A friend of mine works as a pilot, so he travels a lot and I don't see him that often. But every year around the same time he sends me a message. He has been doing that ever since 1997.
Here is a list of all the messages he sent:

1997: 0.6 - LAFRBRAV - Kg
1998: 1.8 - BVOHOTXY - Is
1999: 5.8 - JULITTROMOIRRA - wdn
2000: 2.6 - LFOOOVB - Dk
2001: 2.4 - CHRLPPHL - sn
2002: 5.0 - NGOMM - v
2003: 4.8 - OMOINDIAXA - Tuk
2004: 3.0 - DSTGO - Uk
2005: 4.2 - INDIAHOVITO - G
2006: 4.0 - TGOHOTE - id
2007: 2.4 - HOTLCHOLM - Srb
2008: 4.8 - BVOECHOGOLF - ussi
2009: 3.2 - DELTMIKEECH - Nrwy
2010: 5.8 - OSCSILI - Gny
2011: 2.8 - DLTUFOMS - zbj
2012: 5.2 - GOLFYAKLTA - Sw
2013: 3.6 - IIXY - Dn
2014: 2.0 - CHLEPPHOEL - us
2015: 4.6 - VICTORIIACHO - Sw
2016: ???

Unfortunately I lost last year's message. Can you help me figure out what it was?

Note: a good starting point for this is to try and make sense out of the other messages.

  • $\begingroup$ I spy Serbia, Russia, and Norway in there ... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ Numbers make me think of earthquakes... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ I thought pilots didn't use "DELTA" $\endgroup$
    – Strawberry
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 17:43
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Can I just say, this is a fantastic puzzle. Even though I haven't finished solving it yet, I love the multi-layeredness of it, the way different clues cue and confirm each other, and I think you've pitched the difficulty just right. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ Ah, I see what you mean about one informing the next $\endgroup$
    – Strawberry
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 18:11

3 Answers 3


Two things jumped out at me as soon as I saw this puzzle.

  • Firstly, the mixed-case letter strings on the far right. Several of them look like

    country names with certain letters removed. For instance, Srb -> Serbia, ussi -> Russia, and Nrwy -> Norway.

  • Secondly, the all-caps letter strings in the middle. Several of them start with what look like

    words from the NATO IACO phonetic alphabet. Reading down, we can immediately spot JULI(E)T, INDIA, HOT(E)L, DELT(A), GOLF, VICTOR.

Looking at it a little more closely, I noticed that

the letters missing from the country names seem to be identical in each line to the letters removed from the NATO IACO phonetic alphabet words.

So let's fill in some of those letters and see where we get:

1997: 0.6 - DELTA / UNIFORM / BRAVO - United Kingdom
1998: 1.8 - BRAVO / HOTEL / XRAY - Israel
1999: 5.8 - JULIETT / ROMEO / SIERRA - Sweden
2000: 2.6 - ALFA / ROMEO / NOVEMBER - Denmark
2001: 2.4 - CHARLIE / PAPA / HOTEL - Estonia
2002: 5.0 - TANGO / LIMA / LIMA - Latvia
2003: 4.8 - ROMEO / INDIA / XRAY - Turkey
2004: 3.0 - INDIA / SIERRA / TANGO - Ukraine
2005: 4.2 - INDIA / ECHO / VICTOR - Greece
2006: 4.0 - ALFA / TANGO / HOTEL - Finland
2007: 2.4 - HOTEL / ECHO / LIMA - Serbia
2008: 4.8 - BRAVO / ECHO / GOLF - Russia
2009: 3.2 - DELTA / MIKE / ECHO - Norway
2010: 5.8 - OSCAR / SIERRA / LIMA - Germany
2011: 2.8 - DELTA / UNIFORM / SIERRA - Azerbaijan
2012: 5.2 - GOLF / YANKE / DELTA - Sweden
2013: 3.6 - MIKE / MIKE / XRAY - Denmark
2014: 2.0 - CHARLIE/PAPA/HOTEL - Austria
2015: 4.6 - VICTOR / INDIA / ECHO - Sweden

On each line, the all-caps part deciphers to

three letters, which together with the context of the message suggests airport codes.


the airport given by this three-letter code is in the country given by the right-most part of the previous line! For instance, in 2008, BEG is Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade, Serbia - the country mentioned in 2007.

Having noticed this connection, I actually used it quite a lot to help me find some of the missing letters to reconstruct the above.

So now we have the following list of airports:

Dublin (DUB), Ireland
Birmingham (BHX), United Kingdom
Atarot (JRS), Israel (Palestine?)
Stockholm Arlanda (ARN), Sweden
Copenhagen (CPH), Denmark
Tallinn (TLL), Estonia Riga International (RIX), Latvia
Istanbul Ataturk (IST), Turkey
Kiev International (IEV), Ukraine
Athens International (ATH), Greece
Helsinki (HEL), Finland
Belgrade Nikola Tesla (BEG), Serbia
Domodedovo International (DME), Russia
Oslo Gardermoen (OSL), Norway
Dusseldorf (DUS), Germany
Heydar Aliyev International (GYD), Azerbaijan
Malmo (MMX), Sweden
Copenhagen (CPH), Denmark
Vienna International (VIE), Austria

Thanks to Sconibulus, these correspond to

the locations of the Eurovision Song Contests in the respective years. (This explains why the airport in one line matches the country in the previous line - because each year's winner becomes the next year's host.)

Looking at the linked table, we can now spot that the number on the far left of each line in the puzzle corresponds to

the date of the ESC (you did mention that the messages come "every year around the same time"). E.g. for 2010, the number 5.8 equals 29/5 and the ESC was on the 29th of May.

So in the row for each year, we have

the date, location, and winner of that year's Eurovision Song Contest (the date encoded by simply treating the slash as division; the location encoded by an airport IATA code in the IACO phonetic alphabet, and the location and winner encoded by removing their common letters).

And the final answer is

2016: 2.8 - LFOMOOVMB - Uki, because the 2016 ESC was held on 14/5 in Stockholm and won by Ukraine, giving "ALFA/ROMEO/NOVEMBER - Ukraine", from which we remove the letters R, A, N, and E (thanks to Henning Makholm for realising that the letters removed are precisely the ones found in both strings).

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ The pattern in the removals seems to be simply that every letter that appears in both parts will be omitted. So N in your solution should go too. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 0:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Henning Dang. Not sure how I missed that. Thanks and edited! $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 1:43
  • $\begingroup$ That's it exactly, great job! $\endgroup$
    – Levieux
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ I would rather say that the phonetic alphabet used is the ICAO Phonetic alphabet. Not different from the NATO one, but more fitting considering the guy is a pilot. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 1:39
  • $\begingroup$ @SMS Good point - edited :-) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 1:59

Working from @Rand al'Thor's excellent answer, we have determined

These are encoded messages with missing letters, the same letters from both left and right.
The words on the left are NATO Phonetic Airport codes, and the words on the right are countries.
The Airport codes match the countries from the prior year.

From this, we were able to determine that the 2016 message should have a left character part of

An airport in Sweden.

I was able to notice that

The cities and countries in the message correspond with the Eurovision contest, and so the airport code needs to be specifically from Stockholm, and the country on the right is to be Ukraine.

A potential 2016 message could have been

2016: ?.? - BVOMLF - Un



And we still haven't deciphered the meaning of the numbers.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "SMP" appears to refer to "Stockholm Airport" in Papua New Guinea. $\endgroup$
    – Adam V
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ @AdamV oops, that's a good point, give me a moment and I'll fix it $\endgroup$
    – Sconibulus
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 19:27
  • $\begingroup$ "BMA" airport would be "BVOMLF" (no K). Other possible airports in Sweden could be GOT (which would be "GOLFOSCTGO - Ukie") or NYO (which would be "OVMBYOSC - Ui"). $\endgroup$
    – Adam V
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 19:53

Partial answer

As rand al'thor, I figured out the names of

the countries and the airports.

The system seems to be:

For each year, the airport is of the city where the Eurovision Song Contest was held that year. The country is the winner of that contest.

For example:

2009: 3.2 - DELTMIKEECH - Nrwy:
Delta, mike, echo (DME - Domodedovo, in Moscow, Russia). Winner was Norway.

We notice:

The letters that are left out in the airport code and the country name are the letters that occur in both. So, in the above example, A and O occur in both DELTAMIKEECHO and NORWAY, so they are removed.

I have not yet figured out the significance of the numbers, but can make a partial guess for 2016:

2016: ??? - LFOMOOVMB - Uki. (ALFAROMEONOVEMBER - Ukraine).

  • $\begingroup$ Oh, I see Sconibulus came to the same conclusion some time ago... had not refreshed the page. $\endgroup$
    – user6196
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 20:10

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