Heard on All Things Considered

November 22, 2010 – MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

For the first time in 20 years, a new clue has been dangled to the mystery that is Kryptos. If youre a would-be code-breaker, that means you were probably up all night last night trying to solve Kryptos. If, on the other hand, you have absolutely no idea what Im talking about, heres a quick primer.

Two decades ago, the CIA commissioned a sculpture to grace one of the courtyards at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The sculptor who won the commission was a man named Jim Sanborn, and he designed a curving copper wall with a secret code embedded across four panels.

Code-breakers eventually cracked the first three. But that fourth panel continues to stump even the pros at the CIA and the National Security Agency.

So in the New York Times yesterday, the sculptor, Jim Sanborn, dropped a clue. Well, he’s with me now in the studio. And Jim Sanborn, tell me if I’ve got this right. The final passage – the fourth passage – is 97 characters. The clue that you dropped yesterday was what six of those characters are. And you said it’s the word – or the city Berlin, B-E-R-L-I-N. So now we know Berlin. The challenge is solving what the other 91 characters are. Has anybody come close yet since this clue came out yesterday?

Mr. JIM SANBORN (Sculptor): Well, so far we have just under 1,000 attempts on cracking the code.

KELLY: Since yesterday.

Mr. SANBORN: Since yesterday. Most of them frivolous, but that’s to be expected.

KELLY: Anybody close?

Mr. SANBORN: Well, not yet. The thing about it is, these people send you a code crack and they really don’t want to give it to you because they don’t – first of all, they’re not sure that they’re speaking to Jim Sanborn. And so I had to develop a system whereby I could test the calls and determine whether they got the code, without knowing what they said.

KELLY: Wow. So layers of deception and sneakiness even in trying to solve this.

Mr. SANBORN: Yeah, totally. I mean, it’s been a crazy ride. And some people have completely changed their lives. They’ve changed their businesses, they’ve changed their homes, they’ve changed their relationships over Kryptos. Amazing but true. But I’m trying to somehow narrow it so that we get on with it.

KELLY: Jim Sanborn, I had the chance to interview you about Kryptos back in 2005. It had then been 15 years since you’d completed the sculpture, and nobody had made much progress on the fourth passage then. And you told me back then that you’re actually really terrible at keeping secrets.

Mr. SANBORN: Absolutely.

KELLY: Still are.

Mr. SANBORN: Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KELLY: Now that you’re dangling this clue, should we interpret this as that you’re maybe weakening, that you’d actually like somebody to solve the darn thing already?

Mr. SANBORN: Okay, well, I mean, really, it’s six characters out of 97. And I dangled the clue Berlin, but I also divulged – or gave images – of my original decoding charts, the ones that I – well, actually, for me they were encoding charts. And I think once the Krypto-philes study it in a forensic manner, there might be revelations in there. So in a way, I gave more than just Berlin. I think I gave other information as well.

KELLY: Once this fourth passage is solved, if it is solved, you have said that there’s actually – that that’s just the beginning, that there’s a riddle imbedded across the entire sculpture. Elaborate.

Mr. SANBORN: Yeah, I mean, there – it is a riddle within a riddle. And the final passage will lead in several directions. The word directions is – I use intentionally. And that’s it. I mean, what can I – if I say any more, I, you know, perhaps give away too much.

KELLY: That’s it for now.

Mr. SANBORN: That’s it for now.

KELLY: Well, Jim Sanborn, thanks very much.

Mr. SANBORN: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: That’s the sculptor Jim Sanborn, talking about his decision to drop a clue to the mystery of the Kryptos sculpture, at the CIA in Langley, Virginia.

reposted – Kryptosfan