Transcript - Season 1, Episode 3: A Game of Pool

Jim: Hello, and welcome to Rehydrate, a podcast about The Three-Body Problem and its sequels. This is a podcast in which we have four hosts with four different levels of familiarity with the series, and that creates very interesting, clashing perspectives.

I'm Jim, I only read the first book.

Dan: Hi, I'm Dan, I've read the entire series multiple times.

Tim: I am Tim. I've only read up to the chapters we're covering today.

Amin: Hi, this is Amin. I have also only read up to the chapters that we read today. But I am also co-hosting the Rehydrate Spoilercast with Dan. So I have also been spoiled.

Dan: Yeah, so speaking of the Spoilercast, we have a new show that's on the same feed. We tried to make it very obvious that it contains spoilers by using different cover art, and having the title 'Spoilercast' in it. But if you are familiar with the entire series and want a little broader perspective on the context of what we're talking about in these shows, or don't care about spoilers, feel free to listen to those episodes as well. And submit any feedback that you have, because we'd be interested to hear other people's perspectives, especially around the entire series.

And another piece of feedback from last show was Jim had asked about one of the phrasing that Ye Winjie had when she was on the Radar Peak. And the phrase specifically was, "Other than the undiscovered country beyond death, from which no one has ever returned, the place where she wanted to be the most with this peak, separated from rest of the world." So we didn't know it was the translation weirdness, because. "Do Chinese people even believe in undiscovered heaven?" -- kind of a Christian view of undiscovered country beyond death. And we had guessed that it was more of just writing style. So I looked at the translation and had my Chinese source look at it. She'd said, basically, that translation pretty much matches up. She'd said that, besides exploring another world, that there is another world after death, she wants to be at the isolated summit. And so she had also said that they don't believe in like a Christian heaven, but there is a pretty common, widespread belief that there's an afterlife where you meet up with your relatives, and that's probably what he was referring to.

Jim: I think it'd be interesting if there is some kind of detailed description of that like they have been other mythologies and religions. There probably is, I'll bet, but it's good to know that there is the general afterlife belief, even if it's not grounded in a particular religion.

Dan: Yeah, not any Christian religion or religion that we consider to be more mainstream here. But I think it's just more of a common belief there. And you see that in other ceremonies that they have, where it's mostly around reconnecting with relatives who have since died.

Amin: On the rehydrate website at We have all of our podcasts up there. But now we also have transcripts for every episode. So if you are not into listening to us and just want to read this, you can do that as well. So that's all at

Dan: So for the summary of this episode, we're gonna be talking about The Three-Body Problem, chapters five and six.

After the meeting in Beijing, Wang Miao goes to visit a disheveled Ding Yi at his apartment. Ding Yi tells Wang that he should not get involved with the police or military and that the Frontiers of Science had nothing to do with the death of the scientists.

Ding runs a simple experiment with Wang: pocket a pool ball on a pool table in different parts of the room. When the experiment predictably succeeds, he says that large-scale particle accelerators that he and his colleagues work on are similar to a pool table. However, when they ran their experiments, particles would collide and react in unpredictable ways. When Wang asks what this means, Ding responds, “It means that the laws of physics are not invariant across time and space.” The same sentiment that was in Yang Dong’s suicide note.

Later, Wang Miao, an amateur photographer, is out taking pictures. When he develops them, he notices strange numbers on a photograph, starting with 1200:00:00.

He proceeds to frantically develop more pictures, using different film, and even different cameras, all with the same numbers appearing, but counting down. For some reason only pictures he personally takes yield photographs with the countdown.

Wang decides to contact Shen Yufei, a member of the Frontiers of Science, to see if she has any idea what might be happening.

Upon arriving at Shen Yufei’s house, she doesn’t offer any advice as to why the countdown is appearing, but rather cryptically tells him that he needs to stop his research into nanomaterial.

Later, back at his home, Wang finds that the countdown has returned, not on his photographs, but directly in his vision. No matter where he looks, the countdown follows him. After consulting a doctor and finding nothing wrong with his eyes, he returns to work and is presented with an opportunity to shut down his nanomaterial research project for maintenance for a few days. As soon as the experiment is shut down, the countdown stops.

Wang again contacts Shen Yufei, who tells him that it is not simply a trick, and that in three days, he should look to the sky and he will see the universe flicker for him.

Tim: My perspective is mysteries are still piling up here. I guess my first question is why he decided to contact Shen Yufei. And like what background he has with the Frontiers of Science.

Dan: It seemed like she was just a person that he knew that was in the group. I think he had said earlier, "Frontiers of Science are good at weird science mysteries. maybe I should contact them and ask them." And so he knew of her so he contacted her.

Tim: Then he goes there finds her into some weird VR get-up, acting like she knows what's going on, but giving him cryptic answers. These people so far the Frontiers of Science, they just seemed like [jerks] to me so far.

Dan: Especially when he asked her, "Why do I need to send out my project?" "You just need to." "But why?" "You need to." Like, "What?"

Tim: The Frontiers of Science -- I think I had mentioned the previous podcast -- they just seem to be kind of like these -- I could imagine them as being like these kind of pseudo ... analogous to the Elon Musks of today. Or the sort of entirely-too-high-opinion-of-themselves kind of people.

And this one guy that he encounters after leaving Shen Yufei place, this Pan Han, and this guy just sounds like Pol Pot. "He believed in the gradual de-urbanization of modern metropolises by distributing the population more evenly in self-sufficient small towns and villages. Relying on the gentler technologies, he would build a new agricultural society." Isn't that exactly what the Khmer Rouge did?

Jim: They tried.

Dan: But he seemed to be more against technology, then ... That was the impression I got from him: that he's kind of against technology, or the expansion of technology taking over society.

Tim: Yeah, it's exactly what the Khmer Rouge... Well, it was at least the deurbanization part of it that was corrupting somehow. But yeah, it's just deepening my impression of this Frontiers of Science as these ... They're all like potential Bond villains, to me at this point.

Dan: It does seem weird and non-forthcoming. They definitely know more about what they're talking about. But she's so cryptic about the information and so removed from reality. He keeps asking, "Why do I need to start my research?" Shee's like, "Because you have to." "Why do I need to do it?" "Because you have to."

Amin: I feel like that's a common trope in a lot of 'hero' movies, where they meet somebody who could help them, but this teacher wants them to figure it out themselves. An example would be something like Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, or in The Matrix, kind of the same thing happened: where the hero is supposed to be lost, and discover some things for themselves. So I feel like this was supposed to be that type of driver, but again, not as well written as some of the other ones.

Dan: I don't know. I'm not sure that it's the same kind of thing. It seemed more like she just didn't want to tell him -- it's not something that was important for him to know. Not that he needs to discover for himself, but that she's just like, "You should just listen to me and shut down your experiment." And then he kind of pushes back and says, "Well, I'll do it for a little while, but I'm not gonna do it forever." And she said, "All right. Well, I'll give you a bigger display of why you need to shut it down, but not telling you why. Just that I know about this gigantic power that will force you to shut it down."

Amin: I read it as she was just indifferent to the whole thing. It was more a recommendation, but she didn't care one way or another.

Tim: Are we supposed to assume at this point that she obviously has some insight or knows why this countdown -- this numbers thing -- is happening to him?

Dan: I mean, she definitely implies it, right? By saying, "Once you shut your experiment down," and then immediately it stops. So I think you're supposed to think that.

Jim: What did you think of the despair that Ding had about the particle accelerators not coming up with the same results run at different times? That was the whole point of his dramatic pool table moving thing, right? Where he moved a pool table, and then they shot the ball into the corner pocket. And then they did that several times. And that was all to set up this, "Hey, guess what, we tried this same exact thing with particle accelerators and it didn't work."

Tim: Right. That's just one of the mysteries they're setting up. This is the same thing that they're discovering: that, again, physics is not invariant across time and saying this is apparently extremely, extremely disturbing.

Dan: I don't know that I buy that. It seems like a pretty far leap to go from, "Physics is weird," to trying to commit suicide. I guess if I'd invested in physics... I mean, it is strange, but I would think that it would cause more intrigue like, "Oh, that's that's awesome. Like, I can write a paper about this. I can," you know, "I could form a new theory." Not, "My life is over as I know it and I need to I need to kill myself."

Jim: Yeah, that is exactly what I thought. Because when Newtonian physics was unraveled, it wasn't just like, "Alright, it's all over guys. Let's all go home." Or, "Mass times acceleration doesn't equal force in all situations."

Tim: Yeah, it's exciting. I mean, it's exciting. There's new avenues to obviously discover, you know, what does that mean?

Dan: That said, the foretelling of doom by the countdown in front of people's eyes would be pretty concerning. I don't know if he overreacted}}, because I would probably be also freaked out if that happened. I mean, I definitely would be also freaked out if that happened. I don't know if it would drive me to suicide. If similar things happened to the other scientists, right? It wasn't just the physics weirdness, but it was also other things that drove them to madness, basically.

Tim: Okay, I did not make that connection, that ...

Jim: They all see the countdown?

Tim: ... or something equally torturous was happening to these people to cause them to ... Not just the revelation that, "Oh, there's a lot more to physics than we know. Or it doesn't exist." But that yes, it was manifesting in some way that drove him to suicide. Because I can imagine seeing a countdown in front, even if you close your eyes, I would imagine that would be like pure torture.

Dan: Yeah, because it's probably not counting down to something good, right?

Tim: Even it is isn't, and it was just this ever-present thing in your vision that would just give you no peace or rest.

Dan: Yeah, the countdown started at 1200. So I guess I know I didn't spoil this part for Amin. And Tim, you don't know about that. So, do you guys have theories of what the countdown actually means?

Tim: Not really. No.

Dan: Do you have any thoughts of how that countdown is actually happening?

TIm: Oh, you mean the actual... Like how it is or whatever? How it first is manifesting itself on film that only he takes? And then only in his vision himself? No, I have no idea. It's just right now it's just a weird, almost horror movie, supernatural-thing at this point. Unless it's something ...

Dan: They definitely play it as more. That's kind of how I read it, too, is like more of like a horror movie. Like, "Oh, this weird stuff is happening." And like he's going crazy because of it. He's pulling in his wife and he tells his wife to take pictures, and he's threatened when his wife starts taking pictures of her son. He's like, "No, no, don't do that. That's too weird."

Tim: I mean, unless it's something that's purely psychological going on with him, like something in his head. He can't ... I'm forgetting now. Did he show a picture that he took that has the numbers on it to somebody else? And did confirm they saw numbers?

Dan: He showed the film to Shen Yufei, right? I remember he brought the film. I don't remember if he showed it to her, but maybe she wasn't interested in looking at it.

Tim: I think they've left that intentionally vague. I guess my Occam's razor would be that it's something purely psychological with him and that his eyes are not projecting numbers onto film.

Dan: One thing I wanted to bring up that I thought was interesting that I thought about when I was reading it was one of the instructions he was given just to go to some website. When Shen Yufei said she's gonna show him the universe flickering for him, that he should go to this website and print it out, and then go look for the universe flickering. And so I actually went to that website and looked up what it was. And it's just a Morse code-kind of translation table. But I was like, "Well, how does Morse code even work on Chinese," because they're originally speaking Chinese.

I asked my Chinese resource about how it works, and she wasn't sure either. But I did some research. And one system that they can use is they don't use the letters but only use the numbers. And then they have a standardized system where a four-digit number translates to a Chinese character. So for example, the character nee, which is "you," translates as 0132, and how translates to 1170. So you'd have to type in eight characters to say "hello," which is inefficient, but it works, I guess. And she said that actually Morse code is a pretty prevalent thing in Chinese media as well. In spy movies, or nautical movies, or that kind of thing, they actually do use it. And they might just do it in English, too. Like there might be common English phrases that like "SOS," or that kind of thing that people use.

Tim: I never really thought about how Morse code would work in other languages. Yeah, you kind of have to have some sort of intermediary cipher or something like that.

Jim: Why do you think they had to have a website?

Dan: I don't know why they had that one, specifically. Like, it's a pretty basic website, if you go to it. We'll put it in the show notes.

JIm: Well, they did that because it's fun for readers to go to that. But in the story, why do you think the Frontiers of Science had a website for this?

Dan: I don't know that it was their website.

Jim: Really. Let's see.

Dan: I mean, the website was, and then some other stuff (ed.:, so I don't think it was theirs. I think it was some reference to Morse code. I'm guessing Liu Cixin just found that [when he] Googled, "Morse code."

Jim: It's not a specific way to translate the Morse code for this message coming through the background radiation kind of stuff?

Dan: Yeah, if you just look at it, it says basically like ABCD. And then you know, 12345, just literal translation. But they did mention in the story also there when Wang Miao is in Shen Yufei's apartment and her husband or the other guy there, I forgot if they're married -- I think it was her husband -- anyway, he had the V-suit on. But Wang Miao actually noticed he was going to a website called, which didn't seem to respond. But that was interesting. I don't know who controls that, but interesting that he found that that website.

Amin: Jim and Dan, when you read this the first time -- or Tim, I guess -- when you read it this time, did you guys actually try any of these URLs? Or did you just ...

Dan: I did.

Jim: Oh, yeah.

TIm: Yeah, I tried this Morse code one.

Amin: I didn't even think to try it. I was just like, "Oh, whatever. They'll explain it to me." I don't need a multimedia experience, here. I'm just trying to read a book.

Dan: At least in American media, if you put a website on TV or whatever, there's some regulation by FCC or somebody that it has to respond -- has to be a real website. So if you ever see a web URL on a TV show, you should go to it, and it's usually a marketing thing. Or a QR code, too. Those are always fun. If you see QR codes on TV shows, you take a picture of them and go to it. It's usually some marketing website.

Dan: So one new segment I want to introduce is thinking about how the story is playing out and that -- this is going to be a TV show in the future -- is how is this going to be filmed? I think this episode probably itself won't be so difficult. I think as the show progresses, it gets weirder and weirder. But that said, the visual representation of how they're going to do the countdown might be interesting. Do you guys have any thoughts of how that might be represented on film?

Tim: Yeah, if I thought about it briefly, maybe just a lot of first person perspectives or shots of him looking at the photographs, seeing it on there. Some camera cuts to a first person perspective to show you all these numbers are floating in mid-air for him. And as far as other aspects of this chapter, I kind of had this chapter almost filmed out in my head as I was reading it. You know, like when he visits Shen Yufei, that's such a common scene in sci fi and mystery movies. I kind of had this playing out my head as I was reading it, and how this wouldn't make for a really good last 20 minutes of Episode One or something like that.

Dan: I think it's probably a little bit too much to fit into one episode, unless the episodes are two hours long. But this section probably is not enough for a one-hour episode. But yeah, maybe like the first two episode are the first six chapters?

Tim: I would say that this would be Episode Two or something like that. You it would either start or end Episode Two. I'm not sure where the cutoff would be.

Dan: Yeah. I think we usually like first person perspective is kind of too distracting to film. But like how I saw it was Wang Miao would be walking around and you'd have a projection of the numbers in front of his face, and it kind of follows his eyes, but no one could see it except for him. That's kind of how I was thinking of a way to film that. But I think you really need to show how it's so persistent all the time, and that it really terrorizes him by having that number there.

Tim: I mean, that would pretty much drive you insane. You know, especially if you can't close your eyes. It was still there and it's like you just could never truly close your eyes.

Jim: What do you guys think about the V-suit? Do you think that's gonna look cool on the TV show?

Dan: Actually, there's supposed to be a movie that was [going to be] made in China for this a couple years ago that I guess got stuck in development hell and never was made. But they did have screenshots of the V-suit and looks like Tron basically.

Tim: I actually now that you say that, we're supposed to be vaguely present date now, right?

Dan: Yeah, I think it's like 2000 sometime.

Tim: We're getting there ...

Jim: With the PS5, right?

Tim: I could see the V-suit being something that will be around ten years from now or something.

Dan: Well, that seemed pretty fancy because it said you can feel getting stabbed or super cold and that kind of thing, so I think we're a little far away from that. I don't know ten years ...

Tim: Well, I can see I can I can see a fully haptic V-suit now. Not the sort of thing that would be commercially available but somewhere in some sort of tech company's lab or something.

Jim: Well, Tim is the only one who has the PlayStation 5. Tim, do you think you could feel like you're getting stabbed in the fingers with the PlayStation 5?

Tim: Well, not stabbed to the point where it would really hurt, but you can approximate the sharp-thing a bit more. So yeah, if you could turn that controller into something that was like clinging to your body and that level of haptic feedback. Yeah, I could see that it'd be something ...

Jim: Doesn't it make you feel itchy?

Tim: Well, I don't know about the itchy or cold part yet. I don't know how that would work. But as far as the haptic stuff is a much wider, more precise toolkit for simulating different stimulations.

Dan: It feels like that suit would be really bulky if they did that for the entire body though, right? It'd be like one of those GoreTex jackets across your whole body.

Tim: I mean, if it could fit haptics in your skinny skinny little iPhone... I imagine it'd be like kind of like the thing that they put on -- the x-ray vest they put on you when the dentist gives you a head x-rays or something.

Dan: Oh, the big, lead apron? Yeah, they're gonna make the V-suit out of lead.

Jim: Do you think V-suit stands for "virtual suit"?

Dan: I think it does. But doesn't make sense, right, because it's a real thing?

Okay, do we have any final thoughts that we want to bring up?

TIm: My general impressions of these chapters are that mystery is still piling on. But I feel like this whole thing with Wang and all this stull with Wang is maybe he's the first, true main character. We've shifted perspectives a couple times... I initially assumed it was going to be Ye Wenjie but now obviously feels like Wang is the main character at this point.

Dan: Yeah, I don't think it's that much of a spoiler to say that he's basically the main character for this book. There's a lot more characters who were introduced and different perspectives and that kind of thing. I don't want to give too much away. But Wang Miao is definitely the main character for this book.

Jim: There's some especially bad dialogue, some parts ... but I don't think we need to call that out. But I did like the part where he said. "I can’t anticipate all your tricks, but even with the sun, perhaps your despicable illusionist can still somehow make the deception seem real." Anyway, that was pretty good.

Well, that has been more Rehydrate. Catch you next time.