This puzzle is part of the Puzzling Stack Exchange Advent Calendar 2022. The accepted answer to this question will be awarded a bounty worth 50 reputation.

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"Hi Pat! I just got your Christmas card."

"Oh, do you like the picture? That is our living room, all decorated for Christmas."

"Very nice! You know, I'm thinking of taking a trip early next year. Any ideas?"

"I've got the perfect destination for you...in fact, my boys are on their way there right now!"

"Great...where are you thinking?"

"Oh, my boys' names tell you exactly where they're headed."

"OK, Pat, I'll play along. What are their names?"

"It's in the card! Uh-oh, gotta run..."

So I looked in the card, and there aren't any, you know...words. Just the picture on the front, as shown below. Can you help me figure out the names of Pat's boys, and then tell me where Pat wants to send me?



1 Answer 1


I believe the perfect place for you to travel to is probably:

Bethlehem in Palestine (or possibly Nazareth in Israel, depending on your reading of the New Testament...).

Why? Because you can find the names of "the boys" concealed among...

...the country flags and maritime alphabet flags depicted on the wrappings of the three piles of Christmas presents.

Pile 1:
- The flags of Gabon (GA, in 2-letter country codes) and Panama (PA).
- The maritime flag codes for the letters S (blue square in white background), R (yellow cross on red background), and D (blue horizontal stripe between thinner yellow stripes).

These letters anagram to GASPARD.

Pile 2:
- The flags of Montenegro (ME), Saint Lucia (LC), and the British Indian Ocean territory (IO).
- The maritime flag codes for H (white and red vertical halves) and R (yellow cross on red background).

These letters anagram to MELCHIOR.

Pile 3:
- The flags of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BA), Lithuania (LT), Azerbaijan (AZ) and Argentina (AR).
- The maritime flag code for H (white and red vertical halves).

These letters anagram to BALTHAZAR.

Presents mapped to letters via country and maritime flags

And of course these three names are those of...

...the Magi, or 'Three Wise Men', who visited Mary, Joseph and Jesus after his birth.

The question is where exactly did they visit Jesus, though? Without going too deep into Biblical text interpretations, the candidates are really Bethlehem (the place of Jesus' birth) and Nazareth (his hometown), so it really depends on how long after the birth the Magi paid their visit. Regardless, it seems Pat is sending you to the region of modern-day Israel and Palestine either way!

Note: The OP hid a cavalcade of red herrings along the way (sneaky!):

The tree decorations spell out DISTRACTOR in semaphore flag code.

The pictures on the wall represent the NATO phonetic alphabet letters BRAVO (Johnny Bravo), OSCAR (Oscar Mayer), GOLF, UNIFORM, and SIERRA (the model of car), which together spell BOGUS.

The stockings can be read as Morse code (hanging left as a dash, right as a dot), giving:
-. --- .--. .
or NOPE!

  • $\begingroup$ Crushed in detail, including all of the red herrings! I wanted to put them in for there to be some enigma about which way to proceed, but then I realized it would be a very Pat thing to do. $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2022 at 14:16
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Well, you'll be pleased to know that I stumbled into all of the red herrings before finally choosing the correct part of the image to focus on! It's a good use of the space too :) (And yes, Pat is very much like that...) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Dec 16, 2022 at 14:18
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ It probably makes me a bad person, but yeah...I am a little bit pleased :-) Hope you enjoyed! $\endgroup$ Dec 16, 2022 at 14:41
  • $\begingroup$ Btw, the Wikipedia article on Bethlehem states that it's in the West Bank, Palestine: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bethlehem Nazareth, on the other hand, is in Israel. $\endgroup$
    – hb20007
    Dec 17, 2022 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ @hb20007 Ah yes, of course - changing borders and all that... Will work out how to be more true to modern day geography when I get a moment! $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Dec 17, 2022 at 16:42

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