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Everyone loves a good mystery. They can be a source of entertainment and intrigue, sometimes lasting for many years before finally being solved. One such mystery involves a sculpture located near the cafeteria of the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia, which contains a world-famous code.
Created by American artist Jim Sanborn, the Kryptos sculpture features four encrypted messages on panels consisting of 865 letters and four question marks. Three of the messages have been deciphered, but the fourth remains inscrutable, nearly 32 years after the work was unveiled in November 1990. Sanborn has released three clues about the still-unsolved fourth panel, and has reported that he will reveal no more. These clues include the words "clock," "Berlin," and "Northeast."
CIA physicist David Stein reportedly solved the first three passages in 1998, but it was Jim Gillogly, a computer scientist, who in 1999 became the first to publicly announce that he had solved them. Regardless of who was actually first, the mystery continues to intrigue both amateur and professional cryptanalysts from all over the world. Many have tried for years to solve the fourth passage, but for now, only Jim Sanborn himself (and possibly former CIA director William Webster) knows what the encrypted message says in its entirety.
There's cryptic, and then there's Kryptos:
- Although he had already said that the first three Kryptos passages contain clues for solving the fourth, Sanborn released the first formal clue in 2010, two decades after the sculpture was unveiled. The second clue was released in 2014, and the third and final clue in 2020.
- The name Kryptos stems from the ancient Greek word for "hidden."
- In 2020, Jim Sanborn announced that he would have plans set in motion to auction off the solution to the final message if the code remained unsolved upon his death.