Go hang a salami, I’m a lasagna hog.

Say what?

If you don’t get it, just read it backwards!

Yes, it’s a palindrome. And I just watched a movie about people who write palindromes: The Palindromists.

“How nerdy can you get!”, you exclaim. “And which syllable has the stress in this word? Is it palíndromists or pálindromists?”

You’ll never know unless you watch the movie. It’s a real movie, and a good one to boot! There is even a two-day World Palindrome Championship, which is ultimately the subject of this documentary. And yes, it was organized by Will Shortz, as I’m sure you suspected.

This is not your typical review where I have to be careful to avoid spoilers. After all, the event already happened, and everyone knows the results. But first you surely want to know who the finalists were, and who else starred in the movie. The nine finalists, to no one’s surprise, were mostly male and all white, and some were surely on the spectrum—but who am I to diagnose? We can discuss the demographics another time, but you surely want to see the 12 stars of the movie, since a couple of them will probably surprise you. The first three shown here make cameo appearances; the last nine are the finalists:

You may be wondering how a palindrome contest works. Unsurprisingly it’s part of the world-renowned American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. A typical round would give you an hour on day 1, or overnight on day 2, to write a palindrome with a given constraint, such as containing a Q without a U, or beginning and ending with words that rhyme with each other, or being about Donald Trump. The judges select the best such effort—“best” meaning most natural, funniest, most surprising, etc. The viewer may prefer the journey, not the destination: what captures attention is how the constructor comes up with the palindrome more than the palindrome itself. For that, of course, you have to watch the documentary.

Almost all the contestants seem to be having fun. There was, however, this comment from one finalist: “I was miserable all day. I had no fun.”

But you still want to know who the winners were and what they came up with! First place for Day 1 was Martin Clear:

Ono, miked, unaware, damned, ruby burden made raw: a nude kimono.

First place for Day 2 was Lori Wike, the sole female among the nine finalists:

Dastard stuns? I nodded, “Nah, lil-handed Don is nuts!” Drat! Sad.

Clear won both second and third place on Day 2, as well as first place overall, with 194.0 points; Wike won second overall, with 193.7—a photo finish!

Other winners in the Trumpy category below the top three included these:

  • Ah, Trump sucks! Irate groper. Prison? Ah, Trump is so gross. Old ass. Sad! Loss or gossip, Murtha? No sir, prep or get a risk cusp, Murtha!
  • Rail at Obama, hate, yes, I one-line plan—‘I, Messiah!’ a ‘her’? I fade, so he won, dual won—we felt so pariah. Hair apostle few now laud. No. We hosed a fire. Ha ha! is seminal penile noise. Yet a ham, a bot, a liar?
  • ‘Ahem!’ a snide grab-pussy ass says, ‘’sup?’ barged in same. Ha!

All these entries were supposed to make sense. I didn’t think they all did, but maybe I’m just dense. I’m sure I was missing something.

Categories: Linguistics, Movies & (occasionally) TV