U.S. journalist and book author A.J. Jacobs has interviewed Jim Sanborn, the creator of the Kryptos sculpture. Here’s a transcript of this talk.

The last trip I took before the corona crisis started went to the USA. On the first stop of my journey, I met A.J. Jacobs

Source: Schmeh

…, a New York based non-fiction author, whose most well-known book is The Year of Living Biblically. I had read this work before-hand, and I liked it very much. Meanwhile, I have also read The Know-It-All and Thanks A Thousand, and I can highly recommend these books, as well.

A.J.’s next book will be published in 2021, and it will be about
puzzles. He will present a cultural history of puzzles combined with his
experience trying to solve some of these. There are chapters on
crossword puzzles, logic puzzles, mechanical puzzles, mazes and others.

In addition, the book includes a chapter devoted to codes and ciphers. Especially, the Kryptos sculpture …

Source: Elonka Dunin

… plays a large part. A.J. loves Kryptos and the community that has formed in the quest to crack it. He is even scheduled to visit Kryptos in person as soon as Covid allows. If a reader has anything they would like him to look for or ask about, please let A.J. know.

For the codes and ciphers chapter, A.J. interviewed Elonka Dunin and me. He also asked Kryptos artist Jim Sanborn …

Source: Schmeh

… to interview him for the book. Sanborn said yes. A.J. spoke to him for about an hour. He found him charming, smart, interesting and forthcoming. However, Sanborn didn’t tell him the answer to the fourth Kryptos part (K4), of course. Instead, he talked about the process of creating Kryptos, the recent clue and other topics.

As it seems, Sanborn granted A.J. an interview because he was
writing a book and because he was not a solver. Sanborn stressed that he does not like being asked questions by solvers, except on formal
occasions, such as the meetings hosted by Elonka. His only communication will be a “yes” or “no” to proposed K4 solutions.

A.J. shared a transcript of the highlights of the interview on the Kryptos mailing list. He thankfully allowed me to publish this text on my blog. Here are two questions A.J. asked, along with Sanborn’s answers:


Jim said he has received documents as much as 150 pages long with wrong guesses. I asked him for examples of wrong guesses. He said there was a“very elaborate scheme of KRYPTOS overlaying a satellite image of the CIA and somehow it made a guitar in the strings and neck of which extended to England.”


Jim said, “I do derive some satisfaction from having something like this, um, that’s lasted so long, but frankly, the greatest satisfaction I get is that I have created an artwork which keeps on giving which is very difficult to do.”

For a PDF version of the whole transcript, click here. Enjoy!

Further reading: A 6.5-hour interview with Kryptos creator Jim Sanborn

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Kommentare (2)

  1. #1 Richard Bean
    4. Oktober 2020

    Here was my response …

    Thanks for doing the interview. I think I’ve read almost everything available from the media now published on the sculpture and I’m not often surprised by new quotes.

    I think what you got was versions of what Sanborn said before, perhaps rhyming not repeating. The new part was about the thinking around releasing EAST NORTH EAST in parts.

    I think to get the full picture, it’d be best to interview Ed Scheidt as well.

    You have quotes in the interview like: Sanborn wanted to “make it as difficult as possible” and he hoped “the [K4 code] would outlive him”.

    This would seem to imply Sanborn doesn’t want K4 solved, or doesn’t care.

    But the consistently stated intention of Scheidt in many interviews has been that it would be difficult, but solvable within 5, 7, or 10 years. This is really _quite different_ to what Sanborn said.

    Right from the start (January 1990) the media articles stated “The secret phrase has been inscribed using two codes – one invented in 1586 by Blaise de Vigenere, a French diplomat, and the other devised by an unidentified cryptographer especially for the sculpture.”.

    In 1991, Scheidt said he didn’t know what the sculpture said; later in 2015, he said he’d gone back and checked K1-3 but not K4.

    Would-be solvers are starting to realize that with so much plaintext released and nobody seemingly closer to a solution

    (1) it seems more likely that Sanborn could release the whole plaintext without the method becoming any clearer;
    (2) the encryption method must be quite complex if knowing 25% of the plaintext doesn’t appear to help;
    (3) the timeline is absolutely defying the Scheidt expressed intention particularly with so many “hints”

    And following on from (3), computer power, networks, storage, and algorithms for solving classical ciphers have improved massively in the last 30 years.

    So given all those, plus the continued attention of many crypto experts I’ve been in touch with, plus the Scheidt expressed intention, we seriously wonder if there’s been a mistake in K4 encryption.

    Or if Sanborn has “accidentally” made solution impossible by cooking up a new system that can’t be solved at this length of cipher.

    We see accidental mistakes in the other sections (IQLUSION based on accidentally misspelling the PALIMPSEST keyword once, UNDERGRUUND fixed on another “version” of Kryptos, Antipodes).

    Scheidt said in 2005 he was “confident” the encryption had been done correctly; does he still think that?

    Because given computer power now, if anybody had guessed the method, the search would be done in an instant…

    And was Scheidt’s intention that the encryption method could be derived from statistical properties of the K4 ciphertext? This is the working assumption.

    (I understand he often deflects that kind of very specific question by saying it’s a “Jim question”)

    People spend time on this because of the reputation of Scheidt. Not Sanborn.

  2. #2 A.J. Jacobs
    New York
    6. Oktober 2020

    Thank you Klaus! Loved meeting you and I hope the Sanborn interview is just a little bit helpful.