You go to bed with a twinge of fear somewhere unshakeable in your mind. You drift to sleep, ignoring this red flag.

Hours later, you awake from turbulent dreams to find your bedroom unchanged save a note speared to your door with a deli sandwich sword. As you read it, comprehension dawns with the sun.

While you slept, puzzle pirates broke into your home, stealing almost everything of value. Their captain waits on the other side of your door. If you can tell him the answer to a puzzle before everything is loaded into the pirates' ship, it will all be returned. The answer will be one word.

As you finish reading, your hope flagging, a sheet of paper slides under your door. On it, you find the poem below, titled 'Soliloquy of a Naval Gazer.' It strikes you as something you'll have to go through multiple times.

The sky hangs clear over the Martian plain
The 22nd state unveils its new law
The red planet's cloudless again
Switzerland, ailed by jaundice
The northwest of Egmond, North Holland
Calmest midnight in the land of the rising sun
With care, marine scientists scrutinize the upper Chesapeake's state
France, mirrored
Unhappy division, on average pink

Below the poem is scrawled this quote:

“The key to reading is to picture each scene in your mind.”
       -Elizabeth Ross

What's the answer?


Most people would need the internet for this, though it doesn't require much prior knowledge. There have been several people named Elizabeth Ross, but the relevant one was born in the 1700s.

Another hint:

Each line of the poem is the same sort of clue.

  • $\begingroup$ Are you sure the "cryptic clues" tag is fit here? Cryptic clues are for very specific types of clues which follow very stringent rules. Have you added the tag to show that the clues are not "straightforward"? $\endgroup$
    – Sid
    Dec 22 '17 at 5:34
  • $\begingroup$ I'm actually not sure if it fits. Could you let me know once someone solves it? It definitely uses the style of a cryptic clue, but in different ways from how cryptic crossword clues work. I removed the tag just in case. $\endgroup$
    – mrfish
    Dec 22 '17 at 6:04
  • $\begingroup$ Kind of feel like the knowledge or trivia tag would apply, unless I'm getting this completely wrong. $\endgroup$
    – Xenocacia
    Dec 22 '17 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ Is the answer a real word? $\endgroup$ Dec 22 '17 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ Yep - you'll know when you have it $\endgroup$
    – mrfish
    Dec 22 '17 at 17:55

The main tool in this puzzle is

the international nautical flag system. This is clued by the title ("Naval Gazer") and the "author" of the poem, Elizabeth 'Betsy' Ross, who is famous for making the first American flag.

Each line of the poem

either describes a state/province/national flag, which may need some tweaking to match one of the nautical flags, or describes the color scheme of the nautical flag.

sky over martian plain -> blue over red -> E
22nd state -> Alabama flag -> V
red planet cloudless again -> blue over red -> E
Switzerland with jaundice -> Swiss flag w/ yellow -> R
NW of Egmond, North Holland -> upper left corner of Egmond flag -> Y
Midnight...land of rising sun -> Japan flag with a white moon, dark sky -> 2
scrutinize...upper Chesapeake state -> small section of Maryland flag -> 9
France, mirrored -> French flag flipped -> T
division, average pink -> red and white split -> H

This gives us



taking every 29th letter of the poem gives you ANGELFISH

  • $\begingroup$ I got stuck at the same problem. "French flag mirrored" could also be C. "Unhappy division" could refer to Poland, could also be U or V. The connection between Y and NW of Egmond is unclear, might refer to the flag of North Holland, or to the lighthouse of van Speijk. Japan could refer to the flag for 1, thus "every one". $\endgroup$ Dec 22 '17 at 18:13
  • $\begingroup$ It's pretty clear from this that it should be Y: egmondonline.nl/en/wapen-en-de-vlag-van-egmond $\endgroup$ Dec 22 '17 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, yeah. You're right. $\endgroup$ Dec 22 '17 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ Nice! You're close - the two you were most uncertain about aren't letters. $\endgroup$
    – mrfish
    Dec 22 '17 at 22:40
  • $\begingroup$ @mrfish Ah, ok. That's what I was thinking, but your last hint pushed me back towards letters. I'll give it another shot. $\endgroup$ Dec 22 '17 at 22:42

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