I can see K1-3 consisting of Ed Scheidt teaching Jim Sanborn several stock ciphering methods and then Jim determined the plaintext, decided on a couple methods he liked and worked it into Kryptos. For the first three sections, it’s very possible that Ed knew the plaintext but it wouldn’t be necessary. Since K4 has resisted decades of cryptoanalysis, it would appear to be more than a straight-forward code. This would either involve mistakes by Sanborn or a method the two of them agreed upon. They would need to agree because the message of K4 would have needed to have been known in advance so that Ed would have said something to the extent of, “well, it’s the last section, let’s throw a wrench in their gears…” If it was a last minute wrinkle in the ciphering, it’s very possible that they could have distorted the other messages unintentionally. I would say it was most likely known from the outset that K4 would need a more distributed ciphering. Looking back at how things might have been solved, it’s also possible to believe that the two men honestly thought they left straightforward clues that would help a determined solver obtain a solution with nothing more than “pencil and paper” and some lunch hour cogitation. It must have been fascinating and frustrating for them to watch us get the solutions but not in the way they anticipated. It’s only after K1-3 were solved that some dedicated folks put in some brain power and figured out how they were “supposed” to be solved. In interviews he references masking techniques and steganography. Ed was the retiring Chairman of the CIA Cryptographic Center, he’s the kind of guy who would have gotten a kick out of tweaking the last bit to make it a level harder than the preceding bits. At this point, our task is to guess at the methods available to him in that point in time as well as in the context of the developing Kryptos plans. He didn’t have unlimited options and it’s possible we can reverse engineer what he did or what his instructions to the sculptor entailed.

Of course, that will only get us the true K4 to be deciphered but I think we can all agree that will be a significant development. After that point, the analysts and math gurus will hammer out a solution relatively quickly and then walk away congratulating themselves. Then the riddle/puzzle aficionados will attempt to figure out the secret message and then rest easy knowing one more mystery has been conquered. Do we become sentimental and feel as though the allure has gone out of the pieces of artwork standing outside the CIA cafeteria? No, not really. It’s still accomplishing its goal after all these years and generations of problem solvers will sharpen their mental abilities trying to solve it for themselves.

But that’s a ways away, and I don’t know about the rest of you but I’d sure like to help figure it out, not later but now. There are situations where intellectual problem solving includes a Mary Shelley moment where we ask ourselves if we should continue but I don’t think Kryptos is one of them. It was meant to be solved. It was meant to be solved faster than it was and has a message that Jim Sanborn thought was worth the time to find. He’s not a dumb guy, he knew he couldn’t just encipher the cafeteria menu only to then have an angry mob outside his door, years later, threatening to tar and feather him for wasting their time. No, it was meant to be seen and was meant to be worth the effort to discover.

I’m curious to know what the final message was.

Kryptos Fan

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