Standing in the main courtyard of the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia, is an impressive encrypted sculpture called Kryptos.  Greek for the word hidden, Kryptos features a large S shaped copper plate streaming out from a piece of petrified wood.  The grand structure was designed by Jim Sanborn and holds what is considered one of the most famous unsolved codes in America.  It was dedicated on November 3rd, 1990, and since then, has patiently waited for someone to reveal its entire meaning.

In 1988, Jim Sanborn’s design was chosen by the agency for the piece of artwork which would enhance the grounds of the new CIA headquarters that was being built at the time.  Surprising to Sanborn, his masterful sculpture proved harder to decipher than he expected. He initially thought the secret codes he had created would be cracked within a few months after being unveiled.  It actually took nine years before Kryptos gave some of its secrets away; leaving parts of Kryptos yet to be solved. The almost 2000 letters engraved on the prominently displayed piece continues to elude all who try to decipher their ultimate function.

It is believed Kryptos is sectioned into four parts with each to be separately decoded for a phrase.  Three of the sections have been deciphered, but the last section consisting of 97 letters still conceals its message.  The first two phrases required the use of the Vigenere cipher.  This technique is a poly-alphabetic substitution, and on half of the Kryptos structure, Sanborn had included alphabetic rows hinting at its use.

Keywords were used along with the Vigenere cipher table in order to decode the top two sections.  The first section’s keywords were kryptos and palimpsest.  Applying these revealed a phrase of ‘BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION’.  The wrong spelling of illusion is confirmed by Sanborn to be intentional, but for reasons yet to be determined.

The second phrase employs the same method of decipherment but with the use of a different second keyword, abscissa.  Consisting of another intentional misspelled word (undergruund) this message is as follows; “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”

The third section decoded to a phrase similar to the words found from Howard Carter’s opening of King Tut’s tomb in 1922.  Another misspelled word, Desparatly, is found.  The method for the third’s deciphering was different than the first two.  This section required the use of a transposition cipher which is the re-arrangement or the rotation of letters already found on the copperplate.  Because this section was found easier to solve than the other two, speculation exists it was intended to be solved first; possibly providing clues for the keywords.

The meaning of the final 97 letters found on Kryptos, are yet to be solved.  Many have tried to uncover the phrase they hide.  Commonly referred to as K4, the last section is the focus of much attention.  Various groups have been formed comprising of individuals working together towards a solution.  These groups are made up of people with an array of different backgrounds; from mathematicians to linguists to hobbyists.

The challenge to unravel answers which have long been hidden offers a wonderful mental exercise.  For those who love puzzles, the allure of solving K4 is an exciting prospect.  The answer is ‘out there somewhere’ to be found.  In a letter written by Sanborn in 1989, informing employees at the agency of his vision for Kryptos, he wrote, “Its placement in a geologic context reinforces the text’s ‘hiddenness’ as if it were a fossil or an image frozen in time.”

It would seem Sanborn’s intention for Kryptos has been realized. Like a fossil, Kryptos has left its mark on those who continue to ponder its meaning.  The mysterious sculpture fascinates those who seek a solution.  However, it has been hinted at by Sanborn that those who unbury K4’s secrets may realize yet another layer is to be discovered. Could it be possible Sanborn’s image will not only be frozen in time but its answer will be lost to time?

Please feel free to Friend/Follow me on Facebook for continuing quests towards the mysterious and treasure.

Sources:

Letter to the Cia from Sanborn, Kyptosfan wordpress, reviewed Oct 2013

Dunin, Elonka, The Mammoth Book of Secret Codes and Cryptograms, Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2006

 

 

 October 31, 2013  Posted by Jenny Kile Codes and Ciphers  Add comments

  4 Responses to “The Mysterious Unsolved Code of Kryptos”

Comments (2) Pingbacks (2)
  1. Hello from Spain

    + I suggest a solution to KRIPTOS K4

    + IF the sculptor of Kryptos Mr. Sanborn has provided The New York
    Times with the answers to six letters in the sculpture’s final passage.
    The characters that are the 64th through 69th in the final series on the
    sculpture read NYPVTT. When deciphered, they read BERLIN
    http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/11/20/us/code.html?ref=us&_r=0

    + THEN in my humble opinion the best solution is this:
    “PEOPLE TO CREATE A SAFER, FREER WORLD AND SURELY THERE IS NO BETTER PLACE THAN BERLIN THE MEETING PLACE OF EAST AND WEST”
    (97 characters, no more & no less)

    + BECAUSE

    1_is a fragment of a speech of Ronald reagan in front of Berlin Wall
    and complies with the requirements explained by the sculptor.
    —Ronald Reagan, address at the Brandenburg Gate, June 12, 1987.
    LOOK
    http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/ronaldreaganbrandenburggate.htm

    He said:
    “Today, thus, represents a moment of hope …….PEOPLE TO
    CREATE A SAFER, FREER WORLD AND SURELY THERE IS NO BETTER PLACE THAN
    BERLIN THE MEETING PLACE OF EAST AND WEST, to make a start.”

    2_a question needs an answer:

    SO, if K 3 has a question: ” …… can you see anythyngq?“. (The account
    of Howard Carter, the renowned Egyptologist, as he opened King Tut’s
    tomb. –and breaking the WALL–)

    THEN … K 4 has an beatiful answer “ People to create a safer, freer
    world ……..” (a fragment of a speech of Ronald reagan in front of Berlin
    WALL)

    3_is a beautiful and elegant solution, is what wanted the CIA: The
    Central Intelligence Agency planned the expansion known as the New
    Headquarters Building in the 1980s and asked artists to submit proposals
    to create a work of art for the courtyard. The broad principles it
    provided for the $250,000 commission included the notion that it should
    “engender feelings of well-being, hope.”

    FINALLY
    + I do not know the name of the encryption system, but this solution complies with the requirements and is lovely.

    Maybe you can find the code used

    Goodbye.
    Reply

     

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>