Jim Sanborn, creator of the famous Kryptos sculpture, has published a third clue: the word NORTHEAST appears in the plaintext of the unsolved message part.
As most readers of this blog will know, Kryptos is a sculpture located at the entrance of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It was created by local artist Jim Sanborn in 1990. Kryptos bears an encrypted inscription, which has become the most famous crypto puzzle of the last four decades. The sculpture is not accessible to the public.
As it turned out, the ciphertext on Kryptos consists of four parts encrypted in different ways. Part 1 is encrypted in a polyalphabetic cipher with the keyword PALIMPSEST, part 2 in the same way with ABSCISSA. In both cases the alphabet is used in a permuted way with the letters K, R, Y, P, T, O, and S standing at the beginning. The third part 3 of the encrypted Kryptos inscription was made with a transposition cipher.
Parts 1-3 of Kryptos were solved three times independently from each other. They were first broken in 1992 by a team of NSA cryptologists, including Ken Miller and Dennis McDaniels. Six years later, CIA employee David Stein found the three solutions, as well. As both the NSA and the CIA kept their codebreaking successes secret, the Kryptos encryption was still considered unsolved in the public, when in 1999 Jim Gillogly, a reader of this blog, found the solution of the three cryptograms and became celebrated as the first one to break them. Only later, the NSA’s and David Stein’s work were unclassified and published.
Part 4 (also known as K4) is still a mystery. Neither the cipher used nor the plaintext are known. K4 reads as follows:
Over the years, the Kryptos inscription has become one of the most famous encrypted messages in the world and the world’s most renowned crypto puzzle. And thanks to the inscription, the Kryptos sculpture has become one of the most popular works of modern art – even if this popularity is mainly due to puzzle lovers and not to art lovers.
The fourth Kryptos part is included in almost every list of famous unsolved cryptograms I am aware of, including my top 50 unsolved cryptograms list. It is There are chapters about K4 in my book Nicht zu knacken and in Craig Bauer’s Unsolved!. In addition, I wrote an article about Kryptos and K4 for the online edition of the German magazine Focus.
The community of Kryptos enthusiasts is headed by Elonka Dunin. Check here for her Kryptos web page. Although Elonka has gathered a considerable number of skilled codebreakers around her, all their efforts to break K4 have proven unseccessful to date.
Jim Sanborn has always resisted the temptation to make a few quick dollars by creating additional encrypted artworks. One of the few exceptions is the Sanborn sculpture Cyrillic Projector, whose encrypted inscription has long been solved.
In 2010 Jim Sanborn offered a hint, which was first published in the New York Times. He revealed that the 64th through 69th positions of the fourth Kryptos part decrypt to the word BERLIN.
Four years later, Sanborn stated that the word CLOCK follows BERLIN in the plaintext. Again, this information was published in the New York Times. Codebreakers in all the world tried to decipher the fourth Kryptos part with the two clues, but to no avail.
For the year 2019, Sanborn announced to publish another clue. Much to the disappointment of many crypto-mystery fans, this didn’t happen. However, yesterday an article giving another hint finally appeared in the New York Times (thanks to Lance Estes and Michael Hörenberg for informing me about it). In this article it says:
So now, Mr. Sanborn, at 74, is giving the world another shot: the word NORTHEAST, at positions 26 through 34.
This means that we now know three words that appear in the plaintext of the fourth Kryptos part. In the following diagram these expressions are displayed above their ciphertext counterparts:
According to Sanborn, this third Kryptos clue is the last one. In addition, we can read the following in the New York Times article:
He [Sanborn] has decided that if the code is not broken when he dies, the secret will be put up for auction. He might even do it in his lifetime. “I do realize that the value of Kryptos is unknown and that perhaps this concept will bear little fruit,” he said. The buyer could reveal the secret or perpetuate the mystery and maintain the system for submissions.
So, if you want to know the solution of K4, you should either put some money aside for purchasing it, or you can try to figure it out based on the new clue. If you decide for the latter, you are welcome to share your thoughts in the comments section.