I'm a communications engineer with the Royal Navy - it's a great job, and usually I love it. But there is this one guy who absolutely grinds my gears. I call him 'Captain Clumsy' (not to his face, obviously) and he is personally responsible for 90% of my most ludicrous callouts. You should hear what he did this week...

On Monday, he radioed me at base to say he'd spilled his coffee on the (very sophisticated and expensive) transmitter, but he thought it would probably be alright. I could tell from the sound quality that he'd properly wrecked it, so I went out and replaced it for him.

On Tuesday, I got another call - this time he'd dropped a teaspoon inside the radio casing (How?!) and it was shorting some of its circuits. Again, I made the trip out to his ship (which I've christened 'HMS Butterfingers') and replaced the radio again.

On Wednesday, he accidentally set his radio on fire with a lit cigarette - ("But you can fix that, right?" "No!") - I had to replace it again.

On Thursday, he smashed up the radio with a cricket ball during a muckabout with his officers. I replaced it AGAIN.

On Friday - for some utterly ridiculous reason that I cannot begin to comprehend - he decided to take the latest replacement radio apart to see how it worked... only to find he couldn't put it back together again.

This was the last straw. After some choice words, I took the radio home with me and sat up in the workshop all night. By morning I had developed the "Clumsy-Proof Radio" - an industrially toughened outer casing; ultra-fine vent filters to prevent invasion by foreign objects; flameproof; waterproof; pretty-much-idiotproof; and with absolutely no way that imbecile of a captain could ruin another piece of equipment. On Saturday I left it right outside Captain Clumsy's office with a note explaining that this new radio was a one-of-a-kind work of art, that he should treat it with the utmost care, and that he should only radio me again if anything happened to it. I was confident that nothing could happen to this now almost-indestructible piece of kit, and that it would buy me a long well-deserved respite from that catastrophic captain...

...so it was with utter despair that I returned to my screen to find a computer visualisation of a radio message that looked like this:

Visualisation of radio message

There was no doubt in my mind who it was from - but how?! What?! What had Captain Clumsy done this time that my brand new everything-proof pride-and-joy radio had managed to transmit an output like this?! This was not what its output was supposed to look like. I pored over the 'message' for the best part of an hour until finally I had it deciphered. Then I groaned loudly, put my head in my hands, and cried until I fell asleep, still in my chair...

What had Captain Clumsy done this time?! What message has been transmitted?

Notes - ##TO BE READ##:

NB The puzzle is entirely contained within the image; the text beforehand is purely for flavour, and just provides a little context for the final answer - don't waste your time attempting to analyse its wording!

For ease of solving I provide the data in a (colourblind-friendly) CSV format below - colours as follows: Bk = Black; Bu = Blue; DG = Dark Grey; Gn = Green; I = Indigo; LG = Light Grey; O = Orange; R = Red; V = Violet; W = White; Y = Yellow. For those proficient in Excel or another spreadsheet program, it would be a relatively straightforward task (taking just a few minutes) to copy it into a spreadsheet and apply conditional formatting to reproduce the colours shown in the original picture - I would advise you to do that instead of trying to replicate the image by hand yourself, so as to avoid transcription errors (and a mind-numbingly laborious, un-fun waste of your time).


Overall interpretation

The top left corner is a small recreation of the whole image. It tells you what each part of the image is for.

enter image description here

It calls itself a "key", suggesting that it's necessary for the rest of the image. The four other black and white parts are binary numbers: 001, 010, 011, 100.

Step 1

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The tiny rectangle at the bottom has 26 pixels. So we can write the English alphabet inside it, and three letters are highlighted in different colors:

enter image description here
This gives a nice interpretation of the patterns above - as Roman numerals!
enter image description here

Step 2

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Now that we have step 1 done...

the colors across the left and top make sense: they're numbers, and the "across" and "down" sections form a nonogram puzzle!

The solution there is:

enter image description here

Step 3

Okay, so what next?

There are a lot of repeating patterns in the nonogram solution. They look to form 6x6 "cells":
enter image description here

So, we should apply this step's instruction picture:

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And then we get... enter image description here
These form nautical flags! The flags are (by row):

Step 4


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These are the seven colors of the rainbow -- they've even been helpfully labelled that way in the transcription. If we interpret these seven colors as numbers from 1 to 7, then Caesar-shift the flags forward by that amount, we get the message: DROPPED RADIO, BUT IT SEEMS OKAY.

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  • 3
    $\begingroup$ I wish I could upvote this multiple times...brilliant solution! $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Dover May 15 at 2:24
  • $\begingroup$ Fantastic job, as usual :) Well done! For completeness, can you explain the top left section (hint: BG was right about the symbol being a key) - this will also explain the 'N' section (which you already worked out anyway)? Also could you mention the three colored dots in the central dark grey block in your centre-box explanation? Every section had a purpose even if you didn't need them! Thanks :) $\endgroup$ – Stiv May 15 at 6:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Stiv Ah, I see how the central dark gray block works now that you point it out again! As for the top left, I assumed that the key was visually indicating a nonogram (and maybe N stands for nonogram?) but that wouldn't explain the black and white squares being formed in the upper left... I'll think about it some more. $\endgroup$ – Deusovi May 15 at 7:00
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    $\begingroup$ Perfect! That green checkmark is now rightfully yours :) Well done again! $\endgroup$ – Stiv May 15 at 17:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ +1 This is genius! $\endgroup$ – Toby Mak Jun 5 at 13:54

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