Cracking the Uncrackable Code

Great Big Story
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    Jim Sanborn created a sculpture containing a secret message. It sits on the grounds of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Yet no one has been able to solve it. Code breakers from around the world have tried for 30 years. They’re stumped. The artist meets with people like cryptologist Elonka Dunin who are desperate to solve the mystery at his Maryland studio every year or so. But Sanborn won’t divulge any clues. It’s too much fun keeping everyone guessing.


    #Kryptos #CIA #Puzzle

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    (bongo music) - This is a story about a puzzle called Kryptos and one woman who's spent almost two decades trying to solve it. (upbeat music) (comical music) In the heart of the CIA headquarters lies a mystery. OK, probably more than one mystery, but, this one is weird because it's meant to be solved. It's a sculpture containing an encoded message that's a challenge to the CIA employees; but, for 30 years, no one has been able to figure out what it says. If anyone's got a shot, it's Elonka Dunin. I mean, just listen to her. - When my friends and family ask me what I want for Christmas, I tell them to get several puzzles, mix all the pieces together and then, just give me a bag of pieces. I enjoy seeing order come out of chaos. - When Elonka's not solving jigsaw puzzles, she's cracking codes and she's good at it. The Da Vinci Code's author even named a character after her, Nola Kaye. I mean, it's an anagram, but, you know, that's the kind of thing puzzle people do. One day, Elonka ran into a code that finally stumped her. - I first heard about Kryptos, I think, in late 2000. It is about 12 feet tall and 20 feet long. It has thousands of characters carved into it. Kryptos has four codes in it. Three of the four have been solved. The fourth has not been solved and it is considered to be one of the most famous unsolved codes of the world. Here we are going on 30 years, and it still hasn't been cracked. Elonka and cryptanalysts around the world have tried every technique in the book, polyalphabetic substitution, transposition, Playfair, binary, Morse, but, the fourth code only 97 characters long, it doesn't give an inch. It just sits there, right in front of us, unsolved. - So, it raises a question of why. Why is it that this artist, Jim Sanborn, who had never created a code before in his entire life, how could he have designed something that has stumped the entire code breaking world? (gentle music) - Welcome to the island of Jim Sanborn. He is the artist who made Kryptos, and he's the only person on Earth who knows the solution. - The code itself is in a safe deposit box that's pretty much where it stays. In the late 1980s the CIA was required that they have a sculpture. I was ultimately selected to do the work on the exterior of the building. So, I chose to do a piece using encoded text. Through this copper screen, I cut with jigsaws, by hand, almost 2,000 letters and people have been contacting me continuously, daily, for 30 years about it. (car tires on gravel) - We have sushi, we have drinks, we have chips. - There is actually a Kryptos group, that meets every year or so, to do everything humanly possible to get me to give them a clue to Kryptos. - Our Kryptos community is made up of people all around the world. We have thousands of people that are interested in Kryptos and either cracking it or helping to see it cracked. Some of them are professional code breakers, some of them are students, often someone will just come in and toss out an idea and then, there will be some brainstorming. The topography has changed. Has anything changed in terms of the solutions of Kryptos because of the changes? - That's a, it's a trap question. - Good (laugh). - Often it's just a case of everyone just wants to listen to every single thing that Jim might say about Kryptos because there's that hope that he will drop that clue, that little hint that will help. - So, if one invested a lot of time in the environment around Kryptos that would be kind of silly. I still have to be very vigilant and extremely poker faced when everybody wants to know what it says, but, I've gotten after 30 years, fairly good at making it so that I don't flinch or offer them a tell. And so far, so good. (comical music) - It's been 30 years since Kryptos was unveiled at the CIA and still people are working to crack that forth code, every single day. - I think every artwork strives to hold your attention for as long as possible, but, if it's an artwork that contains something that keeps your attention for even 10 minutes, much less 30 years, I get a great sense of satisfaction from that. It's become part of a many, many people's lives, and I think that's the most important part. - People have asked me if I want to be the one that solves Kryptos, and it doesn't have to be me. I want to see it solved, and if I can help by sharing as much information as I know, that's as good to me as having actually cracked the code. (gentle music) If I had to place a bet, Kryptos, yes, Kryptos will be solved. I couldn't tell you when, but, it's a real code; it's a real cipher; it's solvable. (dramatic music) (soft music beat)
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