“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

Also seen as, “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.”

And Bernard Ingham’s, “Cock-up before conspiracy.”

When considering Kryptos it is possible to view it from a wide variety of perspectives.  Many consider it a brilliant encoded piece that has wonderfully fulfilled its intended purpose even for non-CIA employees.  Others see it as a waste of time (particularly non-puzzle/game/riddle aficionadoes).  It behooves us to consider another possibility.

Maybe it was a good idea at the outset and practical execution rendered it something less.

Maybe James Sanborn had built some castles in the sky about what he could actually accomplish and had to settle for what he could actually do.

Maybe Edward Scheidt gave him an introduction to some ciphering systems and some suggestions which Sanborn ignored.

Kryptos is supposed to be a pseudo-historical description of the progression of cryptology through time and culture.  Instead we have some Morse Code and a big ole piece of copper.  Sure, there’s some topiary work and a little landscaping tucked in as well but as a reasonable complete description of intelligence work, Kryptos falls short.  There is literally SO much involved external to codes and ciphers that its glaring absence detracts from the message of Kryptos.  We have two bits of symbols/ciphertext out of context.

So, continuing our negative analysis, why hasn’t it been solved yet?  The creators certainly didn’t expect it to take over 20 years.  Could it be that it’s not a very good cryptogram?  I think we need to consider the possibility.  Not that it’s impossible to solve or that there’s some glaring mistake that will keep us from a K4 solution or total Kryptos solution just that it’s not clear enough how we’re supposed to effect that solution.  This casts some doubt about how happy we’ll actually be with the answer.  I’ve mentioned this before but during a discussion of the Kryptos hype.  This is the more pessimistic mindset, what if the final answer isn’t really that great?  What if it’s some meaningless bit of posturing by the artist?

That is to be seen after the solution, we have no real way of knowing at this point in time.

Back to the original thought though, what if we haven’t solved Kryptos because it is an impenetrable cipher that no one has been smart enough to see through it or perhaps more simply because it’s not really that great of a cipher at all?

Put yourself in an objective cryptanalysis position.  I give you a mass of ciphertext and a vigenere table.  What are you going to assume?  Right, right, use the table but we need a keyword.  Where is the keyword?  We’re supposed to know it.  This isn’t supposed to be the really hard one, it’s supposed to be a learning experience.  I don’t think the intelligence community expects its members to brute force every cipher and every code they come across.  We don’t know where the key is.  Bottom line, no arguments, there have been no compelling methods to definitively prove the origins of the first keyword.

Vigenere is all well and good but it’s only one of many pencil/paper (analog) cipher mechanisms.  It’s even kind of a joke in the cryptology world because everyone thought it was unbreakable but it most certainly is breakable even without the keyword.

So why use the exact same method for the next of a limited number of ciphered texts?  The EXACT same method just with a different keyword?  I think it’s because of the ability to use keywords that have significance but that argument fails when you consider Polybius-square based systems and then all the other methods that depend on a keyword in some manner.  It’s an artist using something he’s used to and likes more than some contribution to the piece as a whole.

Part three is either a route transposition with keyed columnar or a simple double rotation transposition.  I think the last one is more likely, it’s easier to teach and use.

There’s the Morse code but that’s not exactly unbreakable.

Then there’s K4.  97 letters that have baffled us all.

We have to entertain the idea that it’s not a logical encryption.  Maybe it’s coded which means we need some translation to know which ciphertext corresponds to which codeword/phrase.  Maybe if we could find the other keys, we’d find one for K4.

In the end, we won’t know until it’s over.

For right now, I think it’s very likely that Sanborn flubbed giving us the keys and that’s why the whole thing has taken so bloody long.  He either got real clever when he hid the keys or used some really terrible method to give them to us.  That’s his original matrix, that’s what we’ve yet to find, that’s the most obvious thing no one has seen.

So instead of looking to really awesome, creative or original cipher methods or trying to make up our own; I would recommend to everyone that reads this that they should assume that K4 uses a slightly more complex cipher method than keyed vigenere, another keyed vigenere or a transposition.  Then they need to try and imagine how an amateur would try and present the keys to the locks.  That’s Kryptos in a nutshell.  There’s some final riddle to be solved when it’s all said and done.  That’s it.  It doesn’t get more complicated than that.  It can’t, Sanborn repeatedly talks about how he was new to cryptology and far from an expert on this.

So what’s the simplest explanation?

What’s the simplest way to describe what Sanborn did?

I applaud whoever realized that K3 was a rotational transposition that was done twice.  It’s neat and simple.  K1 and 2 were already simplistic (if you had the keys).  K4 will be solved equally simply after a little challenge with the masking technique.

I’m not saying I understand or know the answers to my questions.  You’d be reading a glowing description of my success right now.

We need to keep it simple.

Not too hard, maybe a little dumb.


Easy to do.

Not so easy to take apart.

Find the keys.

Get a clue to help with K4.

Beat the masking.

Solve what’s left.

Piece together the pieces and hints from all of Kryptos.

Solve the final riddle.

See if Sanborn also took some Freemason lessons.

Fade into anonymity.

Kryptos Fan