NKRYPT is a set of eight steel pillars bearing encrypted inscriptions, located in Canberra Australia. Here are a few photographs of this artwork, along with some basic information.
Let me start with a look at the alternate reality game The Analog by Zachary Epstein, which I introduced on this blog a few weeks ago. The link to the starting page has changed. If you want to take part, click here and look out for encrypted messages. Hint: Check the image of the soldier and also look behind it. Good luck!
Let’s now jump from virtual crypto puzzles to physical ones. Last year, I introduced NKRYPT, an installation outside the Questacon science and technology centre in Canberra, Australia (thanks to Richard Bean for making me aware of this artwork). NKRYPT was designed by Stuart Kohlhagen and installed in March 2013.
NKRYPT consists of eight stainless steel pillars, each covered with several encrypted messages. These ciphertexts are laser-cut into the steel. The messages are all discrete but interlinked, and solving one may provide a clue to solving others. Some ciphertexts are intended to be easily broken, while others are more difficult. The final cryptogram can be deciphered with a key that emerges from the solution of the others.
Until recently, all my knowledge about NKRYPT came from the Questacon website and two fan pages. I didn’t know anybody who had ever been on site or who could provide me photographs I could use. I wrote a mail to Questacon, but I didn’t get a reply.
Two weeks ago, I received a message from Glenn McIntosh, who operates one of the two NKRYPT fan websites. I finally had somebody I could ask about this sculpture set.
Glenn, who is married with kids, studied computer science and linguistics. An engineer by trade, he has an amateur interest in crypto. He works for a Melbourne-based company producing wearable tech for team sports.
Glenn allowed me to use the photographs of NKRYPT from his page. So, I can now for the first time officially present NKRYPT images on this blog.
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A compendium of historical cryptography. Approachable, accessible, this book brings back the joy I felt when I first read about these things as a kid.
Phil Zimmermann, creator of PGP encryption, inductee to the Internet Hall of Fame
The following collage Glenn made shows all eight NKRYPT pillars, labelled from A to H:
Let’s look at an example. The following picture shows the second cryptogram on pillar B:
Here’s a trancript provided by Glenn:
AGPSHALHALIECNREWTOCTPUWS MEOLOLOADOEEEOSAAHVHEERIP EHNAWLSVMFNCRFICCAESRDENA SIHVNBEEIATETAAEOTDMHEHFR SDIETYRARNGUAPNSDPMAENIOT AUSSOCSNACRNIEPAERURLSSRA
According to Glenn’s page, this cryptogram has been created with a scytale (i.e.. the pillar serves as scytale).
The plaintext refers to two well-known steganography stories from the old Greek, one about a message tattooed on the head of a slave and the other one about a scytale message written on a belt:
A message hid upon his slave
shown to all by closer shave
an admiral of ancient Greece
uncertain of a Persian peace
saw a code that proved much smarter
helped ensure his win for Sparta
Glenn wrote me: “[NKRYPT] is interesting because it covers a history of ciphers, and is accessible at various levels, from simple shift ciphers to rotor machines and possibly beyond. I particularly like the hand operated rotor machine built into one of the poles.”
I plan to cover the rotor machine challenge in a future blog post, and I’m sure I will introduce other NKRYPT cryptograms on this blog, as well. NKRYPT has deserved more popularity in the codebreaking community, and I hope that my posts will help to achieve this.
Further reading: $10,000 worth of crypto-currencies hidden in Lego artworks
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