Kryptos is an encrypted sculpture by American artist Jim Sanborn located on the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia. Since its dedication on November 3, 1990, there has been much speculation about the meaning of the encrypted messages it bears. Of the four messages, three have been solved, with the fourth remaining one of the most famous unsolved codes in the world. The sculpture continues to provide a diversion for cryptanalysts, both amateur and professional, who are attempting to decrypt the final section.
The first person to publicly announce solving the first three sections, in 1999, was Jim Gillogly, a computer scientist from southern California. After Gillogly’s announcement, the CIA revealed that their analyst David Stein had also solved the same sections in 1998, using pencil and paper techniques, though at the time of his solution the information was only disseminated within the intelligence community, and no public announcement was made. The NSA also claimed at that time that they had solvers, but would not reveal names or dates until 2000, when it was learned that an NSA team led by Ken Miller, along with Dennis McDaniels and two other unnamed individuals, had solved parts 1–3 in late 1992. All of these early attempts to solve Kryptos found that K2 ended with WESTIDBYROWS, but in 2006, Sanborn announced that he had made an error in part 2, which changed the last part of the plaintext from WESTIDBYROWS to WESTXLAYERTWO.
The following are the solutions of parts 1–3 of the sculpture. Misspellings present in the code are included as-is. Kryptos 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.
Keywords: Kryptos, Palimpsest
- BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION
Keywords: Kryptos, Abscissa
- 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 the Kryptos Group (an online community dedicated to the Kryptos puzzle) to inform them that the accepted solution to part 2 was wrong. 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 decrypted text which ended “…FOUR SECONDS WEST ID BY ROWS” should actually be “…FOUR SECONDS WEST X LAYER TWO”.
Note: The coordinates mentioned in the plaintext: 38°57′6.5″N 77°8′44″W; on Google Maps; analysis of the cited location. The point is about 150 feet south east of the sculpture itself.
- 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 actual November 26, 1922 field notes, his reply was, “Yes, it is wonderful.”
Part 4 remains unsolved, though there is an active Yahoo! Group (formed in 2003) that coordinates the work of over 2000 members toward decryption of the code.
When commenting in 2006 about his error in section 2, Sanborn said that the answers to the first sections contain clues to the last section. In November 2010, Sanborn released another clue: Letters 64-69 NYPVTT in part 4 encode the text BERLIN