Solution to No, I Understand You Perfectly

Back to Puzzle


by Toomas Tennisberg

When we look at the puzzle, we see what appears to be a conversation where two people constantly misunderstand each other. For instance, in the flavortext, the blue speaker complains about the government, which the black speaker appears to interpret as being a complaint about mold. Coupled with the question “Are we really friends?” at the end, it appears that we should be looking into these pairs of false friends. Now it is just a matter of figuring out which languages the false friends are between.

Looking at the flavortext again, we notice the definitely not English word “Mitä”. Plugging it into Google Translate tells us that it means “what” in Finnish. Therefore, the blue speaker is probably speaking in Finnish. However, we note that the second language is not English, since “government” in Finnish is “hallitus” which is not an English word. Therefore, we have to figure out what the other language is. If we happen to be familiar with the relations between different languages, we might guess Estonian as the closest major language to Finnish, which would explain why the speakers are otherwise able to communicate just fine. A clue which can either help confirm this hunch or identify the language in the first place is the reference to a certain TalTech referenced by the black speaker. Googling TalTech gives us references to Tal Technologies Inc in Philadelphia and The Tallinn University of Technology in Tallinn, Estonia. Since we’ve established that the black speaker can’t be actually using English, we can assume that the TalTech in question is the university in Estonia, which means that the second language should be Estonian. Or we could google around and discover that Estonian and Finnish are known for having false friends between each other, with “hallitus” being a commonly used one.

Now it is just a matter of finding the parts of the conversation where the speakers don’t quite understand each other and figuring out what the word is being misunderstood. Fortunately for us, the dialogue appears to follow a pattern of:

  • Phrase containing the initial misunderstood word
  • Confused reaction to misunderstood word
  • Attempt at clarification
  • Repeat

This pattern holds until the Finn gives the Estonian a radio tuned to a numbers station. To confirm the false friends, we usually just need to put the words we think are being misunderstood into Google Translate and see if switching around the languages gives us what the conversation appears to be implying. The words being misunderstood in the conversation are as follows:

FI-ENFalse FriendET-EN
strongholdlinnakesmall town

Now we just need to figure out what the numbers mean. Noticing that there are ten numbers and ten false friends allows us to consider indexing into the false friends. Doing so gives us the result KEHTOLAULU which is Finnish for LULLABY, the answer to this puzzle.

Author’s Notes

As an Estonian, I knew that there are many different false friends between Estonian and Finnish. Stories about hilarious miscommunications caused by these are pretty common. However, it turns out that with the constraints needed for this puzzle to be solvable (needs to be an exact match and translatable with Google Translate) there are only about eight words that can be translated cleanly both ways in both languages. Since “kehtolaulu” has more than eight letters, we had to use some less clean, but still workable false friends.

The alternating blue-black color scheme was inspired by when the puzzle had WHITE assigned as an answer. However, due to concerns, the answer was changed, although at least one testsolver noticed and commented on how they found the color scheme fitting for the puzzle.

An interesting thing about the word “lullaby” in Estonian and Finnish is that both languages have two separate words for it. Finnish has “tuutulaulu” and “kehtolaulu”, while Estonian has “unelaul” and “hällilaul”. In both cases, the former directly translates to “sleepsong” while the latter translates to “cribsong”. In both cases, the former is more common; however, Google Translate does not recognize “unelaul” and the other options turned out to be unworkable with the limited word set that we had.