In the late 1980’s, the CIA base in Langley, Virginia were looking for an artist to decorate their new building. Applications were invited from artists for the $ 250,000 commission along with the expressed desire that the work should also be indicative of Central Intelligence Agency’s work. In 1988 James Sanborn was given the commission based on his idea of a two part sculpture, which would sit on the courtyard and entrance of the main building. This sculpture completed in 1990 would go on to be one of the greatest puzzles of our time. The Kryptos as it is called means ‘hidden’ in Greek. The Kryptos cipher has 4 parts (K1, K2, K3 and K4) and after more than 20 years it is still an unsolved mystery.
The Creators of the Kryptos cipher and sculpture
Kryptos was sculpted by James Sanborn. It was his first cryptographic sculpture. Sanborn who did not know much about codes worked with retired CIA employee Ed. Scheidt to create the masterpeice. Ed Scheidt was once the CIA director of Cryptography and was often refered to as the “wizard of codes”.
James Sanborn went on to create more cryptographic sculptures in the future like the Antipodes at Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC and the Cyrillic Projector with Russian cyrillic encryptions incuding extracts from some KGB documents.
The most noticeable feature of Kryptos is the 9 ft 11 inch large curved (S shaped) copper screen which resembles a scroll. The screen seems to emerge from a vertical piece of wood called the petrified wood and is close to a bubbling pool of water.
On metal screen is the are the carved letters which form the K1 to K4, aka Kryptos cipher. The letters may be observed in the image below.
On one half of the scroll is encrypted script with 869 characters (865 letters of the English alphabet and four question marks). On the other half there are 865 characters in keyed Vignere encryption.
Besides the main structure, there are numerous granite stones and copper plates carved with early ciphers and international morse code around the campus.
Some of the Morse Code messages are
T IS YOUR POSITION
Also there is a naturally magnetized rock along with a navigational compass.
The Solved and the Unsolved
In 1999 Jim Gillogly, a California based computer scientist was the first person to publicly announce the solutions of K1, K2 and K3. He solved it using his Pentium II. The CIA, later confirmed that CIA analyst David Stein had also solved the three parts using old pencil and paper methods in 1998. There have been other claims but these two gentlemen are largely credited with the first three solutions.
The last 97 letters that make up K4 are still remain unsolved.
Solutions of K1, K2 and K3 of the Kryptos Cipher
K1 – BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION
Solved using the Vigenere cipher
Keywords – Kryptos, Palimpsest
Deliberate Misspellings – iqlusion
K2 – 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
Solved using the Vigenere cipher made more difficult by adding extra X between sentences.
Keywords – Kryptos, Abscissa
Deliberate Misspellings – undergruund
K3 – 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?
Solved using transposition ie solving the complex mathematics behind the placement of the jumbled words.
Deliberate Misspellings – desparatly
K4 – Unsolved
a) The Kryptos cipher contains deliberate misspellings to confuse the decrypters.
b) A few letters are inscribed higher than the others on the screen.
c) The co ordinates of K2 point to a location about 150 feet southeast of the sculpture itself.
d) the last part of K3 “X CAN YOU SEE ANYTHING Q? is strangely between X AND Q
e) The solution of K3 is a extract from the diary of Howard Carter on November 26, 1922. The day he discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun.
f) Experts beleive that the fourth passage is written in a more complex code, one designed to mask patterns of recurring letters that code-breakers typically look for.
g) Almost 20 years after its inception, Sanborn gave out a clue in 2010 to solve K4. He says that the letters 64-69 NYPVTT in K4 encode the text BERLIN.
After completion of the sculpture Sanborn was required to give the answer in a sealed envelope to the then CIA director William Webster. In 1999 Webster confirmed this fact in an interview to the New York Times, saying that the solution is “philosiphical and obscure”
Sanborn however claims that the envelope he gave Webster does not contain the complete solution.
This fact has also been cleverly highlighted by Dan Brown in his novel ‘The Symbol’
“FACT – In 1991, a document was locked in the safe of the director of the CIA. The document is still there today. Its cryptic text includes references to an ancient portal and an unknown location underground. The document also contains the phrase ‘It’s buried out there somewhere.'”
‘it’s burried out there somewhere’ ; this line is indeed a part of the confirmed solution of K2.
The back cover of another Dan Brown Novel “The Da Vinci Code” when held against the mirror shows the coordinates 37° 57′ 6.5″ N 77° 8′ 44″ W which is very close to the deciphered code of K2.
In 2005, Sanborn also refuted claims from author Dan Brown that the “WW” in the plaintext of K3 could be inverted to “MM,” implying Mary Magdalene. He confirmed that WW implies William Webster.
In 2006 Sanborn contacted the Kryptos group to inform them that the last part of K2 “FOUR SECONDS WEST ID BY ROWS” was incorrect. He admitted that he made a mistake by omitting an X. The answer was confirmed as FOUR SECONDS WEST X LAYER TWO.
Sanborn says that in case of his death the answer to the Kryptos cipher will still remain safe somewhere.
There is an active yahoo group dedicated to solving the puzzle. You may join the group here – http://firstname.lastname@example.org. You may post your queries once your membership is approved.
If you can somehow visit the sculpture. You may help other solvers. Check the wishlist on things they want to know http://elonka.com/kryptos/wishlist.html
James Sanborn Website http://jimsanborn.net/
Dan Brown has been fascinated with the Kryptos. You may find something helpful at http://www.danbrown.com/
The morse code in more detail http://www.elonka.com/kryptos/mirrors/daw/MorseCode.txt