the palindromist

After an intense competition in Stamford, Connecticut last weekend, the world has a new palindrome champion. Sure, you may not have known that there was a World Palindrome Champion in the first place. Or that eight contestants fought for the title. Or that there’s another palindrome competition called the SymmyS where most of the contestants are regulars. And now that you know all of this, you might not care. But take note, Portland—not only is there such a contest and such a champion, but until this past weekend, that champion was one of our own, Portlander Mark Saltveit.

But first: What the hell is a palindrome? Simply put, it’s a word that’s spelled the same forward and backward, like the name Anna. Palindromes can also be phrases, like “Lisa Bonet ate no basil.” (Note: That Lisa Bonet one is credited not to Al Yankovic in his song “Bob,” but to Douglas Fink, who created it in 1991.)

Five years ago, Portland comedian, writer, and word nerd Saltveit won the “top spot” (see what we did there?) in the first-ever World Palindrome Championship by coming up with “Devil Kay fixes trapeze part; sex if yak lived.” Competitors had one hour to invent their entries, one of which had to include an X and a Z.

This year, Salt Lake City bassoonist Lori Wike, the first-ever female finalist, was up against Australian programmer Martin Clear. The competition was hosted by Will Shortz, New York Times crossword editor. For fans of crosswords and other word puzzles, this was a big damn deal. The showdown between Wike and Clear was close, but Clear edged her out in a competition that was heavy with anti-Trump palindromes.

As for Saltveit, he graciously handed off the title to Clear after his entry in the competition failed—perhaps because it wasn’t political enough: “Mood? Reviled. Stacy’s saga: gassy cats deliver doom.”

But Saltveit’s time in palindrome leadership is far from over. After the big win five years ago, producer Vince Clemente started filming Saltveit for his short film, A Man, A Plan, A Palindrome. (You can see the short at manplanpalindrome.vhx.tv.) In the coming months, Clemente will be expanding it into a feature-length film.

And here in Portland, May’s Bridgetown Comedy Festival will include a show called “Palindrome Fight” which will feature Saltveit alongside Myq Kaplan, Zach Sherwin, and Dax Jordan as they invent palindromes based on audience suggestions.