Dig Those Crazy Numbers

A child plays with tiles that light up -- using no batteries -- when stepped upon. MIT, power, energy COURTESY OF ELIZABETH REDMOND

Wow! For one minute, the world will be in perfect symmetry.

In a year that reads the same backward as forward, Wednesday evening will bring 60 seconds of palindromic perfection - at least for those who follow the Gregorian calendar.

Palindromic? Absolutely. A palindrome is any number, word, phrase, verse, or sentence that reads the same backward and forward - for example, "A Santa at NASA," or "No lemons, no melon."

But for those who follow such things, those word games are strictly kid stuff compared to the palindromic number coming up Wednesday night, when the time, day, month and year will align: 8:02 p.m., Feb. 20, 2002.

Write that in military time and with numerals for the month of February and it works out to: 20:02, 02/20, 2002. In European style for the day and month it's just as balanced: 20:02, 20/02, 2002.

"A mirror day like this is a good opportunity for reflecting," said Mark Saltveit, editor of The Palindromist magazine.

Such a perfect calendar palindrome - one involving just two numbers - is rare.

Comparable palindromes, though, will occur three more times this year - March 30, for instance, works out to: 20:02, 03/30, 2002 - and more than a hundred times this century.

Wednesday's rare moment is drawing its share of attention: Saltveit, a standup comedian, said he already has three radio interviews lined up with European stations.

Separately, the Web site WorldHarmonyDay.com is calling for a two-minute prayer for peace to begin at the start of the palindromic moment: the first minute focusing on world peace, and the second minute focusing on peace in your own life.

And an e-mail is making the rounds touting the rare alignment - though it mistakenly says the event last happened on Jan. 10, 1001 and will never happen again.

(Actually, it happened in the year 1111 and will again in 2112.)

Of course, all the excitement comes from a Western perspective, leaving aside the many other calendars that track the passage of time - Chinese, Islamic, Jewish, Ethiopian and others.

But that doesn't bother Salveit. "Occasions like this are good excuses to party," he said.



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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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