Thursday, March 26, 2020

Kryptos


Michael - Thursday


Tomorrow South Africa goes into a nationwide lockdown for 21 days. The conditions are stricter than most countries (outside Spain and Italy), but given where things seem to be going, no one’s complaining much. We were at under 100 cases ten days ago (two just down the road from me in out-of-the-way Knysna) and now it’s over 700. Also testing is quite sparse here, so inevitably that number is an underestimate. Basically, everyone has to stay at home – no walking dogs or jogging – except to go for essentials like food, medicine, and fuel. And no sales of alcohol. Thank heavens I have a six month supply of wine on hand!

Botswana has so far experienced no cases and has closed its borders to everyone. I hope they can hold that line.

So it’s time to think about occupying oneself for the period. Writers have a big advantage, of course, because they’re used to shutting out the world and working at home. Stan and I are about half way through the new young Kubu book, and it’s going pretty well. For now. But people who are used to being in a work environment or actively participating in, or watching, sport, may find themselves at a loose end. There’s been a run on jigsaw puzzles. (Although I haven’t seen any viral videos of people fighting over them in toy stores as yet.)

Kryptos
So here’s one you may like to try. It’s been on full display for thirty years outside the CIA in Langley, Virginia. That alone is enough to set spy-thriller fans’ pulses racing. It’s called Kryptos and it’s not easy. It’s developed quite a cult following over the years. It has four passages and three of them have been solved. (Apparently the NSA solved the first one but kept it to themselves. Why are we not surprised.) But the last section remains obscure.

Jim Sanborn, Sculptor
Jim Sanborn, the sculptor, developed the puzzle with the help of a retired head of the CIA’s cryptographic section, and he receives dozens of attempted solutions and questions. When things grind to a halt, he may, if he’s in a good mood, provide a clue. The first was in 2010 and then another in 2014. Then in January of this year, he provided a third clue and warned that it would be the last. At 74, Jim is no longer a spring chicken, so this is coming down to the wire. He's thinking of putting the solution up for auction - with the proceeds going to climate science - and leaving it up to the buyer to decide whether to make the solution public or keep the game going. He spends more time than he wants to looking at false solutions and hearing way out stories from people who seem to have let the puzzle take over their lives.


Here are the letters on the panels. But don't let it put you off. Remember most of this has already been decoded:

EMUFPHZLRFAXYUSDJKZLDKRNSHGNFIVJ
YQTQUXQBQVYUVLLTREVJYQTMKYRDMFD
VFPJUDEEHZWETZYVGWHKKQETGFQJNCE
GGWHKK?DQMCPFQZDQMMIAGPFXHQRLG
TIMVMZJANQLVKQEDAGDVFRPJUNGEUNA
QZGZLECGYUXUEENJTBJLBQCRTBJDFHRR
YIZETKZEMVDUFKSJHKFWHKUWQLSZFTI
HHDDDUVH?DWKBFUFPWNTDFIYCUQZERE
EVLDKFEZMOQQJLTTUGSYQPFEUNLAVIDX
FLGGTEZ?FKZBSFDQVGOGIPUFXHHDRKF
FHQNTGPUAECNUVPDJMQCLQUMUNEDFQ
ELZZVRRGKFFVOEEXBDMVPNFQXEZLGRE
DNQFMPNZGLFLPMRJQYALMGNUVPDXVKP
DQUMEBEDMHDAFMJGZNUPLGEWJLLAETG
 ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZABCD
AKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYP
BRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPT
CYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTO
DPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOS
ETOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSA
FOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSAB
GSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABC
HABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCD
IBCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDE
JCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEF
KDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFG
LEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGH
MFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHI
ENDYAHROHNLSRHEOCPTEOIBIDYSHNAIA
CHTNREYULDSLLSLLNOHSNOSMRWXMNE
TPRNGATIHNRARPESLNNELEBLPIIACAE
WMTWNDITEENRAHCTENEUDRETNHAEOE
TFOLSEDTIWENHAEIOYTEYQHEENCTAYCR
EIFTBRSPAMHHEWENATAMATEGYEERLB
TEEFOASFIOTUETUAEOTOARMAEERTNRTI
BSEDDNIAAHTTMSTEWPIEROAGRIEWFEB
AECTDDHILCEIHSITEGOEAOSDDRYDLORIT
RKLMLEHAGTDHARDPNEOHMGFMFEUHE
ECDMRIPFEIMEHNLSSTTRTVDOHW?OBKR
UOXOGHULBSOLIFBBWFLRVQQPRNGKSSO
TWTQSJQSSEKZZWATJKLUDIAWINFBNYP
VTTMZFPKWGDKZXTJCDIGKUHUAUEKCAR
NGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJL
OHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJL
PIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLM
QJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMN
RLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQ
SMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQU
TNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUV
UQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVW
VUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWX
WVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZ
XWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZK
YXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKR
ZZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRY
 ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZABCD

And here are the bits we know. (The misspellings are deliberate, and we know that the odd letter was left out to keep balance to the sculpture. I said it wasn’t easy.) Apparently the first three passages themselves hold a clue to the fourth, which is why I've included them:

Passage one – method used to solve was Vigenère with key words Kryptos and Palimpsest. (You’ll need Wikipedia for those if you care.) And the solution is

BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION

Passage two - method used to solve was Vigenère with key words Kryptos and Abscissa. And the solution is:

IT WAS TOTALLY INVISIBLE HOWS THAT POSSIBLE? THEY USED THE EARTHS MAGNETIC FIELD X THE INFORMATION WAS GATHERED AND TRANSMITTED UNDERGRUUND TO AN UNKNOWN LOCATION X DOES LANGLEY KNOW ABOUT THIS? THEY SHOULD ITS BURIED OUT THERE SOMEWHERE X WHO KNOWS THE EXACT LOCATION ? ONLY WW THIS WAS HIS LAST MESSAGE X THIRTY EIGHT DEGREES FIFTY SEVEN MINUTES SIX POINT FIVE SECONDS NORTH SEVENTY SEVEN DEGREES EIGHT MINUTES FORTY FOUR SECONDS WEST X LAYER TWO

(Here X represents a space. It would spoil the sculpture to have gaps breaking up the stream of letters. The location given is only a short distance away from the sculpture itself.)

Passage three: method used to solve was Transposition. And the solution is:

SLOWLY DESPARATLY SLOWLY THE REMAINS OF PASSAGE DEBRIS THAT ENCUMBERED THE LOWER PART OF THE DOORWAY WAS REMOVED WITH TREMBLING HANDS I MADE A TINY BREACH IN THE UPPER LEFT HAND CORNER AND THEN WIDENING THE HOLE A LITTLE I INSERTED THE CANDLE AND PEERED IN THE HOT AIR ESCAPING FROM THE CHAMBER CAUSED THE FLAME TO FLICKER BUT PRESENTLY DETAILS OF THE ROOM WITHIN EMERGED FROM THE MIST X CAN YOU SEE ANYTHING Q?

(This is a paraphrasing of the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb.)

Passage four: 

So now we come to the remaining puzzle. It doesn't look too bad - only 97 letters are left out of the nearly 900! But that may make it harder rather than easier because in long passages one can count occurrences of letters and the most frequent should be the letter E (in English).

And then when we've solved the four passages, they constitute a riddle that also has to be solved...

So if you’re tempted to have a go while you languish at home, here’s the puzzle:

OBKR
UOXOGHULBSOLIFBBWFLRVQQPRNGKSSO
TWTQSJQSSEKZZWATJKLUDIAWINFBNYP
VTTMZFPKWGDKZXTJCDIGKUHUAUEKCAR
But wait. There's more. Here are the three clues from Sanborn:
2010: the letters "NYPVTT", the 64th–69th letters, become "BERLIN" after decryption

(Note that T represents two different letters in the solution.)

2014: the letters "MZFPK", the 70th–74th letters, become "CLOCK" after decryption

(Note that M and P both represent C in the solution. There is such a thing as the Berlin Clock and that may or may not be relevant.)

2020: the letters "QQPRNGKSS", the 26th -34th letters, become "NORTHEAST" after decryption



Let us know if you solve it. Fame lies ahead if you do. I’ll have a go just as soon as we finish this book…

5 comments:

  1. My head has just exploded... Was it Running Blind by Desmond Bagley where the enemy lets a puzzle fall into the hands of the GB secret security services purely to keep their clever folk occupied.....

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  2. Ah, that's why I haven't been able to understand anything you've been saying recently! MNYGPS!

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  3. I was going to say it’s similar to a breakfast conversation with Stan.

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  4. I think I'd rather eat sand...which is what my brain would turn to should I try this. Alternatively, one should be awarded a grand prize for deciphering what's coming out of Washington DC these days.

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  5. Michael, my mind runs to a different game with the same material. I want to write a story where each letter in the puzzle begins a word. As in Erica Modica, under fire, phoned Henrietta Ziegler, Lieutenant Royal Fusiliers.....

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