12 January 2013


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Located on the grounds of the CIA's headquarters in Langley is the sculpture "Kryptos," created as an outdoor installation for the agency by artist Jim Sanborn with the help of former CIA cryptographer Ed Scheidt. The sculpture's cipher contains four sections, with 869 encrypted characters in total. Three of them have been solved (it took the agency's analysts seven years). The fourth section with its 97 characters, known as "K4," is still a mystery.

Wired's Steven Levy explored the brain-busting techniques used to create the codes, involving letter substitutions, intentional misspellings, and jumbled letters that can only be un-jumbled with complex mathematical formulas. What do the messages say? One plate paraphrased Egyptologist Howard Carter's account of opening Tutankhamen's tomb. Another spoke about mysterious information stored underground, and revealed coordinates to a location inside the CIA headquarters. Poetic embellishment, of course. And good luck solving the final plate ... A crowd-sourcing effort through a Yahoo Group has been working since 2003 on cracking the remaining characters. But Sanborn knows the answer, and he's still alive. If you think you have the answer too, you can submit it to his website. But you probably don't know. The CIA doesn't.

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