Words and language make for some great puzzles and challenges, especially when it comes to English. The clarity of spoken language to written language and back again is a regular problem in any sort of communication, and adding a hard deadline like the ticking of a bomb can lead to hilarious but sometimes disastrous mistakes. This is the case in everyone’s favorite word game, ‘Who’s on First,’ as featured in the smash-hit video game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. Featuring a confusing module to defuse, words you would commonly say, and homonyms galore, KTANE is one heck of a linguistics challenge. Here are some tips and tricks to get past this homonym harassment.
Found on pages 9 and 10 of the Bomb Defusal Manual, ‘On the Subject of Who’s on First’ is based on the comedy skit by Abbott & Costello named “Who’s On First.” The hilarious combination of question and communicative words featured in-game are all words the two players were already likely using to describe things on the bomb. With both instructions and homonyms as options, it can get really confusing to tell if someone is responding or what they mean. So first, let’s go over how the game ideally gets solved. Let’s say your Defuser is looking at this:
Once the Expert determines that you are playing Who’s on First, they will need to carefully pick their words and work with the Defuser to solve the puzzle.
First step: read the word on the top display.
Defuser: “The word is NOTHING.”
From there, the Expert can determine which word they next need to read. In this example, the Expert may ask the Defuser to clarify if they mean the word NOTHING or whether the display literally has nothing written in the space. In this case, we mean the word, so the Expert will ask the Defuser to READ and NOT PRESS, the labeled button on the middle left.
‘HOLD’ is a valid word, as is ‘HOLD ON,’ so assuming our Defuser isn’t asking us to wait for a moment, we can go to step 2, on page 10. Here, we get a list of words associated with our middle left button which we need to read out to our Defuser. The first word on the list which is also on one of the available press buttons is the one the Defuser needs to press, so it’s best to go through them one at a time. The less words we use the better, as you may need to go through a lot of words.
Continuing our example, the Expert will start reading out the list of words associated with ‘HOLD’ one at a time until a match is found.
Expert: “YOU ARE.”
Expert: “The letter U.”
We have a match! The Defuser presses the button labeled ‘U’ and the game progresses one step forward, with all the buttons resetting, so you’ll have to start from the top to solve it a second and third time to beat it overall. If we didn’t have the button labeled ‘U,’ you would have to keep going down the list until you find the first button that matches. While we also have DONE, UH UH, and LIKE, because ‘U’ is the first in the list that we have, it is the first and only button we need to press.
Of course, time is short while defusing bombs, so it helps to clarify what different words you mean before you run across this particular module. With so many homonyms and common words, you may find yourself clarifying which version of the word you mean when you read it to make things overall faster. There are 28 different words used on the display and an additional 15 unique words in step 2 of this module, for a combined total of 43 different words. Below are some clarifications I myself have used while playing with friends to try and get to those expert bombs. For many, simply saying “The word ____” will do, but some need more than that.
OKAY = “The word OKAY.” or “OKAY, spelled out.”
_____ = “There is nothing on the screen.” or “The screen/display is blank.” or “It’s empty.”
LED = “L-E-D.” or “LED lights.”
LEAD = “LEAD with an ‘AD.’” or “LEAD somewhere.” or “LEAD metal.”
LEED = “LEED, double E.”
READY = “READY, word.”
READ = “READ, book.” or “READ with an ‘AD.’”
RED = “RED, the color.” or “RED.”
REED = “REED, the plant.”
HOLD ON = “HOLD ON, two words.”
YOU = “The word YOU.”
U = “The letter U.”
YOU ARE = “YOU ARE, two words.”
YOUR = “YOUR, possessive.”
YOU’RE = “YOU’RE, contraction.” or “YOU’RE, apostrophe.”
UR = “UR, the letters.” or “UR, the city.”
THERE = “THERE, location.”
THEY’RE = “THEY’RE, contraction.” or “THEY’RE, apostrophe.”
THEIR = “THEIR, possessive.”
THEY ARE = “THEY ARE, two words.”
SEE = “SEE, eyes.” or “The word SEE.”
C = “The letter C.”
CEE = “C-E-E.”
WHAT = “WHAT, the word.”
WHAT? = “WHAT, question mark.”
UHH = “UHH, three Hs.”
UH HUH = “UH HUH, affirmative.”
UH UH = “UH UH, negative.”
LEFT = “LEFT, direction.” or “LEFT, word.”
RIGHT = “RIGHT, direction.” or “RIGHT, word.”
MIDDLE = “MIDDLE, direction.” or “MIDDLE, word.”
It’s a lot to take in at once, but it helps to play with the same player or players multiple times, as you’ll get used to each other’s ways of speaking and accents. For the second step, there are also cheat sheets that players have made, reducing the overall number of words in a list, since we know for a fact that the button label we’re working from must be on the bomb. Here are both sheets in alphabetical order, from Steam user Cypher.
The rest, of course, is practice, practice, practice. The less words you use, the less time you waste, as long as you can keep it clear what you mean. Just don’t try this stuff on a real bomb.