CWU News

2018 Kryptos Challenge Attracts Participants from Around the World

The annual International Kryptos Challenge, hosted by the Central Washington University Department of Mathematics, boasted 143 participants, forming 61 teams. They represented colleges, universities, and schools from throughout the United States, including, Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Students in Canada and France also participated.

“We continue to have a lot of interest in this event,” said Stuart Boersma, professor and chair of mathematics, and co-founder of the Kryptos Challenge. Boersma has been running the challenge since 2011.

The contest centers on the breaking, or cryptanalysis, of secret writing, or ciphers. Each challenge presents contestants with a brief scenario together with an encoded message—ciphertext. The goal is to discover the original English plaintext message. This year, participants decrypted puzzling personal ads, unscrambled an intriguing invitation, and broke up a fictional internet trolling ring. The challenge was developed by Boersma, and his colleague, Cheryl Beaver, a Western Oregon University mathematics professor.

The first-place team, from Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, finished in just under 20 hours.

“I think the problems were a little more challenging this year,” Boersma said. “But the main objective is to have fun. Most students with a little familiarity with ciphers or code-breaking can solve the challenges. They aren’t overly technical, nor do they use advanced mathematical algorithms.”

The contest is sponsored by the Pacific Northwest section of the Mathematical Association of America and is held every April. The 2018 challenge was held April 5 through April 9. For more information, go to .

Media Contact: Valerie Chapman-Stockwell, Public Affairs, 509-963-1518,