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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Mystery: Kryptos

When it comes to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), there are a plethora of conspiracies and mysteries surrounding them. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that when there’s a major event related to geopolitics, you’re guaranteed to see someone mention the CIA. Though there’s one in particular that I don’t see mentioned nearly enough, at least in my eyes. It’s name is Kryptos and it’s one of many unsolved ciphers. But since it’s the CIA, it’s naturally significantly more mysterious and magnetic when it comes to the tinfoil brigade.

That’s a joke by the way, don’t take it the wrong way. Anyways, with a price tag of $250,000 at the time it began its creation in 1988 ($535,681.81 in 2018 according to an inflation calculator I used), Kryptos—which means “hidden” in Greek—was made by the name of Jim Sanborn with assistance from a cryptography expert by the name of Ed Scheidt, who himself worked at the CIA. The sculpture was commissioned by the CIA’s Fine Arts Commission and after two years of work, the twelve foot tall, 1,800 word long sculpture was put up outside the CIA’s cafeteria on November 3, 1990.

Design wise, Kryptos is comprised of two parts. The first part, as stated, stands at twelve feet in height and is contained International Morse code. It’s made of verdigrised copper, granite (red and green to be exact), and petrified wood sculpture, while the more famous part is made out of copper plate.

Down below is an image of Kryptos.

With the history of the sculpture itself out of the way, let’s finally move onto the real mystery behind Kryptos. Namely, the the 869 character long (four of those characters being question marks) second half of it and what’s inscribed upon it.





Sanborn himself claims that one letter was left out of the structure to keep the sculpture “visually balanced”. I’m not sure exactly where this letter would have fit in that mishmash of alphabet soup. My unnecessary comment aside, that’s copy and pasted as it’s structured on Wikipedia, which listed the four paragraphs in four separate boxes. In spite of that, Kryptos isn’t set up like that; the messages—of which there are four in total—vary in length. Three of those messages have been solved and they are as follows.


This section translates to:

Between subtle shading and the absence of light lies the nuance of iqlusion.

“Iqlusion” is one of three spelling mistakes. Whether or not this was intentional is up for debate, though if Sanborn left a letter out to make the Kryptos look better, it’s possible he added in the wrong letter in spite of it making a grammatical error for the same purpose. That said, the NSA claims to have cracked this section, along with the other two solved, in 1992, several years before the CIA and any of the publicly claimed solvers. Despite that, the NSA never announced to have cracked any of the messages, so the credit for the solving of this portion goes to a California computer scientist by the name of Jim Gillogly, who solved this part in 1999, nearly a decade after the sculpture was finished. Not to be out done however, the CIA stated that one of their analysts, David Stein, had solved it a year before Gillogly by using pencil and paper techniques.

As for how this section was solved using the “Vigenère cipher” method. To shamelessly steal from Wikipedia because I personally have absolutely no understand of ciphers: it’s a method where someone encrypts alphabetic text by using a series of interwoven Caesar ciphers based on the letters of a keyword. It’s apparently a form of something called “polyalphabetic substitution”. Click the link above for more information because my head will likely explode trying to type anymore of that.

Aside from that method, two words were also used to assist in deciphering this portion: Kryptos and Palimpsest. Exactly how it assisted, I’m unsure.

As for section two, here’s what we get:


This section translates to:

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 X’s are meant to be periods. Anyways, I want to shamelessly plagiarize Wikipedia again because Sanborn stated that he made an error with this part in 2006; April 19th to be exact. Sanborn contacted an online community that was dedicated to solving the ciphers and informed them that the above solution was actually incorrect. He told them that he’d left out an X at the end; this being the letter he’d left out. As such, the final sentence should read:

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 X Layer two.

As for that means, it’s actually coordinates: 38°57′6.5″N 77°8′44″W. This leads to an area that’s about a hundred and fifty feet southeast of Kryptos.

As for how this portion was solved, the Vigenère method was once again used. The third and to date latest portion to be solved reads as follows.


Translated, through the Transposition cipher method, it reads:

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?

The punctuation wasn’t added by me, but I figured it was more appealing to look at than without it. As for this section, it’s a paraphrased quote from the book “The Tomb of Tutankhamun” by Howard Carter; the question being asked by his companion, Lord Carnarvon.

As for the final, still unsolved portion, it’s 97 characters long and currently reads as follows.


Only time will tell as to what it says. Until that day, we only can theorize, though I personally think it may be a takeout order.


  1. Tyler "Bio" RodriguezFebruary 20, 2019 at 5:12 PM

    Fun fact, Lord Carnarvon is the man who died not long after the tomb was opened. He got bit by a mosquito and cut open the wound accidentally while shaving. This one incident more or less created the whole curse of the pharoah's legend. As to the inscription, it all seems like the fun is in decoding it. The statements dont seem to have any coherent running theme.

  2. Yeah, they seem more like gibbish to me.

  3. Okay, weird little mystery. You know, I think this proves something. Some people have way too much time on their hands if they're going to translate this.