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This puzzle is part of the ‘Twelve Labours’ series, but can be solved independently. Previous instalments can be found here: Prologue | 01 | 02 | 03 | 04 | 05 | 06 | 07 | 08 | 09


The next stop on Hercules’ tour of the neighbourhood was the butchers’ shop, Meat Monster, run by the well-travelled Orthrus brothers. Gerry and Ron Orthrus had moved to Athens from abroad several years earlier and specialised in sourcing and supplying the finest meats from all around the world. As the opening door sounded the customer bell, both brothers looked up from their work and smiled broadly in Hercules’ direction.

“Howdy!” said Gerry. “Howdy!” said Ron. “Er... howdy,” said Hercules. “What can we do for you today?” both brothers asked in unison.

“Surprisingly enough,” said Hercules, “I’d like to buy some meat, please.”

“Certainly,” said Gerry. “Absolutely,” said Ron. Both of them gestured towards the meats on display:

enter image description here

“We’ve a wide variety on offer this afternoon,” said Gerry. “A veritable smorgasbord,” concurred Ron. “But wait, there’s more!” both said at once, before leaning in closer to Hercules. “We’ve also got something...” began Gerry. “...that we borrowed from your Mum!” finished Ron.

“Okay,” said Hercules, patiently. “Well, if you just pass it on to me, I’ll buy some meat and be on my way...” The direct approach was worth a try, he thought, but both brothers waved a finger and Gerry began to explain.

“Take a look at the twelve meats for sale. From what you can see in front of you, there’s a way to derive twelve letters that will spell out something your Mum lent us when we were decorating our apartment.”

“Right,” said Hercules, “so twelve letters from twelve items – that’ll be one letter from each then...”

“Nope,” said Ron. “Two letters from each.”

What?!

TASK: Solve this enigmatic puzzle to derive the twelve-letter item that needs to be returned to Hercules’ mother.

Hint 1:

Although the meat images themselves are purely window-dressing (as pointed out in the footnote), everything on the labels is important to the puzzle.

Hint 2:

To close down a couple of dead ends:
1. The flags represent a country's usual 'shortform' name (e.g. 'Australia' rather than 'The Commonwealth of Australia'). You don't need to go looking for other representations like internet domains or telephone codes...
2. There is no Baconian cipher involved!

Disclaimer: I have tried to ensure that no meats have been paired with countries where they are widely considered taboo for religious or cultural reasons. Any unfortunate match-ups that remain are unintentional and no offence is intended.

Image credits: National flags in public domain, taken from Wikipedia; 1 and 2 created by terdpongvector; 3 created by freepik. Assume that the meats pictured are correctly identified by their labels – meat images are purely window-dressing.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm disappointed that the label for turkey isn't the Turkish flag :-) $\endgroup$ – Rand al'Thor Nov 21 '19 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Randal'Thor That has genuinely been the most confusing thing when double- and triple-checking this puzzle before publish! :) $\endgroup$ – Stiv Nov 21 '19 at 20:09
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    $\begingroup$ For those of you attempting the puzzle, I've identified the countries in the flags and put them (see comment below) in a Pastebin along with the meats they are paired with. I haven't personally found any way to extract the letters, but I did notice that rot13(sbe rnpu ahzore orgjrra sbhe naq avar vapyhfvir, gurer ner rknpgyl gjb zrngf jvgu gung yrggre pbhag.) Hope this is helpful to potential solvers! $\endgroup$ – HTM Nov 21 '19 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ @PilsNot3 All but one of your flag identifications are correct :) (At this early stage I shan't point out precisely which one is wrong!) $\endgroup$ – Stiv Nov 21 '19 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ Whoops, found the error, here's the corrected version :) $\endgroup$ – HTM Nov 21 '19 at 21:05
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I believe the Orthrus brothers need to return

PAINTER'S TAPE to Hercules's mother.

As I noted in the comments,

for each word count from 4 to 9 inclusive, there are exactly two meats with that word count. This allows us to pair up the countries identified by the flags like so:

 4: SPAIN (PORK) 
PANAMA (BEEF)

5: SLOVENIA (BACON)
CHINA (STEAK)

6: MONTENEGRO (TURKEY)
ETHIOPIA (SALMON)

7: ISRAEL (CHICKEN)
SRI LANKA (VENISON)

8: COSTA RICA (WILD BOAR)
CROATIA (SAUSAGES)

9: NEPAL (BRATWURST)
PERU (PARTRIDGE)

The only information we haven't used yet is

the arrows in each box. If we interpret a right-pointing arrow to mean "forward" and a left-pointing arrow to mean "backward," then we can modify our country strings based on which arrow is coming off of the respective flag (for example, NEPAL would become LAPEN since its flag has a left-pointing arrow coming off of it):

 SPAIN 
PANAMA

AINEVOLS
CHINA

MONTENEGRO
AIPOIHTE

LEARSI
AKNAL IRS

COSTA RICA
AITAORC

LAPEN
PERU

Finally, note that

between each pair of modified strings, there is a shared bigram. Taking that bigram and ordering based on meat word count gives PAINTERS TAPE, which is appropriate because the brothers were decorating their apartment - presumably using paint - and would've needed to use painter's tape to ensure that the paint jobs were clean.

 SPAIN 
PANAMA

AINEVOLS
CHINA

MONTENEGRO
AIPOIHTE

LEARSI
AKNAL IRS

COSTA RICA
AITAORC

LAPEN
PERU

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh, brilliant! Well done :) I was beginning to wonder how long this one would take to solve...! A perfect answer. +1 and a green checkmark for you! $\endgroup$ – Stiv Nov 26 '19 at 18:59

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