My uncle recently passed away* and it fell to me to sort through all his papers. Most things I came across were just old documents, bills, manuals, private correspondence, maps... that kind of thing. But one thing stood out.

Among all the paperwork I found what looks like a set of instructions written in my uncle's hand, lavishly spotted with coloured dots, arrows and other symbols (see picture below). I have no idea what they mean.

I remember my mother once telling me that my uncle was a vaccinologist, and that set my mind to wondering - is this actually some kind of secret formula for a new vaccine or medicine, something to combat a rare disease? Or is it just coded instructions for how to operate the washing machine?!

Please help me work out the significance of this mysterious instruction manual! (Especially what he meant by the last instruction...)

A set of mysterious instructions, comprising coloured dots, arrows and other symbols

* NB He didn't - the whole set-up here is fictitious. Please send your condolences to people who need them! :)

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Cool question @Stiv ! Wish I found this a few hours earlier .... $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 6, 2021 at 14:41
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Beautiful creative puzzle! $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 8, 2021 at 5:17

1 Answer 1


When your mother told you your uncle was a vaccinologist, you misheard. He was in fact a ...

... vexillologist, that is someone who studies flags.

The instructions show ...

... how to get from the flag of one country to the flag of another country by rotating, changing colours, adding or removing emblems. Simple emblems like circles and stars are denoted by their shapes, more complex emblems like double-headed eagles and lions rampant and other ornate shield designs are represented by the boxed question mark. Both countries start with the letter before each instruction.

Here's the list:

A Austria to Albania
B Bolivia to Bahamas
C Czechia to Chile
D Denmark to Dominican Republic
E Egypt to Estonia
F France to Finland
G Guinea to Ghana
H Hungary to Honduras
I Ireland to Italy
J Jordan to Japan
K Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan
L Laos to Lebanon
M Monaco to Malta
N Netherlands to Nigeria
O —
P Portugal to Palau
Q —
R Russia to Romania
S Suriname to Somalia
T Togo to Tonga
U United Arab Emirates to Uganda
V Venezuela to Vietnam
W —
X —
Y —
Z —

Or with a diagram:

Diagram with all instructions demonstrated visually

What's with the gaps?

There is only one country beginning with O (Oman), only one with Q (Qatar) and only one with Y (Yemen), so there's nothing to change. There are no countries with W and X and I dare you to describe how to get from the flag of Zimbabwe to the flag of Zambia with a few simple instructions. :)

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    $\begingroup$ Well done :) Nicely spotted. That's as far as this one goes - no secret messages, and as for the kettle that's just as you describe in the previous paragraph, nothing further. So not quite as 'partial' as you thought! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Commented Sep 6, 2021 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, I thought as much -- creating instructions while encoding a message would have been quite a challenge to even the most experienced "vaccinologist". I've edited the answer. Oh, and what a cool puzzle! $\endgroup$
    – M Oehm
    Commented Sep 6, 2021 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, and thanks for adding the useful diagram. It's all pretty clear now. $\endgroup$
    – M Oehm
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 5:13
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    $\begingroup$ Z isn't so hard. (without using Emoji): -[?], red black orange -> green, 12.5% green -> black, 33% green -> red, 50% green -> yellow, mirror horizontally, + white triangle, + yellow star, +[?] $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 14:23

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