Can you help my friend figure out how the message below from her long-lost uncle indicates anything?

(I should mention here: The actual message was lost, and the text below is the best that could be reconstructed.)

Ti-Fa-Sol-Do-Re   Ti-Ti-Do-Sol-Mi-Re  Sol-Do-Do-Mi-Sol  Sol-Ti-La-Fa-Mi-Re-Mi-Re
Ti-Fa-Sol-Do-Re   La-Ti-Do-Fa-Mi-Re    Fa-La-Ti-Mi-Sol  Sol-Ti-La-Fa-Mi-Re-Mi-Re
Mi-Mi-Sol-Mi-Sol  La-Ti-Do-Sol-Mi-Re   Fa-Do-Ti-Mi-Sol  Sol-Do-Mi-Re    Do-Mi-Re
La-Fa-Sol-Do-Re   Sol-Ti-La-Fa-Mi-Re-Mi-Re

(I write music here.)

Here is the complete story behind the message - which you may or may not need to know to solve this puzzle:

My friend's father, Joseph, had a brother named Francis. They inherited their father's business of dealing in electronic hardware. Although both were trained in the skills required to run the business, Francis was always more interested in becoming a musician.

He was talented and passionate, but also aggressive and ruthless. He soon rose to a peak in his musical prowess, but at the expense of destroying the careers of those who came in his way, thus making a lot of enemies. One night, he learnt that his enemies were hatching a plot to involve him in "an accident". Fearing for his life, he fled the country with all his money, and was never heard from again.

Over the years that followed, Joseph missed Francis and grew sentimentally attached to the items that Francis had left behind. After he retired, he studied a little bit of music himself, so that he could learn to play some of Francis's compositions from the sheets of music that he had written.

One day, he received a letter signed by Francis and clearly in his handwriting. It was immediately evident to Joseph that the message was composed of a series of musical notes. The last line clearly said, "I write music here." (At that time, my friend was studying in another city; so she never saw the actual message, she only knows what her father later told her.)

Joseph tried playing the notes on a keyboard, hoping that the tune led to a song or something which would somehow be an indicator of where Francis was. But to his dismay, the tune was completely unrecognizable. He made a recording of it and took it to a couple of Francis's old friends, but they couldn't relate it to anything either. At some point, the original message was lost, and only the recording remained.

Some months ago, Joseph died, leaving everything - including this mystery - to my friend. We discussed the puzzle, and came to the conclusion that the only way left to figure it out was to publish it for others to take a look at. With the help of another friend who knew a little bit about music, the notes from the recording were transcribed and the original message reconstructed.

The result, and the challenge, now lie before you.

P.S. Having heard the recording enough times, and from Joseph's failed efforts, we're guessing that you don't actually have to play and listen to the notes. Perhaps it's more like a cipher? But neither of the brothers was a cryptographer, so it would have had to be something pretty straightforward.


My friend is out on a tour, but sent me a brief e-mail yesterday: She said that she just realized that something in the whole sequence of events doesn't make any sense. I'm hoping to learn more when she gets back. Do you see something amiss in the story?

Further Update:

Finally met my friend today and this is what she had to say: Presumably, Uncle Francis encoded the message so that it would be safe even if it fell into his enemies' hands. But they were the experts in music, not Joseph; in fact, Francis had no clue that Joseph learnt to read music later. So why on earth would he choose music of all methods?

Another update (kind of):

While cleaning up Joseph's old stuff we found something interesting: A digital alarm clock which plays its alarm in three different tunes. And turns out that it's something the brothers built together when they were in school. We were so sure that this would be the missing link! Sadly, the tunes are all simple stock melodies with no connection to the message, and there's nothing else special about the clock.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Lovely idea for a puzzle! $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    May 2, 2016 at 13:23

1 Answer 1


Featured in the past, compositions by musical uncle Francis, at:

The   S y d n e y   O p e r a   H o u s e


solfeggio / C major scale + 7-digit indicator : Sydney Opera House

      Ti-Fa-Sol-Do-Re   Ti-Ti-Do-Sol-Mi-Re  Sol-Do-Do-Mi-Sol  Sol-Ti-La-Fa-Mi-Re-Mi-Re
      Ti-Fa-Sol-Do-Re   La-Ti-Do-Fa-Mi-Re    Fa-La-Ti-Mi-Sol  Sol-Ti-La-Fa-Mi-Re-Mi-Re
      Mi-Mi-Sol-Mi-Sol  La-Ti-Do-Sol-Mi-Re   Fa-Do-Ti-Mi-Sol  Sol-Do-Mi-Re    Do-Mi-Re
      La-Fa-Sol-Do-Re   Sol-Ti-La-Fa-Mi-Re-Mi-Re  

Behind the Music—1st movement — Beginnings

The original message probably took this form:

The letters A,B,C,D,E,F,G were meant to slyly refer to the electronic-circuitry labeling of a 7-segment digit, which would be common knowledge between the brothers because “they inherited their father's business of dealing in electronic hardware.”

Behind the Music— 2nd movement — Where things went wrong

Alas, Joseph mistook the letters for musical notes, not realizing that his musical sophistication would be unknown to his brother (as was spelled out, mercifully, in the puzzle's Further Update: “Francis had no clue that Joseph learnt to read music later”). So Joseph accidentally fell into the trap baited with "(I write music here.)" that was laid for Francis's electronics-naive musical pursuers. Such clever parallelism between musical notes and 7-segment displays! Too clever.

Yes, another family tragically separated by a misunderstood love of music.

Behind the Music— 3rd movement —The case of the mysterious tag

As with the mystery in question, retrograde analysis can well refer to more than chess or other games. Francis's original message must be reconstructed by retracing (literally, tracing backward) its passage by various agents through different media. These steps include misconception and transformation, where each incarnation nonetheless contains all of the original information.
9. This puzzle
8. Solfeggio syllables La-Fa-Sol-Do-...
7. A musical friend
6. Joseph's daughter
5. An audio recording
4. Joseph's keyboard
3. Joseph's interpretation
2. The obfuscated letter
1. Francis's intended message

Behind the Music— Cadenza — Errant ad libs

Some fruitless meanderings that came from previous puzzles or could be used in future puzzles.

  • The somewhat key-looking layout of La-Fa-Sol-... sequences suggested that the syllables might constitute a decoder key for the possibly-contrived sentence “I write music here.”

  • The limited variety in sequences' endings led to considering pig-Latin-like constructions.

  • That same limited sequence-end variety, combined with the electronics shop aspect, led to a search for 3-to-8-band color codes for resistors. (Only found codes up to 6 bands.)

  • Combining music with electronics led to looking at MIDI codes.

  • The phrase “Joseph tried playing the notes on a keyboard” evoked the way that rows of letters on a typewriter keyboard are sometimes used to represent black and white keys on a piano.

  • The possibility of lines being words made La-Fa-Sol-Do-Re a candidate for A or I.

  • Straightforward Do-Re-Mi-... representations of different musical keys led to some what-could-almost-be-called-quality time with rot13.com, which is handy for transposing music.

  • Purely coincidental counts between 16 “bars” and 16 letters in “I write music here.”:

 16 letters (incl'g . period) with 3 x e, 2 x i, 2 x r:   I write music h
 16 bars(?) with 3 x Sol-Ti-La-Fa-Mi-Re-Mi-Re,                            r
                 2 x La-Fa-Sol-Do-Re,                                      e
                 2 x Ti-Fa-Sol-Do-Re:               Do-Mi-Re                .
                                            Mi-Mi-Sol-Mi-Sol                c
                                             Fa-Do-Ti-Mi-Sol            .-- e
                                             Fa-La-Ti-Mi-Sol           .:   e
                                            Sol-Do-Do-Mi-Sol         .' '-- e
                                                Sol-Do-Mi-Re       .'       h
                                    Sol-Ti-La-Fa-Mi-Re-Mi-Re --. .'         I
                                    Sol-Ti-La-Fa-Mi-Re-Mi-Re   :'       .-- i
                                    Sol-Ti-La-Fa-Mi-Re-Mi-Re --'       .'-- i
                                             La-Fa-Sol-Do-Re --.     .'     m
                                             La-Fa-Sol-Do-Re --'....'   .-- r
                                           La-Ti-Do-Fa-Mi-Re       :....'-- r
                                          La-Ti-Do-Sol-Mi-Re     .'         s
                                             Ti-Fa-Sol-Do-Re --.'           t
                                             Ti-Fa-Sol-Do-Re --'            u
                                          Ti-Ti-Do-Sol-Mi-Re                w 
  • Not to mention suggestive two-dimensional patterns along another wild goose chase:
 :              :    l-f-s-d-r
 :La            :    t-f-s-d-r   t-t-d-s-m-r   s-d-d-m-s   s-t-l-f-m-r-m-r
 :      So      :    t-f-s-d-r   l-t-d-f-m-r   f-l-t-m-s   s-t-l-f-m-r-m-r
 :   Fa         :    m-m-s-m-s   l-t-d-s-m-r   f-d-t-m-s   s-d-m-r   d-m-r
 :              :    l-f-s-d-r   s-t-l-f-m-r-m-r
 :            Re:
 :Ti            :Ti Ti            :              :   Ti                  :
 :              :                 :              :      La               :
 :      So      :         So      :So          So:So                     :
 :   Fa         :                 :              :         Fa            :
 :              :            Mi   :         Mi   :            Mi    Mi   :
 :            Re:               Re:              :               Re    Re:
 :Ti            :   Ti            :      Ti      :   Ti                  :
 :              :La               :   La         :      La               :
 :      So      :                 :            So:So                     :
 :   Fa         :         Fa      :Fa            :         Fa            :
 :              :            Mi   :         Mi   :            Mi    Mi   :
 :            Re:               Re:              :               Re    Re:
 :              :   Ti            :      Ti      :           :  :        :
 :              :La               :              :           :  :        :
 :      So    So:         So      :            So:So         :  :        :
 :              :                 :Fa            :           :  :        :
 :Mi Mi    Mi   :            Mi   :         Mi   :      Mi   :  :   Mi   :
 :              :               Re:              :         Re:  :      Re:
 :..............:......Do.........:...Do.........:...Do......:  :Do......:
 :              :   Ti                  :
 :La            :      La               :
 :      So      :So                     :
 :   Fa         :         Fa            :
 :              :            Mi    Mi   :
 :            Re:               Re    Re:

Behind the Music— D.C. dolcemente al coda — An early sour note that echoed sweetly

The similarities among “bars,” such as La-Fa-Sol-Do-Re and Ti-Fa-Sol-Do-Re, suggested that they might represent letter shapes instead of words, but how? Consecutively repeated syllables, as in Ti-Ti-Do-Sol-Mi-Re, however, distracted from the possibility that these are sets of fixed elements, which turned out to be the case, or that these are sequential line segments.

Even the most-likely candidate for E or T, Sol-Ti-La-Fa-Mi-Re-Mi-Re because it occurred most often, had too many pieces for those, or any, letters. Should've recognized that it did have the perfect number of unique pieces for 7-segment lowercase e.

D'oh-Re-Mio !

The sets-of-elements prospect returned to the front burner thanks to a certain “digital alarm clock” mentioned in Another Update of the puzzle.

Behind the Music— Coda — After weeks with a Do-Or-Di attitude

Tra-La-La !

Behind the Music— Curtain call — From the puzzle's O(riginal) P(roducer)

Overlooked by the entire audience were the words “indicates,” in the puzzle's very first sentence, and “indicator,” as what Joseph was hoping for when playing the notes. That's right, “indicator,” as in ...

... 7-segment indicator

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "Do you see something amiss in the story?" - Yes, I do. How could Francis send a letter to Joseph, from another country, without informing, on the letter, his own address? Is it really possible? $\endgroup$
    – Mizu
    Apr 21, 2016 at 0:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Mizu: I can't find anything which says that a return address is mandatory. I've sent overseas mail without one and it was delivered. The return address is only a kind of insurance for the sender in case the lettter can't be delivered. There may be some companies/countries which have stricter policies, but that's not the case in this story. $\endgroup$ Apr 21, 2016 at 15:07
  • $\begingroup$ Revised accordingly $\endgroup$
    – humn
    May 4, 2016 at 6:56

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