CIA's Mysterious Kryptos Sculpture Has A New Clue

Cryptographers around the world have reason to rejoice, as one of the world's finest mysteries is one step closer to being solved — or is it? As the New York Times reports, the mystery at hand is none other than Kryptos, the cryptographic sculpture at the CIA's headquarters in Langley. The strange artwork contains four difficult codes, and although tenacious cryptographers have managed to solve three of them, the fourth remains elusive. 

Jim Sanborn, the sculptor behind Kryptos, has teased the cryptographic community with hints about the fourth cipher's true nature before. In 2010, he revealed that one of the words in the fourth code was 'BERLIN.' In 2014, he hinted that the word after that was 'CLOCK.' On January 29, 2020, it was reported that Sanborn finally released a third — and, according to him, final — clue: The word 'NORTHEAST.'  

Why did the sculptor release a new Kryptos clue?

Kryptos is one of the biggest, most enticing unsolved mysteries around, so it's tempting to think that there's some sort of greater X-Files conspiracy behind the release of the third clue. However, according to the New York Times, the answer is likely much simpler. Sculptor Jim Sanborn is 74 years old, and he's been fielding constant questions about the cyphered messages for no less than three decades. He says he didn't believe the mystery would take this long to solve, and it's probably safe to say he certainly didn't expect cryptography enthusiasts to actually turn up at his door to discuss the possible solution. As Sanborn is fairly old and starting to find the whole Kryptos mess "exhausting," he has started to look into ways to pass on his arcane knowledge (of the solution of the fourth text, that is). He says he has actually decided to auction off the secret, complete with his patented online solution verification process that costs $50 per attempt. 

The New York Times article insinuates pretty heavily that the release of the third clue may simply be an attempt to have someone finally solve the mystery, so Sanborn doesn't have to bother with anything Kryptos-related ever again. Still, even if the secret eventually goes to auction and will be bought by the cryptography community's equivalent to Martin Shkreli, at least Sanborn has made sure that the profits will be directed to funding climate research. So, you know, silver linings.