TIME Culture

‘Madam, I’m Adam': Meet the Reigning World Palindrome Champion

His name is actually Mark, though his brothers have been known to call him Kram

Eat poop tea.

When he was a kid, Mark Saltveit would sit in the car with his two young brothers, bored silly during 500-mile drives on family trips. Eventually he and his siblings turned to palindromes to pass the time. They had learned about these delightful strings of wordplay in school, a row of letters that read the same backwards as forwards. Poop, to the grade-school boys, was of course the consummate example. And when they worked out “Eat poop tea,” they felt like the Albert Einsteins of palindromy—until they realized that it didn’t quite work.

“We were crushed,” laughs Saltveit, now 53, as he recalls the cruel realization that the actual mirror image would be Eat poop tae. But during a bout of insomnia during his 20s, he remembered how he had filled the hours in the family car. Saltveit broke out the dictionary and embarked on what would become his life’s work. Within hours, he had written his first palindrome, at a length that most people couldn’t achieve in a month, or maybe ever. He called it “The Brag of the Vain Lawyer:”

Resoled in Saratoga, riveting in a wide wale suit, I use law, Ed. I, wan, ignite virago, tar a snide loser.

Within three decades, he would become the reigning world palindrome champion.

Saltveit is the star of a new documentary short that filmmaker Vince Clemente is hoping will inspire people to pay for making the feature-length version, as he follows the world’s leading palindromists up to their showdown at the next world championship in 2017. A Kickstarter campaign to fund the initial stages of A Man, a Plan, a Palindrome went live this week. The short debuted in March at—where else—the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, an annual gathering of people who like to debate whether puzzles are better solved using .3 mm or .7 mm lead in mechanical pencils.

“I am drawn to niche worlds. I feel that they need to be explored,” Clemente says. “If you are a palindromist, you are an artist and a genius. There is no doubt. The amount of skill that goes into each one is beyond calculation. Sure, when one is done anyone could look at it and say, ‘Duh, that was easy.’ And I think that is a sign of great artistry.”

Doc, note, I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.

In a rare cultural moment, some of the world’s greatest palindromists have just been given the Hollywood treatment — even if palindromes aren’t even mentioned in the film.

These men are the stars of The Imitation Game, which tells the story of the mathematicians who unraveled Nazi codes during World War II. Peter Hilton (Matthew Beard), plays a background character in a biopic that focuses on Alan Turing, but he is the stuff of palindrome legend. Taking a break from his work, Hilton puzzled out the above palindrome over five hours. The skills these men brought to code-breaking, says Saltveit—who may know more about the cultural history of palindromes than any other living person—are the same skills one needs to mentally run through all the possible letter combinations that might build out a grammatical, coherent sentence in opposite directions.

“The amazing thing about Peter Hilton is he did this all in his head,” Saltveit says. “But that was his gift. That’s why he was famous even among the code breakers, because he had that ability.”

Constructing a palindrome starts with the middle, Saltveit explains. In the case of Hilton’s famous work, that was:

never prevents

That leaves a “ts” dangling on one end that must become “st” at the end of a word on the other. So one runs through all the words they can think of that end in “st”—last, vast, past, amast. When Hilton decides that a fast jibes well with never prevents he then knows he has to work with this:

a fast never prevents a fa

And on he goes, running through his mental Rolodex of words that being “fa,” until he has created the deceptively straightforward three-sentence masterpiece, without so much as a pencil or a piece of paper.

As an avid student of palindrome history, Saltveit was bequeathed rare copies of the journals of British mathematician and word-artist Leigh Mercer, who died in 1977. While people don’t generally know his name, they’re probably familiar with his most famous palindromic creation:

A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!

In the journals, it’s clear that he also worked from the middle outward. On one page, Saltveit says, is this revealing fragment:

Panama, a man a p

Saltveit, of course, used this same method when he took home the world’s first World Palindrome Championship title.

He and the other few but proud souls who can call themselves true palindromists (pronounced pal-IN-droh-MISTS) gathered in Brooklyn, New York in March 2012. Each was called to the front of a ballroom at the Marriott, in front of about 700 or so eager audience members, and given a choice of three challenges: write a palindrome that contains an x and a z; write a palindrome about someone who has been in the news in the past year; or write a palindrome about this competition.

They were given 75 minutes to craft up to three palindromes off-stage, as the audience was entertained with other wordplay. The winner was to be decided by audience vote. Each attendee had a little sign they could use to convey their approval or disapproval: It read “huh?” on one side and “wow!” on the other.

Saltveit, who is also a freelance writer, stand-up comedian and editor of the Palindromist magazine, was going up against the likes of cartoonist Jon Agee, who Saltveit describes as the only person to ever make money off this art. Agee was and is a formidable foe, a man who understands how to balance the ridiculous and sensical in just the right measure. He is the author of this book and its famed, eponymous palindrome:

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A great palindrome, in Saltveit’s estimation, is a little weird. It should be basically grammatical and follow some rules of natural language, but more important is telling a story or creating an absurd image in the reader’s head. Take this example, he says:

Enid and Edna dine.

“It’s a perfectly good palindrome. There’s nothing flawed with the English. It’s just boring,” he says. Now tweak it just a little bit, swap a verb and a name, and you’ve got this:

Dennis and Edna sinned.

That’s basically the same palindrome, he says, “but it’s a heck of a lot more interesting.” Much like this one:

Sit on a potato pan, Otis.

“There’s no such thing as a potato pan and nobody has ever told anybody to sit on a pan anyway. So the absurdity of it is its strength,” Saltveit explains. “You’re almost kind of showing off how far you had to jump to make this work, like you really had to push yourself to heroic bits of cleverness to pound your way through. And that’s the trade-off, versus being smooth. You can be too smooth.”

So when Saltveit sat down for his 75 minutes, he started with the already silly, vivid phrase trapeze part. Like other palindromists, he keeps his own “dictionary,” a collection of tens of thousands of mirror-image fragments that he encounters in daily life—reading every sign, advertisement and text message forwards and backwards. Sometimes, in fact, he so busy inverting letters that he neglects to read them forwards at all. It can become so distracting that he makes himself stop for a time.

When he emerged with the six other contestants, Saltveit revealed a palindrome that—in its charming, barely sensible senselessness—could not be beat:

Devil Kay fixes trapeze part; sex if yak lived.

The “wow!” signs sprung into the air. “The audience went for the dirty one, which is not surprising,” says Saltveit. “I threw in a y just to show off.”

Part of what Clemente’s documentary seeks to record is the training that Saltveit and other palindromists are already doing in advance of the 2017 championship, with about two years left on the clock. In Portland, Ore., Saltveit is already running himself through timed trials, asking his wife to throw him a topic—any topic—and seeing what he can come up with. (I asked him how she felt about this hobby of his. “I was completely open about my palindromy before the marriage.”) Unlike most palindromists, Saltveit also has a personal trainer who has crafted a regimen of progressive exercises designed to increase the blood flow to his brain.

It’s hard to imagine anyone who professes to love words not donating a few dollars to see what else these brains get up to—and whether Saltveit can defend his title. There is a rich history of palindromes to weave into the tapestry. Saltveit has traced their origins back to the Hellenistic era, when people stood in the shadow of the world’s first library and stumbled across these magical, symmetrical strings of letters that they believed must be the blessings of god and the curses of demons. As God tells Moses from the burning bush when a man dares to challenge his identity, in what is a word-unit palindrome in Hebrew: I am who I am.

“There’s so much more to explore and share,” says Clemente. To donate to the campaign, visit the Kickstarter page here.

TIME Military

Chelsea Manning Starts Tweeting from Prison

Military Judge Sentences Bradley Manning
T.J. Kirkpatrick—Getty Images Protesters demonstrate in support of Bradley Manning on August 21, 2013 in front of the White House in Washington, DC.

“It will be hard, but I don’t want this Twitter feed to be a one-way street/conversation,” she tweeted.

Chelsea Manning, who is serving a 35-year sentence in a Kansas military prison for leaking classified government documents to WikiLeaks, appears to be on Twitter.

A Twitter handle with her name sent a series of tweets beginning mid-day Friday that called for an online conversation. By Friday evening, the account had more than 18,000 followers.

Manning, formerly Bradley Manning, was sentenced to jail in 2013 for passing hundreds of thousands of classified government documents to Wikileaks. Since being jailed, the soldier has transitioned to female. In February, she was approved for hormone therapy.

She is not allowed Internet access, according to the Guardian, and in her tweets she notes the difficulties of tweeting from prison. She says she is dictating them by phone and that the Twitter handle is run by Fitzgibbon Media, a communications firm.

Manning also says that she plans to tweet daily or weekly, and activists supporting her told the Guardian that her Tweets will be “her own candid thoughts and comments.”

TIME Terrorism

Cops Shot Too Soon in Boston Bombing Manhunt, Report Finds

"Weapons discipline was lacking" during manhunt and standoff, report says

A long-awaited government report on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings praised law enforcement for their quick and effective response to the fatal attack, but noted that officers who cornered alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a boat several days later may have fired on him too soon.

The report is mostly a play-by-play of the bombing and subsequent manhunt from April 15 to 19, 2013. Much of the report details the effective coordination of law enforcement, medical personnel, marathon officials and hospital staff. For example, all the patients who went to the hospital survived their injuries, and medical tents at the finish line of the marathon were instrumental in providing on-site medical care.

But the report also details some areas for improvement, including in how careful police are when firing their guns. The report noted that “weapons discipline was lacking,” both during the firefight with the Tsarnaev brothers and during the standoff with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in the boat on April 19. In that standoff, police opened fire on the boat after hearing a gunshot that they believed came from Tsarnaev, but actually came from a fellow police officer, who had fired inappropriately, the report found.

There was also an incident when officers fired on a suspicious-looking unmarked black truck that was actually driven by plainclothes officers, who were both unhurt. The report warned that “each of these incidents created a dangerous crossfire situation.”

While many different teams worked quickly and efficiently to keep Boston safe, the report also noted that there was room for improvement in coordination between city agencies, which “created confusion at times.” The report recommended that each city agency have a designated emergency representative to coordinate with other agencies, and that the city develop a more unified emergency response policy for the future.

Another area for improvement was in hospital evidence collection. The report said that hospital personnel were “intimidated” by the heavily armed police officers questioning victims and witnesses, and that there was not a streamlined procedure for gathering evidence from survivors at the hospital.

Also, the interlocking rack barriers that kept spectators from interfering with the marathon proved to be major obstacles for first responders. The report recommends the city look into alternative crowd control techniques that could be more easily disassembled in an emergency situation.

TIME 2016 Election

Here’s What Hillary Clinton’s New Brooklyn Neighbors Say About Her

Not everyone in Brooklyn is happy Clinton will set up her campaign headquarters in their backyard

Try the diner food, shop local and please don’t make the traffic any worse.

That’s what Hillary Clinton’s new Brooklyn neighbors had to say on Friday, as news broke the presumptive presidential candidate had leased campaign headquarters at 1 Pierrepont Plaza in the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood.

In interviews with TIME, locals were mostly pleased that the Empire State’s political superstar had picked their neighborhood to spearhead her run for president, though they were wary about the prospect of more cars and people on the already-bustling commercial and residential strip.

“We always love celebrities in this neighborhood, but to me, the traffic is going to be so bad,” said Ting Ko, 38, a stay-at-home mom who lives nearby and supports Clinton’s run. “I would tell her to go to local diners. Grand Canyon, Park Plaza.”

Emerson Kokol, 23, a financial analyst who lives in the neighborhood, wasn’t concerned about the influx of security and traffic that Clinton’s campaign could bring. “It’ll definitely be more crowded,” he said, but he added that the subways are already “packed anyway, so what’s another 50 people, 100 people?”

Kokol recommended that the campaign staff try the nearby Heights Cafe, a cozy New American spot, and Teresa’s Restaurant, which serves Polish food.

One of Clinton’s biggest fans in Brooklyn Heights on Friday was Estela Johannesen, an owner of James Weir Floral, just a block from Clinton’s new headquarters.

“We all hope for better business,” said Johannesen, 50, who had heard the news from a customer that morning. “It would be great to have a woman run for president of the United States and it would be my pleasure to be around that campaign.”

At Azzuro, a dry cleaning and shoe repair shop, owner Edward Shamalov, 48, was already thinking ahead and said he’d put up posters for Clinton’s campaign in his shop if she put posters for his business in her office. “Why not?” he said. “She’s a tough lady, and we need that kind.”

But not everyone will welcome Clinton with open arms.

Philip Stevenson, 39, an art dealer and local resident, said he’d rather see Elizabeth Warren run for president instead of Clinton, whom he described as “opportunistic.” He predicted the headquarters would wreak havoc on the neighborhood. “It means more inconvenience, more traffic, more hassle, but she doesn’t care,” he said. “You can write that I find her loathsome.”

TIME Military

How the U.S. Would Destroy Iran’s Nuclear Program

DoD The Massive Ordnance Penetrator hits a test target.

'Massive Ordnance Penetrator' would be tapped for mission

The U.S. military has been getting ready to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to smithereens even longer than Secretary of State John Kerry has been trying to negotiate them away. And while Thursday’s “framework” between Tehran and the U.S. and five other nations could lead to a peaceful accord this summer, the Pentagon is ready if it doesn’t.

Iran has been conducting much of its suspected nuclear-weapons work for years in underground labs and research facilities thought to be able to survive attacks by earlier generations of U.S. military bunker-busters.

So the Defense Department has spent just as much time procuring a bigger punch.

“In October 2014, the Air Force successfully completed one weapon drop from the B-2 aircraft on a representative target,” the Pentagon’s top weapons-tester reported in January. “The test, conducted at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, demonstrated weapon behavior after planned enhancements were incorporated.”

In late 2009, the Air Force quietly circulated a solicitation seeking a “Quick Reaction Capability” to “defeat a specific set of Hard and/or Deeply Buried Targets.” The weapon, the service said, would “maximize effects against Hard and/or Deeply Buried Targets (HDBTs), while minimizing time over target.” The Air Force said it needed the weapon to meet “Urgent Operational Needs requirements”—generally a plea from a battlefield commander who doesn’t think he has the weapons he needs to accomplish a mission assigned to him.

“The system will hold at risk those highest priority assets essential to the enemy’s war-fighting ability, which are heavily defended and protected,” the Air Force elaborated in February 2011 budget documents, “providing a critical global strike capability not currently met by inventory conventional weapons.”

The $15 million GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator weighs in at about 30,000 pounds, six times the heft of the existing GBU-28 bunker busters and nearly five tons heavier than the 22,600-pound GBU-43, once known as the “mother of all bombs.” The Pentagon has spent more than $300 million for 20 of GBU-57s.

Guided to its destination by GPS-guided lattice-type fins, the GBU-57’s alloy steel hull—some 80% of its weight—is designed to remain intact as it drills through rock or reinforced concrete before setting off its 5,300-pound warhead. Air Force officials have said it represents a “bridge” capability between existing bunker busters and nuclear weapons themselves.

After several upgrades, the Air Force has let it been known that there’s an operational stockpile of the world’s most powerful non-nuclear bombs at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. They’re not far from the B-2 bombers now ready to carry them 7,000 miles to Iran.

BoeingA mockup of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.
TIME Accident

Arizona Teen Walks Away From Wreck After Flipping Car Off Cliff

Photo courtesy of the Strawberry Fire Department The driver involved in the accident was trapped under the overturned vehicle for approximately four hours until firefighters were able to extricate her on April 1, 2015.

The police say they have ruled out drugs or alcohol in the accident

A 16-year-old girl in Arizona survived her car turning off a cliff, flipping over and trapping her for four hours with only minor injuries.

The woman was driving with her two friends when she sped too quickly around a turn, careening the car off the edge of a precipice, according to local news site KPHO. The car fell upside down, on top of them.

The car fell at such an angle that the hood was able to protect the girls from being crushed. The two passengers were able to escape within the hour, but the driver was stuck. The driver was airlifted to a hospital after four hours.

Police say there were no signs indicating any of the girls had consumed drugs or alcohol before the accident.

[KHPO]

 

TIME States

Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘Furious’ About Indiana Law

Arnold Schwarzenegger Attends The Queensland Real Estate Agents' Summit
Tara Croser—Newspix/Getty Images Arnold Schwarzenegger attends the Queensland Real Estate Agents' Summit 2015 at RNA Convention Centre on March 17, 2015 in Brisbane, Australia.

The former California governor says the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is bad for the GOP

Arnold Schwarzenegger says the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which sparked outrage from critics concerned it could lead to discrimination against LGBT people in Indiana, is a “distracting, divisive law” that is “bad for the country” and bad for his Republican Party.

The former California governor wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post arguing that American politicians (and Republicans in particular) should be focusing on solutions to real problems that affect Americans’ health and wallets, like pollution and traffic. To attract and retain young voters, he writes, “We must be the party of limited government, not the party that legislates love.”

Read more at the Washington Post.

TIME faith

How Coca-Cola Became Kosher for Passover

Always Coca-Cola
Cincinnati Historical Society / Getty Images An inspector scrutinizes bottles of Coca-Cola as they pass in front of a piercing light, in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the 1940s

Thanks to the efforts of an Atlanta-based rabbi in the 1930s, Jews keeping kosher for Passover can still drink a Coke

Starting when Passover begins on Friday night, Jews who are keeping kosher for the holiday must forgo foods with wheat, corn and other grains for the eight-day festival, severely restricting their diet. But one luxury is not out of reach: Coca-Cola.

The Atlanta-based soda maker provides a kosher-for-Passover version of its mainstay cola, identifiable by its yellow cap. Unlike most commercial sodas in the U.S. that are sweetened with corn syrup, this concoction uses sugar, helping it pass muster for those avoiding grains—and making it popular among those who say they prefer the flavor.

Hipsters and observant Jews alike are largely indebted to the efforts of one Orthodox rabbi eight decades ago. Rabbi Tuvia Geffen, Lithuanian-born but residing in Coke’s Georgia hometown, noticed that, of all the dietary restrictions of Passover, staying away from the soda was proving particularly difficult for his congregants. Before the holiday rolled around in 1935, responding to popular demand, he investigated the ingredients of the soft drink.

“Because it has become an insurmountable problem to induce the great majority of Jews to refrain from partaking of this drink,” Rabbi Geffen wrote in his rabbinical ruling. “I have tried earnestly to find a method of permitting its usage. With the help of God, I have been able to uncover a pragmatic solution.”

The solution was, it turned out, relatively easy. This was before the use of corn syrup, but the ingredients still sometimes included grain sugars; so Coca-Cola assured Rabbi Geffen that they would exclusively use cane sugar during Passover as well as scrap one other minor ingredient that the rabbi deemed not to be kosher. And with that, Rabbi Geffen pronounced Coke to be kosher.

The dramatic development was announced in a letter to TIME published in the May 13, 1935, issue, sent by one Samuel Glick of Atlanta. Glick was following up on a TIME article about the Jewish Passover celebration that had been published the previous month:

In connection with your interesting article on the celebration of Passover (TIME, April 29), you may be interested to know that, for the first time. Atlanta orthodox Jews were allowed to drink Coca Cola during this solemn season. With the approval of Atlanta rabbis, special Coca Cola bottle caps were stamped with the Kosher symbol and signs denoting the same were displayed in soda fountains. The drink was not altered in any way.

Read the 1935 story about the Passover celebration: Passover and Easter

TIME tragedy

10-Year-Old Boy Jumps to Death After Losing Chess Match

“Do you want me to do something drastic?” the boy said earlier

A 10-year-old boy jumped to his death from a second-story window at his school last month after his chess opponent took his king without saying “checkmate.”

The fifth-grader at Grant Elementary School in New Jersey jumped “headfirst, unforced, unassisted and of his own accord,” said Police Chief Joseph Faulborn Jr., who spoke as the police report was released Wednesday, The Record reports.

The lunch aide who turned to see the boy jump remembered hearing him say to his opponent earlier, “Do you want me to do something drastic?”

[The Record]

TIME fire

Huge Fire Rages at General Electric Building in Kentucky

Joshua Garcia (@garciagolf18) via Instagram Joshua Garcia posted this photo from Louisville, KY., on Apr. 3, 2015.

No reported deaths or injuries

A six-alarm fire broke out at General Electric Appliance Park in Louisville, Ky. early Friday, consuming the entire building. As of 3:30 pm, the fire was still blazing.

Jefferson County Fire spokesman Kevin Tyler confirmed that there were no deaths or reported injuries in the massive fire, but said the building is likely to be completely destroyed.

Fire officials are not yet sure what caused the blaze in the storage building, but said at this point they are just focused on putting out the flames. All production at the complex has been cancelled through next week, and affected employees will be relocated, according to WKLY.

Residents who live within a half-mile radius of the blaze have been ordered to shelter in place, according to Louisville emergency services spokeswoman Jody Duncan. The shelter-in-place order was not because of hazardous materials, but because of the smoke from the fire. “There is ash falling as well,” says Duncan, adding that the precaution is more for residents that have respiratory issues.

 

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