gary's kryptos notes


All that Glistens

One of the many overlooked challenges in understanding Kryptos is that we don’t know what Kryptos really is.  We think we know what it is, but after all these years, it’s obvious we’re missing something critical.  That’s the whole point of a mystery like this- deception.  Deceit can take on many forms and be used for many purposes as we will discover in this blog.

I’ve always thought it a great disservice in pursuing k4 to have had the Morse Code, Vigenere Ciphers, and Rotational Transposition Cipher solved for us.  Some might consider this an advantage, an insight, a head start.  Unfortunately this makes it easy to focus more on the decrypted plain texts than the clues that emerge in solving them when pursuing the lower part of the Kryptos copperplate.  I’m confident this diversion is by design.  What could we gain by looking at Kryptos as if it were an object that merely has the appearance of encryption but is something entirely different- or something more?

So far all who have taken interest in Kryptos have also taken the position that we are supposed to intercept messages meant for someone else.  We’re eavesdropping, so to say.  That’s the visible part of the story:  here’s a code; crack it.  On the other hand, there is a subtle cry for help hidden in Kryptos, and someone should hear that cry amidst all the other distractions that take the form of the encrypted puzzle.  Kryptos isn’t entirely what it seems.

1-Gold-Glitter-CandleI don’t want to detract from the important lessons learned in decrypting Kryptos from the beginning, but by not doing so, we miss what is otherwise virtually invisible.

Among many obscure phrases in the Morse Code at the entrance to the CIA’s New Headquarters Building is a peculiar “SOS” that, aside from the “YR” (or is it RQ?  You’ll find out that it’s both in a future post), stands out.  All of the other Morse Code on the strata are physically arranged into two parallel texts.

Take a moment to read Wikipedia: Distress Signal.  I don’t want to take this concept too far at this point given the limited clues we are pursuing, but in the context of distress signals, the Kryptos copperplate resembles a flag, and part of it is backward.  A precursory look at Kryptos indicates someone or something is in trouble.  We can take note of the Morse Code SOS, which is SOS regardless of your physical orientation.

We may need to shift our focus from “spying” to “detecting distress signals,” the antipodes of what, by all accounts, everyone is presently doing.  If someone wanted to send a message without the competition knowing the message existed at all, in what ways could that kind of steganography transpire?

In Kryptos, mistakes are hidden distress calls.

All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgement old
Your answer had not been inscroll’d
Fare you well, your suit is cold.


A Needle in a Haystack

Note:  This story is an analogy.  It is not cryptic.  For the love of Almighty God, don’t read into it.

Solving Kryptos is like finding a needle in a haystack.

We’re at the barn.  We see the hay, and there is a big sign on the door that says, “Find the needle.”  Sounds achievable, doesn’t it?

In my experience, most people would assess the difficulty of the problem that lies ahead- and give up before the lessons even begin.  Others, like KryptosFan, approach the situation by moving one straw at a time, carefully analyzing each straw for any form of a needle.  What a respectable, yet agonizing task that must be.  And then there are others who deduct and bisect the possible from the improbable. Oh, we can’t forget the delusional- those people who only comment cryptically as if fishing for evidence that someone else is “solving Kryptos exactly the same way and will understand every little thing I’m saying” – without giving away what it is these people think they’re doing.  If you are one of those people, stop what you are doing, stand up from your chair, open the door and go outside for a nice long walk, preferably somewhere you won’t have access to the Internet and the Kryptos community.  Take a break.

In those processes, we learn something.  We learn to manage our search more efficiently.  We expect to stumble onto a needle through intelligent pursuit as opposed to randomly checking different areas in the stack.

Hope without a plan or boundaries leads to a guessing game no one can resolve: Did I already check this spot?  I can’t remember if I checked over there.  How many areas will I need to check, and when I can’t find the needle, which areas did I miss? Is a needle here at all, and what do I do with all these secret signals no one else knows about?  Conspiracy!  Board up your bunkers, folks, and don’t come out until it’s safe.

Along comes Farmer Sanborn and says to those searching the barn, “Now I said, ‘find the needle,’ but you don’t know if it’s a big needle or a microscopic needle, a darning needle or a syringe.”  And it suddenly seems as though the barn got infinitely bigger and more challenging.

[Enter doubt]

So rather than dig through the hay, we can enjoy the idea that there really is a needle.  We look at the walls of the barn and the ceiling and wooden floor, and we can say, “the needle is definitely in this space *hands gesturing*.”  It’s not outside of the barn.  We dwell on that definite, confined knowledge.

[Enter confidence]

And then the barn suddenly becomes much smaller in contrast to all the places outside the barn the needle could have been placed.

That shift in perception allows us to see some things.  When our eyes become adjusted to the darkness, we might find an old-fashioned Singer sewing machine in the corner of the barn.  Now we don’t know for sure, but we can think that maybe the needle is closer to the sewing machine than not.  What we do know is that there is definitely a sewing machine, and we like sewing machines because we are looking for a needle.

Without absolute confidence, when we go to inspect the sewing machine (after briefly looking through the nearby hay on the floor, of course) we find a note.  It says, “I dropped my needle by the doorway.  Help me find it.”

What an exciting discovery… until we realize the barn has more than a dozen doorways and underground cellars- there could be hundreds.  That needle could be anywhere.

So instead of giving up like many should at this point, we think- well, the hay is soft, and “I’m tired.  I’ll just lay here awhile and imagine finding that needle at one of the doorways when I awaken.”

Little do we know now that whatever it is we may find will likely only be the resemblance of a needle and that the game has only begun.


As you drift off, you gain a sense of dignity that you realize you don’t need the needle.  What are you going to do with a needle when you find it?  Why are you really doing this?

You understand this mission isn’t about possessing a needle.  It’s about finding it.  You want to gain knowledge of where the needle is, a curiosity that could satisfy the need to know the unknown.

Once you know, the needle will be in your grasp, and the hay will vanish.

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