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There are a lot of different ways of identifying items (as expounded here), and often it seems that several steps are required. I know there are lots of tables of this information on the NetHack wiki and elsewhere, but I am looking for one or more flowcharts that cover everything to make ID-ing as painless as possible.

To clarify what I'm looking for, an example: Wands. The first step would be to write Elbereth in the dust, then engrave Elbereth over it with the wand. This would lead to several identification messages. If the result is that the engraving vanishes, the next steps would be to zap a potion or scroll, to see if it's teleport, invisible, or cancellation. Etc.

The more complete, the better. For example, including price identification info for items that don't have messages on use.

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I so want to get my hands dirty here... tomorrow. –  badp Nov 18 '10 at 0:16
    
@badp - Please do :) –  sjohnston Nov 18 '10 at 2:27
1  
Unfortunately, wands are pretty much the only item where a strict algorithm suitable for a flowchart exists. –  Wooble Nov 18 '10 at 14:05
    
doesn't engraving the whole word elbereth with the wand use more than one charge? –  flies Dec 8 '10 at 19:44
1  
@flies - It only uses one charge. See nethackwiki.com/wiki/Wand#Engrave-identification –  sjohnston Feb 16 '11 at 5:44
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2 Answers

I made a few corrections and additions to sjohnston's excellent potion identification flow chart, and added a section on scrolls.

I also included some guidance for prices that shopkeepers offer to you.

Follow the step presented, in order, until your item is identified.

Potions

* Is it "clear"?  WATER

* Did you get the potion from a nymph? : (probably) OBJECT DETECTION

* (a)pply the potion.
    <Lights> : OIL ((a)pply again to unlight)

* #dip an unneeded tool "(" into the potion.
    <transforms into another tool> : POLYMORPH (Uses up the potion)

* #dip a non-poisoned missile weapon into the potion 
  (in case you have no unicorn horn, or want poisoned weapons)
    <Coats weapon>: SICKNESS (Uses up the potion)

* #dip a unicorn horn into the potion
    <Turns clear>: was HALLUCINATION, CONFUSION, or BLINDNESS; now WATER
    <Color changes>: was SICKNESS, now FRUIT JUICE

* #dip amethyst (or violet gems that might be amethyst) into the potion
    <Changes color>: was BOOZE; now FRUIT JUICE; (gem is AMETHYST)

* (d)rop the potion in a shop.
    Offer price<A,B/C,D>[base price] POTION TYPE(s)
    -----------------------------------------------
    <  2,   2 /   1,  1>[5]   UNCURSED WATER
    < 25,  19 /  16, 12>[50]  SEE INVISIBLE, BOOZE, SICKNESS, or FRUIT JUICE
    < 50,  38 /  33, 25>[100] RESTORE ABILITY, CONFUSION, HALLUCINATION, 
        HEALING, EXTRA HEALING, SLEEPING, HOLY WATER, or UNHOLY WATER
    < 75,  57 /  50, 38>[150] BLINDNESS, INVISIBILITY, MONSTER DETECTION, 
        OBJECT DETECTION, or GAIN ENERGY
    <100,  75 /  66, 50>[200] SPEED, LEVITATION, ENLIGHTENMENT, 
        FULL HEALING, or POLYMORPH
    <125,  94 /  83, 63>[250] ACID, or OIL
    <150, 113 / 100, 75>[300] GAIN ABILITY, PARALYSIS, or GAIN LEVEL

    The first price listed is the most likely offer.  The second price, 
    after the comma (",") is offered 25% of the time.  Prices after 
    slash("/") are offered to tourists below level 15, and to anyone 
    wearing a Hawaiian shirt or t-shirt.  For ambiguous prices (75/50), 
    repeatedly drop the potion until you see the other price.
    (sell prices for shop-owned potions are more complicated and 
     not described here)

* (q)uaff the potion in the following environment: (Uses up the potion)
  On a level with a sink (to land on after leviation).
  On a level that has both monsters and items somewhere.
  Lock yourself in a safe room with your pet,
    in case of paralysis or sleeping.
  After #dip-ping a unicorn horn.
  At full hit points.
  Not hallucinating.
  Non-cursed potions only.
  NOT wearing sustain ability ring.
  Avoid the most expensive category, to avoid wasting valuable potions.
  Most potions will auto identify when (q)uaffed.  Use "\"
   command to see what the potion was.
  Others:
    <"This burns..."> ACID
    <"Ooph! This tastes like liquid fire!"> BOOZE
    <"This tastes like (fruit) juice."> FRUIT JUICE or SEE INVISIBLE
    <"Wow! This makes you feel good/great!> RESTORE ABILITY

* If you get this far and have not identified the potion, I recommend waiting
  until you get a scroll or spell of identify.  Or uncurse the potion with a 
  scroll of remove curse.  Throwing potions at monsters
  for identification seems too wasteful to me.

Scrolls

* Is it "unlabelled"?  (r)ead it. : BLANK

* Is it a stamped scroll? : MAIL

* Did you find the scroll in a one-space closet by a room? : 
    (probably) TELEPORTATION

* Did you find TWO of this scroll in the first level of Sokoban? : 
    (probably) EARTH

* Did the scroll turn to dust when you picked it up? : 
    cursed SCARE MONSTER

* (d)rop the scroll in a shop
    Offer price<A,B/C,D>[base price] SCROLL TYPE(s)
    -----------------------------------------------
    < 10,   8 /   6,  5>[20]  IDENTIFY
    < 25,  19 /  16, 12>[50]  LIGHT
    < 30,  23 /  20, 15>[60]  ENCHANT WEAPON (or BLANK)
    < 40,  30 /  26, 20>[80]  ENCHANT ARMOR or REMOVE CURSE
    < 50,  38 /  33, 25>[100] DESTROY ARMOR, CONFUSE MONSTER, 
      SCARE MONSTER, TELEPORTATION, GOLD DETECTION, FOOD DETECTION, 
      MAGIC MAPPING, or FIRE
    <100,  75 /  66, 50>[200] CREATE MONSTER, TAMING, AMNESIA, 
      or EARTH
    <150, 113 / 100, 75>[300] GENOCIDE, PUNISHMENT, CHARGING, 
      or STINKING CLOUD

    The first price listed is the most likely offer.  The second price, 
    after the comma (",") is offered 25% of the time.  Prices after 
    slash("/") are offered to tourists below level 15, and to anyone 
    wearing a Hawaiian shirt or t-shirt.  For ambiguous prices (30/20), 
    repeatedly drop the scroll until you see the other price.
    (sell prices for shop-owned scrolls are more complicated and 
     not described here)

Prepare to (r)ead the scroll:

* Have you ruled out scroll of amnesia?
    N - STOP.  Do not read this scroll.  Use a scroll or 
      spell of identify to identify it.

* Is the scroll cursed?
    Y - Do not read this scroll.  Use a scroll or spell of 
      identify to identify it.

* Have you ruled out scroll of punishment?
    N - Ensure the scroll is blessed before reading this 
      scroll.  Or, ensure you have a boulder and pit nearby, 
      or a spell of remove curse before reading this scroll.

* Have you ruled out scroll of fire?
    N - Stash all other scrolls, potions and spellbooks.  
       Stand well away from pets and peaceful monsters.  
       Prepare to take some fire damage when reading this scroll.

* Have you ruled out scroll of destroy armor?
    N - remove any armor you do not want destroyed before reading it.

* Is your weapon at maximum enchantment (above +5)?
    Y - wield a different weapon, in case the scroll is enchant weapon.

* Is your armor at maximum enchantment (above +3)?
    Y - remove this armor, in case the scroll is enchant armor.

* Have you ruled out scrolls you consider to be extremely 
    valuable? (perhaps charging, genocide, taming, scare monster, enchant armor)
    N - identify this scroll with a scroll or spell of identify

* (r)ead the scroll under these conditions: (uses up the scroll)
    At full health
    Not blind 
    Not confused
    Not hallucinating
    Not engulfed or underwater
    Wearing at least one piece of armor
    Wielding a weapon
    Some food is on the ground
    Some gold is on the ground
    On a normal, mappable level
    Most scroll types will autoidentify when read.
    Others:
        <"Your hands begin to glow red"> : CONFUSE MONSTER
        <"You feel like someone is helping you."> : REMOVE CURSE
        <"You hear maniacal laughter ..."> : SCARE MONSTER
        <no message> - TAMING or CREATE (invisible) MONSTER 
           (Is there an invisible monster next to you now?)
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up vote 17 down vote accepted

Since it doesn't look like anyone is jumping on this, I've decided to give it a go myself.

Wands

This chart doesn't show every possible way to identify, but I've tried to at least cover all wands. I don't believe there's a way to distinguish between exhausted, cancelled and nothing wands, short of a scroll/spell of ID, but I may be wrong on that.

Wand Identification

View diagram in its full glory

Potions

It's highly inadvisable to quaff unidentified potions if they haven't been checked with a unicorn horn first (where I noted you may want to stop). They could be hallucination, confusion, blindness, sleep or paralysis, and that's a lot of ways to be incapacitated. If some or all of these are already identified, or you have a safe place to wait it out, the risk is mitigated.

It's also worth noting that I didn't list all potions that can be identified by tossing at a monster. For example, potion of sickness gives a message, but is easily identified by dipping.

Potion Identification

Rings

Rings are fairly difficult to identify indirectly. Aside from the ones that increase an attribute, relatively few are automatically identified by wearing. However, if you're willing to sacrifice the ring (or if you have duplicates), sink identification is a surefire method.

Ring Identification

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dipping a unicorn horn into booze does not turn it into fruit juice; at least in vanilla nethack. –  Christopher Bruns Apr 14 '12 at 12:34
    
Flowchart lacks branch for non-cursed potion of restore ability: "This makes you feel good/great" –  Christopher Bruns May 27 '12 at 17:03
    
The wand chart includes an incorrect pathway for a wand of nothing. Wands of nothing do have a directional prompt, so zapping them at a container, getting a directional prompt and no result means that its EITHER a wand of undead turning or wand of nothing. You still have to zap an undead creature to distinguish the two. –  Sore Finger Tips Dec 12 '13 at 22:12
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