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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 13:34 GMT
Party like it's 20/02/2002
Watch the calendar for palindromes
The 20th day of February in the year two thousand and two is no ordinary 24 hours. Written in a certain way it's a very exciting palindrome. But what's the draw of such symmetry?

Expressed in strictly numerical terms today, 20-02-2002 is a palindrome. That the date can be written backwards and still be correct has caused quite a stir.

The Guardian, a serious broadsheet newspaper, even commissioned artist and Turner Prize nominee Tacita Dean to design a commemorative masthead. It reads: 20 02 2002.

Abba
ABBA: Read it both ways
"Some people think such figures have great significance," said BBC Radio 4's John Humphrys - before he interviewed a palindrome junkie who immediately stated there was "no significance" in the date.

That Mark Saltveit - editor of The Palindromist Magazine - was less than impressed by 20 02 2002's palindromic status is perhaps explained by his being American.

To the citizens of the United States, accustomed to writing the month before the day, today is the rather more asymmetric 02 20 2002. Close, but no smoke-it-both-ways cigar.

Madam, I'm Adam

Those nations and religions which don't share our Gregorian calendar may be even less impressed by this particular Wednesday.

Even Tacita Dean doubts the "earth-shattering cosmic significance" of the date. She says it's the "beauty of the palindrome" which interested her and not "the date being significant in any weird sort of way".

Michael Palin
Welcome to the Palindrome
While it would take a dedicated numerologist to read meaning into today's date, humans undoubtedly exhibit a deeply-rooted affection for symmetry in all things.

Many of us are delighted by the clever wordplay of literary palindromes. Mr Saltveit offers a suitable one for those in the doghouse with the missus: "Lapses? Order red roses, pal."

Click here to send your palindromes

But our eye for symmetry goes deep into the subconscious. We even look for symmetry in the faces and bodies of prospective partners, says psychologist Anthony Little.

"One half of the body should mirror the other. Any deviation from symmetry denotes a blip in genetic quality."

In this sense, symmetry is a handy visual health check when picking an optimum mate.

The Kray twins
Symmetry: It's what we look for
A Canadian study of brothers from 1999 found that younger siblings tend to be more symmetrical in appearance. They also tended to have more sexual partners, more children and experience more orgasms.

The poor old asymmetrical big brothers were remarkable only for their higher incidence of mental problems.

The hunt for symmetry doesn't only occupy humans. Asymmetry in other animals gives off warning signals to mates.

Aha!

Swallows living around the infamous Chernobyl nuclear plant are particularly asymmetric - thanks to genetic mutations blamed on radiation exposure.

Humans appear to find a comforting sense of order in the symmetrical, wherever they spot it in our chaotic world.

Sylvester the cat and pigeons
"I only go for symmetrical birds"
A study where abstract paintings were manipulated to accentuate their symmetrical qualities revealed that the doctored canvases were more popular than the originals.

If 20 02 2002 has awoken your primordial appetite for symmetry, you'll have quite a wait for the next one 21 12 2112.

Consider yourself blessed. The last palindromic day (if you talk to purists, who are even a bit iffy about today - since you have to write February with a zero, "02" - to make it work) was back on 29 November 1192.


Some of your comments so far:

I've been a palindrome all my life.
Hannah, UK

So have I.
Bob, England

Did Hannah say as Hannah did?
Terreus, UK

My parents don't think I am a palindrome, but my friends do !
Robert, UK

Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?
Andrew Teale, Bolton, UK

Comment to me from a teacher who enjoyed such word play: "Dennis sinned!"
Dennis, UK

Rats live on no evil star.
Chris, UK

God damn mad dog.
Ricki, UK

Do geese see God?
Richard, N. Ireland

Surely a palindromic date isn't that unusual? How about 10th feb 2001 - 10 02 2001. Or 1st feb 2010 - 01 02 2010?
Mark Lowe, Wigan, UK

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John Haigh, Sussex University
"It's got no importance whatsoever"
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01 Feb 02 | UK
Two's company
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