"Kryptos" sculptor teases clues to C.I.A. cryptosculpture


(photo: Drew Angerer/The New York Times)

In today's New York Times, the artist and cryptographer behind an enigmatic sculpture on the grounds of the CIA reveals long-awaited clues to Times reporter John Schwartz.

Kryptos,” the sculpture nestled in a courtyard of the agency’s Virginia headquarters since 1990, is a work of art with a secret code embedded in the letters that are punched into its four panels of curving copper.

“Our work is about discovery — discovering secrets,” said Toni Hiley, director of the C.I.A. Museum. “And this sculpture is full of them, and it still hasn’t given up the last of its secrets.”

Not for lack of trying. For many thousands of would-be code crackers worldwide, “Kryptos” has become an object of obsession. Dan Brown has even referred to it in his novels.

The code breakers have had some success. Three of the puzzles, 768 characters long, were solved by 1999, revealing passages — one lyrical, one obscure and one taken from history. But the fourth message of “Kryptos” — the name, in Greek, means “hidden” — has resisted the best efforts of brains and computers.

And Jim Sanborn, the sculptor who created “Kryptos” and its puzzles, is getting a bit frustrated by the wait. “I assumed the code would be cracked in a fairly short time,” he said, adding that the intrusions on his life from people who think they have solved his fourth puzzle are more than he expected.

Sculptor Dangles Clues to Stubborn Secret in C.I.A.'s Backyard (NYT).

See also: Original Decoding Charts for 'Kryptos' (NYT).

Related coverage at Wired News, and an earlier Wired article here.

UPDATE: "Berlin."



  1. Booooo! He should be thrilled that it remains unsolved. An infuriating puzzle that remains unsolvable long after your death? now that’s cool… jdpleqhdf9cmek

    1. Isn’t the point of a code that someone will eventually break it? There’s probably an interesting argument here, but it’s probably not one we’re going to have, unfortunately.

      I’m very excited to hear what the sculpture actually says, although, judging from the other parts, I imagine it will be relatively banal and completely harmless, just like the other sections. I don’t really care for Jim Sanborn’s attitude, in any case; I think if I had made something like that, I would be able to stomach the junk mail.

  2. an honest-to-FSM one time pad, with characteristics that cause the cipher text to have uniform distribution (among other characteristics) really just is that hard to reverse. the amazing part to me are the people that think they got it right but haven’t–using a pad so awesome that it can legitimately be solved different ways *is a work of art*

  3. i hope the fourth puzzle is the ingredients for Coca-Cola, or Kentucky Fried Chicken. but at 97 characters (less than a tweet!), it’s probably not. : /

    1. The Simpsons solved the KFC thing remember? Chicken, grease, salt


    1. Bravo!
      Although, I think Jean Shepherd would roll over in his grave if the CIA owned any reference to his stories.

  4. The code reads:

    If you work
    for CIA,
    codes all day,
    and you crack this
    Don’t delay…
    bearded men
    get lower pay!
    Burma Shave

  5. He has stated in his clue that it is more international. Seems like the last cipher simply isn’t in English. That would stump the majority of people in the US without a doubt.

  6. I remember working with some folk a long time ago to get to the bottom of two parts of it, but the others defeated us. (I think we did it for light relief after spending some months on Cliff Johnson’s wonderful work for David Blaine’s book.)

    Glad to hear that it has remained unbroken – by the amateurs at least!

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