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Did you miss the once-in-a-lifetime palindrome day?

Brendan O’Malley and AP, February 4, 2020 6:45PM Westside News

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Baby Alex Duncan is a palindrome baby, born on 02/02/2020 and seen here with big sister Jessica, 4. He’s not excited about it, but lots of people who love numbers are. Picture: Naomi Jellicoe media_cameraBaby Alex Duncan is a palindrome baby, born on 02/02/2020 and seen here with big sister Jessica, 4. He’s not excited about it, but lots of people who love numbers are. Picture: Naomi Jellicoe


Reading level: green

When the calendar clicked over to 02/02/2020 on Sunday, few people realised what a momentous* date it was.

It was a palindrome — meaning the numbers read the same backwards and forwards.

The term was first used in 1638 and comes from the Greek words palin (again) and dromos (way or direction).

And 02/02/2020 was particularly special because it was a universal palindrome: the eight digits* read the same whether written as month/day/year as the US does, or day/month/year as we do in Australia.

The last universal palindrome was 909 years ago on 11/11/1111. The next one won’t come until 12/12/2121. After that, you’ll have to wait until 03/03/3030.

“It’s possible to live your entire life without ever having gone through a universal palindrome, so it’s pretty cool to have one in your lifetime,” said Heather Pierce, a mathematics lecturer at Emmanuel College in Boston, US.

Calendar media_cameraYou can find number patterns in many times and dates, but a universal palindrome is a rare event that many people never experience in their lifetime.

The Royal Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, US, was hoping the date would have special meaning for couples who were thinking about getting married. The chapel advertised that couples who marry on 02/02/2020 would have their two-year anniversaries on 02/02/2022. “Two being the ultimate* symbolic number representing you and your spouse* to be,” the ad said.

If you missed the universal palindrome and are feeling a little disappointed, pretend you write the date like they do in the US with the month first and then mark February 12 next year in your calendar.

For people using that dating convention*, February 12 will be written 12/02/2021, which also reads the same backwards as forwards and so is a palindrome too. It’s not universal, but it will do!

Martin Clear, a Maroubra computer programmer and prolific Maroubra palindrome master,  came away with gold at the Symmys, the Oscars of palindroming in Portland, Oregon last Monday. Judges included ``Weird Al'' Yankovic and New York Times crossword guru Will Shortz. Clear's palindromes managed to carry off second prize in the short for ``I made Rihanna hirsute, familiar, frail: I'm a fetus Rihanna hired, am I?'', equal first in poem and both first and second in the long section. media_cameraAustralian computer programmer and palindrome champion Martin Clear’s winning entry in the 2013 Symmys, an international palindrome competition in the US. He was equal winner in the poem section and both first and second in the long section of the competition.


  • momentous: of great importance or significance
  • digits: any of the numerals 0 to 9, especially when forming part of a number
  • ultimate: final; often used to mean most or very important
  • spouse: husband or wife
  • convention: way something is usually done


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  1. What does palindrome mean?
  2. What do the Greek words palin and dromos mean?
  3. List three universal palindromes in the past or future.
  4. Why is the wedding chapel mentioned in the story?
  5. Where in the world is February 12 next year a palindrome?


1. Word palindromes
As you read in the Kids News article, a palindrome is any number, word or phrase that reads the same forwards and backwards. Last Sunday was a rare date palindrome, but below are some word palindromes. Work with a partner to unjumble them to reveal the word that reads the same forwards and backwards. Teachers can find the answers right at the bottom under the comments, but don’t you look. That would be cheating!

  • Idd
  • Yee
  • Darar
  • Careacr
  • Lluupp
  • Evriver
  • Yaakk
  • Feerr
  • Eevll
  • Daamm

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and social, Critical and Creative thinking

2. Extension
Calculate how long we have to wait until the next two universal palindromes come along in 2121 and 3030.

Name some important inventions that you predict could exist by the time these dates come around.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Mathematics, Critical and creative thinking

After reading the article, with a partner, highlight as many pieces of punctuation as you can find in green. Discuss how these are being used, where and how often. What level of the punctuation pyramid is the journalist using in this article?

HAVE YOUR SAY: What is your favourite date, time or number pattern?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

Activity 1 answers: 1. Did 2. Eye 3. Radar 4. Racecar 5. Pullup 6. Reviver 7. Kayak 8. Refer 9. Level 10. Madam

Extra Reading in mathematics