News-based English language activities from the global newspaper

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January 2011

Level ≥ Advanced Style ≥ Individual or group activities
Welcome to the Guardian Weekly’s special news-based materials to support learners and teachers of English. Each month, the Guardian Weekly newspaper selects topical news articles that can be used to practise English language skills. The materials are graded for two levels: Advanced and Lower Intermediate. These worksheets can be downloaded free from You can also find more advice for teachers and learners from the Guardian Weekly’s Learning English section on the site. Materials prepared by Janet Hardy-Gould

Artist gives codebreakers hope of solving CIA puzzle

Challenging art ... Jim Sanborn’s sculpture with embedded riddle CIA

Before reading
1 Look at the questions below. Use a dictionary to check the words in bold if necessary. Then work with a partner to ask and answer the questions. a Do you enjoy solving difficult word puzzles or riddles? b Have you ever cracked a code or password? c Do you get frustrated when the answer to a crossword or puzzle eludes you? d Would you like to decipher secret codes as a fulltime job?

e Do you like the idea of devising your own codes? 2 Look at the headline, photo and caption of the article. Discuss the questions below in small groups. a What is the object in the picture? What is on it? b Which US organisation is the sculpture linked to? c What do you know about this organisation? Why is the sculpture appropriate?


News-based English language activities from the global newspaper

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January 2011

Artist gives codebreaker hope of solving CIA puzzle
1 Some of the best brains in code-breaking, including cryptographers in the CIA and the National Security Agency and thousands of amateur sleuths worldwide, have been given fresh hope that they may crack one of the world’s toughest puzzles, which has remained unsolved for 20 years.

7 The fourth and final code involves 97 of the 869 characters carved into the main portion of the sculpture. Sanborn has now revealed, through the New York Times, a six-letter element of those 97 letters. 8 He has disclosed that the part of the sculpture that reads “nypvtt” becomes “Berlin” once decoded. 9 Sanborn says that so far only two of the 97 characters have been deciphered. He told the New York Times he had become so fed up with obsessives contacting him to claim success that he has set up his own website to filter out approaches. 10 Correspondents will only be awarded access to the website if they can show that they have successfully decoded the first 10 letters of the 97-letter puzzle. Ed Pilkington New York

2 The riddle is embedded in a work of art that stands outside the main entrance to the CIA’s headquarters in Virginia. The artist who designed the 1990 sculpture, Jim Sanborn, has become so frustrated by the failure of the codebreaking community to crack his puzzle that he has dangled a six-letter clue in front of them. 3 The clue offers the hope that a problem that has eluded the finest thinkers in the intelligence community, as well as their high-powered computers, may now be solved. The riddle has also inspired websites and user groups. 4 Sanborn’s sculpture was commissioned to mark the extension of the agency’s headquarters in Langley, and was itself a play on the intelligence function of the agency: the sculpture’s name, Kryptos, means “hidden” in Greek. 5 Sanborn, who won the $250,000 commission to design the work in a competition, embedded four puzzles in the curved copper panels of the sculpture. He spent four months devising the codes, with the help of a retired CIA cryptographer. 6 Three of the four puzzles were solved in the first few years by a CIA physicist who cracked the code using just pen and paper, and then by a California-based IT specialist using a computer.

cryptographer (noun) a person who analyses or creates secret code systems CIA (abbreviation) Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA is a US government department that collects information about other countries, often secretly. National Security Agency (noun) an intelligence agency which is part of the US Department of Defence. It collects and analyses foreign communications. to dangle something in front of somebody (expression) to offer somebody a good thing in order to persuade them to do something


News-based English language activities from the global newspaper

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January 2011
Recent information given by artist

While reading
1 Read the article and make brief notes under the headings below. Location, date and name of sculpture


Reason sculpture commissioned, cost and material used

2 Read the article again. Note the paragraph number where can you find the following information. Then write down the exact information. a The number of characters in the fourth section deciphered by codebreakers. b The former profession of the man who helped Sanborn. How codebreakers can enter Sanborn’s new c internet site. d The length of time that the puzzle has been unsolved. e Which methods people used to crack the first three codes. The name of the publication that the artist used to f reveal the recent clue. g The word that is revealed when the artist’s clue is decoded. h The meaning of the sculpture’s name. 3 Work with a partner. Discuss the questions below with reference to the text. a Do you like Samborn’s work of art and the idea behind it? b Would you like to try and crack the code on the sculpture? Why?/Why not? See for the entrance to Samborn’s website. c Do you think anybody will succeed in cracking the code in the near future?

Special features of sculpture

After reading
1 Reason why artist is frustrated Complete the text below with the present perfect or past simple of the verbs in brackets. Use both the active and the passive. When Jim Sanborn and cryptographer Ed Scheidt first (create) the Kryptos (a) (not sculpture, they (b) think) it would take so long to crack the whole code. Three of the puzzles (c) (decipher) in the early 1990s, but the answer to the fourth section (d) ≥4

News-based English language activities from the global newspaper

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January 2011

(continue) to elude even the best cryptographers. Many online discussion groups (set up) but no answer (e) (find) yet. (f) Over the years this fourth puzzle (become) one of the (g) most famous unsolved codes in the world and some (wonder) if people (h) it is even possible to find the answer. However, when (ask) about Sanborn (i) this by a journalist in 2003, he simply (answer): “Yes, it ain’t (j) easy, but it’s solvable.”

Activity – cryptography
Work in small groups to crack the Caesar’s code*. The clues will help you. The words are from the first two paragraphs. vohxwk – a person who solves crimes; a detective

Now, identify the words below from the article with the code. Use the words to complete the sentences. idloxuh, ghfrgh, fodlp, dpdwhxu, ihg xs, glvforvh the message a We tried to but we were unsuccessful. the b He decided to information to a colleague. codebreaker c The young couldn’t solve the complex riddle. to know d Does anybody the answer? e The cryptographers were upset by their . f After so many attempts at the puzzle, the . codebreakers were *Named after Julius Caesar, this code is one of the simplest and best-known encryption methods. The letters of the original message are replaced by a letter which is a fixed number of positions down the alphabet eg A = B.

sxccoh – a game that you have to think about carefully to find the answer

hqwudqfh – a door or gate used for going into a building

Before reading 1 a A sculpture. A secret code/ riddle. b The CIA. (The CIA is a US government department which collects information about other countries, often secretly.) c The CIA is involved in code breaking. The secret code on the sculpture reflects the work of the CIA. While reading 1 Location etc: Langley, Virginia. 1990. Kryptos. Artist: Jim Sanborn. Reason commissioned etc: To mark the extension of CIA headquarters. $250,000. Copper. Special features: it has a riddle embedded in it. The code is in four parts. Why artist is frustrated: Nobody has cracked all of the code. Recent information: a six-letter section of the code has been revealed. 2 a 9. Two. b 5. CIA cryptographer. c 10. By giving the first ten letters of the puzzle.

d 1. 20 years. e 6. Pen and paper; with a computer. f 7. New York Times. g 8. Berlin. h 4. It means “hidden” in Greek. After reading 1 a created b didn’t think c were deciphered d has continued e have been set up f has been found g has become h have wondered i was asked j answered Activity The code has a shift of three with a left rotation. A = D, B = E etc. Clues: sleuth, puzzle, entrance. idloxuh = failure, ghfrgh = decode, fodlp = claim, dpdwhxu = amateur, ihg xs = fed up, glvforvh = disclose. a decode b disclose c amateur d claim e failure f fed up