KRYPTOS — Analysis of Jim Sanborn K1 Worksheet

“The two words [Palimpsest & Abscissa] are key words for a section of the text, as you can see in the first letter of line No. 1 on the original chart there is a B above the P of palimpsest under that there is an E that was derived from using a Vigenere Tableaux like the one on the ‘Kryptos’ screen. The tableaux works like a mileage chart on a road atlas, you go down the left side and find a P row and across the top and find a B column where these intersect you find the E. I used a tableaux slightly different from the one on ‘Kryptos.’ This is basically a very simple system, obviously not all the sections were so simple.”

Jim Sanborn — Email to the NYT (November 2010)

Kryptos is a sculpture by the American artist Jim Sanborn located on the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia. Of the four parts of the message, the first three — known as K1, K2 and K3 — have been solved. However K4, the last part of the message, remains one of the most famous unsolved code in the world.  Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

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Over the years, Jim Sanborn has released several images of his Kryptos worksheets. Can we learn anything from these pics? You better believe it!

Here is a picture from K1 that appeared in the New York Time on November 20 2010.

The top line of each cluster shows the plain text of the passage:

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

The bottom line is the encrypted text as it appears on the sculpture.

In between is the key: a word, repeated over and over, that he used to encrypt the text. The key word for K1 —  the first part of KRYPTOS — is “palimpsest”.

Surely, you have noticed that “illusion” was misspelled as “iqlusion”.

Over the years, many people have been wondering if this is a clue to decipher the meaning of this enigma or it if it a simple mistake?

Actually, I do believe that Jim Sanborn made a mistake. Here is what I think happened.

At the top of this worksheet, Sanborn wrote the passphrase (key word) “palimpcest” with a C instead of a S!

This is in itself irrelevant. However, Sanborn made that mistake again at the end of the second line. And that matters!

As a result, the letter under the first L of illusion is a C instead of a S.

To help you follow my argument, I reproduce here part of the Vigenère table directly relevant to this discussion.

It is very clear what happened. The second L of “illusion” was correctly enciphered with a E, thus turning into a Y.

However, the first L was incorrectly encoded with a C — instead of a S — yielding the infamous K instead of the correct W!

It is therefore obvious that this is a silly mistake and there is no great mysterious meaning to it!

End of the story? Not yet…

You may have noticed that some letters in the worksheet appear darker than others.

Look very carefully at the first S of “palimpsest” on the top line. It appears that Sanborn had first written three times “palimpCest” with a C and later overwrote these three C into S.

Of course, this means that he also had to correct the cypher.

The N of “Between” is coded into a Z but was first coded as a Y with the incorrect C.

The D of “shading” is coded into a J but was first coded as a N with the incorrect C. And so on… (Actually, I believe that the N would still show up on a good resolution picture.)

However, Sanborn forgot to correct the C in the last use of “palimpsest” at the end of the second line. And no one corrected that error.

Stay tuned!

PS — Palimpsest is defined as (1) a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing or (2) something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form. There is serious irony in this mistake.


Original Decoding Charts for ‘Kryptos’ — New York Time (November 20 2010)


KRYPTOS — Analysis of Sanborn K1 Worksheet

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