The game, by Philip K. Dick

Hi there!

Many years ago I read a novel by PKDick where a lonely and depressed man was playing a weird game by phone using vocal translations.
It didn’t even have a name: it was just “the game”.

I loved that game.

It was intelligent and puzzling and someway “hi-tech”, involving automated translation servers.

Today we have automatic translators everywhere, sometimes with very ridiculous results, and I found out that on Google Play there are several audio translators, so “the game” could become real.

A smart english speaker could play even without a translator, just like Dick did (I suppose).

The novel title is Galactic Pot-Healer.
Here is the wikipedia page, which describes the game too:

"*His one entertainment is to call various friends on the worldwide telephone network and swap puzzles. *

These puzzles are created by translating a common English proverb or phrase into another language by using a language translation computer, and then translating it back to English the same way. The object of the game is to guess the original from the double translation."

The game is a small part of the novel and it’s entirely described on chapter one, which is available on YouTube as audiobook:

Description starts at 8:53.

I’m sure some forum users should enjoy it.
I don’t think I’m able to play now (I am not smart at all and I don’t have an audio translator on my phone yet) but I’d like to see it played here.
Anyone interested?


Just reading the Wikipedia quote, makes me a wish to read that book first more as playing the game.
Thanks for introducing it.

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Nice to see Philip K. Dick mentioned here. The book Ubik was a masterpiece.

I have read a lot of his novels but can’t remember the one mentioned. Will try to get a copy.


Wait so this is kind of like the ‘game’ where you use Google translate something into another language and back. You can also make a loop where you translate an expression through 2 or more languages but then back to the starting language.

So for instance you could try to guess

The meaning for you does not pass

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Sadly, I don’t know English proverbs. But I have additional rule idea:
If no one able to guess correctly in 24 hours, then you need to translate proverb again through another language and post different result of same proverb. This will be help.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same?

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The song remains the same? :grin:

I tried to use an automatic audio translator but it doesn’t work: back and forth with just one language gives exactly the same result.

How did you manage to get this one?

Sorry I was using google translate from English into Japanese (in this case) and then taking the Japanese and putting it back into google translate to give English again :slight_smile:

I’ve heard of people doing this for a long time :slight_smile: I just thought the idea was more or less the same, and maybe more convenient than an audio translator :slight_smile:

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audio ???
Just do it in 1 click:


Good guess but nope :slight_smile: Just because your guess also happens to be used as lyrics in a song I enjoy
“plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…”

I did the same as @stone_defender :slight_smile:

Nope. I did pick one that I’ve heard people say often but am not sure how well used it is in general.

That is an interesting idea. It would give another weird translation but maybe it can be pieced together :slight_smile:

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“The shoe doesn’t fit”?

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In the book too Japan was a choice.
I didn’t try but probably it’s more interesting than italian. Cultural differences can bring interesting twists.

The audio idea was because of similar sounds that can lead to different terms. It’s not just synonyms but also homophones.
But actually this doesn’t work with Google.

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no need, there are enough text translation bugs even without it,
this game will not be popular if it will be too difficult to play

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My 10 yr old daughter and I play a very similar game with Google Translate - except it’s just to generate humor.

We find some familiar song lyrics (Toxic by Brittney Spears works really well for this - something with a mix of proper grammar and impenetrable slang), then we

  • translate into Spanish
  • translate into Dutch
  • translate into Swahili
  • translate into Hebrew
  • translate into German
  • translate into Japanese
  • translate back into English

That particular switch-over between various different language families usually screws up verb/subject agreement pretty well, and makes some interesting connections within idioms and slang terms. Try it out!


Or just search for “Google Translate Sings” and a song title.


Also a good guess but nope :slight_smile:


meaning you does-not-pass.


meaning does-not-pass you…

“Going over your head”?


Nope, but I like the train of thought :slight_smile:

Probably about 24hrs? I’ll give this a go.

This time I’ve translated it to Irish and back :slight_smile:

what you mean will not go around

There’s some cases like translating it to German or italian where it comes back more or less the same. French and Spanish are slightly different. I can do something like that to make it easier if we’re bored of guessing this :slight_smile:


I’d suggest not necessarily sticking to 24 hours, but playing it by ear, with 24 hours being a good rule of thumb.

what-you-mean will-not-suffice
what-you-mean will-not-get-past
what-you-mean will-not-be-understood

Talking to a wall