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happy palindrome week! by Chris Peterson SM '13

conventions, patterns, palindromes

Here in America, our vaunted exceptionalism takes many forms, including how we write our dates. The convention of MM-DD-YY01 and, of course, dropping the leading 0, so it's currently 9/ and not 09/ means that in America today is 9/10/19, which reversed reads the same, and is thus a palindromic date.

It is, in fact, the first palindromic date of a week-and-a-half of them, running from 9/10/19 to 9/19/19. While palindromic dates (in this convention) are not entirely rare, this will be the last palindromic week of this kind in this century, so it seems worth noting on a blog read by students aspiring to study at a school fascinated by numbers and puzzles.

When I think about palindromes, I think about Nick Montfort, a CMS professor with whom I took some grad school classes and who works in/around the field of interactive fiction. I think it would be fair to call Nick a palindrome enthusiast; indeed, also a palindromic practitioner. Most notably, on February 20th of 2002 (02-20-2002), Nick copublished a short story, but a long palindrome, called 2002: A Palindrome Story:

2002 is a collaboratively-authored narrative palindrome, exactly 2002 words in length. 2002 was first published in a limited edition of 202 inscribed copies on New Years Day, 2002. On February 20th, 2002 (20-02-2002) 2002 was published on the Web. On November 11, 2002 (11-11-2002) 2002 was published as an illustrated book.

A palindrome is a text in which the sequence of letters and numbers is the same forwards and backwards. Spaces, punctuation, and line breaks are used freely. In 2002, the authors took the liberty of assuming an accented e (é) is the same letter as e, and that an i with an umlaut (ï) is the same as an i. Other than that it is perfect.

The palindrome was written by Nick Montfort and William Gillespie with the assistance of an Eraware computer program named Deep Speed. Design of the HTML version and the book were done by Ingrid Ankerson. Illustrations were provided by Shelley Jackson. The creators of the book have had the historically rare privilege of experiencing two palindromic years: 1991 and 2002. No generation of people has lived through two palindromic years since 1001, and none will again until 2112.

2002 has been acknowledged by some reviewers as the longest intelligible palindrome in English, and you can read it on the web here. Or, if you come to MIT, you can take 21L.489[J]: Interactive Narrative with Nick and learn how to make computers and text do things together.

Enjoy the text — and the week!

  1. and, of course, dropping the leading 0, so it's currently 9/ and not 09/ back to text