CWU News

Entering Cipher-Space: Register now for the Kryptos Code-breaking Competition

Sharpen your pencils and engage your brain! κρυπτοσ, or Kryptos, is the annual code-breaking contest open to any and all undergraduate students.

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. The competition was developed by CWU mathematics professor Stuart Boersma, and his colleague, Cheryl Beaver, a Western Oregon University mathematics professor.

Individual undergraduate students, or teams of up to three, are eligible to participate. Each individual or team must have a faculty sponsor to register. Last year, there were more than 200 entrants from sixteen different states and five countries. Even if you don’t qualify as a contestant, you can go to the Kryptos website,, to look at the previous years’ challenges and solutions—and test your skills as a cryptanalyst.

According to Boersma, who  teaches an upper level mathematics course in cryptology every few years, many of the challenges are based on historical ciphers that pre-date World War II. And while computers can be helpful in breaking some of the codes, most can be solved—if a little tediously—with paper and pencil.

“The main objective is to have fun,” said Boersma. “Most students with a little familiarity with ciphers or code-breaking will be able to solve the challenges. They aren’t overly technical nor do they use advanced mathematical algorithms.”

When the contest begins at 4:00 p.m. PDT on April 13, 2017, the Cipher Challenges will be available on the Kryptos website. Begin working and have fun! Solutions need to be submitted by 4:00 p.m. April 17, 2017. All times are Pacific Daylight Time.

For more information, go to the Kryptos website,, or e-mail Stuart Boersma,

The contest is sponsored by the Pacific Northwest section of the Mathematical Association of America.

Media Contact: Valerie Chapman-Stockwell, Public Affairs, 509-963-1518,
April 6, 2017