Real-life MacGyver used 'eyeliner pencil and a cotton bud' to escape after getting trapped in medieval tower

Ilko/Cotton bud/Eyeliner/Queen's College Cambridge

Dr Krisztina Ilko used an 'eyeliner pencil and a cotton bud' to escape from a medieval tower

Getty/X @krisztina_ilko
Holly Bishop

By Holly Bishop

Published: 03/03/2024

- 19:45

Dr Krisztina Ilko had been trapped in the bathroom at Queens College Cambridge for a gruelling seven hours

A university academic used an “eyeliner pencil and a cotton bud” to escape from a medieval tower after getting trapped in its bathroom for seven hours.

Dr Krisztina Ilko, 33, a junior research fellow at the University of Cambridge, lives in the former Queens College rooms of the 16th-century philosopher, Erasmus.

The college has a medieval tower with a toilet with no windows, heavy wooden doors, and thick walls.

On Thursday, the 33-year-old feared she would be trapped for days after unsuccessfully trying to push open the door.

\u200bIlko with the eyeliner and cotton bud

Ilko used two everyday items to free herself from the bathroom

X @krisztina_ilko

She believed that a plumber who had been working on the shower may have accidentally disabled the latch.

Terror soon crept in as she realised that a cleaner was not due to come until Monday, leaving her with the agonising prospect that she may be trapped in the cubicle over the weekend.

Recounting her ordeal on social media, she wrote: "The plumber broke the lock in the bathroom and forgot to tell me.

“I went in, got locked in. The door is solid wood and wouldn’t break. I was stuck for seven hours (I thought I’d be there for days, as no one could hear).”


Upon realising she may have to survive around 100 hours without food or water, Ilko decided to take matters into her own hands and picked the lock from the inside using two common items.

“I was really happy and also quite proud that I could use my wit to get out,” she told The Telegraph. “I felt relief, absolutely.”

“I was trying to remember how long a person can survive on just water and hoping that I wouldn’t die there,” she said.

She said she tried to break the door down, but to no avail, leaving her with a bruised shoulder in the process.

Queens College

Ilko, 33 lives in the former Queens College rooms of the 16th-century philosopher, Erasmus


Out of options and tired of shouting, the 33-year-old channelled her inner MacGyver to free herself.

She turned her attention to an eyeliner and a cotton bud, which luckily did the trick, finally ending her seven-hour ordeal.

“Sometimes when I hear sounds around here I joke that it is the ghost of Erasmus, then I thought I was going to join him and become a Cambridge legend,” she said.

The college has since removed the lock from the bathroom door.

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