An entry in Fortnightly Topic Challenge #45: Flags

Captain Clumsy never ceases to amaze me... This morning I was down at the dockside when I heard a shout from a nearby ship. Steeling myself, I looked up... then let out a groan... Him again!

The docks were noisy and I couldn't hear exactly what he was saying, just snatches of it - I got the impression there was something very important missing from his ship or his supplies, but couldn't make out what. After a while he held up a finger in a way that said "Wait there one moment," and disappeared below deck.

I waited, and waited, but twenty minutes later he still hadn't re-emerged. Unable to linger any longer, I marched up the gangplank and onto his ship, finding him in his cabin.

"Ah, I was almost ready," he said. I looked down at his table, upon which were spread out seven European flags and a large piece of acetate with some shapes drawn upon it. Bemused, I asked what he was doing. "Just sending you a message," he said.

"What's wrong with just using the radio?" I asked. "Have you broken it again?!"

"No, I'm sure it's fine," replied Captain Clumsy. "I'm just a traditionalist - that technology doesn't always agree with me... And I can't find the normal ones, so I'm just..." He tailed off.

I was about to ask him what was so urgent, when looking down at the flags I was able to work it out for myself. Suffice to say I was not best pleased - I'm an engineer, for crying out loud! - and I told him quite plainly that he could go to the shops and get what he so desperately needed himself...

By examining the image below, can you work out what Captain Clumsy was lacking? How was he trying to communicate this to me?

Visual flag puzzle to be solved
Colour guide available here.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I always love it when Captain Clumsy makes an appearance. Nice one! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 13:16

1 Answer 1


I think that what Captain Clumsy is lacking is:


First of all, identify the flags:

They're alphabetically sorted:
BREMEN (Germany)

Secondly, the acetate:

If we take each color square (violet is split into two triangles which make the square) and take that section of one of the flags, then sort them by rainbow order, we can make the seven letters from KETCHUP in nautical flag (NATO) style.

Which generates the following table:

| Country | Border | Shape | NATO Letter |
| ---------------------- | ------ | ----------------------------------------- | ----------- |
| Bosnia and Herzegovina | Red | Vertical yellow & blue | K |
| Russia | Orange | Horizontal blue & red | E |
| Norway | Yellow | Vertical red, white & blue | T |
| Iceland | Green | Horizontal blue, white, red, white & blue | C |
| France | Blue | Vertical white & red | H |
| Bremen (Germany) | Indigo | Checkerboard red & white | U |
| Finland | Purple | Blue square, white inside | P |

EDIT: The flags cut out with the acetate patterns look like this:

Cutout flags

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You've found the answer Arturo, well done :) But what would make this answer to a visual puzzle really super would be a visual in response - e.g. a modified image to show the extraction of each of the letters from the flags. (Don't worry about 'sorting' the flags - it was more about finding the only combination which resulted in 7 valid letters; there's no secret clues in the text or picture that instruct you exactly which flag is red, orange, yellow, etc.) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 13:29
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Stiv good to know so I don't spend more time looking for clues on the sorting. I noticed that some flags could be interpreted two ways (or more), but I was solid on 4 or 5 and sorting them helped me fix the other ones. I cleaned the table a little so it at least looks like a proper table. I'm looking for an easy way to draw the images from my Work Mac. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 22, 2020 at 16:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Stiv, I've added a diagram $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 0:18
  • $\begingroup$ Nice, thanks Arturo :) I've just done a minor re-wording to remove that mention of needing another way to sort the flags, but feel free to re-edit into your own words. I've awarded you the checkmark, but if you do want to make any extra mentions of the thought process you alluded to in comments (you said you were "solid on 4 or 5") that might be useful extra background for other people following along with your answer. Up to you though - well done again :) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Dec 23, 2020 at 16:48

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