Palindromes at Bletchley.

Palindromist Magazine editor Mark Saltveit sent me a link to his article “The Palindrome Game of the Enigma Codebreakers,” a must-read for anyone interested in either palindromes or the famous “imitation game” codebreakers of Bletchley Park. A sample:

Few are aware that in their spare time, these same codebreakers held a competition that created several of the finest English-language palindromes, those sentences that read the same backward and forward.

Peter Hilton, the young math student who (in the film, anyway) had a brother on a doomed Royal Navy convoy, won by writing what many consider the best palindrome ever:

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

Not only is this masterpiece concise, confident and just odd enough to get a chuckle, it remains excellent dietary advice some 70 years later. It took most people 60 of those years to finally accept the futility of dieting.

Incredibly, the young codebreaker did not use paper or pencil while composing his epic palindrome. He simply lay on his bed, eyes closed, and assembled it in his mind over one long night. It took him five hours.

(Palindromes previously at LH.)


  1. Trond Engen says

    I do love a good palindrome, but now I’ve wasted the whole evening trying to produce a half-decent one commenting on this post.

  2. “Tsops, I h’tno..”. I don’t think you got it quite right.

  3. Sorry about this, but I just have to…
    The Palindromes Are Coming! The Palindromes Are Coming!


  4. As Peter Hilton himself said, the best approach to making a palindrome is to start with a promising middle (his was “…st never prevents” and build out from there. Interestingly, that was the exact approach he used to decipher the two mixed clear text messages he was handed after the cipher text was stripped out by other techniques. In his case, though, he used “cribs” — predictable bits of text such as “Heil Hitler!” — instead of promising middles.

    There was another trick they used to find likely locations of the cribs — one great flaw of Enigma (and the later Tunny/FISH/Lorenz, the more complicated code not discussed in the movie but more crucial) was that an encrypted letter could never be itself. So they would guess a crib and slide it along the actual letters of a single encoded message. Any match proved it wasn’t at that location, so it was a quick way to find the likely location of a crib, just sliding the paper along the message until there were no matches.

Speak Your Mind