Challenge 1: The Expert’s Curse

With, I hope to release one cipher, puzzle, or mystery every Wednesday evening. Anyone can attempt to solve. The winner is the first person to send a correct solution and a description of the solve method to Once a correct solution is e-mailed, I will publish a follow-up post, congratulating the winner and revealing the secrets of the code. At this stage in the game, there are no prizes except the thrill of the solve.

You may post questions or theories in the comments, but DO NOT POST SOLUTIONS. E-mail them to

Here’s Challenge #1 for August 9, 2017:


While attempting to solve the fourth part of Jim Sanborn’s CIA headquarters sculpture Kryptos, I theorized what seemed to me like a novel method.* It didn’t work. But I liked it so much that I decided to make a cipher of my own. And that cipher is “The Expert’s Curse.”

Here are a few clues:

  1. The solution (aka plaintext) is fewer characters than the code (aka ciphertext).
  2. The numbers 2 and 13 are significant.
  3. It is not a substitution cipher. Every character in the plaintext is in the ciphertext, unsubstituted.
  4. I present the ciphertext to you in five rows. The first thing you need to do is break up the text into a different number of rows. I won’t say how many, but it is more than five.
  5. Solving does not involve any of the following manipulations to the ciphertext: reversing, turning upside down, rotating right or left, switching rows or columns, or following a pattern (i.e. moving diagonally or moving down two rows and over three columns, etc).
  6. Some characters are the treasure map, some are the treasure, and some are both. The rest fill the gaps.
  7. The solve method bears some relation to a play mechanic in a popular, two-player guessing game created over 30 years ago. Perhaps it’s even older.
  8. The end is at the beginning of the end.

Here’s the code. Happy hunting!


* I thought the method was novel. However, after further research, it appears to be related to a known technique, although there are features I have not seen before.


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