What does it say about the Central Intelligence Agency that its agents can crack the secret codes of enemy nations but can’t unravel a coded sculpture sitting outside their cafeteria window?
It says, perhaps, that artist Jim Sanborn, who created the cryptographic sculpture named Kryptos that sits on CIA grounds, could have a career in covert operations if he ever grows tired of stumping the experts.
The main sculpture is made of red granite, red and green slate, white quartz, petrified wood, lodestone and copper, and is located in the northwest corner of the New Headquarters Building courtyard.
The name Kryptos comes from the Greek word for “hidden”, and the theme of the sculpture is “intelligence gathering.” The most prominent feature is a large vertical S-shaped copper screen resembling a scroll, or piece of paper emerging from a computer printer, covered with characters comprising encrypted text. The characters consist of the 26 letters of the standard alphabet and question marks cut out of the copper. This “inscription” contains four separate enigmatic messages, each apparently encrypted with a different cipher.
At the same time as the main sculpture was installed, sculptor Sanborn also placed several other pieces around CIA grounds, such as several large granite slabs with sandwiched copper sheets outside the entrance to the New Headquarters Building. Several morse code messages are engraved in the copper, and one of the slabs has an engraved compass rose. Other elements of Sanborn’s installation include a landscaped area, a duck pond, and several other seemingly unmarked slabs.
It’s been nearly 15 years since Sanborn installed the 12-foot-high, verdigrised copper, granite and wood sculpture inscribed with four encrypted messages at the CIA’s Langley, Virginia, headquarters in 1990. To date all but the fourth section have been solved.
But now Jim Sanborn, the artist who created the Kryptos sculpture, says he made a mistake. A previously solved part of the puzzle that sleuths assumed was correct for years isn’t. The new information, including what the mistaken text really says, is creating a buzz among enthusiasts who’ve been obsessed over the sculpture for years.
It all comes down to a letter that Sanborn left out of the sculpture. He only recently realized the omission was leading sleuths down a misguided path.
The impact of this change on attempts to solve part 4 is not currently known. Sanborn has implied that there may be a connection, as solvers “were in fact, missing a clue”.
So, if you want to try to figure it out for yourself the best place to start is right HERE.