So an artist named Jim Sanborn made a sculpture called Kryptos. It sits in the courtyard at CIA’s new(er) headquarters in Langley, VA. Sanborn built it at the same time the HQ itself was being constructed back in 1990-ish. It’s basically a big encoded message, in the form of a sculpture.
Kryptos gained a little fame in Dan Brown’s book The Lost Symbol, as well as years earlier on the dust jacket of The DaVinci Code. Sanborn says he has never worked with Dan Brown, so it wasn’t a collaboration.
Kryptos is basically a bunch of letters punched as holes in a sheet of metal:
There’s a swirling whirlpool on the right, a petrified tree from Arizona on the left that is attached to the metal. There is also some morse code hidden around the place and on other sections that say things like “virtually invisible” and “lucid memory” as well as “t is your position” and others.
The sculpture’s letters are a 4-part code. The first three sections (referred to by “Kryptophiles” as K1, K2, and K3) took about 9 years to solve. Part four (K4) has never been solved. In over 20 years. All while sitting in the code-breaker headquarters of the US known as the CIA.
Once someone (James Gillogly) cracked K1-3 in 1999 using a computer, the CIA released the information that one of their own, David Stein, cracked it in 1998, using pencil and paper methods. No public announcement was made at that time. Stein would eat lunch there every day, and it took him over 400 hours of his own time. (How awesome is this story?)
Sanborn has been quoted as saying you don’t have to actually go to CIA’s HQ to solve the thing. Which is good, because it’s kind of hard to get in there for the average Joe.
It’s a fascinating story, and I’ve spent (wasted?) a bunch of time this weekend researching Kryptos and the mysterious 97-letter K4 code.
K1 is a piece of poetry written by Sanborn:
“BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION”
Notice the obvious typo in the last word. Many theories abound about it. The whole sentence screams anagram to me since it’s a bit weird, plus the “typo”. I found some interesting anagrams:
“Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel” and;
“List of the tallest buildings in Washington, D.C.”
But no anagrams that use all the letters, so it’s almost guaranteed to be a dead end.
K2 is something Sanborn has said “could have happened”, whatever that means:
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
Another misspelled word: “underground”. The coordinates point to a spot about 100 feet south of the sculpture, in the same courtyard. No digging has been done, since it’s the CIA’s property. They have guns and junk.
K3 is a modified excerpt from Howard Carter’s account of the opening of the tomb of King Tut after almost a decade of searching for it in the Valley of Kings:
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 (?)
The account has Carter famously responding, “Yes, it is wonderful.” Again, notice the misspelling of “Desperately”.
K4 … remains unsolved. Sanborn has said it is crucial that the first three sections be solved correctly in order to solve the fourth section (he actually corrected section two’s ending himself, years ago).
Sanborn has dropped little hints here and there; his latest was to reveal that 6 of the 97 letters in K4 encode the text “BERLIN”. In an NPR interview, he mentioned giving “directions” and added that he was using that word “deliberately”, but stopped there, with the statement, “If I say any more I perhaps give away too much.”
He’s said several times he wanted the last code to be the toughest, and added something interesting:
“Well the reality is that I’m in a unique position. I’m an artist, okay? I’m not a mathematician, but I do have other skills, more visual skills, that were brought to bear in designing the code… As an artist I work with light and shadow, and all of these kinds of things, smoke and mirrors, and all that stuff.” -Jim Sanborn
There are several spelling mistakes in K1-K3, and they are apparently deliberate, as are 3 raised letters in the actual piece:
You can see them at the top left of the yellow section (K3).
The speculation swirls, over 2 decades later the subject is less active. There was a flurry of activity and internet searches of “Kryptos” when The Lost Symbol came out (It was one of the themes in the Dan Brown book). There was another flurry when Sanborn told people of the 6 letters that are “BERLIN” (It’s NYPVTT in the green section, starting 2nd line up on the right side).
Sanborn also mentioned in an interview with All Things Considered that he published pictures of his hand-written encoder (this is about half of it):
In the interview, he casually says:
“And I dangled the clue Berlin, but I also divulged – or gave images – of my original decoding charts, the ones that I – well, actually, for me they were encoding charts. And I think once the Krypto-philes study it in a forensic manner, there might be revelations in there. So in a way, I gave more than just Berlin. I think I gave other information as well.” – Jim Sanborn
I haven’t found anything yet on if this was analyzed, or if it amounted to anything. I’m going to play with it in Photoshop I think, for giggles.
Besides that, there isn’t much new info lately on Kryptos. People thought it would be solved within a few days of the Berlin clue, but it’s been over a year now and no one has come forward with the answer yet.
Sanborn says once the K4 section is decoded, it is just the beginning, that K4 will make you go back to the beginning (K1?).
Regardless, it’s a brilliant move on the CIA’s part: they’ve said they like that nobody has cracked the code completely yet – it’s been great PR for them.
Oh by the way, the most random thing I found in my weekend of Kryptos research:
Illuminati, spelled backwards with .com on the end, goes to the web site of none other than the NSA (www.itanimulli.com). What is that about? Random!