This Sculpture Holds a Decades-Old C.I.A. Mystery. And Now, Another Clue.


The creator of one of the world's most famous mysteries is giving obsessive fans a new clue. From a report: Kryptos, a sculpture in a courtyard at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va., holds an encrypted message that has not fully yielded to attempts to crack it. It's been nearly 30 years since its tall scroll of copper with thousands of punched-through letters was set in place. Three of the four passages of the sculpture have been decrypted (the first, though unacknowledged at the time, was solved by a team from the National Security Agency). But after nearly three decades, one brief passage remains uncracked. And that has been a source of delight and consternation to thousands of people around the world. The sculptor, Jim Sanborn, has been hounded for decades by codebreaking enthusiasts. And he has twice provided clues to move the community of would-be solvers along, once in 2010 and again in 2014. Now he is offering another clue. The last one, he says. It is a word: "NORTHEAST." Why do people care so much about a puzzle cut into a sheet of copper in a courtyard after so much time? It's not just that the piece itself has a kind of brooding, powerful beauty, or the fact that it has been referred to in novels by the thriller writer Dan Brown. It is something deeper, something that involves the nature of the human mind, said Craig Bauer, a professor of mathematics at York College of Pennsylvania and a former scholar in residence at the N.S.A.'s Center for Cryptologic History. "We have many problems that are difficult to resolve -- intimidating, perhaps even scary," he said. "It gives people great pleasure to pick up on one that they think they have a chance of solving." [...] Why now? Did we mention Mr. Sanborn is 74? Holding on to one of the world's most enticing secrets can be stressful. Some would-be codebreakers have appeared at his home. Many felt they had solved the puzzle, and wanted to check with Mr. Sanborn. Sometimes forcefully. Sometimes, in person. NPR spoke with Sanborn (4-min).

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