Crossword puzzle menu

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Ingenious menu on the window of a restaurant:


The prefatory question (above the photograph) reads:

Píyǒumen, shéi néng gàosù wǒ zhège dàodǐ zěnme dú


Pi-friends, who can tell me how to read this?

When I started working on this post, I had no idea what "Píyǒumen 皮友们" meant.  Naturally, it sounded a bit like "péngyǒumen 朋友们" ("friends"), so I thought that it might perhaps be a topolectal variant of that.

I also thought that there might be humorous nuances from "pí 皮" as in "wánpí 顽皮" ("naughty; witty; slightly troublesome in an amusing way").

It turns out that píyǒumen 皮友们 derives from the fact that this photo is posted on a recent Chinese online social app named Pípí xiā 皮皮虾 (Japanese mantis shrimp; Oratosquilla oratoria). It's a very tasty and popular seafood in Asia. This app focuses on "humor". Its Chinese description says:  "Yīgè zhǔdǎ qīng yōumò shén pínglùn de shèqū 一个主打轻幽默神评论的社区” ("A community that focuses on light humorous comments"), i.e., a platform for sharing funny videos (like TikTok). Therefore, netizens who post humorous things on Pípí xiā 皮皮虾 address each other as “píyǒu 皮友” ("mantis shrimp friends").  The name of Pípí xiā 皮皮 for Chinese netizens has a long history of playfulness. Here are related emoji (really funny [must see!] — some of them seem to be riffing off of the Lone Ranger and Silver).

As for why Japanese mantis shrimp (official name is shako シャコ / 虾蛄) is called pípí xiā 皮皮虾, it most likely has a topolectal background. For the humorous associations of this specific shrimp, see the following two posts:  here and here.

Pípí xiā 皮皮虾 ("pípí shrimp") has come to function as a kind of gěng 梗 ("shtick"). Amongst the video live streamers (anchors) of online games (wǎngluò yóuxì zhǔbō 网络游戏主播) — a new occupation these years — a certain Sichuanese streamer became famous with his kǒutóuchán 口头禅 ("pet phrase"), which was none other than “pípí xiā 皮皮虾” when he was playing his game. He wasn’t really saying “pípí xiā 皮皮虾"; it was his Sichuan accent.  What his kǒutóuchán 口头禅 ("pet phrase") was really saying was “BB sha BB啥” (for bībī shà 逼逼啥,or bībī shà 屄屄啥, lit. “c**t c**t what"), a vulgar phrase for “what are you blathering about?”.  (The operative morpheme is discussed here [right after the screenshot] and elsewhere on Language Log.)  Combined with “wǒmen zǒu 我们走” ("let's go"), the sentence originally means “Why are you / we talking nonsense here? Let’s move (let’s march / get on with the game)!” Thus "Pípí xiā, wǒmen zǒu 皮皮虾,我们走 " ("Pipi shrimp, let's go") became an extremely widespread shtick since 2017.

It should not be too difficult to guess why this humor app for netizens to post to is called Pípí xiā 皮皮虾 ("Pipi shrimp"; established in 2018). And that’s why that blogger introducing the photograph of the menu on the restaurant window that begins this post addresses his "Píyǒumen 皮友们" ("Pi-friends").

After the photograph comes this comment:  "Jiǎnjiǎndāndān jiǔ gè zì, bāohánle shí duō zhòng càipǐn 简简单单九个字,包含了十多种菜品… (“Nine simple characters that contain more than ten dishes…”.

The most interesting thing about this menu puzzle is that none of the directions is consistently correct for all three lines / rows! Whether you choose to read from left to right, right to left, top to bottom, or bottom to top — none of these ways works for all three lines / rows. One has to switch directions in the middle to keep making sense out of it, whichever direction one chooses to start with in the first place.  However, every Chinese knows what kind of dishes they have and what they can get from this shop.  A truly amazing, space saving menu!

How many different ways of combination and permutation can you figure out from these nine crossword-puzzle-like characters?

大盘鸡,卤猪肘,大肘子,卤鸡肉,肉蹄子,卤猪蹄…… you keep naming them….

I won't provide all the solutions and translations, but will just list the individual characters with their pronunciations and meanings:

dà 大 "big"

pán 盘 "plate"

jī 鸡 "chicken"

lǔ 卤 "stew in soy sauce and spices"

zhū 猪 "pig; pork"

zhǒu 肘 "elbow"

zi 子 noun suffix

ròu 肉 "meat; flesh"

tí 蹄 "hoof"

Enough to keep you coming back for quite a few meals!

Selected readings


  1. Jim Breen said,

    May 14, 2022 @ 11:34 pm

    Re: "Japanese mantis shrimp (official name is shako シャコ / 虾蛄)"

    In Japanese, it is usually written in kana, but the main kanji form is 蝦蛄. 虾 is not in any of the JIS kanji standards and AFAICT is rarely used in Japan.

  2. martin schwartz said,

    May 14, 2022 @ 11:48 pm

    Fans of crosswords may enjoy knowing that there was an an
    Ancient Egyptian crossword hymn. Rather than reproduce it here,
    I refer readers to HM Stewart, "A crossword hymn to Mut".
    The only way I can reconcile Chinese restaurants with Egyptian hieroglyphs is by noting that after eating tillapia in a Chinese restaurant I found there was a separate Eg. hieroglyph for this fish.
    Martin Schwartz

  3. Steve Jones said,

    May 15, 2022 @ 1:10 am

    Reminds me of more classical literary wordplay

  4. John F. Carr said,

    May 20, 2022 @ 9:07 am

    Once I started to worry after being told we were having 蹄 for dinner. Luckily, in cooking it refers to the leg and not only the hoof.

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