Double Vision

I’m going to try a less wordy approach.



  1. Use Palindromes to id letters to anagram Palimpsest.
  2. Possibly Manipulate text based on unknown rule to produce Abscissa.
  3. Determine significance of “E”
  4. Deduce missing text…27 characters?
  5. 75 Alpha Letters, 196 Binary-98 dit 98 dash.


  1. Use Palimpsest (see M,1)
  2. Identify iQlusion; discover that c=l; use Palimpcest.
  3. Hold resulting text for future letter ID. (new doubles: A and L)


  1. Use Abscissa
  2. Delivery of coordinates- Abscissae? 1, 9, 2. Not present in Lat. Long. digits.
  3. Distress code: Need to know to insert letter s (genuine mistake?)
  4. ID by rows? Row 5 L? Suggests id for playfair box?
  5. Layer Two?


  1. Use Scytale 192 starting at 0, or double rotation on matrices based on even factors of 192 less than 48.
  2. Identify doubled letters within words in previous sections.
  3. Identify Distress Code in first rotation.
  4. Create “word matrix” for correspondence to K2.

Overall Instructions from first three sections:

  • Doubled Letters
Within Words:
7 B E T W E E N E 5
7 T O T A L L Y L 1
8 P O S S I B L E O 2
11 T R A N S M I T T E D P 1
6 u n d e r G R U U N D S 3
7 M E S S A G E T 2
7 D E G R E E S U 1
7 P A S S A G E 15 WORDS
5 U P P E R
6 L I T T L E
6 P E E R E D U S E P L O T
4 R O O M Use plot to see ee’s
3 S E E
Between   Words:
9 T H E E A R T H S E 1
9 A B O U T T H I S I 1
8 O U T T H E R E S 1
2 W W T 2
10 M I N U T E S S I X W 1
47 10 WORDS

If I add the three letters (A from “shaadig”; L from “illusion”; and S from K2 insertion to produce “Layer Two”), and used all letters: “Use Plot To See E Seal.” Hardly definitive as to the interpretation though.  Plenty of provocative info you have to admit.

Next there’s this: Both K2 and K3 have 75 “words.”

Without ? With ?
1 it   slowly 1 it slowly
2 was   desparately 2 was desparately
3 totally   slowly 3 totally slowly
4 invisible   the 4 invisible the
5 hows   remains 5 hows remains
6 that   of 6 that of
7 possible ? passage 7 possible passage
8 they   debris 8 ? debris
9 used   that 9 they that
10 the   encumbered 10 used encumbered
11 earths   the 11 the the
12 magnetic   lower 12 earths lower
13 field   part 13 magnetic part
14 x   of 14 field of
15 the   the  15 x the 
16 information   doorway 16 the doorway
17 was   was 17 information was
18 gathered   removed 18 was removed
19 and   with 19 gathered with
20 transmitted   trembling 20 and trembling
21 undergruund   hands 21 transmitted hands
22 to    I 22 undergruund I
23 an    made 23 to  made
24 unknown   a 24 an  a
25 location   tiny 25 unknown tiny
26 x   breach 26 location breach
27 does   in  27 x in 
28 Langley   the 28 does the
29 know   upper 29 Langley upper
30 about   left 30 know left
31 this ? hand 31 about hand
32 they   corner 32 this corner
33 should   and 33 ? and
34 its   then 34 they then
35 buried   widening 35 should widening
36 out   the 36 its the
37 there   hole 37 buried hole
38 somewhere   a 38 out a
39 x   little 39 there little
40 who   I 40 somewhere I
41 knows   inserted 41 x inserted
42 the   the 42 who the
43 exact   candle 43 knows candle
44 location ? and 44 the and
45 only   peered 45 exact peered
46 WW   in 46 location in
47 this   the 47 ? the
48 was   hot 48 only hot
49 his   air 49 WW air
50 last   escaping 50 this escaping
51 message   from 51 was from
52 x   the 52 his the
53 thirty   chamber 53 last chamber
54 eight   caused 54 message caused
55 degrees   the 55 x the
56 fifty   flame 56 thirty flame
57 seven   to 57 eight to
58 minutes   flicker 58 degrees flicker
59 six   but 59 fifty but
60 point   presently 60 seven presently
61 five   details  61 minutes details 
62 seconds   of 62 six of
63 north   the 63 point the
64 seventy   room 64 five room
65 seven   within 65 seconds within
66 degrees   emerged 66 north emerged
67 eight   from 67 seventy from
68 minutes   the 68 seven the
69 forty   mist 69 degrees mist
70 four    x 70 eight x
71 seconds   can  71 minutes can 
72 west   you 72 forty you
73 x   see 73 four  see
74 layer   anything 74 seconds anything
75 two   Q 75 west Q
  L   ?   X ?
See The Little Breach Of … Passage Corner in West

I think he’s referring to the DYAHR area at the start of K3, the corner of the passage in the west, where a ray of light becomes visible. Besides the superscripting, there’s something off about the spacing.  Whadya think?



Major Arcanum

Sorry, but as usual, I will begin by going off topic.

It’s fascinating to me how much information is contained in military heraldry.  The palette from which the artist draws uses an ancient vocabulary.  Without dedicating too much space to it here, there are certain symbols which have come down virtually untouched from Egypt, Greece and Rome.


For example, the patch depicted above shows the classic symbolic image of covert spycraft: the “cloak and dagger.” In historical European martial arts, the term refers to a fighting technique in which a dagger and cloak were employed against an opponent who possessed a sword.  The purpose of the cloak was to obscure the presence or movement of the dagger, provide protection, restrict the movement of the opponent’s weapon, and to provide a distraction. Use of the cloak and dagger was considered a “dishonest” method of combat because of its deceptiveness. It also has long-standing associations with the Sicarii, the “dagger men” of biblical terrorism, and thus assassination, various forms of political subterfuge and associated wet work.


Athena was the goddess of Wisdom and protected the State from foreign enemies. The olive wreath denoting peace was her emblem. The cloak of the goddess, her Aegis, was a badge of divine power. Homeric myths considered the aegis so essential to sovereignty that not even Zeus could rule the other gods without it. She held the spear of knowledge in her right hand, the serpent controlled by it at her feet. A little owl with large eyes: Glaukes, accompanies Athena, and with the aid of its sight and counsel Athena has foresight and vision that penetrates darkness. Thus the owl has been used as a symbol of knowledge, wisdom, and erudition throughout the Western world. Contrasting the symbol of Justicia, Athena is not blindfolded, but rather her identity is concealed by her helmet. There is no impartiality, scales, nor double-edged sword: Athena is not passive.  She’s prepared to fight the forces of ignorance and darkness.  Like Prometheus and Apollo before her, Athena is the patron deity of the understanding and control of natural forces in service of humanity.

She was usually placed in the western apse (absis in Lat. btw) of temples with the spear’s double-edged cuneal in faceted gold. When the morning rays of the sun glinted from the weapon’s tip, the reflected light gave the impression of fire, or a torch. The attendant priest would turn the spear at the base causing the reflecting bits of light on the interior of the temple to dance about the columns and statuary as the sun rose.  Later, they called this priest the “shake spear.”  But seriously folks…

Before you accuse me of seeing shapes in clouds again, there was something else that was pretty big that was going down in 1989 when Kryptos was made, and these starry-eyed youngsters were working right from the old playbook.  The “Goddess of Liberty” was a 10-meter-tall (33 ft) statue created during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. The statue was constructed in only four days out of foam and paper mache over a metal armature. The students decided to make the statue as large as possible so the government would be unable to dismantle it. The government would either have to destroy the statue—an action which would potentially fuel further criticism of its policies—or leave it standing.


The art students who created the statue wrote a declaration that said in part:

“At this grim moment, what we need most is to remain calm and united in a single purpose. We need a powerful cementing force to strengthen our resolve: That is the Goddess of Democracy. Democracy…You are the symbol of every student in the Square, of the hearts of millions of people. …Today, here in the People’s Square, the people’s Goddess stands tall and announces to the whole world: A consciousness of democracy has awakened among the Chinese people! The new era has begun! …The statue of the Goddess of Democracy is made of plaster, and of course cannot stand here forever. But as the symbol of the people’s hearts, she is divine and inviolate. Let those who would sully her beware: the people will not permit this! …On the day when real democracy and freedom come to China, we must erect another Goddess of Democracy here in the Square, monumental, towering, and permanent. We have strong faith that that day will come at last. We have still another hope: Chinese people, arise! Erect the statue of the Goddess of Democracy in your millions of hearts! Long live the people! Long live freedom! Long live democracy!”

The document was signed by the eight art academies that sponsored the creation of the statue: The Central Academies of Fine Arts, Arts and Crafts, Drama, and Music; the Beijing Film Academy; the Beijing Dance Academy; the Academy of Chinese Local Stage Arts; and the Academy of Traditional Music. Link The student leadership behind the protests represented the vanguard of China’s intellectual elite at Peking, Nanjing and Beijing Universities, plus China University of Political Science and Law.  It was hard for us in the West to imagine: China momentarily flirted with the possibility of a democratic revolution. Deng Xiaoping, himself a reformer from a previous generation, rolled the tanks because he knew the face on the students’ statue well. Deng was educated in France, and he knew that Li Peng would start a civil war if allowed to have his way and basically massacre the entire population. However, the image of Lady Liberty in the square convinced him that without action, the government would soon be swept aside. In many ways it was a palimpsest of the democratic revolutions of the west, and began in the similar ways- in the universities and in reaction to repression of intellectual freedom. Proof that certain truths are indeed self-evident.


Empowered by the Goddess of Liberty, one man’s superhuman act of defiance declared to the world the beginnings of Chinese democracy.  The world could only stand in awe.  As I reflect on this picture I ask myself: How?  How could a man possess such incredible bravery? That’s how powerful the notion of democracy and freedom is when you don’t have it.  It empowers mortals to say “give me Liberty or give me death” and mean it. Tank man reminded the whole world what we take for granted, and what it takes to achieve it.

So before we go further: I’m not crazy when I’m talking about Greek and Roman Goddesses and 20th century geopolitical intelligence OK? Let’s just get that straight. I haven’t even gotten started: we haven’t even talked about Egypt yet! Maybe it has nothing to do with it.  I’m willing to accept that. Beijing is only a few letters away from Berlin.  June 4th versus November 9th.  Nobody in the history of Kryptos has ever even mentioned Tiananmen Square!  Beijing is 192 degrees East from Washington, and nearly on the same parallel, exactly that of NY. Berlin is exactly 90 degrees East, but above the 50th parallel, more in line with London. Finally, from the West, Beijing is 168 degrees West and Berlin is 270.  So I grant it may be a dead end, but not a useless one.  I have heard Sanborn make reference to both maps and antipodes. Reading through JFK and RWR’s Berlin speeches has gotten us nowhere.  Washington’s true antipode is in the antarctic, south of India. but its antipode in the Northern hemisphere is pretty much Beijing.


As this more recent NSA heraldry attests, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in seeing some of these ancient themes of intelligence and geodesy playing out in the modern context and with direct relevance.  Maybe I’ll just let go of this whole hostility to the “Berlin is a clue” thing, but I refuse to accept it at face value.  I’ll believe it when I see it.

Historically, intelligence data has been a closely held resource. The sensitivity of intelligence information requires special handling by individuals with security clearances; this fact distinguishes intelligence data from most other types. This idea forms the basis of classification. Information is distributed to consumers on the basis of their “need to know,” according to their security clearance level, and their function within the US national security complex.  The entire structure protects the integrity of the data’s sources.

The very fact that a piece of information was “known to be known” could reveal the source. For example, U.S. and British leaders faced many ethical paradoxes in World War II in the use of intelligence collected via deciphered Purple, Enigma and Tunny messages. Too much use of information derived from deciphered messages would have advertised the fact of our codebreaking success. Furthermore, the more people “in the loop” creates a new type of potential insecurity.  Look up “William Weisband” to see what I mean.

With the advent of increasingly sensitive collection methods, the requirement to keep sensitive sources and methods behind the “the cloak” became even greater. The fact that certain circuits even existed, required and continue to require classification levels far above those held by many mainstream communications providers. This sensitivity to all things intelligence related has led to a worldwide communications infrastructure dedicated solely for the use of, and managed by, the intelligence community.

In Kryptos, these themes of “identity” and “authentication” find illustration through the decryptions, which in each case require the intended end user to apply a schema, to reveal the true message hidden within the superficial content. The absence of any obvious contextual or spatial clues as to how to reveal this “underlayer” of the palimpsest easily, is its main defense. Like all authentication codes, it relies on both parties knowing a key in advance which is not public, nor deducible from any part of the message PT or CT. In the case of Kryptos, which I assert will prove to fulfill Kerckhoffs’ Principle, the key would be based upon something that a former agent may know, but the general public wouldn’t. The answers that are there are convincing enough in their inscrutability to keep even the experienced hostile cryptanalyst “moving forward” in their decryption. I have asserted that is to keep you from asking too many questions.

For example, I presented in the prior piece “Abscissa?” a perfectly valid and as I will later demonstrate, instructive method of deducing the keyword “Palimpsest.” I must be honest, dear reader, that I am also aware of another method: one which has undermined my confidence in mine as the sole meaning intended from the Morse for K1.


This is only one way of doing it. 1616161461.  Interesting.  Using different letter choices there are at least two other ways of producing Palimpsest in the vertical axis, and we seem particularly limited by the M’s in “memory,” the lowest frequency letter. Furthermore, two columns over from palimpsest, in another shuffle I can produce the letters for “abscissa” in the vertical axis. Interesting.

I must admit, despite considerable effort, I cannot find a method of rearrangement that produces a more logical set of instructions, a more clear-cut method of use, and a more explicit confirmation in the result than the method that I presented in the previous chapter. Making further headway using this tantalizing approach highlighted above remains just out of the reach of my beam. I am reminded of that the great cryptanalysts who were willing to accept that they wouldn’t be able to solve everything. Tenacity is important, but not when it clouds good judgement. For the moment I am content to draw different information from it. I would appreciate commentary if any of my readers has an alternative mode of attack.

While researching Friedman and Tiltman for ideas, I came across articles written by agency personnel. One about Friedman was written by another legend and Hall of Honor member, his former assistant, Lambros Callimahos.  Dictator of CA-400 and Zendia, alias Salvo Salassio was another giant in the tradition of teaching at CIA, Callimahos relates how Friedman maintained a sense of formality that persisted no matter how long you worked with him- everyone called him Mr. Friedman…period. Sinkov, Rowlett, and Kullback, you name it.  All except Tiltman.  According to Callimahos he never heard anyone other than Elizebeth or Tiltman ever call Friedman “Bill” to his face. Nor did anybody other than Friedman call Tiltman “John” apparently.

Moving on, I read Lutwiniak’s piece on Tiltman with interest, as I have been a big fan of his for years through his crossword puzzles.  Lutwiniak’s puzzles are quirky, characteristically blocked on reverse diagonals, upper right to lower left, and featuring witty and offbeat fill. I recall a puzzle he did that had a 23 letter 3 row running stack (69 letters) across the middle rows.  It would take a computer to work out the verticals. I had no idea he ever worked at NSA, let alone ran something in Crypto. He describes his first days beginning in 1974, when Tiltman appeared in his office, and ends it with uncharacteristic directness for an NSA guy, saying “to know the Brig well was to love him, I did.” Check it: NSA LINK. Might as well check this one out too: LINK

So the Brig had this pattern: he amazingly breaks the whole thing, whatever it is, however impossible.  Then he finds somebody to secretly give the whole thing to quietly.  Then he starts clapping real loud and saying “congratulations old boy, you solved it.” Like Tunny. You really have to do a good deal of research before you find out that John Tiltman cracked it end to end, using pencil and paper, by himself, over the course of a couple days. Having deduced the operation of the entire thing, and reconstructed the rotor key system without ever having seen anything but plaintext and codetext, he then hands it over to Tutte.

How could anybody be so smart? The truth is that Tiltman wasn’t looking for perfection, he was looking for mistakes.  In this case a frustrated German cipher clerk sent the same 4000 character message twice, both using the same key settings.  This gave Tiltman a depth more than long enough to observe the pattern of the key in the rotor settings and deduce it as derivative of a Vernam system, with a novel mask. A modern example of such “genius” would be Moshe Rubin’s incredible revealing of J.F.Byrne’s Chaocipher.  It was clearly well within Mr. Rubin’s grasp intellectually, but it was his diligence and perseverance that truly unlocked it.  What it required was detective work. It ultimately fell to his analysis because Mr. Rubin was willing to call every Byrne in the upstate NY area. It may seem inelegant, but I hardly think Tiltman or Friedman would have said so.

In WWII, an odd pattern emerged: successful cryptanalysts often had no grounding in the language in which they broke ciphers, while those with training in the root language were often frustrated.  They saw the words that popped out and jumped to conclusions while those who couldn’t read the little bits of text stuck to Friedman’s manual. They identified letter frequencies, counted bigrams and tried to identify repeated sequences in the CT, or find openings through a short list of common and stereotyped phrasings that characterized early continuous wave radio morse transmission in practice. Like Tiltman’s legendary exploit, they also found ways in which the difficulty of the system itself exposed areas where an operator would either make a mistake, or cheat.

For example, we could interpret the Morse as a garbled message with missing blocks of text under the rocks.  A German field cipher of the Dockyard or various “schlussel” types were sent in Morse and would begin with a 4 digit time followed by the senders and receivers callsigns.  The Germans were fond of sending very short messages that represented basic military necessities.  “What is your position” was in fact the most common eight letter string (Wie Lage?) in messages less than 63 characters. Another popular string was “Bitte lage meldung”, or “situation report, please.”

The Germans would surround numbers or proper names in the text with X’s. They placed an X before and after all numbers, proper names, place names, sentences, within abbreviations, and at the end of plain texts having an odd number of letters. As a result, plaintext X had an abnormally high frequency and tended to mask the identification of the usual high-frequency German letters. The word zwei (“two”) was changed to zwo, and ch plain text was changed to q, distorting the frequency of q also. The use of occasional “quatsch” (German for nonsense) sequences was encouraged to distort combinations and frequencies.

I am beginning to intuit a temporal sequence, which perhaps can help us reorganize the Morse message.  “…t is your position” must “belong” to K1, as an example of a message that the original iteration of the CIA-the OSS-would have faced.  The Lodestone partially obscures “position”, and so it seem to suggest at the first level of the puzzle, temporality is based on proximity to it.  We start at t and “move away” from the lodestone to establish a temporal sequence.  By that logic, the message that might apply to K2 is “edigetaleee interpretatit” the next closest message to the lodestone. Interestingly, these two messages are “coming out from under” the rocks according to the sequencing of their letters, but on the other strata all rest “go in.”

The next post will be all graphs and spreadsheets I promise!  In the meantime, check out this picture of a soliton, which is a form of continuous standing wave, just like a carrier wave in Morse code radio transmission or a sine wave.  Disparately, I have wondered why the artist chose to assemble the four quadrants together with screws- perhaps he is suggesting a possible rearrangement of the panels?  Finally, it doesn’t look like pure copper to me at all, but much more like an alloy- with Zinc perhaps.  Just like pennies.





Having come to Kryptos at a stage where Abscissa and Palimpsest were already “brute forced” out of the text, the K2 passkey: Abscissa has been a major stumbling block for me, only because nobody is really sure how it was meant to be derived.  My thesis relies on the idea of a path that would be recognizable to a human agent, but not necessarily to a computer and therefore the lack of understanding of how ABSCISSA was acquired negates a large part of the value of solving K2.

There is a school of thought which I have read on the internet, that suggests that it can be selectively anagrammed from the first letters of the K1 plaintext (bssataolltnoi).  This theory relies on replacing the word “light” with “C”, the astrophysical term for the speed of light.  Furthermore, the ABS in “absence” is used, which provides the requisite 3rd S.

There are numerous reasons why I don’t believe this was the intended path.  First, anagramming an 8 letter string out of a 13 letter string with two letters missing from the text is hardly the type of real world agent-in-the-field test Sanborn expects our hypothetical agent to pass.  Real authentication codes provide confirmations.  The proponents of the first letter theory seem to forget: we already knew the keyword.  That is how we knew we needed a “C”, and thus replaced the word “light”.  That is also how we knew we need an 8 character text. It’s classic case of data mining, in which we see straight lines backward from the answer, but fail to recognize that the choices made about letter substitutions in order to solve the anagram were arbitrary, with no foundation or instructions hinted at within the text.  If done as intended, we wouldn’t know key length either, and so cribbing 1-13 letter words from a 13 letter string becomes an exercise in the law of large numbers.  Is this what Sanborn intended the agent to perform with his pencil and paper?  No.

As I have stated in previous essays, the method that Sheidt expected to be used on K2 by Agency cryptanalysts was Kullback’s Phi and Chi tests. Like Rowlett, Kullback and Sinkov: Friedman’s first three hires at SIS, we are expected to apply more sophisticated methods under the master’s tutelage and break messages that are more complicated and without some of the hints and cribs that are “right there” in the code text like in K1. K2 represents the application of Friedman’s science of cryptanalysis: rendering visible what is otherwise invisible, but through the application of scientific method. It is fitting therefore that the keyword references Descartes so directly.

I am not an expert, I have no training in cryptanalysis, and my knowledge of its history and heroes has come entirely via Kryptos. If my thesis is correct about the intentionally deceptive nature of the puzzle, then a Stein or Gillogly has a distinct disadvantage, since the designer of their confusion is none other than their tutor: Sheidt. I’m confident Sheidt can mess with these guys’ heads, or anybody’s for that matter.  So don’t get too excited that you got some plaintext out of K2.  There’s more, and it’s right out of the real world of spycraft: the art of concealing an alternative decryption, without alerting a potential interloper to its existence.

Here I feel liberal arts guys like me have an invisible ally in Sanborn.  That’s part of the lesson.  The OSS and early CIA weren’t just brilliant math guys, but writers, journalists, editors, professors, poets, sculptors, actors, artists. Wisner’s Wurlitzer.  Everybody pretty much thought they were a bunch of wierdos.  Even Friedman and Tiltman were far from any normal status quo.

Thus I derived ABSCISSA another way, and although I’m not altogether satisfied with it, I am convinced that my method is at least closer to the intended path. I am using a method which I associate with the techniques of John Tiltman, the 20th century’s foremost hand cipher “break in” artist: begin the attack by identifying and analyzing the usage of the system in practice, seeking operator mistakes, formal sequences, repeats and cipher clerk laziness which often produces a string of the message “in depth.”  A good deal of this approach relies on luck, and thus the more I can try, the luckier I’m likely to get.

I began by taking words from the Morse code strata and the K1 Plain text and running them as passkeys against the K2 code text using the Kryptos alphabet Vigenere table. At first I did single words, ignoring the e’s then other variations including multiple words and with/without e’s.  The Rumkin Quag III Cipher utility was a big help. Then, reviewing my Morse strata observation that “invisible” is a palindrome in Morse code, I began to play with it and character strings that included it. After the usual trial and error, the Passkey “eeevirtuallyinvisible” eventually gave ABSCISSA as plaintext on the 9th through 17th characters. The reason for this is that the plaintext in this location decrypts to “totally invisible,” and thus we have a short sequence where the plaintext is “in depth.”

When using a Vigenere table in Quag III, if you introduce plaintext character sequences as a passkey and that same plaintext is found in the decoded text in the same character sequence, the result of the Vigenere substitution will be the passkey phrase over the number of characters that overlap.  This is why long words with very low English language usage frequencies are usually chosen as passkeys.  If a passkey appears in whole or part in the decoded plaintext, it is fairly easy to spot using alphabetic password style attacks- just as I did.  If a passkey is a common word or string of words, it’s easy to make crib text that will cause something English to pop out of the code text. The overlap of “allyinvisible” in both the passkey and code text reveals the true Passkey in the plaintext- the “eeevirtu” in the passkey are basically a pad to get past the 8th character-aligning “allyinvisible.” Try it on Rumkin: here. Put in Kryptos as your alphabet, eeevirtuallyinvisible as your passphrase, and populate it with either version of K2.

Here is the output from the K2 code text using Kryptos>eeevirtuallyinvisible>K2 Vigenere substitution up to the first question mark:


Abscissa is a Latin pronoun meaning literally “that which has been removed, cut out, or taken away.” It also has a much more common definition in the context of plane geometry: it is the horizontal coordinate of a point in a coordinate system obtained by measuring parallel to the x-axis.  Its complement is known as the Ordinate, by which the vertical coordinate is obtained by measuring parallel to the y-axis. Together the Abscissa and Ordinate are the coordinates that define a point in a Cartesian space. Their “crossing” at a central point in is known as the Origin, or the point in which both values are zero (0,0). It can be referred as the point where the real and imaginary planes intersect each other, since both share their respective origins in the same number.  Zero is a turbulent mirror.

As I said previously, Palimpsest appears to be more than a passkey, but also an instruction.  Abscissa shares the same quality, and appears to extend those instructions from K1.  Sanborn is saying both that the end of K2 might be where this “folding” or “removing” may need to take place, and furthermore, it is a reminder to keep an eye out for that which may have been removed as perhaps having enhanced significance.  Lastly, continuing on the theme of duality as represented by pairs, palindromes, reflecting pools, copper plates, etc; The significant letters which produced Palimpsest were all “abscissa” letters- those that acted as mirrors.  Taken broadly, Kryptos’ placement in the pool is yet another example of Sanborn depicting this idea symbolically.  In this case, the pool itself is the abscissa, and the tableau together with its reflection in the water symbolizes the duality.  Which one is “real” it seems to ask?

The plaintext of K2 seems to be an intercepted communication between agents, or a field agent and his handler. Using Abscissa as a passkey with the Kryptos alphabet produces the following plain text:


WW refers to the Director of the CIA at the time of the first dedication- William Webster. The coordinates refer to a geodetic survey marker that Sanborn located on the site during the early phases of the sculpture construction. The marker, in palimpsest already at the OHB in 1961 as it were, somehow survived through the NHB construction and must have been an inspiring find for Sanborn. The marker would likely have been drilled into a suitably permanent rock, or set into concrete and itself was a circular brass plaque with the agency identification (in this case a predecessor to NOAA), in the center of which were chiseled crosshairs and a value identifying the marker’s map value: in this case the magnetic variation from true north at the marker site (10 degrees West). I hear it has been missing now for some time, and I suspect Sanborn himself may be the best to ask about its whereabouts.

I consider this passage to be similar to the first: enticing, tempting, deliberately vague, and quite possibly a red herring as far as content. The real reason for the dialogue style, and somewhat awkward at that, may be that the content of the plain text may have had been a secondary objective for Sanborn, and thus may have been “reverse engineered” around certain key doubled letters and the numerical sequence. The misspelled “underground”, for example, provides a doubled U within a word (something very hard to do in English if you don’t want to use “vacuum”). The use of X’s as hard stops, suggesting Morse code translation, do not seem to always fall where stops would be expected (i.e.: a change in speaker) and may have more to do with the locations of the X’s on the tableau, than as true punctuation.

The conversational tone, with questions and responses, do not suggest Morse at all to me. I suspect Sanborn knew precisely where the X’s had to be, and then produced text around it being artful in including words that provide needed doubles. Producing a coherent text is made easier by having it take the form of a dialogue. In certain cases, he came up short between X’s and introduced null characters- the question marks. The halting language, suggesting typical Morse economy in words, is contradicted by excessively wordy phrasing that Morse operators, especially agents, would never use. For example, in the text, he initializes WW, but refers to Langley in the plaintext. Place names and proper nouns are never directly revealed in the plaintext, because their uniqueness provides a limited dictionary of cribs for the code breaker to apply. Another is example is:”Transmitted undergruund to an unknown location” in place of “buried it at Langley”. If it was transmitted underground to an unknown location, how can we have GPS coordinates for it? Clearly the appropriate word was “secret.” Unknown provides a palindrome “K” and, like the u in “underground”, it is not the easiest letter in the English language to find doubles or palindromes in common words, and so we can see Sanborn’s approach possibly forced certain phrasings and word choices.
Furthermore, the idea of the latitude and longitude coordinates as having some spatial significance relative to the sculpture may in fact be wrong. Having used “abscissa” to crack the section, it is tempting to find significance in 77 8’ 44”-the abscissa of the location’s ordinate pair. The relative closeness of the revealed coordinates’ location to the sculpture suggests some significance. But really, the number string doesn’t have to be GPS coordinates, or really anything in the real world. It appears to me like a carefully disguised numerical code, posing as coordinates to distract and confuse.
If we have learned anything about Sanborn and Sheidt to this point, it should be that they are masters of misdirection, and all too willing to let us let our imaginations run wild. At this point in the Kryptos enigma, there’s no indication whatsoever that any of the “soft” content leads anywhere. With the first half of the sculpture cracked, all we may have done vis. K4, at this point, is provided a grille for the second half of the code text tableau. Another looming problem is that having proposed possibly valid solutions for K1 and K2, It is not obvious to me how we would have been alerted to the existence of the distress/authentication codes so obviously built into both sections. That’s next.


By the Book


A frustrating element for the authors of Kryptos must be that despite the success at creating an engaging artwork, perfectly appropriate to its setting and integrated seamlessly into its environment, the world to which it speaks perceives it in terms of failure: failure to decrypt it, failure to identify the ways in which it defeats decryption, and failure to understand the significance of the message to them. It is a look in the mirror for the CIA in many ways: a reminder the limitations of purely empirical approaches to real world problems of intelligence; of a past in which real people risked their lives in order to transmit secret information securely using pencil and paper. It is not a gadfly, however, but a monument: honoring the genius, bravery, and perhaps madness of the people that became “the CIA.” No computer is ever going to be able to figure that out.

A central theme in Sanborn’s ongoing dialogue with would be solvers over the years is the many ways in which solved sections have plaintext that was derived without the fuller context of the clues that were intended by Sanborn to result in the solution. For potential solvers today, with the benefit of years of brute force attacks on the cipher text we stand on the shoulders of many who made advances toward the ultimate solution and shared their work. We also benefit from Sanborn himself, who has given many hints and instructions, both within the sculpture and through the media. The ultimate solution to K4 will rely upon taking the path that Sanborn intended through his “instructions.” Unfortunately for us as intrepid solvers, that may mean forgetting what we think we “know.”

Along the entrance pathway at Langley, Kryptos announces itself to the agent in the field in the form of exposed rock strata, revealed by time, erosion and tectonic forces. The copper plates hint at pages into which symbols are cut and the folding of the rock strata suggest an ancient book emerging from the earth. In one of his first clues, Sanborn informs us that “The tilted strata tell a story like pages of a document. This code, which includes certain ancient ciphers, begins as International Morse and increases in complexity as you move through the piece at the entrance and into the courtyard.”

The suggestion by Sanborn is that we are surrounded by all kinds of forces in the natural world, and awareness of their effects and processes both reveal hidden order and enlighten us as to how it may be better understood. Sanborn confides to us that there is information under the very foundation of Langley which remains secret: encoded by our predecessors; hidden and unknown. Like the great cathedrals, built on the foundations of pagan temples, themselves built at the sites of ancient standing stones; a tomb is breaking the surface at Langley, urging the agent on to decrypt its message from the past.

When transcribed, the strata Morse code reveals the following plaintext:







By now, we all should realize that we were expected to brute force “palimpsest’ out of K1 using the Kasiski Examination. We were expected to brute force “abscissa” from K2 using Kullback’s chi method. It is clear to me that Sheidt and Sanborn designed the sculpture to allow progress, but in such a way as to disguise what keys and techniques would have been used by the intended recipient of the message. I suspect the key to the entire sculpture lies in figuring out how the intended recipient would have acquired the keys, and also, the ways in which they can be manipulated to produce alternate plain text via “distress” and “authentication” codes.

The secret message from Sanborn to our agent in the field, when fully understood in the context of K1, is that the letters in the Morse strata plaintext have significance when paired, or when in palindrome: in effect when they are mirrored. I presume we were supposed to gain this awareness in our observation of the installation itself with its imagery of duality and reflection.  Applying this thematic observation to the Morse Strata “text” produces a string of letters.

Thus the “P” in inteRPRetatit, bounded by two “R’s”, is the mirror letter in a palindrome. Accordingly, the “L” in “virtuaLLy” is a mirror letter as well, and stands as itself. In order, the letters in the message above, ignoring SOS, are P (RPR), P (ERPRE), A (TAT), I (TIT), T (ITI), L (LL), S (ISI), S (ESE), M (EME), E (MEM). PPAITLSSME.  Check anagram solver…

PALIMPSEST. Oddly enough, in Merriam-Webster and most dictionaries I have checked, palimpsest and palindrome are adjacent alphabetically.

When used as a passkey in conjunction with the Kryptos alphabet on the tabula recta Palimpsest unlocks the following plaintext:

“Between subtle shading and the absence of light lies the nuance of iqlusion”

It’s hard at this point of the game to assess the significance of the text. Only now do we know that K1 is 63 characters. It is ominous and even beautiful, however, there’s really not much we can do with it at this stage. Due to the “layered” nature of the puzzle it is reasonable to assume that the keyword for the second part or at least clues to the acquisition of a keyword exist in the K1 text.

In the plaintext of the Morse, both “digital” and “interpretation” are unambiguously misspelled. It is obvious that by using palindromes and pairs as a letter identification rule, through ordinary usage, pairs and palindromes may appear in words where they are not intended to signify a letter. Thus in DIGITAL, we would have produced a “G”-a letter missing from Palimpsest. In INTERPRETATIT, if spelled correctly would not produce the “I” necessary. In the K1 plain text Sanborn misspells “illusion”, removing the doubled “L” in favor of “iqlusion”. There is already a doubled letter “E” from “between”, so we can assume that for whatever reason, the misspelling is in order to avoid having an “L” arising from this word, or in this place.

Thus, we learn from the Morse Strata that doubled letters and palindromes have significance. The misspelling of Illusion in K1 suggests that the same technique may be used to obtain further keys from the plaintext in the future. It is fairly impossible to assess its significance now though, and with only two doubles and no palindromes over K1’s 63 characters of plain text, it is safe to assume that the same technique will not provide a key to K2 from K1.

At this point, having solved K1 as agents in the field, I believe should plan our attack on K2 with a very limited set of assumptions about what we learned.

  • Paired and Palindrome letters can identify key strings.
  • Anagrams are present.
  • Misspellings indicate information.

Before we do so, we still need to learn much more about the easiest “code” in the sculpture.  Other than the three items I mention above, I don’t believe we have learned anything yet about solving Kryptos, but rather we have begun to learn how to ask the right questions.


Although it may turn out to be the case, I don’t personally think that Kryptos will turn out to be about Thales or the E at the Temple of Apollo, at least in any direct way. Using a hypothetical exercise to try to force a context on what is explicitly and essentially unknown is against everything “scientific” that Thales tried to demonstrate. I wrote in a previous piece suggesting we might find code words from COI/OSS/CIA history like TORCH, STOPWATCH or GOLD in the puzzle. Why should I expect that?  Is there anything so far in the deciphered portion that would suggest it? No, not really. So is there any reason to think Thales really meant Epsilon, “thou art,” Phoenicians, or the Tetractys?  Maybe the message was simply: think about context.  E illustrates a symbol that is entirely dependent on context, like all the other letters, but E is somewhat unique.  Perhaps the father of empirical science was warning us about the limits of using language.

Know Thyself, and Nothing in Excess have more depth if we see them as instructions to the problem of the E.  Carved as it was on the pediment of the Delphic Temple, it is essentially information that Thales wanted for those who seek knowledge from the oracle: seekers of truth about the future and their destiny. Thales’ instructions would be the last thing you saw before you entered into the presence of the oracle, You had to pass under the E as you climbed the seven steps and crossed the threshold.  The profound mystery and unintelligibility of the Pythia confronted the questioner in literal and symbolic terms.  They were about to learn a lesson. There were no “answers” forthcoming from either the oracle or the priests: just and deliberately elliptical questions and riddles veiled in symbolism .  In this context, “know thyself” means “recognize what you’re reading in”; and “nothing in excess” means, “try to balance between the contexts that are really there, and those you are reading in, following a middle path.” The answers to the deepest questions about our lives and fate are riddles that stimulate thought and reflection about them; they are not instructions.

My previous essay was directed at the idea of the motivations of an artist to use symbolism to express abstract ideas, and how essential the context of those symbols is to the “decoding” of the artist’s message. Sanborn has described that he had “an epiphany” while doing the installation: he detected a parallel between the invisible forces of nature and of man.  He describes this as exposed through his study of the science of espionage: after spending time with Ed Sheidt.  You remember Ed.  The guy that’s always going to lengths to point out the fundamental difference between cipher and code?

In Kryptos, we are dealing with two artists in collaboration and I perceive that the Kryptos community has forgotten about Ed Sheidt.  Ed knows what I meant by the title of this essay.  In June 1944 (context), if you were involved in operation OVERLORD (more context), and you encountered an unknown person, uniform or not (context or lack thereof), and they said “Flash,” and you didn’t say “Thunder”, you were dead.

Another example: two German spies are in the bushes outside a sentry checkpoint.  Their English is good and they have stolen US uniforms.  A soldier arrives at the gate and the sentry hails: “six” and the soldier responds “three” and is allowed to pass.  Another comes along and the sentry says “twelve” and the soldier responds “six” and he too passes.  The spies talk amongst themselves and think they have deduced the code. They approach the sentry.  He offers: “ten” and the spies in unison shout “five”, to which they are both shot.  The correct passphrase response was the number of letters in the sentry’s query, not the number’s stated value.

Sheidt has been quoted as saying “it was made to be solved.”  There’s a lot more to that statement than meets the eye.  The proper question should be: “was it made to be solved so that the actual keys are never discovered so you find yourself at K4, with no real understanding of how you were really supposed to arrive there?”  So you get to K4 and it says “Can You See Anything, Q” and you are trying to figure out a logical answer: too late.  You have to understand the context ahead of time, that is the basic principle underlying authentication/distress codes.  Yep, there’s more than just ciphers, but as yet no K4 solve and nobody even looking for codes.  Why?

I’ll explain but you crypto types are probably going to get upset because I think Ed knew exactly how to stump you, because he knew you would never pursue this approach.  First, if you’re Sheidt, you have to disappear: create and nurture the myth that this rogue element, an artist, basically snuck into the joint on a GSA grant, and fooled everybody. “I wasn’t honest” says Sanborn. “I just showed him a few ciphers that wouldn’t comprimise anything” says Sheidt. Hmm.

Go back to K1 if you need a little refresher.  Did you notice how he spotted you a 5 character repetition in the codetext (abscenceof and nuanceof in the PT), and it just so happens that in both cases the CT repeat begins with the first letter “P” in the key string? I mean, there’s a tabula recta right next to it with the alphabet defined, did you notice it? The distance between these 5 char CT strings is 20, thus has factors: 2, 4, 5 and 10.  Once we were done cross cribbing to PALIM, it would have been obvious to deduce that we were dealing with a 10 bit string, so we could even go faster by searching the dictionary for 10 letter words that start PALIM.  It’s not that many, once you get to PALIMS, you don’t have any more choices.

In K2, a repeated CT sequence, evenly divisible keystring: 8 , lined up under the alphabet key again. More: a plaintext overlap on “invisible” with already decrypted content from the Morse, repeated words with double letters in the plaintext and so on.  I presume the relevance of the Friedman Test here. Plug in the formula, get 8, Run your Kappa test. Run your Phi test to see if mono or polyalphabetic. I cheated and used Kullback’s Chi Square approach instead of Kappa (same diff really). Copy the ciphertext into rows of a matrix having 8 columns, rotate your alphabets and figure out which one produces an English word in a column vertically. Abscissa pops out with the KR digram practically lined up in column 1, but for a couple shifts.

Speaking of Kerckhoffs, I don’t think there’s any question that it satisfies axiom number two. Four and five out the window these days, and that true even back in 1990, I’ll lean hard on it satisying Kerckhoffs to a T in any modern interpretation.  After all, I’ve never been there, and I’ve solved it independently up to K4 with what I have found on the internet.

The trick is that you don’t really start asking the hard questions until you get to K4, and by then you have forgotten all about that pesky morse code out front.  The content of the sculpture has had a chance to soften up your skepticism, with plenty of shiny almost words peeking out of the mist distracting you from the “sober” way.  Tut, coffins, gold, candles. The sober way is of course to stick to the other big news in “de cryption” in 1922: William Friedman, became the Chief Cryptanalyst of the Signal Corps.

I suspect the more serious a “cryptanalyst” you are, the less likely you are to find the Morse as significant.  Better yet, back when this was all still “intramural,” and you were trying to zing the NSA, what better way to hide the keys?  They probably got the Morse decipher sheet from Sheidt himself.  “Nothing to see here boys, move along.” I saw nothing in the NSA boys FOIA docs about their hack, nor Stein’s or Gillogly’s, that even suggests that anyone has even looked out there.

I think Ed’s motivation as architect was to get you to K4 with no idea how you got there, other than you thought you found some nifty “cracks” using the exact tools he knew you would: the ones that are in the manual.  So fast that you’d miss the distress code clues. Just the kind of trap you would try to set for your students at NSA and CIA: give them precisely the answers they are looking for.  A history lesson to boot!  I can just imagine Ed telling somebody like Tiltman about it: “…and we’ll be long gone, and they will have studied every possible cipher, coding, and steganographic system since Pythagoras into the 21st century!”

A teaching machine: just like Thales’ “E.” It worked well, but as yet no solvers of the real test, agency or otherwise. A work like this loses its relevance if everybody quits trying to solve it.  So Ed leaked out a copy of the “cliff notes” to the whole thing sometime between 2001 and 2004.  The first place where I find the complete photographic codetext for the Morse, together with a big clue, occurs in 2004: on Monet Friedrich’s impressionist landscape site.

Tiltman would have said “Ah yes, very good old boy, the keys to the underworld under the front doormat indeed. Mind the dog!”


Know Thyself

I feel that as a member of the public, I am at a bit of a disadvantage in finding a potential solution to the Kryptos enigma.  I’m not a cryptographer, mathematician, artist, programmer, or a member of any covert intelligence agency. In a perfect world, ideas have their own life and should stand on their merits without a net, so I won’t risk the hypocrisy inherent in describing to anybody why my experience or education qualifies me to comment.  I’m inspired by the philosophical problem of Kryptos, not just the answer, whatever that might be.  The mystery is that of context, of perspective, and our relationship to truth in the broadest sense.

111213 134

Above is a Pyramidion.  I can tell you a lot about it: the historical context of where it was, who carved it, the language spoken at that time.  I can also tell you something about the symbolism, the shape, the Sphinges, the lions, why they face each other, the doorway composed of triple tau, etc.  I could write at least a couple hundred pages and it would all be “right.” My father could have told you a lot about it too, but very differently.  He was a civil engineer. Something like this performs a very practical function for engineers and architects.  It creates a zero meridian, and It relates space and time so that the landscape can be accurately mapped, surveyed and defined in terms of an absolute reference point, just like the “origin” point in the Cartesian plane.  For a civil engineer, the architect’s plan is one of several overlay maps, beginning at the bottom with the topological site map, and with layers overlaid showing drainage, water supply, electrical, sewage, roads, foundations, the site plan overall, etc.  In order to create this 3D view of the site, all maps must have a common reference point. The civil engineer’s job is to translate the vision of the architect’s idea, in to the reality of a structure “on the earth.”  I suspect this view would seem familiar to Sanborn.

In the previous chapter, I suggested that the clues as presented so far by Sanborn suggest that we need to see “through” the enciphered tableau, to see the ancient scroll which is likely to contain wisdom exceeding that of what covers it.  I posted a picture of the Archimedes Palimpsest.  I intuited a connection to the successive layers of architecture in OHB and NHB at Langley.

In reflecting on it, I remembered that the Architect of the Capitol, since Jefferson and L’Enfant, promoted use of symbolic figures from Greek and Roman history and mythology to reflect a sense of place for the new nation within a larger historical context. They sought establish a creation myth for the new nation, placing it in artistic code in the sacred grove of the District of Columbia using the visual vocabulary of the period to which it honors: the birth of democracy in Greece and Rome.

The Library of Congress, for example, depicts the Apotheosis of Washington under its central dome, expressing his central importance in the foundation of the temple of knowledge. Post-deification he appears the manner of Greek and Roman deities typically: seated, gazing down at us through the oculus, robed and flanked by the heavenly pantheon. Another example shown below is part of the pediment at Union Station, conceived by St. Gaudens as a temple to the railroad industry:


The figure above depicts Thales, whose scientific observation of natural forces initiated the tradition which ultimately harnessed those forces in service to humanity. In the creation myth of the American Railroad, St Gaudens identifies Thales as the one of the patron gods of DC’s temple of transportation.

The original architects of the Capitol, Thomas Jefferson and Peter L’Enfant laid out the city as a sacred grove for the marking of America’s history, in which the deified founding fathers and the memorials of the country’s triumphs would take their place on an abstract tableau, a geometric canvas expressing a vast timescale. One century later, the McMillan Commission restored and expanded upon that original design to include the history of the Nineteenth Century.  At the outset, the creation of the capitol district was linked with Thomas Jefferson.  To Jefferson architecture was a form of visual education in support of democratic ideals. The Greek Revival movement became widely accepted throughout the early U.S. as a symbol of the new democracy, largely through his influence.

The overall map of the DC area reflects these individual architectural elements into a larger scheme. The creation of a sacred district, marked by a geodetic meridian, and with hidden knowledge encoded into its architecture and orientation belongs to an ancient tradition. From Sumer, Egypt, Greece, Rome, each dominant society has sought to demonstrate their advancement, and commemorate their origins through great works of colossal architecture.  The highest expressions of the form are those that do not require language to transmit their wisdom, but rather encode their meaning in their forms and proportions.

My intuition suggests that Sanborn may have also been motivated to encode certain elements that would satisfy this theme in his sculpture at the CIA.  In his “letter to the agency” he explicitly references it, suggesting the palimpsest theme of new forms built on old foundations specifically referencing temples. In another interview he describes his experience of flying above the British landscape,  the acute angle of twilight exposing subtle curvatures.  The shadows reveal structures below the surface which are imperceptible in full sunlight. There is a clear point of tangency of the CIA with these ancient traditions of architecture and geodesy. For me it recalls Delphi, The Oracle, and the priesthood of Apollo.

If true, the association may unlock other coded (not ciphered) meanings with more direct application to the problem of Kryptos. There is ample evidence of Latin/Greek wordplay in the sculpture, and following this parallel does not inhibit our ability to see Kryptos in new and perhaps novel ways.

In the same way that Jefferson Pier established a new prime meridian at the founding of the United States, the Omphalos at Delphi established a new geodetic center of the classical Greek universe in both literal and symbolic terms.  Time and location in the Greek world were both derivatives of Delphi’s, similar to the way the modern world has designated the Royal Greenwich Observatory meridian.

The Amphictyony was a league of Greek nation-states, a forerunner of the modern United Nations.  There were many antagonistic factions which vied for political and economic hegemony in the Hellenic world.  They all had a common source for their world view, and in effect shared the same culture and heritage: they were themselves the result of new colonial empires populating on the ruins of the previous Minoan and Etruscan cultures.  Member states of the Amphictyony agreed to not to destroy each others’ cities, or cut off food or water supplies to their populations when at war.  Violation of this covenant obliged all other members to wage war on the transgressor.

Delphi was the capitol of this civil federation, and was common ground to all and sacred to both Gaia and Apollo. The temple itself had been in the same place for at least 2000 years prior to the Greeks! The earliest architectural Apollo temples date from the to the period of Homer, ~850 BC, formalizing a more rustic temple which dated to perhaps 1250 BC. It was built and rebuilt several times over, and the materials in each successive layer reflect Greece’s growing mastery of technology: which is the underlying symbolism of the Apollonic myth. The first layer was feathers and beeswax, the next wood, then bronze, finally stone. The grove expanded dramatically during Greece’s golden age. The treasuries and donations of the member states in Delphi represented the highest achievements in sculpture and architecture. The spoils of victory were not brought home, but installed here. The treasuries took on the notion of embassies: a member state would send its wisest philosophers, leading artists and best athletes to represent them in the sight of Apollo and their terrestrial rivals. At Delphi began what we would think of as an elite university of philosophers and artists, who were behind the scenes guiding and leading a democratic society. Eventually, the civil authority of Delphi superseded that of the Amphictyony and a centralized federal government took shape.

The Delphic Oracle exerted considerable influence throughout Hellenic culture. Distinctively, this female was essentially the highest authority both civilly and religiously in male-dominated ancient Greece. She responded to the questions of citizens, foreigners, kings, and philosophers on issues of political impact, war, duty, crime, laws—even personal issues. The Pythia, when about to deliver her divinations, would chew leaves from Apollo’s sacred laurel tree then sit on her holy tripod in the innermost sanctum, over a crack on the rock from which noxious volcanic fumes emanated. Dazed and disoriented, she would then be “possessed by the voice of Apollo” and utter inarticulate sounds before fainting. Only the priests were present there, and they had the task of “translating” her utterances in plain speech. The priests were extremely well versed on the various matters of state, as part of their work was to debrief pilgrims about all that they knew. In addition, no question to the god was ever dealt with immediately. After the query, several days of prescribed ceremony had to be observed, which gave the priests precious time for research.

Plato would later insinuate their existence as a political force in a theoretical exercise: The Republic. In this hypothetical utopia, Socrates expresses the selfish ignorance of the ruling classes which inhibits the progress of society in using the metaphor of the Ship of State.  The teaching is that there must exist an intellectual elite, aloof from the guardians and their eternal opposition, which guides the ship’s best course for humanity.

The first and foremost of the Greek “wise men” at Delphi was Thales. Thales attempted to explain natural phenomena without reference to mythology and was tremendously influential in this respect. Almost all of the other Pre-Socratic philosophers follow him in attempting to provide an explanation of ultimate substance, change, and the existence of the world without reference to mythology. Those philosophers were also influential, and eventually Thales’ rejection of mythological explanations became an essential idea for the scientific revolution. He was also the first to define general principles and set forth hypotheses, and even modern voices such as Bertrand Russell call him the “Father of Science.”

Thales inscribed a coded message on the pediment of the Temple of Apollo to inspire his academy as long as the temple remained standing. A man of few words, there were three fundamental maxims that represented the core of his teaching: Know Thyself, Nothing in Excess and E.

I’m pretty sure he wanted us to get the first two pretty quick. They are in the imperative form as are oaths, declarations and commandments. He’s telling us what to do. The E is a stumper though.  It’s kind of like Kryptos.  It’s Epsilon, E, 5, If, Thou art, El, He, and much more.  It’s all what you read into it. Everything and Nothing.  That’s the point. Check out Plutarch’s take on E: here.  He was a priest of Apollo when he wrote it, himself the student of another.  Sages of a later generation trying to figure out the meaning of the puzzle the master had left in the courtyard.


Formus in Nubibus



My hypothesis is that the Kryptos Sculpture represents an elegant proof of what has become the central philosophical problem in the notion of “intelligence” in the broadest sense today, and has enormous implications in the future of mankind. The issue confronted the creator of this artwork: could an example be created to prove whether the human element of covert intelligence could ever be replaced by computers? Could we wrap this whole notion into a form that illustrates itself by example? in effect: a complete proof if true? In an Artwork? At Langley?

This was all in good fun, reinforced by the strong fellowship of the crypto community in the NSA and CIA.  They belong to an ancient fraternity, and they honor that tradition by facing intellectual challenges.  Historically, when a major discovery is made, the invisible college is informed in code. In this anonymous arena, ideas must create their own defense, and demonstrate truth so explicitly, that the verdict of the college is always unanimous. The rivalry of the members ensures their mutual vitality and that of the college.

Consistency with the theme would suggest honoring examples and symbols of the triumph of the human element over the unknown, light over dark in the history of the CIA. In the beginning, there were the twins: WW and WW. CAMP X and HYDRA are symbols for the COI and OSS,  later TORCH perhaps. The CIA saw illumination at the end of a tunnel in Berlin in the form of a cable, echoing Carter’s triumph. PBJOINTLY, GOLD, REGAL, STOPWATCH all figure as images in my mind. The Russians were impressed and publicly acknowledged a new peer had arrived in the chess game.  Each of these successes seemed to result from cooperation, ingenuity, and inventiveness. It was these victories that ensured the early survival, and fostered the growth of the CIA.

Within the American national security complex the NSA has a reputation of representing the brute force approach: mechanistic, computational intelligence gathering, which sees its parallel in philosophy as the Computational Theory of Mind. In a closed system if all the variables are known, and all operations giving rise to the formal system consistent, and if you have enough memory, or enough Turing tape, everything is both knowable and solvable. In human terms it’s like possessing an eidetic memory and infinite computational ability. When Deep Blue beat Kasparov, it was one for them, philosophically speaking.

Over at Langley, it is and was, a little more touchy-feely.  For altogether too many reasons to list, the CIA represents the intuitive model of data analysis.  Underlying this approach is a belief that data without the benefit of the context of the intentions of the humans that create it is basically useless.  I am going to demonstrate a proof of why.  Kryptos was presented to the CIA, but really the NSA, to illustrate the same point.

To serve my thesis, I present the following information, mostly edited from Wikipedia:

In 1880 Emil du Bois-Reymond made a famous speech before the Berlin Academy of Sciences outlining seven “world riddles” some of which, he declared, neither science nor philosophy could ever explain. He was especially concerned to point out the limitations of mechanical assumptions about nature in dealing with certain problems he considered “transcendent”. A list of these “riddles”:

  1. the ultimate nature of matter and force,
  2. the origin of motion,
  3. the origin of life,
  4. the “apparently teleological arrangements of nature,” not an “absolutely transcendent riddle,”
  5. the origin of simple sensations, “a quite transcendent” question,
  6. the origin of intelligent thought and language, which might be known if the origin of sensations could be known, and
  7. the question of freewill.

Concerning numbers 1, 2 and 5 he proclaimed: “ignoramus et ignorabimus“: “we do not know and will not know.

On the 8th of September 1930, the mathematician David Hilbert pronounced his disagreement in a celebrated address to the Society of German Scientists and Physicians, in Königsberg: “We must not believe those, who today, with philosophical bearing and deliberative tone, prophesy the fall of culture and accept the ignorabimus. For us there is no ignorabimus, and in my opinion none whatever in natural science. In opposition to the foolish ignorabimus our slogan shall be: Wir müssen wissen — wir werden wissen! (‘We must know — we will know!)

Hilbert worked with other formalists to establish concrete foundations for mathematics in the early 20th century. However, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems showed in 1931 that no finite system of axioms, if complex enough to express our usual arithmetic, could ever fulfill the goals of Hilbert’s program, demonstrating many of Hilbert’s aims impossible, and specifying limits on most axiomatic systems.

Gödel’s incompleteness theorems are two theorems of mathematical logic that establish inherent limitations of all but the most trivial axiomatic systems capable of doing arithmetic. The theorems, proven by Kurt Gödel in 1931, are important both in mathematical logic and in the philosophy of mathematics. The two results are widely, but not universally, interpreted as showing that Hilbert’s program to find a complete and consistent set of axioms for all mathematics is impossible, giving a negative answer to Hilbert’s second problem.

[ed: I suggest the Kryptos creators have extended the problem to the world of cipher, code, and language itself as a formal mathematical systems]

The first incompleteness theorem states that no consistent system of axioms whose theorems can be listed by an “effective procedure” (e.g., a computer program, but it could be any sort of algorithm) is capable of proving all truths about the relations of the natural numbers (arithmetic). For any such system, there will always be statements about the natural numbers that are true, but that are unprovable within the system. The second incompleteness theorem, an extension of the first, shows that such a system cannot demonstrate its own consistency.

Minds, Machines and Gödel  is J. R. Lucas’s 1959 philosophical paper in which he argues that a human mathematician cannot be accurately represented by an algorithmic automaton. Appealing to Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, he argues that for any such automaton, there would be some mathematical formula which it could not prove, but which the human mathematician could both see, and show, to be true.

As Einstein did so often, he had already demonstrated the proof succinctly in plain English years before, but as the great instructors always do, posed it poetically. “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” This comment was directed squarely at Hilbert. Both of them had anticipated the earliest computer by 15 years.

Lucas wrote several books on the philosophy of science and space-time. In A Treatise on Time and Space he introduced a transcendental derivation of the Lorenz Transformations based on Red and Blue exchanging messages (in Russian and Greek respectively) from their respective frames of reference which demonstrates how these can be derived from a minimal set of philosophical assumptions.

In The Future Lucas gives a detailed analysis of tenses and time, arguing that “the Block universe gives a deeply inadequate view of time. It fails to account for the passage of time, the pre-eminence of the present, the directedness of time and the difference between the future and the past. Instead he argues in favor of a tree structure in which there is only one past or present (at any given point in space-time) but a large number of possible futures. “We are by our own decisions in the face of other men’s actions and chance circumstances weaving the web of history on the loom of natural necessity”

Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid also known as GEB, is a 1979 book by Douglas Hofstadter exploring common themes in the lives and works of logician Kurt Gödel, artist M. C. Escher and composer Johann Sebastian Bach, GEB expounds concepts fundamental to mathematics, symmetry, and intelligence. Through illustration and analysis, the book discusses how self-reference and formal rules allow systems to acquire meaning despite being made of “meaningless” elements. It also discusses what it means to communicate, how knowledge can be represented and stored, the methods and limitations of symbolic representation, and even the fundamental notion of “meaning” itself.


Given the previous, my working hypothesis is that if K4 were solvable by any known crypto system, or the result of any sequenced mathematical system which a computer or human genius could solve, it would have already been solved.  I possess an experimental observation in support of this in that the most powerful computers on the planet, and the women and men that operate them have had 25 years, with no signs of success.

Ed Sheidt knew it would come to this.  So did Sanborn.  I believe it was the plan.  That’s why it was necessary to control the timeline on the overhead views of the site, and the Morse transcription, since they needed to protect that information to ensure Kryptos would fulfill its goal as represented by my hypothesis:  to make a point about covert intelligence and operations being inherently a human science. They gave out the necessary info long ago, however, and still, no solve.  In the meantime, it has become a time machine.  Through natural human curiosity, it generates the energy to sustain itself. When we try to solve the enigma, we enter into self-created worlds of what we think it might be about: the history of cryptography, the story of the OSS, Berlin, Tut, whatever. There is no evidence of what the form and context of “the answer” might really be.

I’ve tentatively suggested that any known system of attack, using any language will fail.  There is a context that needs application that only a human can conceive. Something that is “not present” in the context of Hilbert space: i.e.: all that can be known and modeled by a computer. We have been informed by Sanborn, since the beginning and repetitively since that: the installation reflects a broad spectrum of elements which are to be taken as a whole.  The creation of disparate elements requiring re-contextualization in spatial terms, perhaps in Cartesian space, was the central defense mechanism of the sculpture and the source for several clues. There’s no way to reduce what might be hidden between rocks, recycled pennies, or maps into a data input that can exist in the same Hilbert space as the “text” of K4.

Thus, we need to really figure the Morse Strata out, since as humans, we can intuit something that might be missing, the “lack of” something as itself a signifier. What is the message covered by the rocks? We need to explore doubled letters and palindromes as signifiers and potentially as punctuation. The “e” strings could be prosigns, ellipsis dots, numbers: anything really. We should convert it back to morse and explore different directional contexts.

We need to start looking at shapes. Sanborn as an artist will express himself in mathematical terms consistent with that of his craft, which takes the form of the math of nature. Pi, Phi, phi, and e. The Golden Ratio. Sanborn has slyly tried to create a notion that he has no mathematical skill.  There is a 30 year record of his public work that suggests a very high level of geometric skill. I’m not great with numbers either, but when you understand Pi and Phi, numbers are pretty much just placekeepers. Consider the 3,4,5 right triangle- how good do you really have to be at math?

This should apply both to text and design.  To decrypt Kryptos, we are going to have to model the activities of those who discovered the Archimedes palimpsest: we will have to look through the book, to see the scroll.  Both the book and the scroll will deliver information based upon their original proportion and orientation, and this understanding is what will make the scroll legible. The process of making medieval manuscripts from old scrolls gives us a model for an overall matrix transformation as well.

An expert on Medieval palimpsest like Tiltman would inform us that there was a time when deviations from the truly beautiful page proportions 2:3, 1:√3, and the Golden Section were rare. Many books produced between 1550 and 1770 show these proportions exactly, to within half a millimeter. Ed Sheidt lectured about medieval printing guilds, secrecy and methods of steganography and encoding systems in the middle ages. In those days, the great thinkers of the day were under the patronage of powerful political leaders.  They performed a role similar to what the CIA does for the Executive Office: they were the eyes and ears.  In royal courts around the world, there was a secret fraternity of alchemists, poets, and scribes, a communications and intelligence network.  Among the 3 estates, this fraternity was “outside the loop.” The modern notion of diplomatic immunity owes itself to this ancient entente cordiale. Their symbolic tools are the Key and the Quill.

A Palimpsest is a text that survives as traces of original ink from vellum or papyrus scrolls, which were subsequently reused by later scribes.  The process involved cutting the scrolls, which could be 20 ft or more, into pre-defined lengths, washing and otherwise effacing the previous text, stacking them at a 90 degree orientation to the original text, and folding the stack into a gather.  The gathered stack is folded like a newspaper and sewn together at the fold to make a Folio, or the pages are cut individually, stacked and sewn together at the binding to form a Codex. Palimpsest parchment sheets typically retained their original central fold in the new binding, but each was ordinarily cut in half, making a quarter (“quarto”) volume of the original folio, with the overwritten text running perpendicular to the effaced text.

The new text was often a hymnal or liturgical piece, relating to monastic worship.  Ironically, the content of the texts remaining in palimpsest under these rather common and ordinary books, authored by the great Greek and Roman philosophers, statesmen and scientists, would have been quite radical and destabilizing to the Monks’ world view indeed.


For example, in the Archimedes Palimpsest pictured above, diagrams are clearly visible in certain sections of this 10th century manuscript. Through X-Ray analysis, the entire manuscript contained three of Archimedes’ most important mathematical treatises: “The Method”, “The Stomachion” and “On Floating Bodies.”  They were not known to exist prior to their discovery in palimpsest.

I suspect that Sanborn takes pride and satisfaction from the parallel:  lurking under the foundations of ritual and dogma are often radical and destabilizing ideas. That is very image he intended for Kryptos- as an architectural palimpsest- with successive generations of strata built one on top of another- and underneath, hidden knowledge struggling to break free, be rediscovered, brought back up from undergruund: decrypted?

In the context of the would-be code breaker in the field “Palimpsest” is rich with meaning and imagery in a much broader sense than the first phrase that it unlocks as passkey on the Vigenere table.   It doesn’t just open the door to the first part, but rather suggests a technique-It provides a directive from Sanborn and he seems to be saying something between the lines: “eventually, you will reuse the Palimpsest section plaintext to provide the structure for later decryptions.” Logically, the keys discovered here will remain consistent, are to be relied upon, despite an expanding universe of maybes and “unknown unknowns.”