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.