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Kryptos is a mysterious encrypted sculpture, designed by artist Jim Sanborn, which sits right outside the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Virginia.

It would appear that Kryptos2the CIA Fine Arts Division (I didn’t know they had one!) commissioned Sanborn to create a cryptographic sculpture that would be sited in a courtyard on the CIA campus.

The sculpture consists of two parts, one is a set of stones laid out in International Morse Code. The second was a 12 foot high copper, granite and petrified wood sculpture inscribed with four encrypted messages composed of 1,800 letters carved out of the copper plate.

When I first saw this picture, one thing struck me. There is black lettering to the left of the picture. There is white lettering to the right. The first visible line of text at the top appears to be spelling the alphabet in black lettering followed in white lettering by the word KRYPTOSAB. 

That particular line of “alphabet” has letters missing – they happen to be the very letters in KRYPTOSAB – can’t see past the H on the left but reading across, letters K, O, P, R, S and T are missing from that bit.  

Now I appreciate that I’m no expert in the field of cryptography so I was quite proud of myself until I found out that some of the sections HAD already been decoded!

The passages that have been decoded make for interesting (if mystifying) reading and I quote the following courtesy of Wikipedia:

The following are the solutions of parts 1–3 of the sculpture. Misspellings present in the code are included as-is. Kryptos sections K1 and K2 ciphers are polyalphabetic substitution, using a Vigenère tableau similar to the tableau on the other half of the sculpture. K3 is a transposition cipher, and K4 is still unsolved.

Solution of passage 1

BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION

Solution of passage 2

IT WAS TOTALLY INVISIBLE HOWS THAT POSSIBLE ? THEY USED THE EARTHS MAGNETIC FIELD X THE INFORMATION WAS GATHERED AND TRANSMITTED UNDERGRUUND TO AN UNKNOWN LOCATION X DOES LANGLEY KNOW ABOUT THIS ? THEY SHOULD ITS BURIED OUT THERE SOMEWHERE X WHO KNOWS THE EXACT LOCATION ? ONLY WW THIS WAS HIS LAST MESSAGE X THIRTY EIGHT DEGREES FIFTY SEVEN MINUTES SIX POINT FIVE SECONDS NORTH SEVENTY SEVEN DEGREES EIGHT MINUTES FORTY FOUR SECONDS WEST X LAYER TWO

On April 19, 2006, Sanborn contacted an online community dedicated to the Kryptos puzzle to inform them that the accepted solution to part 2 was incorrect. He said that he made an error in the sculpture by omitting an “X” used to indicate a break for aesthetic reasons, and that the deciphered text that ended “…FOUR SECONDS WEST ID BY ROWS” should be “…FOUR SECONDS WEST X LAYER TWO”.

Note: The coordinates mentioned in the plaintext: 38°57′6.5″N 77°8′44″W are for a point that is approximately 150 feet southeast of the sculpture.

Solution of passage 3

SLOWLY DESPARATLY SLOWLY THE REMAINS OF PASSAGE DEBRIS THAT ENCUMBERED THE LOWER PART OF THE DOORWAY WAS REMOVED WITH TREMBLING HANDS I MADE A TINY BREACH IN THE UPPER LEFT HAND CORNER AND THEN WIDENING THE HOLE A LITTLE I INSERTED THE CANDLE AND PEERED IN THE HOT AIR ESCAPING FROM THE CHAMBER CAUSED THE FLAME TO FLICKER BUT PRESENTLY DETAILS OF THE ROOM WITHIN EMERGED FROM THE MIST X CAN YOU SEE ANYTHING Q ?

This is a paraphrased quotation from Howard Carter’s account of the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun on November 26, 1922, as described in his 1923 book The Tomb of Tutankhamun. The question with which it ends is that posed by Lord Carnarvon, to which Carter (in the book) famously replied “wonderful things”. In the November 26, 1922 field notes, however, his reply was, “Yes, it is wonderful.”

Solution of passage 4

Part 4 remains publicly unsolved.

However, http://www.wired.com/2013/07/nsa-cracked-kryptos-before-cia/ advises that a small group of cryptanalysts from the NSA had actually deciphered the same three sections years earlier, taking them less than a month, according to documents held in the NSA archives that were unearthed by Elonka Dunin in a Freedom of Information request. Dunin maintains a website entirely devoted to the Kryptos sculpture.

Looking at Sanborn’s Bio-Resume on his website, there is no indication that he has any background in cryptography which makes me wonder how on earth he devised this complex encryption in the first place? With no obvious training in or experience of cryptography (and no one appears to be asking this) WHO did he consult to create this code in the first place – it must have taken many hours of work on this before he ever got around to actually sculpting the work!  On his website are pictures showing other sculptures featuring English, Native American and Latin texts but these all, as far as I can tell, post-date the Kryptos one.

“Artist Jim Sanborn was born in Washington, DC on November 14, 1945. He graduated from Randolph-Macon College in 1969 with a double major in art history and sociology. He received his Masters degree in sculpture from Pratt Institute in 1971.

Sanborn has received numerous awards and grants and has exhibited in major museums in the United States, Asia, and Europe. Jim Sanborn’s public artworks are located in Japan, Taiwan and many locations in the United States.”

To further complicate and mystify those interested in his work he closed down his kryptosclue.com website due to ” an overwhelming number of frivolous or debasing or hostile comments.”  The Jimsanborn web page tells potential enquirers that he will respond to any short personal email on payment of a $50 fee. However, this is only to discuss the enquirer’s possible solution or decryption process and goes on to state that Sanborn “will not intentionally reveal clues or a solution to the remaining unsolved K4 section.”

My question is, will Sanborn take the answer to the unsolved passage to the grave or will he put the world out of its misery before he takes his last breath?  

No doubt he has a contingency plan in place that, upon his demise, his solicitor (presumably entrusted with the solution to the whole code)  would oversee enquiries about decryption and, hopefully, has set an end date at which time the solution to the encryption would be made public.
Further reading:-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kryptos

Elonka Dunin’s website http://elonka.com/kryptos/

http://jimsanborn.net/kryptos_fees.pdf

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