Amateur Cryptographers Go Gaga Over New Kryptos Clue: B-E-R-L-I-N

By Jennifer Welsh | November 22, 2010 2:45 pm

Kryptos-sandbornTo mark the 20th anniversary of his “Kryptos” sculpture, and its lingering mystery, sculptor Jim Sanborn has released a clue to deciphering the message engraved on the statue.

“Our work is about discovery — discovering secrets,” said Toni Hiley, director of the C.I.A. Museum. “And this sculpture is full of them, and it still hasn’t given up the last of its secrets.” [The New York Times]

In 1999 three of the sculpture’s four sections were confirmed solved by computer scientist and amateur code-breaker James Gillogly. They contain historical references and cryptic sayings. Twenty years later, the remaining section, 97 characters long, is still unsolved.

And Jim Sanborn, the sculptor who created “Kryptos” and its puzzles, is getting a bit frustrated by the wait. “I assumed the code would be cracked in a fairly short time,” he said, adding that the intrusions on his life from people who think they have solved his fourth puzzle are more than he expected. [The New York Times]

To help the obsessed along in their search, Sanborn told the New York Times the solution to six letters of the final section: letters 64 though 69 spell the world BERLIN.

“The ‘Berlin’ clue makes a lot of sense, in historical context of the Berlin Wall coming down that year,” says code cracker Elonka Dunin, a game designer who moderates [a popular Kryptos] Yahoo Group and maintains a comprehensive web site on Kryptos. []

The sculpture was installed 20 years ago at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia; Sanborn created the artwork with the help of CIA cryptographer Ed Scheidt. It consists of a curved copper sheet engraved with letters, surrounded by large rocks and a pool of water. Since its installation, the sculpture has not only fascinated crypto-nerds in basements but also crept into popular culture; Dan Brown included two references to the sculpture in the dust jacket for The DaVinci Code, and included it in the plot of his latest book, The Lost Symbol.

While he is getting eager for the solution to the fourth section to come to light, Sanborn admits it’s not the end. The other three sections contain clues to solving the fourth section, but then the four sections as a whole come together as one final riddle within a riddle. One of the sections even references a GPS location across the courtyard, and talk about something buried “undergruund.”

“In part of the code that’s been deciphered, I refer to an act that took place when I was at the agency and a location that’s on the ground of the agency,” Sanborn said during a 2005 interview with “So in order to find that place, you have to decipher the piece and then go to the agency and find that place.” []

Sadly, since 9-11 visitors have not been allowed onto CIA grounds to view the statue, though Kryptos-ers have gotten a hold of satellite pictures and pinpointed the area.

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DISCOVER: Reviews: The Secret History of CIA Spy Technology
DISCOVER: The Cryptography of…Voting Machines

Image: Wikimedia/Jim Sanborn

  • Elonka Dunin

    Hiya, nice piece. :)

    Two things to correct, if possible?

    It’s “Sanborn” not “Sandborn” (two places)

    Sanborn was never a CIA man. He was commissioned to create the piece for the CIA, but other than that he was never involved with the Agency. He was a teacher and artist.

    Thanks for the mention though!

    Elonka :)

    (aka Nola Kaye)

  • Eliza Strickland

    @ Elonka:

    Thanks for catching these errors, we were moving too quickly for our own good. I’ve corrected them.

    — Eliza, DISCOVER online news editor

  • Lmacaulay46

    Letters 64- 69 are much more difficult than 70-76 and much further than one can possibly imagine, although on a map it’s only a matter of letting your fingers doing the “walking”, if you get my drift, relatively speaking of course. And you can take that to the bank!

  • Jake Tice

    The Berlion code is a red herring:
    The complete solution was presented to Panetta back in the start of 2010.  In the final clues it gave the combination to a safe in his office that had the secret grand prize.  To let those who doubt this here is how a part of K-4 is solved.
    K4:  Layout the letters exactly as they appear.  Sanborn leaves no clues for K-4 so public key needed = reverse typewriter keyboard of letters back from M.  No them:  M=1  N=2  B=3 etc.  Subject letters first in rows then columns = OBKR > O (18) – B (03) = 15 ….B  (03) – K (09  = 9   Number alphabet: A=1  B=2  C=3   FIRST LETTERS appear as Vanity Plate Lingo: OFT = OFTEN,  C=SEE.  At letter X you have a problem subtracting and getting a positive number.  Here we start using acronyms, X =crossover.  SO X  (06) + O (18) = 24 > X.  Set this up in two columns as you find the correct acronyms.  The 2 columns use the same set of letters but for two different descriptions.  This eventually this leads to the final answer, but you have to solve a few hundred more riddles.  You find the whole thing is a mirroring set of configurations, just as a binary set up would be.
    Column A …..(OFT) = OFTEN; (C) = SEE; (BLX) = BLACKS;  (FAIL) = FAIL; (ELC) = ELECT; (JK) JOHN KENNEDY;  (F) = CLEARED TO FIX |||||| Column B…..…..(OFT) = OFTEN; (C) = SEE; (BLX) = BLX;  (FAIL) = FAIL; (ELC) = ELECT; (JK) JOHN KENNEDY;  (F) = FLARE PATTERNS……Column talks about overseeing the city streets, while column B talks about overseeing the country via satellites and the GPS which was controlled by the CIA. BLX is a circuit board that often went bad in these satellites.  John Kennedy flare patterns is about launching into Space.  There is still a lot more to describe in how the columns are set up and how many lines there are so that you end up with the correct total of abbreviations.  If you want to know more call Jim Sanborn.  Tell him that I mailed 4 separate completely sealed envelopes by USPS with the misspelled Berlin answer to 4 friends back in March of 2010, and they still remain sealed.  When you talk to him you will want to ask him to about the floating map and its abscissa drawn from Tripoli to Berlin and what you have to do to make the Wall fall.     


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