page is a memorial to Gary Warzin, an avid Kryptos fan, who passed away
unexpectedly in 2005
His webpage was an inspiration for my own Kryptos quest... JBW
Kryptos - The Last 97 Characters
May 22, 2001 — Kryptos is a sculpture located in a courtyard at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It was commissioned by the CIA and created by artist Jim Sanborn. Dedicated in October 1990, the secret message it contained remained a mystery for nearly a decade.
In early May 2001 I had the opportunity to visit CIA Headquarters and see Kryptos up close. My CIA escort said that only two people had cracked the code, one person in the CIA and a "computer guy" in California. Apparently both had solved three of the four parts of the message but no one had decrypted the last 97 characters.
Always looking for any project that could divert me from accomplishing anything productive at my real job, I jumped at the challenge.
|The first three sections
were easy. A simple Google search turned up hundreds of links to
further information on Kryptos. I was able to quickly find the
encrypted text, hints from the CIA, and the decryption for the
first 3 parts of the 4 part message. (It doesn't get much easier
However, even knowing the types of encryption, the keywords, and the plain text, it still took the better part of a weekend to figure out how it all worked, and to understand how it could be possible for someone to crack the code from scratch.
To prove to myself that I understood how it worked, I spent the next few weeks writing a Basic computer program that, provided with only the raw text, could indeed solve the first three parts of the message.
The encoded message contained in the left panel of the sculpture is:
The solution to the first three parts of the message (with spaces and punctuation added) are:
Part 1 - Vigenere Cipher with key word PALIMPSESTBETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION(sic).
Part 2 - Vigenere Cipher with key word ABSCISSA
IT WAS TOTALLY INVISIBLE. HOW’S THAT POSSIBLE? THEY USED THE EARTH’S MAGNETIC FIELD. X THE INFORMATION WAS GATHERED AND TRANSMITTED UNDERGRUUND(sic) TO AN UNKNOWN LOCATION. X DOES LANGLEY KNOW ABOUT THIS? THEY SHOULD. IT’S 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.
Part 3 - Triple Columnar Transposition
SLOWLY, DESPARATLY(sic) 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 LEFT HAND 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?
Note that three words with apparent "errors" are highlighted in red.
So, with the first three parts of the message out of the way, it was on to the remaining 97 characters - not that I actually expected to make much progress. If the CIA couldn't crack it in ten years...
There were several things about the puzzle so far that I found intriguing:
Having no immediate answers to these questions, I went on with exploring the last part of the message. It was then that I noticed something interesting.
Below you will find the text cut into the left panel of the Kryptos sculpture. The 97 unsolved characters at the bottom of the panel are highlighted in blue. The red K & R represent the location of two of the "errors" that appear in the decrypted message.
|Left Panel - Encrypted
|Left Panel - Decrypted
|Note that throughout the first three parts of the message the
number of characters per line vary, presumably to make each line exactly
fill the width of the panel. So, when set in a fixed width font, the
ends of the lines formed a jagged edge, that is until you get to section
four. The last four lines that make up the unsolved portion all
contain exactly the same number of characters.. My first thought
was, "What types of encryption would require equal line lengths?"
But then I noticed the KR and YP at the end of the first and third lines. In this sculpture anytime you see anything even remotely resembling the word KRYPTOS it's got to be worth a second look.
I began looking for patterns and found that the displacement of the YP relative to the KR is consistent with that of the alphabets used in the Kryptos Vigenere table. Then I recalled PALIMPSEST, the key word for part one. Could the KR and YP be part of an underlying table peeking through? The message looking like this:
And the underlying table looking something like this:
It seemed rather unlikely at this point. However, it also seemed unlikely that there would be a KR and a YP at the end of the lines that exactly fit the pattern of the known Vigenere table. Was there any supporting evidence - beyond that of the key word PALIMPSEST?
What about the misspellings? The DESPARATLY was easy to write off. It is a very common misspelling of desperately. Just type "desparatly" into a search engine and you will find hundreds of people making the same mistake. And, as it contains two errors, one an error of omission, it was not consistent with the other two errors. Both of the other errors, IQLUSIONS and UNDERGRUUND, were obvious. And the encrypted letter associated with the Q and U were... K and R. There's those two interesting letters again. Instead of "errors" could they actually be parts of the underlying table peeking through?
Because of the variable character widths it is hard to tell exactly where that K and R would fall on the primary text and in the underlying table. For example, when looking at the encrypted text the R is on a longer line than is the K. Thus the R would shift slightly to the left relative to the K as the lines are fit onto the actual sculpture. The table below is my best guess at what an underlying table that is consistent with the positioning of the K, R, KR and YP would look like..
|The compelling thing
about the table is that the positioning the the K error fits reasonably
well with a line that starts with K (looking at the second line in from
the left, not the coordinate line on the extreme left). Likewise, R
with fits with T, KR with W, and YP with Z, giving us a totally consistent
So, what's it all mean? There are a number of possibilities.
1. My favorite interpretation is that the KR and YP are parts of the underlying table peeking through at the end of two shorter lines of text.. That could mean the the real message is only 93 characters long instead of the 97 everyone has been trying to decrypt. It would look like this:
|OBUOX OGHUL BSOLI FBBWF LRVQQ PRNGK SSOTW TQSJQ SSEKZ ZWATJ KLUDI AWINF BNVTT MZFPK WGDKZ XTJCD IGKUH UAUEK CAR|
alternate extreme position would be that it's all random and just happens
to fit by chance. I have to admit to being biased against
this. Maybe it's because of the process of discovery I went through,
first noticing just the even line lengths and the KR and YP. When
everything else started to fit, PALIMPSEST, the displacement of
the YP relative to the KR, the alignment of the K & R errors, it
started to look as if the odds against all this happening by chance were
astronomical. Even in the cases where flaws in my thinking were
pointed out (see the discussion in sci.crypt), each correction made the
underlying table more and more closely resemble a perfect Vigenere.
3. The KR and YP may indeed be part of an underlying table. But, they might not indicate that the message is only 93 characters long. It could be that the KR and YP have replaced other characters in the message, just as the K and R errors appear to have replace characters in the original encrypted text. This leaves the message at 97 characters with four errors. Personally I don't find this very satisfying. Why place the errors at the end of a line? Why use double letter errors that would be easier to spot?
The net result is that we still know nothing for certain about the last 97 characters. If anyone has gone down this path before, I'd love to hear from you. If you find any of this intriguing and begin trying to crack the 93 character version of this message, I'd be interesting in hear about your progress. Please feel free to email me at the address below.
|June 6, 2002 Update
It's been about a year since I posted the original information on this page. To the best of my knowledge no one (that's allowed to talk about it) has made any progress on solving the last part of the message. It's been 9 months since I've even looked at it. This past weekend I took another look. As often happens, going back to a problem after a long break brings new insights.
The error I found in the original hypothesis above is that, even if correct, the "KR" & "YP" showing through from an underlying table does not necessarily make the message 93 characters long. As in the earlier "errors" in the cipher text these letters could be replacing other letters. While I had earlier ruled this out as keeping the number of letters the same didn’t add any difficulty to the decryption. It now occurs to me that these letters showing through from underneath could just as easily have replaced anywhere from 0 to all 4 characters of the original message. As long as the length changes it adds enough extra difficulty to explain why the last part of the message has so far stood up to all attempts to crack it. It doesn't really matter if the change in lenght is 1, 2, 3, or 4 characters; any change is enough to make cracking many types of encryptions much more difficult, if not impossible..
Following this reasoning, it is possible that the original plain text was 96, 95, 94, or 93 characters long (instead of the original 97). Based on that idea I did some more thinking. Here is my train of thought:
If the method used in part 4 is a simple substitution with a triple columnar transposition using a 96 character message length, the cipher text would be one of the following (where the ? is an unknown character):
Visualize this as if parts of the original cipher text document have been damaged exposing the KR and YP below. Since this "damage" to the message occurs at the end of a line there is no requirement for it to be a character for character replacement. One of the underlying characters could just as easily be replacing bank space at the end of a line.
I've had the mathematical definition, a measurement along the x-axis, locked in my mind – as I think we all have. After all, cryptology is highly mathematical. I always thought that somewhere, somehow in solving this puzzle there would be a requirement to use a measurement along an x-axis.
In a moment of boredom I typed ABSCISSA on the Goggle search page just to see if anything inspirational would pop up. Plenty of mathematical sites came up. But, much to my surprise, there were also a large number of references to the Latin definition, which is to cut away or shed. This, I would argue, fits perfectly with PALIMPSEST and the cipher text "errors," and is yet one more bit of evidence that the idea of the "KR" and "YP" in the final message showing through from below has some merit.
Comments welcome. See contact info below.
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