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Elonka Dunin

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Elonka Dunin
Dunin in 2006
Born (1958-12-29) December 29, 1958 (age 65)
OccupationVideo game developer

Elonka Dunin (/ɪˈlɒŋkə ˈdʌnɪn/; born December 29, 1958) is an American video game developer and cryptologist.[1] Dunin worked at Simutronics Corp. in St. Louis, Missouri from 1990–2014, and in 2015 was Senior Producer at Black Gate Games in Nashville, Tennessee.[2] She is Chairperson Emerita and one of the founders of the International Game Developers Association's Online Games group, has contributed or been editor in chief on multiple IGDA State of the Industry white papers, and was one of the Directors of the Global Game Jam from 2011–2014.[3] As of 2020 she works as a management consultant at Accenture.[2]

Dunin has published a book of exercises on classical cryptography, and maintains cryptography-related websites about topics such as Kryptos, a sculpture at the Central Intelligence Agency containing an encrypted message,[1][4][5][6] and another on the world's most famous unsolved codes.[7] She has given several lectures on the subject of cryptography,[8][9] and according to the PBS series NOVA scienceNOW she is "generally considered the leading Kryptos expert in the world."[10] In 2010, bestselling author Dan Brown named a character, Nola Kaye, in his novel The Lost Symbol after her, in an anagram pattern.[11]

Early life and education[edit]

Dunin was born in Santa Monica, California, the older of two children to Stanley Dunin, a Polish-American mathematician, and Elsie Ivancich, a Croatian-American dance ethnologist at UCLA.[12]

Dunin graduated in 1976 from University High School, and then enrolled as an undergraduate at UCLA, but dropped out near the end of her freshman year.[12]

Dunin joined the United States Air Force, working as an avionics technician at RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom and Beale Air Force Base in California.[13] After choosing not to re-enlist, she studied digital electronics at Yuba College—a two-year community college—but did not obtain a degree.[12][14]


Online games[edit]

In the 1980s, she became involved with the growing BBS culture. In 1989, while she was working as a temporary legal secretary in Los Angeles, this interest overlapped into the early multiplayer games, such as British Legends on CompuServe and Simutronics' GemStone II on GEnie.[15]

In 1990, Dunin moved to St. Louis and began working for the online game company Simutronics.[13][16] Simutronics launched its own website, play.net, in 1997 with Dunin as General Manager of Online Games,[17] managing Simutronics' online community.[18][19] Dunin was the product manager for GemStone III, executive producer for the Hercules and Xena: Warrior Princess-based multiplayer game Alliance of Heroes, and worked in a variety of production and development roles on most of Simutronics' other products, including CyberStrike, Modus Operandi, DragonRealms, HeroEngine, Fantasy University, and Tiny Heroes. She is a founding member of the International Game Developers Association's Online Games SIG and edited four of their annual White Papers on various aspects of the online game industry, such as "Web and Downloadable Games" and "Persistent Worlds."[20][21]


Dunin held a variety of production and development roles during her 24 years at Simutronics. Games that she worked on include:


in St. Louis, 2006

Dunin has written books and articles about cryptography, and been interviewed on radio and television about related subjects such as Kryptos, the Smithy Code,[22] and Ricky McCormick's encrypted notes.[23] In an interview with GIGnews.com, Dunin said that in the year 2000 she cracked the PhreakNIC v3.0 Code, an amateur cryptographic puzzle created by a hacker group, and that this launched her public interest in high-profile ciphers.[24][25] Because of the location of Kryptos on CIA grounds, physical access to the sculpture is restricted. According to Wired News, in 2002, Dunin gave a presentation to CIA analysts about steganography and Al-Qaeda, and "[i]n 2002, Dunin was one of the lucky few who saw [Kryptos] in person", and "she also made rubbings of the text".[26] Based on her visit, she launched the beginnings of what became a comprehensive website about the sculpture,[1][27] and also became co-moderator of a Yahoo Group that is attempting to decipher the encrypted messages on the sculpture.[28] In 2003, Dunin organized a team which solved the ciphers on Kryptos's sister sculpture, the Cyrillic Projector.[13][29][30][31]

When Kryptos sculptor Jim Sanborn chose to release information about an error on the sculpture in 2006, he contacted Dunin to make the announcement.[1][27] In July 2007, Dunin appeared on the PBS program NOVA scienceNOW, as an expert on Kryptos, and in 2009, contributed two articles about the sculpture for the book Secrets of The Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code Sequel,[32] a companion book to author Dan Brown's novel The Lost Symbol. Dunin had assisted Brown with the research for the novel, and Brown named a character in the novel after her. The character "Nola Kaye" is an anagrammed form of "Elonka".[32][33][34]

In 2006, Dunin compiled a book of several hundred exercises in classical cryptography, which was published in the United States as The Mammoth Book of Secret Codes and Cryptograms, and in the UK as The Mammoth Book of Secret Code Puzzles. The book also includes a few details about several unsolved codes, such as Kryptos.[27]

In 2013, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Dunin, the NSA released documents which show the NSA became involved in attempts to solve the Kryptos puzzle in 1992, following a challenge by Bill Studeman, Deputy Director of the CIA. The documents show that by June 1993, a small group of NSA cryptanalysts had succeeded in solving the first three parts of the sculpture.[35][36]

Public speaking[edit]

Dunin has given talks on Kryptos and the Cyrillic Projector at the National Security Agency's Cryptologic History Symposium,[8] Def Con,[9] Shmoocon,[37] Notacon,[38] PhreakNIC,[25] and Dragon*Con,[39] and has also given lectures at the International Game Developers Conference.[40][41] She has been invited to be a co-host on the Binary Revolution webcast three times.[42] In October 2012, she was the guest of honor at Archon.[43]

In 2021, she gave a TEDx talk on cryptography, "2000 years of ordinary secrets".

Personal life[edit]

Dunin is a Wikipedia editor who has made tens of thousands of edits.[44]

Works and publications[edit]

  • (editor) IGDA Online Games White Paper, 2002. PDF
  • (editor) IGDA Online Games White Paper, 2003. PDF
  • (editor) IGDA Web & Downloadable Games White Paper, 2004. PDF
  • (editor-in-chief) IGDA Persistent Worlds White Paper, 2004. PDF
  • Dunin, Elonka (April 2006). The Mammoth Book of Secret Codes and Cryptograms. New York, United States: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 978-0-7867-1726-2.
  • Dunin, Elonka (April 2006). The Mammoth Book of Secret Code Puzzles. London, United Kingdom: Constable & Robinson. ISBN 978-1-84529-325-3.
  • Dunin, Elonka (2009). "Kryptos: The Unsolved Enigma". In Daniel Burstein; Arne de Keijzer (eds.). Secrets of the Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code Sequel. HarperCollins. pp. 319–326. ISBN 978-0-06-196495-4.
  • Dunin, Elonka (2009). "Art, Encryption, and the Preservation of Secrets: An interview with Jim Sanborn". In Daniel Burstein; Arne de Keijzer (eds.). Secrets of the Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code Sequel. HarperCollins. pp. 294–300. ISBN 978-0-06-196495-4.
  • Dunin, Elonka; Schmeh, Klaus (2020). Codebreaking: A Practical Guide. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-1472144218.
  • Dunin, Elonka; Ekhall, Magnus; Hamidullin, Konstantin; Lasry, George; Schmeh, Klaus (2022). "How we set new world records in breaking Playfair ciphertexts". Cryptologia. 46 (4): 302–322. doi:10.1080/01611194.2021.1905734. S2CID 238645714.
  • Dunin, Elonka; Schmeh, Klaus (2023). Codebreaking: A Practical Guide (Expanded ed.). No Starch Press. ISBN 978-1718502727.


  1. ^ a b c d Chang, Kenneth (April 22, 2006). "A Break for Code Breakers on a C.I.A. Mystery". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b Dunin, Elonka (July 15, 2020). "Professional Bio". elonka.com. Retrieved July 15, 2020.
  3. ^ Vakhrusheva, Yulia (August 15, 2011). "Gloge and Dunin join Global Game Jam management team". Casual Connect. Archived from the original on April 22, 2012. Retrieved August 17, 2011.
  4. ^ Hallett, Vicky (May 19, 2006). "Code Warrioress - she's cracking the D.C. area's biggest secret" (PDF). The Washington Post. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
  5. ^ Kravitz, Derek (April 27, 2006). "London Lawyers Turn Into Code-Breakers". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  6. ^ "Enigmatic CIA Puzzle Kryptos May Be Flawed" NPR All Things Considered, April 21, 2006
  7. ^ "Elonka's list of famous unsolved codes". elonka.com. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
  8. ^ a b "NSA Cryptologic History Symposium in 2005". kryptos.yak.net. Retrieved 2008-11-13.
  9. ^ a b Defcon 12: Kryptos and the Cracking of the Cyrillic Projector Cipher
  10. ^ "Kryptos". NOVA scienceNOW. July 2007. Retrieved October 13, 2007.
  11. ^ Kerman, Byron (October 2011). "What It's Like to Be a Cryptographer". St. Louis Magazine. Retrieved September 16, 2011.
  12. ^ a b c Dunin, Elonka (February 21, 2006). "Elonka Dunin - Autobiography". Retrieved January 5, 2009.
  13. ^ a b c Stage, Wm. (August 28, 2006). "Elonka Dunin's ability to crack codes is stuff books are made of". St. Charles County Business Record.
  14. ^ "Tommarello Interview with Elonka Dunin". elonka.com. Retrieved November 13, 2008. Elonka does not have a college degree, but has a wide breadth of practical experience to draw upon. After dropping out of college, she spent six years in the Air Force as an Avionics Instruments System Specialist.
  15. ^ Batz, Jeannette (June 19, 2002). "When Dragons Escape". Riverfront Times. Archived from the original on August 14, 2009. Retrieved February 7, 2007.
  16. ^ McCrary, William S. (January 9, 1994). "Games People Play". St. Charles Journal.
  17. ^ Pendleton, Jennifer (August 18, 1997). "Trends: Nice Work If You Can Master It". Los Angeles Times. p. 6.
  18. ^ Kim, Amy Jo (2000). Community Building on the Web : Secret Strategies for Successful Online Communities. Peachpit Press. ISBN 978-0-201-87484-6.
  19. ^ Austin, Nancy K (October 19, 1999). "Pure Internet play. Simutronics' online games". Inc. 21 (15): 75.
  20. ^ "Web and Downloadable Games White Paper" (PDF). IGDA. 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 6, 2009. Retrieved February 24, 2009.
  21. ^ "Persistent Worlds White Paper" (PDF). IGDA. 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 5, 2009. Retrieved February 24, 2009.
  22. ^ "Countdown with Keith Olbermann for April 28". NBC News. May 1, 2006. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
  23. ^ Jaco, Charles (March 30, 2011). "FBI seeks help cracking cold case code". KPLR. Archived from the original on August 21, 2011. Retrieved August 13, 2011.
  24. ^ Cambron, Melanie (May 2002). "A Chat with Elonka Dunin". GIGnews.com. Retrieved October 31, 2008.
  25. ^ a b PhreakNIC 6 schedule Archived 2008-12-01 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ Zetter, Kim (January 21, 2005). "Solving the Enigma of Kryptos". Wired.com. Retrieved October 31, 2008.
  27. ^ a b c Zetter, Kim (April 20, 2006). "Typo Confounds Kryptos Sleuths". Wired News. CondéNet, Inc. Archived from the original on 2008-10-12.
  28. ^ Redman, Justine; Ensor, David (June 20, 2005). "Cracking the code". CNN. Retrieved February 8, 2007.
  29. ^ Seife, Charles (October 7, 2003). "Cryptic Sculpture Cracked". Science Now. Archived from the original on 2004-03-09. Alt URL
  30. ^ Cyrillic Riddle Solved Science, vol 302, 10 October 2003, page 224
  31. ^ Kintisch, Eli (2003-10-08). "Woman sets sights on code on CIA sculpture". St. Louis Post-Dispatch.[dead link] Alt URL
  32. ^ a b Dunin, Elonka (2009). "Kryptos: The Unsolved Enigma". In Daniel Burstein; Arne de Keijzer (eds.). Secrets of the Lost Symbol: The Unauthorized Guide to the Mysteries Behind The Da Vinci Code Sequel. HarperCollins. pp. 319–326. ISBN 978-0-06-196495-4.
  33. ^ Taylor, Greg (2009). "Decoding Kryptos". In John Weber (ed.). Illustrated Guide to the Lost Symbol. Simon & Schuster. p. 161. ISBN 978-1-4165-2366-6.
  34. ^ Haag, Michael (2009). The Rough Guide to the Lost Symbol. Penguin. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-84836-009-9.
  35. ^ Zetter, Kim (July 10, 2013). "Documents Reveal How the NSA Cracked the Kryptos Sculpture Years Before the CIA". wired.com.
  36. ^ Sadowski, Jathan (July 11, 2013). "NSA Cracked Kryptos Before the CIA. What Other Mysteries Has It Solved?". slate.com.
  37. ^ "ShmooCon". www.shmoocon.org. Archived from the original on June 29, 2008. Retrieved November 13, 2008.
  38. ^ "NOTACON". www.notacon.org. Archived from the original on July 4, 2008. Retrieved November 13, 2008.
  39. ^ "The Kryptos Sculpture and Other Famous Unsolved Codes". Dragon*Con. Archived from the original on August 26, 2016. Retrieved August 23, 2016.
  40. ^ "Dragon*Con Biography: Elonka Dunin". Dragoncon.org. 2000. Archived from the original on 2001-03-08.
  41. ^ "Game Developers Conference 2008 Speakers: Elonka Dunin". CMPEvents.com. Retrieved October 31, 2008.[permanent dead link]
  42. ^ Episodes #78, #99 and #156 Archived 2006-02-19 at the Wayback Machine, Binary Revolution, interviews by David Blake.
  43. ^ "Archon 36". Archon (convention). Archived from the original on September 19, 2013. Retrieved December 14, 2013.
  44. ^ Weaver, Caity (2021-07-29). "Does 'The Da Vinci Code' Writer Have a Secret?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-07-30.

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