Three True Stories

Many times in life, something strange happens, and we pause and exclaim “what were the odds of that?”.  But we don’t actually stop and calculate those odds (OK, sometimes I do, just for grins) and we never give voice to the more important question: “What does it all mean?”  Read on…

Story Number One

Once upon a time, I took a girlfriend to Gruene Hall, the oldest dance hall in Texas.  This is not a nightclub so much as it is a nice place to go and chill out, especially on a Saturday afternoon.  Picture wooden floors, long wooden picnic tables and benches, and a general friendly, laid-back attitude. My girlfriend and I took some playing cards with us, because we were very much into playing Cribbage at the time.

Halfway through our Cribbage game, my girlfriend was shuffling the cards, and something amazing happened.  For whatever reason, one card escaped her control during a shuffle, flew across the picnic table to where I was sitting, and almost hit me in the face.  Sitting as I was, elbows on table with head in hands, I was able to quickly move my right hand forward just a bit and snag the lower right corner of the card between my thumb and forefinger just in front of my nose.  Card aligned perfectly with the vertical, it was all so smooth and graceful, you would have sworn it was a practiced stunt.  But it wasn’t.  How often does one card “fly” from a deck, head specifically toward one individual, and get snagged so gracefully?  And get this… the card was the “Queen of Hearts”, the mythical card of love, romance, and relationships.   This was clearly a sign of things to come, for that girlfriend eventually became my wife.  Now there’s significance for you.  True story.

Story Number Two

Once upon a time, in high school, I was tossing a football around in the front yard with one of my best friends.  On one throw, I significantly overthrew him, and he had to chase the ball down in a neighbor’s yard.  For whatever reason, my friend decided to punt the ball back instead of throwing it.  It was going over my head, but it was very high with plenty of hang time.  I backpedaled slowly, keeping my eye on the trajectory.  Two steps.  Five steps.  The ball was on its way down, and I was moving across the driveway backwards.  Eight steps, and I was under the basketball goal now, with no more room to back up and unsure about how the ball would carom off of the backboard or pole.  But it didn’t carom.  The football swished straight through the hoop;  nothing but net.  What are the odds?  This, too, was clearly a sign of things to come, for my friend went on to be a two-sport athlete in college.  You guessed it:  football and basketball.  Yup.  Significant.  And true.

Story Number Three

The other day, I was straightening up the house.  I was upstairs, and I noticed that one of the tennis balls that my dogs play with was in an unsafe resting spot near the top of the staircase.  With full hands, I decided to nudge the ball with my foot in the direction of the stairs so that it could find its own way down.  The tennis ball bounced on the center of the first step, then on the center of the second, and likewise the third.  I started to pay heed.  And yes, that ball hit every single step exactly one time on its path down those stairs.  It had just the right speed and direction neither to miss a step, double bounce, or contact a wall on either side.  True story.  What are the odds?  What is the significance?

The Significance of the Stories

Now before you have me fitted for my “tinfoil hat”, let me tell you that I was only kidding about the significance of the stories above.  Yes, the stories were true, but most scientifically-minded people wouldn’t attribute any significance to them.  Even non-geeks know that there probably is no significance, so nobody bothers to ask the question or really worry about the odds.  In a mindless universe with so many variables, we should expect every now and then to observe events that seem to be out of the ordinary and/or significant.  And I would venture to say that the vast majority of the time, there is no significance whatsoever.  That is exactly what some people are saying about the observations made in APEX Theory, and you are probably thinking that I just supported their claims.  That’s because the stories above are lacking context, and I am going to rectify that right now…


First of all, Kryptos is not a “mindless universe”.  There is no doubt that it has a creator, and it is widely believed that he has provided both clues and signs that are meant to serve as guidance and confirmation, respectively.  But the creator didn’t tell us which things were clues, how to interpret them, or what signs to look for.  All we know is that there are clues, and there are signs.  Here is the quote that supports this notion:

There are lots of doors to go through to get to the meaning of the code.  Every time you enter one doorway you might, in the distance, see another door.  You go through that doorway and then you go through another doorway.  It unfolds as it’s deciphered.”

– Jim Sanborn (from November, 2005 CNN Jamie McIntyre video)

According to this quote, we won’t necessarily know in advance what the signs shall be.  Therefore, if and when we encounter potential “doorways”, we will be compelled to determine their nature (i.e. sign vs coincidence) after the fact.  We have no other choice, and while such determinations are not slam-dunk simple or conclusive, they are definitely achievable if one is both highly imaginative and strictly discriminating.  These qualities are typically antithetical, so it requires a challenging process of “blue sky” dreaming vs “devil’s advocate” thinking.

Let’s construct an analogy between Kryptos and the stories I told you above.  Suppose one day, out of the clear blue, a multitude of people heard a voice from the heavens.  The voice told us that there was a mystery to solve and that he would be creating signs.  Then he gave us a bunch of ambiguous phrases to guide us.  (This is just a hypothetical story, by the way.  It’s only a thought experiment and analogy, so don’t go asking about the “tinfoil hat” again.)

Suppose now that the reason I went to Gruene Hall was because I had interpreted one of the phrases (maybe it said “oldest dance hall”) as a clue to go there.  Suppose also that another of the phrases was “after soaring ladies, proceed to friend’s house”.  In this context, it is appropriate to ask whether there was any significance to the fact that the Queen jumped across the table at me, and to see where this interpretation might lead. So I decide to go to a friend’s house, but I am not 100% convinced that I am correct.  Perhaps I chose which friend based upon a clean interpretation of some other clue.  (I grow weary of inventing these clues.  You get the point.)  And then, 10 minutes later, the football swishes through the basketball hoop.  Then I recall another phrase provided by the voice: “pigskin three pointer”.  Again, in this context, I think it is reasonable to consider whether this was another sign.  The story might proceed with a clue to kick the tennis ball down the stairs and a separate phrase that matches the unusual result, etc, etc, etc.  If the match between the clues, steps, and signs are clean enough, and the signs themselves are unusual enough, then these things begin to confirm one another and increase your confidence.  (This is similar to the concept of preponderance of the evidence in a court case, where there is no “smoking gun”, but there are numerous unlikely coincidences that you could not have foreseen at the beginning of the investigation.)  The APEX Theory is a very good example of this.  Go read it.

As I said before, each of these events happening on its own and out of context is completely without significance.  But in the context of a creative mystery (as opposed to a mindless universe) whereby these independent events happen consecutively (rather than years apart without any connection) and with clues and signs for guidance and confirmation (instead of arbitrary actions and observations) there may very well be significance.   Part of the process of determining whether to assume significance is asking the question:  “what are the odds that that could occur just by pure chance?”   While it is true that low odds by themselves are no guarantee of significance, they are certainly a requirement.  For instance, if I choose as a “sign” some event that happens every time I walk out the door, the power of that event as a discriminator diminishes and the problem becomes unsolvable.  (If the creator does not rely on “easter eggs” that are unusual, then how will we see them amongst all of the other possibilities?)

So, in this context when you ask the question “what are the odds of a uniformly random process having that result”, you are not just comparing the likelihood of that result to each of the other possible outcomes of the uniformly random process.  (We all know how that turns out.) You are actually just counting how many possible distinct outcomes there possibly were and confirming that you aren’t mistaking something quite commonplace for an “easter egg”.  You are playing “devil’s advocate”, as well you should.

Debunking the Debunkers

In APEX Theory, I provide a detailed methodology for approaching K4 which involves interpreting clues and observing signs.  The context of those clues, signs, and processes are extremely important details.   Without those details, the conclusions of APEX Theory seem about as far-fetched as the sarcastic significance of my three true stories above.  While I have no problem granting that the last one or two observations of APEX Theory may be pure chance, other observations support each other through the contextual relationships and preponderance of evidence.  Context is absolutely critical, so if someone were to attempt a critique of APEX Theory that leaves out a lot of that context, then they can “prove” anything they want.

Some people are masters at “proof by omission”.  Michael Moore could probably make Mother Theresa seem to be the anti-Christ just by editing film footage, sound bites, and printed quotes.  I sometimes wonder what makes certain people better at such things than others, but I digress.  Regardless of “why” or “how” someone drops important context in order to make a point, it is fairly simple for you to determine that it has happened.  In the case of APEX Theory, you can simply do this:  search the “debunking” material for instances of the words “doorway” or “world”.  Search likewise for any mention of the clues I’ve relied on.  Search for anything deeper than brief, high-level descriptions of my steps and their motivations.  Search for quotes taken out of context and then interpreted in the most extreme way possible (e.g. ” Here Thompson admits X…” when the quote provided does not say that, nor are the differences ever actually explored in depth.)

Actually, if you want to understand the strengths and weaknesses of APEX Theory, the best way to do that is simply go read it yourself.  If you happen to have an old copy of it, perhaps in Word document format, throw that thing away and go to the website where it is all much more clear. If you do that, then the most important thing to realize is this:  the strength of the theory lies in the clues and the way that the various observations fit together.  The statistics are only around to confirm that the “signs” are not things that happen all of the time.  The clues confirm the relevance.  If you don’t like the statistics, or if you don’t even think they should be in there, then by all means, go print out the document and redact all of the parts that mention them.  Then see what is left standing regarding clues, observations, and coincidences.

Can you see the forest for the trees?

7 Responses to “Three True Stories”

  1. “There is no doubt that [Kryptos] has a creator, and it is widely believed that he has provided both clues and signs that are meant to serve as guidance and confirmation, respectively. But the creator didn’t tell us which things were clues, how to interpret them, or what signs to look for.”

    Every good magician knows the importance of creating false memories. What is this agency, CIA, about? Secrecy? It is my belief that “secrecy” is a byproduct of what they do. How about Deception? We’ve heard time and time again that Sanborn felt compelled to play the game. We also know that he wanted k4 to be difficult to solve. We have been given a significant clue – the Vigenere table. That clue translates quite obviously to the vigenere ciphers of k1 and k2. Other clues are obvious in context of correctness. For example, the Vigenere square seems to be rotated. This fact is difficult to ascertain without formal education. The same goes for the misspellings. The clues, some obvious, some subtle, are modifications of universally accepted systems. We know IQLUSION is spelled incorrectly because we know the correct English spelling. I digress with suggesting that if we believe we have tapped in to the correct technique of obtaining clues, we have moved into a mentality that we should be able to identify and interpret undiscovered clues as they become available. This is possibly a distraction, especially if “secret” clues are discovered. They are by design. They are meant to re-enforce a belief in secret progress. The intended message recipient would be able to distinguish between genuine clues and false trails. The creators of Kryptos have confirmed false trails.

    The puzzle would have been solved if a simple set of instructions existed that defined the clues. In your brilliant analogy of a voice from the heavens, we are tipped off to the kinds of things we should be looking for. Not so with Kryptos. Sanborn said he wanted to be unpredictable, and unfortunately, we’re relying on predictability more often than not. What else can we do? If we read “Between subtle shading and the absence of light…” it either means nothing or it means something. We have to try to give it our own meaning and then determine whether or not those alternate meanings are consistent with the rest of the message. This may come as surprise, but this is not correct analysis, because we are comparing an interpretation with an interpretation… too much personal projection.

    The clues thus far have not been a product of signs or “clean enough” connections. The clues are deliberate and obvious. IQLUSION is correctly spelled ILLUSION. Again, we are interpreting this, because IQLUSION might be some word other than ILLUSION, containing multiple misspellings. This is where our intuition has to come in to play given the context of the sentence in which the word appears — and given the context of the known parts of the puzzle. I’m not suggesting all clues are obvious to everyone. Clues are anomalies from an accepted standard. That’s all we have.

    I do like parts of the APEX Theory. I think the arrangement that results in a door-like matrix is intriguing and quite possibly something of great importance. This concept doesn’t meet the most stringent criteria, though, because there is not a standard by which a doorway matrix could be compared. I suppose a plausible argument would be that there is a universal “door structure.” It fits in with the plain text of previous sections. It’s not as assuring as DIGETAL, and we have to project our own ideas onto the meaning of plain text.

    I think it is fair to try to interpret the plain text as a clue to some “next phase” of the puzzle. However, why do we choose to do this, when the plain text itself is not erroneous as a whole. Is this a proper technique? Sanborn said he used earlier texts that refer to later texts, so it’s possible that the errors aren’t the only clues. Then again, maybe he was referring to the errors. Maybe he’s lying! We all must choose the line that divides fact from fiction, and until the puzzle is solved, every possibility is equally valid. “Anythings possible,” to quote the man himself.

    Regardless, I do highly recommend the APEX Theory as an intelligent analysis of one of the word’s most intriguing human-made puzzles. I think it motivates its readers to a unique, sound orientation regarding matrix manipulation. I certainly don’t side with outright debunkers. I’d have to ask them if they’ve really considered its plausibility. I’m willing to say, “No” to ideas that are based entirely on personal projection. But if it is remotely possible that two independent researchers could derive the same results, it’s going down in the book as a possibility. Until someone has the answer, we should have too much debunking anyway. It’s counter-productive and often overstates the obvious.

    • apexofkryptos Says:

      Hey there Gary. Thanks for the thoughtful response. Very refreshing.

      As you would expect, I want to continue along with this discussion. It is exactly the kind of back/forth dialogue that needs to be happening all over the Kryptos world (and I’m not just talking about my specific theory). People should not be too ashamed to voice a dissenting opinion, nor should they be too ashamed to rebut.

      However, in order to build not only a good response but also to avoid misunderstandings, I’m first going to see whether I can “tell you back” what you have told me (in paraphrase, of course). I won’t proceed with any embellishments or rebuttals until you are satisfied that I have properly understood you. After THAT, I will proceed with any arguments that may seem relevant. OK?

      This could take some time, and I’m pretty busy right now. So stay tuned for another response, probably next week while I’m in DC for the symposium and dinner with Ed.


      • Debunking must be a means to progress. Unfortunately, it tends to cause the author of an idea to remain steadfast with the original concept and become unwilling to move from it. It’s that defense mechanism that becomes dangerous in a collaboration. I hope dialogue causes all parties involved to modify their thinking a little. Instead, most conversations end with, “you’re wrong,” implying someone knows what is right. Good for someone to stand up and say, “I question this approach because…” as long as it isn’t followed by “Sanborn would never do that.” I constantly remind myself that there is no rule book here. No instruction manual. I get uncomfortable with the very large number of people who approach this puzzle religiously, as in, “I had a vision that Kryptos says ‘X’ and now I must find the path to it.” They will inevitably discover a path that is self-consistent, however inconsistent with measurable reality.

  2. *should not have too much debunking. My apologies.

  3. My translation of the Kryptos 97 characters is:


    The N is omitted in the word missing. Mr. Sanborn scrambles some but not all of the words and imposes a few rules. The two main rules are using the count in the alphabet from the letter before it such as K to R (count 7) in OBKRU for the next U, and then in some instances, he gives you the option of one letter back or one forward after the count to make the right letter for the word. I’ll show you how it works after I display the actual scrambled message:


    To start the cycle, you must use the W before the question mark in W?OBKR. The count from W to O is back 8 without counting the letter W or W-VUTSRQPO. However 7 back from O is H (remember you can go one letter back or forward from the final count) or O-NMLKJIH for the letter is H. Again, you use the count of 8 to pick up the cycle queue of counts with B or TUVWXYZA-B for the letter T (the alphabet wraps around for the counts). The K count is back 13 from O to B or O-NMLKJIHGFEDCB, but 12 forward from the letter K is W or K-LMNOPQRSTUVW for W. The count from B to K is 9 for the letter R, so you count 9 forward from R-STUVWXYZA for the letter is A. Therefore, the scrambled HTWA is the word WHAT. Here is what it looks like in my notes:

    8 8 13 9
    O B K R
    <-7 9->
    H T W A

    It’s also fair to use the next letter after second of double letters SS(T) and QQ(R) and also for the count of 13, but you do not have to always impose these rules. For example, for the word ST-X-RIP, the second Q of QQ is an R, and the last U in the code is a count of 13, but he uses it as U to T. Additionally, the letters for the count of 13 can also stay in-situ.

    Between RIVER and SPREE, he puts in his one big mine field. You are supposed to know it is Spree so he goes off count. The C used for the last R of RIVER requires the count of 10, and D should require a count of 1, but instead he uses 11, and then continues with all the same numbers in queue to finish the code.

    I have a few more comments. It appears that all the misspellings are related to the letters N and G. Even the extra letter in the word HELLL can translate into a G. I’m reading this as Nazi Gestapo, but I could be wrong. I toiled at the very end because he added one more small mine field in the translation in DEALS CUTX. He requires you to go back not one but two extra letters for the K and R of KCAR to make the C from the K and X from the R. Otherwise all of the other letters are there. I believe there is a second message in these last letters. If true, you have to think out of the box and expand your mind. From my above explanation, there is a clue to figure out Q’s real initial. At any rate, I gave the Kryptos code translation the old college try. I have many more code and cipher translations. All the best, Murph

  4. It doesn’t seem to go through right . . . but if you think this a worthy you can hand correct for me.

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