A Puzzle in Psilvanian

In Psilvania no one knows English, except for one retired professor Mary Bobs. That is why every year the organizers of the linguistics Olympiad in Psilvania beg Mary to design a puzzle in English. Kids in Psilvania know other languages — which gives individuals an advantage if the puzzle is in those languages. An English puzzle would create a level playing field.

Here is the puzzle that Mary proposed. I’m omitting the Psilvanian text, because the characters do not match anything in Unicode tables.

Professor Bobs provided the following sentences in English, accompanied by their translations into Psilvanian. She called these sentences Raw Materials:

  • Kate is devouring a pencil.
  • A laptop is being devoured by Paul.
  • A fig is eating Kate.
  • Kate is dating a fig.
  • Jane is defenestrating Paul.
  • Pete is being defenestrated by Paul.

The first task that she required was to translate the following sentences into Psilvanian:

  • Paul is being dated by a laptop.
  • Jane is being devoured by Paul.

Professor Mary Bobs had quit smoking that very week and she couldn’t concentrate. It seems that she may have given more information than is necessary. Is it possible to remove any of the Raw Materials (one or more translated sentences) and keep the puzzle solvable? If so, what is the largest number of Raw Materials you can eliminate? Explain.

Her second task was to translate some sentences from Psilvanian into English, and the answers she hoped the students would calculate were:

  • A fig is being eaten by Paul.
  • A pencil is being devoured by a laptop.
  • A laptop is being defenestrated by Pete.

For each of the three English sentences above, decide whether the participants of the Olympiad will be capable of getting this particular answer. If for any of these three sentences you suspect that they will not be able to arrive at the correct answer, explain why.



  1. svat:

    A puzzle about a puzzle! Love it.

    I guess an assumption here is that Kate and Jane are female, and Paul and Pete are male (and depending on Psilvanian, laptops and figs are possibly either or a third gender). But do the students know that? Maybe they need to see these people’s names in useful sentences to be able to tell. Or maybe Psilvanian’s verbs are not inflected by gender, in which case surely fewer sentences are needed — does this puzzle have sufficient information to determine what’s sufficient information?

  2. Tanya Khovanova:

    svat, that was one of my goals – to make people think how the answer depends on the rules of Psilvanian.

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