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April 10, 2006


I noticed that The Da Vinci Code is finally out in paperback, in anticipation of the movie. I haven't read the book; I once started leafing through Angels and Demons in a bookstore but when I hit the part about "The Internet? We invented it!" I gave up. I'm sure The Da Vinci Code has similarly superheated prose, yet I suspect if I could wade past that I would probably enjoy the story.

The plot of Angels and Demons involves "ambigrams", which are drawings of words that have meaning when inverted or rotated (that's a lousy definition of an ambigram; look at the Wikipedia entry for a better one, complete with examples and links). One version of the book cover (see image on the left) has an excellent ambigram of the title. The actual effect of ambigrams in the plot is somewhat ridiculous. "The word FIRE written so it reads the same upside-down? Gak! It must be the work of the Illuminati...or at least a reasonably clever graphic artist!"

The A&D ambigrams were done by John Langdon, whose book Wordplay has some good examples (as a thank you, Dan Brown named the protagonist Langdon; he reappears in The Da Vinci Code). My first introduction to the concept, however, came from Scott Kim's book Inversions, which I like better than Langdon's. Kim is currently working as a graphic designer, including projects for various computer games.

If you want to try some ambigramming at home, you can start with the ambigram generator. This does very simple ambigrams by producing one-to-one letter inversions, a technique that Kim discussed briefly in his book, but which generally is not the best way to do it, except for words that naturally take to it, such as "toy" or perhaps "Stravinsky". "Vista" is also such a word, although I don't think Microsoft has considered an ambigram as the logo. Microsoft is trickier. You could reverse "Mi" into "oft" and then with a bit of work get "cros" to self-invert, particularly if you picked a gothic font where square "o"s looked right. However, a better approach might be to start with the middle o inverting to itself, then invert r to s (not hard) and c to o (also not hard). That leaves inverting Mi to ft which is a bit tricky (since the first has 4 verticals and the second only 2), but you could probably do it by using a font where the bottoms of letter had an exaggerated spur-like serif that went back to the left, which you could attach to the bottom half of the f and the t (since people tend to look at the top half of letters when reading). This same appendage would also make the r to s inversion easier.

Posted by AdamBa at April 10, 2006 09:58 PM

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Yep, that part about the internet made me cringe too, but if you can look beyond that and the ambigram thing, it's a good book and worth reading :-)

Posted by: Mun at April 11, 2006 02:16 PM

Angels and Demons is much better than the DaVinci code. DC is to much of a history lesson. You should read some of Dan Browns early stuff. Actually his first book (I think his first) is really good. It is the one about encryption I think it is called "digital fortress."

Posted by: Don at April 14, 2006 04:38 PM

Well, I just read "The Da Vinci Code". The writing is decent, and Brown certainly spins a good yarn. I got a bit tired of his cliffhanger gimmick ("what they saw in the room was so shocking...that the author isn't going to reveal it for 50 more pages!") but it is certainly brutally effective at hooking you into the story. I got a bit bored after about 350 pages (out of 488), but of course had to finish to see how it turned out. Turns out the Second Foundation is on...wait, wrong book.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at April 15, 2006 09:40 PM

angels and demons is much better than the da vinci code. with the DVC, i feel like i know whats gonna happen next because the story is almost like the same..

Posted by: gale at April 20, 2006 04:15 AM