Modern Sculpture, Ancient Texts and Corporate Recruiting

Kryptos (image from Jim Sanborn via Wikimedia Commons)

For over twenty years, a coded sculpture in the grounds of the CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia has remained undeciphered. The sculpture, named Kryptos by its creator Jim Sandborn and installed in 1990, is a copper screen covered in 1,800 letters. The script is composed of four panels. The first three panels, shown below, were solved by 1998 (the spelling mistakes are intentional).

Part 1:

BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION

Part 2 (The coordinates identify a location about 60 metres from the sculpture):

IT WAS TOTALLY INVISIBLE HOWS THAT POSSIBLE ? THEY USED THE EARTHS MAGNETIC FIELD X THE INFORMATION WAS GATHERED AND TRANSMITTED UNDERGRUUND TO AN UNKNOWN LOCATION X DOES LANGLEY KNOW ABOUT THIS ? THEY SHOULD ITS BURIED OUT THERE SOMEWHERE X WHO KNOWS THE EXACT LOCATION ? ONLY WW THIS WAS HIS LAST MESSAGE X THIRTY EIGHT DEGREES FIFTY SEVEN MINUTES SIX POINT FIVE SECONDS NORTH SEVENTY SEVEN DEGREES EIGHT MINUTES FORTY FOUR SECONDS WEST X LAYER TWO

Part 3 (This is an altered quotation from archaeologist Howard Carter’s book The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen):

SLOWLY DESPARATLY SLOWLY THE REMAINS OF PASSAGE DEBRIS THAT ENCUMBERED THE LOWER PART OF THE DOORWAY WAS REMOVED WITH TREMBLING HANDS I MADE A TINY BREACH IN THE UPPER LEFT HAND CORNER AND THEN WIDENING THE HOLE A LITTLE I INSERTED THE CANDLE AND PEERED IN THE HOT AIR ESCAPING FROM THE CHAMBER CAUSED THE FLAME TO FLICKER BUT PRESENTLY DETAILS OF THE ROOM WITHIN EMERGED FROM THE MIST X CAN YOU SEE ANYTHING Q (?)

Despite the attentions of some of the world’s greatest cryptographers, the fourth section remains unsolved. If you’d like to try your luck, you can find it here.

In 1994, a billboard containing the message below appeared in Silicon Valley.

The website that the solution led to contained another problem to solve:

f(1)= 7182818284

f(2)= 8182845904

f(3)= 8747135266

f(4)= 7427466391

f(5)= __________

The solution provided the password to a third website – a recruiting page for Google, with this message:

One thing we’ve learned while building Google is that it’s easier to find what you’re looking for if it comes looking for you . . . As you can imagine, we get many, many resumes every day, so we developed this little process to increase the signal-to-noise ratio.

The Voynich manuscript is one of the world’s great unsolved texts. (Image from xkcd.)


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