gizmo to this specific location/state that is independent of anything else".

These ruins are ancient. How could the traps and such still work? Don't they get rusty? What if a rat sneaks in to the mechanism and gets stuck there?

That is a critical problem, yes.

These systems are not even uncommon. You can find one dungeon in every 10 minute of walk.

If you are rich enough and live in culture that believes your corpse should be buried with lots of riches, then you are going to invest a lot of money, resources and work into making sure no one can get into your tomb.

How these systems work would and how feasible they are?

Simple mechanics could work. They are feasible, but not on a level seen in movies and videogames. Single tomb of rich Pharaoh might have few traps, that might last few years. But idea of huge complex full of lever-controlled doors and traps, that still work after few millennia is ridiculous.

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    $\begingroup$ Elder scrolls smithing and enchanting are pretty advanced (even the ancient stuff is useable after ages - dwemer metal for instance) so that explains the durability. Plus the abundance of dwemer ruins on every continent would give enthusiastic trap builders more than enough mechanical knowledge (also dwemer metal cogs and mechanisms) to go crazy with. But that only applies to Elder Scrolls lore. $\endgroup$ – Lu22 Dec 12 '16 at 9:12
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    $\begingroup$ Citation needed to support your claim that counterweights were used for building pyramids. $\endgroup$ – Innovine Dec 12 '16 at 14:48
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Heavy doors and bridges require a high amount of power. Some of those doors are made out of steel and I guess some must weight up to 2 tons. How can a mechanic structure lift it in a world when there is no electricity, with just a pull of lever?

Mechanical engineering has been around for thousands of years, and nothing here is really all that unique. It does take creativity and some solutions may only work in special situations.

For example, a 2 ton door could be lifted open because of a fulcrum. A simple lever could shift a pipe that diverts 1.5 tons of water into a 1 ton container producing a counterweight to lift the door. The door could release when the lever moves back to its original position by removing the seal on the container (or is already designed with a leak and when the container no longer receives the water the door would slowly fall).

Some of the bridges that are controlled by levers are across a gap, so there is not a direct connection. I guess the chain mechanism goes around the gap but wouldn't that increase friction and need more power?

It doesn't necessarily require large elements to implement. Again using water, its possible to create a trigger similar to a modern toilet flushing mechanism that reacts either to an increase or decrease in water levels. It may also be possible to implement triggers using light, heat or sound.

Combination puzzles require some kind of logic, right?

Logic has also been around for thousands of years... in fact certain aspects of logic are foundations of both mathematics and philosophy. A system requiring flipping a series of switches could be considered a lock even if its on a much larger scale than we are used to.

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We've built these before

Mechanical logic puzzles of levers and cogs are not a fantasy by a long shot -- railroads have used mechanical interlocking hardware for well over a century now to keep trains from running into each other. These were sometimes massive beasts, occupying a cabin the size of a small two-story house, with hundreds of inputs from and dozens of outputs to levers, indicators, signals, and turnouts (switches) at major railroad junctions.

These interlockings could implement highly sophisticated logic functions, and were often called upon to do just that in order to prevent incompatible inputs from being accepted (such as trying to move a switch out from under a train's path, or clear a signal across a junction that's already been cleared across in a different direction).

While the technology was obsoleted by electromechanical relay logic, it was a vital part of the railroad world for several decades, and is still in use in a few areas where installing newer systems would be cost-prohibitive. Several museums have also preserved decommissioned interlocking machines.

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It could be a simple pressure switch to activate a counterweight or hydraulic mechanism. Not much power required.

Regarding age and maintenance, that's a problem. Genre convention suggests to pay no attention.

Examples can be found on the Smithsonian site.

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  • $\begingroup$ That is a lot of power being switched, though, or the massive door doesn't move. Querant was right about that. $\endgroup$ – The Nate Dec 12 '16 at 14:12
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Possible, but not feasible.

Unless the complex mechanism is valued by itself as a status symbol, then there is no reason.

  • Reloading traps
  • Maintenance

Some small traps are feasible, but the stress of huge counter weight puts on the mechanism is simply too much. The traps could thus be almost single use. It is likely cheaper to have guards than a maintenance crew.

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