A blog for fans of Bananagrams, word games, puzzles, and amazing things

Monday, March 19, 2012

Results of the First World Palindrome Championship

Following up on my previous post about the first annual palindrome-writing competition, here is how it played out:

As mentioned on contestant Mark Saltveit's blog, Barry Duncan, who is the subject of an upcoming documentary (The Master Palindromist) had been invited to compete, but as he had not responded to the invitation, he was not expected to attend. Then he showed up on the day of the competition. His documentarian also attended and filmed the event, so we may get to see footage of the championship someday.

Doug Fink, writer of eight crossword puzzles (and more importantly the famous palindrome "Lisa Bonet ate no basil."), was selected from the audience as the final contestant.

Will Shortz announced that the contestants had to write palindromes meeting one of the following three constraints:
  1. The palindrome must contain an X and a Z.

  2. Or the palindrome must include a person or event in the news in the last 12 months.

  3. Or the palindrome must be somehow about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament
I was rather surprised by these constraints because writing a palindrome about someone in the news is something that many of the contestants may have already done, so it didn't really guarantee that the palindrome might not have been conceived of beforehand. I was also a little disappointed that there were multiple allowable routes; it would have been more interesting to see what the results would have been if the contestants had competed head-to-head, writing the same kind of palindrome. But possibly this multi-path set of constraints was used because any single constraint could have been too limiting, potentially resulting in insufficiently diverse or entertaining palindromes. Still, in the future, I might suggest a multi-round scheme, where all contestants write palindromes for each set of constraints, the palindromes are all separately scored by round, and whoever's total score is highest, wins.

Based on the votes of the audience (mostly competitive crossword puzzle solvers who were there for the weekend crossword tournament), Nick Montfort placed fourth for his reversible poem about the Millennium Falcon. Jon Agee's submission placed third: "'Zoning' is Mr. Al Axe's sex alarm sign in Oz." The runner-up was John Connett who wrote "'Not Newt,' Ron's snort went on." And (by a vote of 169 to 165) the winner and World Palindrome Champ was Mark Saltveit who wrote "Devil Kay fixes trapeze part; sex if yak lived." which he later described as "a tale of kinky shenanigans".

Saltveit wrote other palindromes during the allotted writing period including "I tan. I mull. In a way, Obama, I am a boy, a wan Illuminati."

He explained his third palindrome (which was about the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament) in this Metafilter Metatalk thread:
If anyone saw the film Wordplay, Al Sanders was the guy who has placed 3rd about 10 years in a row, and was eliminated due to a tragic error in the film after he clearly had won.

This palindrome predicts that he will finally win the tournament this year:
"Gal, smiles are stellar ere crossword rows sorcerer Al lets era's elim's lag."
(Incidentally, Metafilter is one of the coolest sites on the Internet.)

Even before learning that the crossword puzzle tournament was going to be one of the possible constraints for the palindromes, I was thinking that including crossword references would be a good way to play to the crowd. Maybe something like this reference to cryptic crossword puzzles would do:
We hate Seven Across: "Or can Eve set a hew?"
(Hint: It's only a caricature of cryptic crossword clues and not intended to be solved.)

Writing palindromes is not as easy as they make it look, so congratulations to Mark Saltveit and to all the contestants!

UPDATE: As Nick Montfort informed me in the comment thread, all of the palindromes presented by the contestants are being posted at http://palindromist.org/results. They are definitely worth checking out.

Also, Nick Montfort has posted his reflections on the event.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The First Annual World Palindrome Championship

I've learned that, as part of this year's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament (made famous through the documentary Wordplay), a live palindrome-writing competition is going to be held! Will Shortz will give some constraints on what the palindrome has to be about (presumably preventing the contestants from recycling old work), the contestants will write palindromes for 75 minutes, and the audience will choose the winners.

The contestants will include:
  • Jon Agee, writer of many books of palindromes illustrated with cartoons including Go Hang a Salami! I'm a Lasagna Hog!: and Other Palindromes
  • Martin Clear, who is apparently flying in from Australia to compete and who has definitely written a lot of palindromes. Like these
    Goddesses, bored now, assess a wonder-obsessed dog.

    Some modem telepaths in a Danish tape let me do memos.

    Tim lifted a cat; Elton did not let a cadet film it.
    He has even posted some palindromic poetry.

    But that's not why I'm subscribing to his blog; it's because of this poem:
    Mary had a little RAM
    It’s free space, wired and slow
    And every wire that Mary wet
    That RAM would short and blow.

  • John Connett, professor of biostatistics, writer of these:
    Eva, can I stack Rod’s sad-ass, dork cats in a cave?

    No cab, eh, Ted? I sat up. I put aside the bacon.
  • Nick Montfort who co-wrote 2002: A Palindrome Story, a 2002-word palindrome, written in 2002 (also available as an illustrated book). I know him from his contributions to the interactive fiction community, but he appears to be a professor of writing about interactive fiction and making cool online creative stuff (a field we can always use more professors in).
  • Mark Saltveit, editor of The Palindromist - a magazine dedicated to palindromes (and also a great site where I found out a lot about the world of palindromes.) He also does stand-up comedy about palindromes.

    Pay on time, emit no yap.

    Art, anise, riff of fire: Sinatra.
  • ... and one lucky contestant picked from the audience based on a demonstration of their palindrome prowess.

It's happening March 16th in Brooklyn. It costs $80 to get in the door. See the crossword puzzle tournament site for further details on the schedule.

Once I find out what the winning palindrome is, I will post a follow-up.

UPDATE: I found a soft profile of contestant Mark Saltveit and the World Palindrome Championship.