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What is it about human nature that draws us to puzzles?


Our minds are trained by aeons of evolution to look for patterns. Puzzles are merely patterns that have been rearranged, scrambled. The moment that we realize this, we immediately want to restore order, to put the pattern back together properly with everything in its right place. Our brains are sometimes logical to a fault, and when things don’t fit together it can cause extreme anxiety.



Most of the time people get pleasure out of solving puzzles for the sake of accomplishing the task. It’s why newspapers have crosswords or sudoku puzzles in them. But in some cases there are real-world motivations that make finding the solution carry tangible gravity. Last year, courtesy of the biopic titled The Imitation Game, many became familiar with the story of Alan Turing and his team at Bletchley Park’s work to crack the encryptions that protected German communications from being intercepted during World War II. Cracking codes has been a part of almost every major military conflict since the advent of written language.


But what happens when the cypher you’re trying to crack is a work of art?


One high-profile example includes Kryptos, the sculpture commissioned for the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and made by Jim Sanborn. The sculpture includes four encrypted messages, only three of which have been publicly solved. It seems odd in this age of computer processing power that grows exponentially that an analog cypher could remain unsolved, and yet Kryptos has baffled cryptographers since its installation in 1990.


The first three codes in Kryptos have been solved, but to what end? The first code was a short poetic phrase that Sanborn composed, and which included an intentional misspelling. One assumes this was done to throw codebreakers off the scent, but you make that assumption at your own peril. When the codes are cracked, an encrypted piece of artwork immediately stops resembling a puzzle in any meaningful way. If you solve an encrypted message about an opposing army’s troop movements, you can immediately parse that information and put it to use. But this isn’t the case with artwork.



Sanborn’s encrypted phrase reads: “BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION.” The next cypher enigmatically alludes to something buried at a specific set of coordinates that are actually on the grounds of the CIA headquarters. The third code is a paraphrasing of explorer Howard Carter’s account of the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. The fourth code remains unsolved.


What do the three codes that have been broken have to do with one another? Would the solution of the fourth one somehow tie everything together? It seems reasonable to conjecture that the answer is no. At least, not in a straightforward way. Therein lies the possibly maddening caveat in all artwork containing codes that can be broken: you’re not guaranteed to get a satisfying answer. Where does one turn from there? It seems reasonable that a codebreaker could crack all four cyphers in Kryptos and then, without a clearly understandable meaning, would continue to treat the solution to each code as part of a larger puzzle, still unsolved. And for all anyone knows that could be the proper course of action. Given their nature, puzzles aren’t solved until they form a recognizable pattern. Artwork that contains puzzles can be solved from a technical standpoint without ever forming a recognizable pattern. Conceivably, you could spend years trying to reshape a piece of art like Kryptos into a pattern with pieces that fit neatly together.


There is no one right way to experience artwork, it’s true.


For you, maybe the best way to look at Monet’s Water Lilies is hanging upside down from a bench, or spinning around wildly (though we do ask that you be careful). There are some wrong ways to examine artwork though, and treating a poem or a painting like a code with one correct solution is one wrong way. That’s what makes it so interesting when an artist chooses to use cryptographic elements in his or her work. It is difficult to tell whether this is done as a way of commenting on the inherently mysterious nature of a piece of art, by adding an additional layer of code on top of the already intrinsically enigmatic piece, or if it’s simply the artist’s way of throwing a bone to those viewers who crave logical rights and wrongs in all things. It could be both, or neither — another unsolved mystery.


















Your Thoughts


  1. Have you ever created a secret code for communicating with someone?
  2. Do you prefer something like a crossword puzzle, with one correct solution that you can arrive at? Or a piece of artwork which can be interpreted in many ways, none of them necessarily right or wrong?
  3. Have you ever taken part in a session of exquisite corpse — in which each poet writes one line for a poem, with all the random lines then being stitched together to bring the formerly fractured corpse poem to life? What was the result?













What is it about human nature that draws us to puzzles? Our minds are trained by aeons of evolution to look for patterns. Puzzles are merely patterns that have been rearranged, scrambled. The moment that we realize this, we immediately want to restore order, to put the pattern back together properly with everything in its right place. Our brains are sometimes logical to a fault, and when things don’t fit together it can cause extreme anxiety.

Author: eawood
Curator: ellenherbert
Designer: seoul-child

For more articles like this, visit depthRADIUS.
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Add a Comment:
 
:iconimeandmyself:
ImEandMyself Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2015
1. Yes, me and my best friend used to have gestures we'd use in class (we'd only use the "I'm bored" one)
2. Not only I prefer an artwork anyone interprets in its own way but I hate crossword puzzles. They do not apply in the real world and if you learn a few rules you can solve anything while a piece of art can't be solved or understood, it is simply felt. (yes, I hate maths and science)
3. I have and there wasn't really a result just a bunch of random ideas. By the end I was soo annoyed because many didn't know how to link the ideas.
Reply
:icongreen-eyedtiger:
Green-EyedTiger Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
I took part in I think the last Exquisite Corpse and it was pretty epic in the end. I'm waiting impatiently for the next :saddummy:
Reply
:iconalexadream:
AlexaDream Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
1. Not really... Me and my BFF write in runes, when we don't want anyone else to read it.
2. We like to draw random things, mostly without exact meaning... Or multiple meaning.
3. Does Quoting multiple movies randomly count? I do that a lot...
Reply
:iconfitzlin:
Fitzlin Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2015
*Professor Layton voice* This reminds me of a puzzle.
Reply
:iconpixdigit:
Pixdigit Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I use OTP (no, not one true pairing, One-Time-Pads) sometimes for 100% secure communication, when it comes to highly secure data.
Reply
:iconbeatsurisu:
beatsurisu Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2015  Hobbyist Artist
1. Yep. When I was kid, with my cousin I developed a "draconian alphabet", with a lot of signs that I don't remember so much...
2. Both of them. Art inspires, puzzles puts the brain to work.
3. Yes, and that was some bizarre...

*sorry for my poor english...
Reply
:iconfoxyantho:
FoxyAntho Featured By Owner Apr 5, 2015
Even if it's obfuscated and not encrypted, another great example is the IOCCC contest which is really impressive :) ( and even more if you are a programmer :D )
Reply
:iconsalmacis123:
Salmacis123 Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
1- Yes, several.
2- I prefer an artwork with several layers of interpretation.
3- Never done one. Good idea though.
Reply
:iconarenja:
Arenja Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
1. sort of. we created a new language 
2. prefer a piece of artwork
3. not a poem, but a story, we never finished it though
Reply
:iconeadorimthryth:
eadorimthryth Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
1. yes, it used a complicated use of Futhark and Futhorce runes.
2. depends, i can enjoy both, but at different times.
3. nope
Reply
:iconlugia20711:
Lugia20711 Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2015  Student Writer
1. No

2. A piece of artwork where anyone can come up with any conclusion.

3. No. But that would be cool to do.
Reply
:iconloyal-scarlet:
Loyal-Scarlet Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2015  Student General Artist
1. Yes! E.g., fav.me/d5gj7l2, fav.me/d754bod, fav.me/d49kzmq
2. Both!
3. No... but I would like to.
Reply
:iconwindysilver:
WindySilver Featured By Owner Apr 3, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
1. Nope. I know two not-so-well-known (around my school, at least) letter systems which I could use to encrypt anything I write to a paper, if I needed to. Shoulda try to get them as fonts to computer, maybe...
2. A piece of artwork which can be interpreted in many ways. I like hear other people's interpretations and realize, that "Hey, I din't notice/think that!"
3. No. Maybe I should try it someday. :)
Reply
:iconzx-sonamy-x:
ZX-sonamy-X Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm gonna take a guess and say that if these words are all colors or picture or... Whatever, it reminds me of digitizing , yeah that, picture into numbers, so every color is a number? Nothing related to that.....
Reply
:iconbendrowned-ebooks:
literally everyone in these comments:
"bill cipher? bill cipher."
anyway...
1. i think maybe i tried to once, when i was little. i don't think it went farther than "hello" and "goodbye", though.
2. i would rather have a piece of artwork, that doesn't have any rights or wrongs. oftentimes when things end up having a single answer, i end up choosing the incorrect one. it's more fun to go and draw your own conclusions to things, and find your own answer that you believe in.
3. i haven't heard of that before... however, one time i did a thing on instagram where i put my playlist on shuffle and wrote down the first line of each song that came on and put them all together in one thing, and it ended up being really... sad. :- (
Reply
:iconblackbelt1st:
blackbelt1st Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015
1.

PBDD GQVO KWZK PKMO HVXE TWLZ DVQY UKCT ISVF ELIL OJSI DGEB MVLK TXUQ TXDV STPH PQMO AOWH BPOH HODU GGLC YLLG DSPM DYHT ZKIZ GHFK AAUR OKFX RMFC VSLM VOPM SUSB YOBS JHTX KJNM EG

2.

XLEO COQD FIAF BVJY SBET QSMN VVJD VISS QBTK HHUJ DBDH RMJJ GDAG BOXN LMEX HGMR DODX EJLF NHLH SIOL TZEE OZZO XAAG MHHO RNDB XCVT XNJD EMWV YUKS PYJL SCXW CFBQ TQJW ZYJJ IM
Reply
:iconblackbelt1st:
blackbelt1st Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015
I'll post the decrypted code sometime on Saterday.
Reply
:iconblackbelt1st:
blackbelt1st Featured By Owner Apr 4, 2015
1. I created a code, it wasn't in art but in music. It used a notes position on the bar line to determine the letter and the key signiture to determine which notes are part of the code.

2. 
I would rather have a straight forward answer if it was a math problem or some interpritation question on a test. In art and music I would like multiple interpritations. 
Reply
:iconpeppermintsoda:
PeppermintSoda Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Student
They forgot Gravity Falls :noes:
Reply
:iconnyx-valentine:
Nyx-Valentine Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Professional General Artist
The Voynich manuscript is incredible beautiful, and I look forward to the day when someone finally figures it all out.
Reply
:iconfadedpaper:
FadedPaper Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Can I see the fourth message with the unbreakable code? XD
Reply
:iconroguemudblood:
RogueMudblood Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015   Writer
Lovely feature and article!

Discuss response:
  1. When I was younger, that was actually a "cool" and "neat" way to communicate - and, yes, I did.

    It became far less entertaining when someone was able to decipher it, though. But, then, I'm talking about the scribblings of children with that reference, not the enormity of building a sculpture with four built-in puzzles.

  2. I think that depends entirely on my mood at that moment.

    That's a bit like asking, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" and expecting the same answer out of everyone. While people on other sites might say, "I dunno - I dunno!", people on deviantART are more likely to come up with a zany response. ;)

  3. No, can't say that I have.
Reply
:iconalqallafx600:
Alqallafx600 Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015
Nice
Reply
:iconsonic11110:
Sonic11110 Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Lol looks like Bill was moved so people wouldn't get the wrong idea XD
Reply
:iconthemightfenek:
TheMightFenek Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Oooow where's Bill Cipher?
Reply
:iconredstone2013:
Redstone2013 Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015
I dont really understand?




And whats this "bill" thing going under this comment?
Reply
:iconpeppermintsoda:
PeppermintSoda Featured By Owner Edited Apr 2, 2015  Student
There's a character named Bill Cipher, from the animated TV series Gravity Falls. He's probably one of the main villains of the show. Since the show is full of cryptograms, and the word Cipher, yeah. ^^;

For more info, please see the Gravity Falls Wiki.
Reply
:icontv-island:
tv-island Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Nah, it was because the original thumbnail used for the article was Bill Cipher fanart and the writer of the article had no idea what they were doing, as per usual.
Reply
:iconpeppermintsoda:
PeppermintSoda Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Student
Ah, makes sense. But haven't seen it though.
Reply
:iconredstone2013:
Redstone2013 Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2015
Okay, i get the chiper thingy now.
But howbout that "incrypted" thing? I dont know what increpting art means, its just pictures we imagine and draw them out?
Reply
:iconpeppermintsoda:
PeppermintSoda Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2015  Student
I think it means there is a code in the artwork, and you have to decipher it?
Reply
:iconredstone2013:
Redstone2013 Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2015
Well, uh...
Reply
:iconpeppermintsoda:
PeppermintSoda Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2015  Student
Never mind. :shrug:
Reply
:iconlionkingwarriors561:
LionKingWarriors561 Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Bill Cipher! Lol! Okay. THEWORLDISANALLUSIONTHEUNIVERSEISAHOLOGRAMBUYGOLDBYEEEEEEEE!!!!!!
Reply
:iconrachelofnorth:
RachelofNorth Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Student General Artist
I just clicked this because of Bill Cypher... Gravity Falls is awesome!
Reply
:iconsmilegirl773:
smilegirl773 Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
GRAVITY FALLS FOREVER!!!!!!
Reply
:iconrachelofnorth:
RachelofNorth Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2015  Student General Artist
I can't wait for a new episode! Not What He Seems was such a cliffhanger.
Reply
:iconsmilegirl773:
smilegirl773 Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I know right!
Reply
:iconthejoffa:
TheJoffa Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015
me too :D (Big Grin) 
Reply
:iconkrookaburra:
Krookaburra Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Only clicked because of Bill tbh
Reply
:iconsmilegirl773:
smilegirl773 Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
BILL CYPIER! ( only reason I clicked)
Reply
:iconxchrysalisssx:
xChrysalisSsx Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015
Bill ;_;
Reply
:iconstupidsiren:
StupidSiren Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Student Digital Artist
Only clicked because of Bill...
Reply
:iconsurrealnacre:
SurrealNacre Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
lol am i the only one who clicked this because of Bill Cipher?
Reply
:iconsurrealnacre:
SurrealNacre Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
lol looks like i'm not alone xDD and that everybody in the comment section is on the same page lol
Reply
:iconlostspiritz:
LostSpiritz Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
//wehhHHH
Reply
:iconiamkathybrown:
iamkathybrown Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Not just you, heh.
Reply
:iconvirithewaffle:
ViriTheWaffle Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Student Filmographer
Me too XD
Reply
:iconda-vinx:
Da-VinX Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015  Hobbyist Artist
Same here xDD
Reply
:iconxchrysalisssx:
xChrysalisSsx Featured By Owner Apr 2, 2015
You not alone ;_;
Reply
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