“Do nine men interpret?” “Nine men,” I nod.

I’ve written about Bletchley Park and the efforts to crack the German ENIGMA code several times now, both from a historical standpoint and a cinematic one with the recent release and Oscar success of The Imitation Game.

Bletchley Park was the home of world-class codebreakers, chess players, and crossword solvers, but as it turns out, there was one more type of puzzle that the Bletchley Park crew mastered: palindromes.

In their spare time, they had competitions to create new sentences that could be read both backward and forward — like the title of today’s post, one of my all-time favorites — and mathematician Peter Hilton was far and ahead the most gifted when it came to crafting these palindromes. (His penchant for the puzzle was even mentioned in his obituary in the British online magazine The Independent.)

Perhaps you’ve seen his most famous creation, one of the world’s longest palindromes, composed during one sleepless night at Bletchley Park:

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

From an article on Vocabulary.com:

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.

It all started, apparently, with a contest to best a well-known palindrome: Step on no pets.

Two days later, Hilton responded with the cheeky “Sex at noon taxes.”

And they were off to the races, competing to create longer and more elaborate palindromes. It’s not known how many of the Bletchley Park alums were involved — whether Alan Turing played remains a big question mark — but it’s been said that the competition, instigated by mathematician John Henry Whitehead (nephew of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead), helped spawn the golden age of palindromes.

Some estimate that more palindromes were written in the ten years after Bletchley Park’s competition started than were published across the world in the more than three hundred years that preceded them.

That’s one heck of a legacy.

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One thought on ““Do nine men interpret?” “Nine men,” I nod.

  1. Pingback: The Story Behind Bletchley Park | PuzzleNation.com Blog

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