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However you look at it, this year is unusual.

Forward & Backward

By now you've probably noticed that we're living in a palindrome year.

A palindrome is a word, phrase, verse or sentence that reads the same backward or forward. The one you've probably heard most is "A man, a plan, a canal — Panama!" But it works with numbers too, and that makes this year, 2002, a palindrome.

Those of us who are at least 11 years old have seen two palindrome years — 1991 and 2002. The next time two will be that close together will be in 2992/3003. (Wow, life just keeps getting better and better in the 21st century, doesn't it?)

Here's more: Since the beginning of the second millennium of the current calendar (1001), the palindrome years have been 1111, 1221, 1331, 1441, 1551, 1661, 1771, 1881 and 1991. But the next palindrome year won't roll around until 2112.

There's something truly significant about three of the palindrome years of the past millennium: Only 1001, 1111 and 1881 are mirror palindromes. That is, they are mirror images upside up and upside down. For another of those we really have a long wait — until the year 11011.

And while we're having fun with the calendar, let's add in fun with clocks. A letter-writer in the Guardian, a British newspaper, pointed out recently that at two minutes past 8 p.m. on the evening of Feb. 20 of this year, it will be 20:02/20/02/2002. (That's 20:02, in 24-hour-clock time, on the 20th day of the second month in the year 2002. But it only works if you employ the two-digit date-before-month style — as in 20 February, not Feb. 20 — used by military types and almost every Westerner except us Americans.)

That kind of makes one envy King Henry I, who was alive on 11/11/1111, but I doubt if Henry I appreciated it as much as we can. For starters, he wouldn't have had a watch accurate enough to tell him when it was 11:11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1111.

A friend of mine told me recently about something that happened at her wedding rehearsal 11 years ago. Her husband-to-be held up his hand for a moment of silence and announced, "It is now 12:34:56 on 7/8/90."

One more calendar tidbit: Those of us old enough to recall 1961 remember that it reads the same upside down as it does downside up — although it's not a palindrome.

If there's a word for that, I don't know what it is.

But it'll happen again in the year 6009.