This sculpture, called Kryptos, is located in the courtyard outside the entrance to the CIA’s New Headquarters Building in Langley, Virginia. It was created by artist Jim Sanborn in 1990. The main piece consists of four curving metal panels with eighteen hundred cutout letters and three question marks that contained four hidden messages.
The world’s top cryptologists went to work on the script, but it took years before the first three messages were deciphered. Below you can see the Kryptos transcript and try to imagine how someone would go about finding hidden messages. But finally cryptologists at the NSA broke the codes.
You can look here to see how they did it. The first two messages are said to be straight-forward and supposedly can be solved by anyone with a a basic education in cryptology. The third one is more advanced. The explanation of how it was solved to me is mind-boggling. Frankly, I don’t know what they’re talking about. The fourth message is said to be near impossible to solve. To make matters more confusing, there are three words intentionally misspelled in the first three messages and one necessary letter was missing completely from the sculpture so it would remain aesthetically balanced.
Initially, the NSA geeks refused to reveal what the messages said. But eventually the first three messages were revealed. The first is a poetic line written by the sculptor. It reads: “Between subtle shading and the absence of light lies the nuance of iqlusion.”
We could call that the Space Between. The second message is quite cryptic and who knows what phenomenon it could be about.
“It was totally invisible Hows that possible? They used the Earths magnetic field X
The information was gathered and transmitted undergruund to an unknown location X
Does Langley know about this? They should Its buried out there somewhere X
Who knows the exact location? Only WW This was his last message X
Thirty eight degrees fifty seven minutes six point five seconds north
Seventy seven degrees eight minutes forty four seconds west ID by rows”
The third one is a quote from archaeologist Howard Carter as he describes entering King Tut’s tomb. With a misspelling.
“Slowly, desparatly slowly, the remains of passage debris that encumbered the lower
Part of the doorway was removed. With trembling hands i made a tiny breach in the upper
Lefthand corner and then widening the hole a little i inserted the candle and peered
in. The hot air escaping from the chamber caused the flame to flicker but presently
Details of the room within emerged from the mist x can you see anything q?
Interestingly, the fourth and final message in the puzzle sculpture, which consists of the 97 remaining letters, has yet to be deciphered. But a few years ago, Sanborn began to wonder if he would die before anyone figured it out. So he provided a clue: BERLIN
Considering that Sanborn was busy working on the sculpture in 1989, the year that the Berlin Wall fell many at CIA and NSA—as well as amateur cryptologists—went to work on the puzzle with renewed interest. It was a matter of pride for the CIA since NSA cryptologists had solved the first three.
However, no one came up with a solution, so in 2014, Sanborn offered another clue, CLOCK. That twist left the Berlin Wall resolution in shambles. But there is a cryptic clock in Berlin, the Mengenlehreuhr—German for Set-Theory Clock. It’s the first public clock in the world that has no numbers or hands and tells the time by means of illuminated, colored beams of light. So possibly the arrangement of lights in that mysterious clock might have something to do with the arrangement of letters in the message. So far no one has figured it out, and there have been new clues for the past five years.
A mysterious postscript: Sanborn has revealed that the sculpture contains a riddle within a riddle, which will be solvable only after the four encrypted passages have been deciphered.
If you’re wondering why I (Rob) am writing about this sculpture, it’s because it plays into the novel I’m working on, An expanded version of the novella, SPINNING OUT, that appeared in our new book of short stories, THE OUTLIERS. Kryptos, however, won’t be found in the novella. It’s something new that has crept in the story.