Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Palindromes, Ambigrams and Dan Brown

Everybody knows who Robert Langdon is; well almost everybody does. He is the hero of Dan Brown’s popular novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’. No, I am not about to join the unending theological debate on the claims in the book. (But I do consider Leonardo Da Vinci as one of the best brains to have set foot on planet Earth with or without Da Vinci Code exposures!!!).

What I am interested in here, is a website by the brilliant Graphic Designer John Langdon who wrote the book 'WordPlay'. I think Dan Browns' character owes his second name to John who had helped Dan on his previous work 'Angels & Demons'. You might wonder what is so special about the personal page of a a Graphic Artist. To say the least, John’s page is different. It is dedicated to interesting stuff like Ambigrams, Wordplay, Paintings, Logos etc.

Take the case of Ambigrams. We are all familiar with Palindromes - those words which read the same from either direction. A good example would be the word ‘Madam’. There are famous Palindromes like ‘Able was I ere I saw Elba’ and ‘Madam I’m Adam’. The first one is apparently set in the context of Napoleon’s exile in the Mediterranean island of Elba and the second is said to be the first full sentence man is said to have ever uttered (Adam telling Eve). Though I am not sure whether Napoleon or Adam spoke really in English to be palindromic in expression, some of my friends believe that Adam’s was not only the first but the last one as well! Closer home, my name of mother tongue written in English is also a Palindrome – MALAYALAM.

My idea here is not to talk about Palindromes. Ambigrams are similar to Palindromes. More precisely, symmetrical Ambigrams are similar to Palindromes. They read the same from both sides. This is not due to the peculiarity in spelling as is the case of Palindromes but due to the calligraphy techniques used. (‘Ambi’ means both and ‘Gram’ means word). Assymetrical Ambigrams reads meaningfully but differently in both directions. Due to copyright issues, I am not in a position to display some samples here ( I am not good enough to design one either). You call learn all about it at http://www.johnlangdon.net/New_Pages/Ambigrams.htm. Infact Dan Brown’s website itself talks about a few Ambigrams (http://www.danbrown.com/secrets/ambigram.html).

You can even generate some for yourself at http://www.ambigram.matic.com/ambigram.htm just like the one I generated for'ASHOK' shown at the top right corner.

Go have a look and enjoy…