Jim Sanborn, the creator of the famous Kryptos sculpture, said his third clue would be the last one. But now he has published another word that appears in the plaintext: EAST.
For those readers who still don’t 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 50 years. 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 publicly, until 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 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 well-known works of modern art.
The community of Kryptos enthusiasts is headed by Elonka Dunin, also co-author of my next book. 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 unsuccessful to date.
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. 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.
And, of course, Kryptos is covered in detail in the aforementioned book Codebreaking: A Practical Guide, written by Elonka and me, scheduled for release in December.
Sanborn’s hints #1-#3
Over the years, Jim Sanborn offered three hints, all of which were published in articles written by John Schwartz for the New York Times:
- In 2010 Jim Sanborn revealed that the 64th through 69th positions of the fourth Kryptos part decrypt to the word BERLIN.
- In 2014, Sanborn stated that the word CLOCK follows BERLIN in the plaintext.
- In January 2020, a third clue appeared in the New York Times. It says that the plaintext contains the word NORTHEAST, at positions 26 through 34.
Codebreakers all over the world tried to decipher K4 with the clues, but to no avail. Sanborn announced that the third Kryptos hint was the last one, but …
Another clue: EAST
On the Kryptos mailing list, recently an intensive discussion started about another word allegedly contained in the Kryptos plaintext. A list member named Sukhwant Singh reported that the word EAST stands immediately before NORTHEAST, which would mean that the expression EASTNORTHEAST is contained in the message. Singh said that he had received this information from Sanborn himself while exchanging emails with him.
I didn’t follow the discussion about the alleged EAST clue, as there were too many mails involved. Nevertheless, I was skeptical about this story, as Sanborn had declared that he would not publish additional clues and I didn’t expect him to change his mind after only six months.
But yesterday, Bill Briere, Elonka Dunin and Richard Bean informed me that Jim Sanborn has now confirmed the new clue. New York Times journalist John Schwartz reported on this on Twitter:
It appears that the rumor has now turned to a fact: An additional word EAST is contained in the K4 message.
This means that we now know four 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 Elonka, Sanborn deliberately started to release the clue to the “Kryptos sleuths” that he was corresponding with in April 2020. He said these are unusual and difficult times and he wanted to “spice things up” and was curious to see how long it would take the new information to flow through the Kryptos community.
Four months later, this information has completely flown through the Kryptos community and become official. We’ll see whether the new clue will lead to the mystery finally being solved.
Further reading: A CNN documentary about Kryptos – featuring Elonka Dunin