Monthly Archives: November 2010

CIA Sculpture Code


WASHINGTON, D.C.— For the small but maniacally devoted art-and-cryptography community, this was a landmark weekend, as artist Jim Sanborn took to the New York Times to throw a bone to codebreakers looking to unlock the riddle of his 1990 sculpture for the CIA‘s headquarters, “Kryptos.” The outdoor installation, located in the agency’s courtyard, consists mainly of a curving copper plate inscribed with some 1,735 characters, which contain no less than four encrypted messages. The first three were cracked by a CIA physicist in 1998. The mysterious “Panel 4,” designed to be especially difficult to crack, has continued to stymie sleuths. Sanborn, apparently growing weary of fans confronting him with false solutions to the 20-year-old puzzle, has decided to push the process along by offering a hint.

The clue? “BERLIN,” a word that evokes the CIA’s many exploits in the Cold War espionage capital. This, the artist says, is the meaning of the final six characters of the sculpture, which read “NYPVTT.” The revelation might well help fans develop a key to solve the riddle of the other 91 characters.

Contracted by the CIA Fine Art Commission for $250,000, “Kryptos” was part of an expansion into new headquarters, paid for by a federal percent-for-art mandate. The installation includes a petrified tree — meant to represent the “source of materials on which written language has been recorded” — and a bubbling pool of water symbolizing “information being disseminated with the destination being unknown,” according to an official “Kryptos” Web site.

The intrigue of the work, however, has always derived from the secret messages themselves, devised by the artist with the help of CIA cryptographer Edward Scheidt. “Kryptos” has garnered a substantial cult, particularly after author Dan Brown referenced it in his 2009 novel “The Lost Symbol,” suggesting (erroneously) that it might contain “ancient Masonic secrets.”

So far, no new solutions have been posted on the most popular “Kryptos” fan site, maintained byElonka Dunin. For those who think they have cracked the code, Sanborn maintains a special Web portal where people can send their solutions.

Then again, it’s possible that even after the code is cracked, the intrigue will continue. “Once the plate is deciphered I’m not convinced the true meaning will be clear even then,” Sanborn said in a 1991 World News Tonight interview. “There’s another deeper mystery.”

Update: Elonka Dunin writes Artinfo to say: “it’s a significant clue, and we’ve made some interesting discoveries over the last 48 hours. If you’d like to follow along, send an email to”

Biafra Stamp

My thanks to Nkem Ejiofor for this unexpected and poignant reminder of how important it is to fight against historical amnesia.

Confederate Quilt

Came across this on eBay. I’ve backed and forthed about whether I want something so disconcerting on my blog. I might or might not leave it here. It simply never occurred to me that such a thing could exist – – matching comforter (!) and pillow shams for the cozy Confederate bedroom. Couples sleep together under this stuff; kids jump on the bed. I guess I’m amazed at what can still amaze me.

Worst President Ever Publishes Clueless Book



From Danny Schecter, The News Dissector. As if Bush ever read a word of Rand – – or much of anything else. As one commentator said about Bush’s book, “I’ll read it when he does.”

Scrapbook Entry: Massachusetts 54th Regiment

Massachusetts 54th Regiment – WGBH Open Vault.

Hope Kelly reports that city and state officials held a ceremony at the Massachusetts State House to honor Robert Gould Shaw and the soldiers of the 54th regiment. Kelly reviews the history of Shaw and the African American soldiers of the 54th regiment in the Civil War. Kelly’s report includes footage of the ceremony. The footage features people in historical dress. Part of the ceremony takes place in front of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial. Kelly reports that the ceremony moved to the African Meeting House. Footage of Marilyn Richardson (Curator, Museum of Afro-American History) addressing at audience at the African Meeting House. Kelly reports that the 1989 film Glory tells the story of the 54th regiment. Kelly’s report includes clips from the film. Kelly notes that a Glory day was proclaimed in Massachusetts.

A Random Act of Culture at Macy’s