I don’t currently have a digital clock on my bedside table. I used to have a cheap-and-cheerful device that I picked up yonks ago from my local Walmart for only around $10. It seemed like a bargain at the time.

The problem was that it had about 4,000 functions, all accessed via obscurely hierarchical menus. Just to add to the fun and frivolity, there were only three control buttons with baffling iconic images that made no sense whatsoever. The way in which the control system operated indicated one of two things: either it was designed by someone who had no clue what he (or she) was doing, or it was designed by someone who did know what they were doing, but who had deep and scary psychological issues.

Analog alarm clocks (Image source: pixabay.com)

I only successfully managed to set the current time and an alarm time one time, after which I lost the manual, which was itself an exercise in miscommunication. As an extra dollop of delight, the beast drifted by a few seconds each day, so it didn’t take too long before the discrepancy between the real time and the indicated time was noticeable. As a result, when I awoke in the middle of the night and looked at my clock, I had to remember what the current drift factor was and apply that to decode the time. Also, the alarm went off earlier and earlier each day.

I still remember my joy when the Sandman Doppler Kickstarter launched in June 2017 (I immediately signed up for this little beauty and dispatched my existing device to the nearest technology recycling center). This chronograph for the 21st century is Alexa-enabled, so you can control it with simple voice commands. Of course, this seemed much cooler back in the mists of time we used to call 2017. In those days of yore, I was hoping to take delivery of my Sandman Doppler by Christmas. I still am, but back then I was expecting Christmas 2017, now I’m vaguely hoping for Christmas 2019. (As Lily Tomlin famously said, “I always wanted to be somebody, but now I realize I should have been more specific.”)

The word palindrome — which is derived from the Greek roots palin (“again”) and dromos (“way, direction”) — refers to a word, number, phrase, or other sequence of characters that reads the same backward as forward. (There’s an interesting palindromic poem called Doppleganger by James A. Lindon that reads the same from bottom to top as it does from top to bottom.) Although the word palindrome was itself first used by Henry Peacham in 1638, the concept dates back to at least 79 AD, since a palindrome was found as a graffito at the city of Herculaneum, which was buried in ash later that same year when the Mount Vesuvius volcano erupted.

The reason I’m waffling on about digital clocks and palindrome here is that I just received an email from my chum Charles Pfeil, a man who — since he retired — has far too much time on his hands. In his email, Charles spake as follows:

Hi Max, I’ve mentioned before that at times I look for palindromes on my digital clock when I wake up at night. This happened last night, but what I could not get out of my mind was the question of how many palindromes are possible on a digital clock? So, after having my first cup of coffee this morning, I decided to find out how many palindromes, consecutive forward, and consecutive backward numbers there are in both a 12-hour and 24-hour digital clock. Let me add that I could have found this out by just using Google, but I decided to use my own brain instead.

Using his own brain? The mad impetuous fool. Suppose we all started doing reckless things like this — where might it lead?

Clock Palindrones (Image source: Charles Pfeil)

Anyway, after noting that “the word ‘palindrome’ would have been a lot better if it was itself a palindrome” — and who amongst our number would argue with logic like that — Charles presented the following conclusions (see also the chart he generated):

12 Hour Clock
Palindromes = 57 (the shortest interval is between 9:59 and 10:01)
Consecutive Forward = 5
Consecutive Backward = 5

24 Hour Clock
Palindromes = +8
Consecutive Forward = +1
Consecutive Backward = +0

Now I’m thinking about my Countdown Timer, whose main mission in life is to display the years (YY), months (MM), days (DD), hours (HH), minutes (MM), and seconds (SS) to my 100th birthday. It could be that I get the clock to do something interesting whenever a palindrome pops up. Maybe the next time Charles is looking for something to do, he could start pondering palindromic possibilities that might occur in the HH, MM, SS portion of the device (that should keep him busy for a while).

In the meantime, this has certainly laid to rest any palindromic digital clock questions I might have one day pondered. How about you — is this something you’ve ever worried about, and what is the funniest or most interesting palindrome of which you are aware?