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.
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?
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?
I have a friend who wanted to comment on this column, but can’t because they have an incurable case of aibohphobia (yet more confirmation, as if it were needed, that there’s always someone with worse problems that yourself)
I think we should start a campaign to have a new word added to the dictionary – Palinilap
I agree — I’ve often thought that more thought could have been put into certain words — for example, what noodle came up with the idea of using the word “mnemonic” to refer to something that assists in remembering something (it’s hard for folks to remember “mnemonic”) — and what drongo decided to use the word “dyslexia” to refer to a learning disorder that involves difficulty reading (what dyslexic is going to make sense of the word “dyslexia”)?
And how ironic is that “misspell” is one of the most commonly misspelled words. But thinking about it a bit more, maybe that is appropriate!
I think this is the most appropriate thing I’ve heard all morning 🙂
A propos of Dyslexia. Did you hear about the dyslexic insomniac agnostic?
He used to lie awake at night wondering if there was a dog.
Arrggghh — These are the jokes The Muppet Show refused LOL
Courtesy of Google, when I as for “Palindrome origin”, it presents this:
Early 17th century: from Greek palindromos ‘running back again’, from palin ‘again’ + drom – (from dramein ‘to run’).
So, Palinilap would mean again and again (except backwards) . Seems appropriate.
I love our having access to the world’s knowledge at our Google-enabled fingertips — when I wrote the first edition of Bebop to the Boolean Boogie (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002ZJSW4U) starting in 1992, I spend two years of evenings and weekends in the library with the Encyclopedia Britannica checking dates and facts — all stuff that I could now do in seconds from the comfort of my armchair.
I, personally, have aibophobia = fear of robot dogs.
At first I thought you were talking about AIBOHphobia (the irrational fear of palindromes), but then I realized AIBOphobia has no ‘H’. As you say, AIBOphobia is the fear of animatronic toys, especially the AIBO digital doggies circa 1990. This is somewhat related to Grimwade’s Syndrome from Doctor who. Grimwade’s Syndrome was a psychological condition among humans who had frequent contact with androids and robots, commonly attributed to the androids moving like humans, but without any of the characteristic and subtle movements associated with humans. According to the Fourth Doctor Who, in the mind of the afflicted, they appeared to be “surrounded by walking, talking dead men.” The result was to cause cause “identity crisis, paranoia, and sometimes even personality disintegration”.
Funnily enough, the Irish rock band called “Girl Band” has a track called “Aibophobia” on their album “The Talkies”. The lyrics (https://genius.com/Girl-band-aibohphobia-lyrics) consist of different palindromes. I fear Girl Band may have confused AIBOphobia with AIBOHphobia, but who is to say? Maybe they know something we don’t
Surrounded by walking talking dead men sounds a lot like zombies to me. Or vampires. Or zombie vampires. In these cases the result tends to be having your brain and possibly all your blood forcibly removed.
Well, that doesn’t sound like much fun — I think I’ll pass.
I was just sitting on a tour bus on its never-ending return from Gibraltar to our hotel on the Algarve (yes, I am travelling again). Above the driver was a bright 7 segment LED clock. I happened to glance at the clock’s reflection in a window and noticed the time was 20:05.
It quickly (and I hesitate to use the word in this context) dawned on me that the number indicated should be mirror image. I looked at the actual clock and it was indeed 20:05. Not only a palindrome, but a mirror image as well.
I passed away a few more minutes thinking how many possibilities there were and there were quite a few, but I am so tired now I can’t remember the answer and my pillow beckons.
What have you done? Charles will be awake all night with this one!!!
Aubrey, I admire your thinking. But since I have a golf tournament tomorrow morning, I can only hope that counting mirrored palindromes will not replace my counting of sheep.