Vimeo / Vince Clemente
Vimeo / Vince Clemente

Video Premiere: A Man, a Plan, a Palindrome

Vimeo / Vince Clemente
Vimeo / Vince Clemente

Mark Saltveit makes palindromes. He also edits The Palindromist, the world's greatest (and quite likely only) magazine devoted to palindromes.

In this short film, we learn the story behind one of Saltveit's greatest palindromes, which won him the 2012 World Palindrome Championship. It's an epic tale of playful palindrome-writing, and I'm proud to premiere the film here for the first time online. (This film had its first public screening on Saturday at Will Shortz's American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.) Enjoy:

A note for regular mental_floss readers: Fellow writer Arika Okrent featured Mark Saltveit just last month, in an article about Bletchley Park codebreakers who were also palindromists.

Kickstarter for a Full-Length Palindrome Film

Director Vince Clemente has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a full-length film about Saltveit and other master palindromists leading up to the 2017 World Palindrome Championship. There's also a Facebook page for the film.

Q&A with Director Vince Clemente

First off, full disclosure, I know the director of this film—he was Producer on a certain Tetris documentary I love, and we're working on a separate documentary together. Here's our discussion about the short film above.

How did you learn about Mark Saltveit?

I was eating dinner and I overheard Mark telling someone else that he was the Palindrome World Champion. I knew at that moment I had to have a conversation with him. You don't hear that statement and not have a million questions to ask. So I did, and we exchanged numbers. At this point I knew I wanted to film him and just see what would come of it. I knew something was there.

What made you realize that Saltveit would be a good candidate for a documentary?

You really couldn't ask for a better subject for a documentary film. Mark has it all. He's great on camera, open, excited, charismatic, interesting, articulate, expressive, friendly, funny, and just has a wealth of knowledge.

Tell me about how you made the film—was there travel involved, how many days did you shoot, that kind of thing.

The original short was filmed over the course of 3 days. Mark and I picked a weekend where he had a couple things going on and then I flew up to Portland. The original idea was to show up and just see what would happen. The editing and animating took a while to get to a place where I thought it was perfect.

Do you have a favorite palindrome?

Well, besides the one featured in the short film, I'd have to pick Jon Agee's "Go hang a salami! I'm a lasagna hog!"

You've worked on films before that deal with niche hobbies and passions, like Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters, dealing with the world's best Nintendo Tetris players. Do you have any hobbies or passions that would be considered a little unusual?

I spent years collecting every game for the Nintendo Entertainment System just because I simply wanted to play each game. So, now I have every game ever made for the NES library, with its original box and manual, besides one, Stadium Events. Something I've been eyeballing for a while, it's just a little too crazy in price. I do own the PAL (European) version though.

There's a lot of animation in the short film. How did that come about?

There is no doubt that this film has to be full of fun! So including animations was a no-brainer. Palindromes plug themselves directly into the imagination. You wouldn't hear "Taco Cat" and not think of some cat wearing a taco costume and start laughing.

What's next for this film?

The short film has done so well that now we're expanding it into a feature film! We've begun a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to follow all the top palindromists we can find leading up to the next championship in 2017. You honestly wouldn't believe the history of palindromes. It's a story that hasn't been told and really needs to be. The goal is to film all these great palindromists while we pepper in the history of palindromes. Poof, you have an amazing documentary film!

Where to Find the Film Online

A Man, a Plan, a Palindrome is on Kickstarter, on Facebook, and the film itself is on Vimeo.

Getty Images
Watch: Stanley Kubrick's Boxes
Getty Images
Getty Images

In 1996, author/documentarian Jon Ronson received a phone call from someone representing Stanley Kubrick, requesting a copy of Ronson's Holocaust documentary. Ronson figured that was a bit weird, but it was Kubrick, so he'd go along with it.

After Kubrick's death in 1999, Ronson gained access to Kubrick's legendary boxes, the more than 1,000 vessels of ephemera hoarded by the master. So, uh, what's in the boxes? Lots of photographs, memos, letters, you name it.

Ronson made a 45-minute documentary about the boxes, including a tour of Kubrick's estate and the various box storage locations. He even interviews the writer of one of the "crank letters" sent to (and kept by) Kubrick. Kubrick had simply written "crank" on it and filed it away.

This is a terrific watch for anyone interested in filmmaking, Kubrick, or—let's face it—storing stuff in boxes. There's even a segment about half an hour in about how Kubrick worked out the optimal size for a box and its lid, then had them custom-made. Enjoy:

If you're not into the whole video thing, check out Ronson's feature for The Guardian on the same subject.

[h/t: Kottke.]

YouTube // AmericanExperiencePBS
Tuesday on American Experience: Tesla
YouTube // AmericanExperiencePBS
YouTube // AmericanExperiencePBS

Airing Tuesday night (October, 18, 2016) on PBS stations around the U.S., American Experience presents Tesla, a documentary following Nikola Tesla's life and work. Check your local listings for times, though in most markets the show airs at 9pm. (It will also be on PBS's streaming channels starting October 19.) Here's a 30-second preview:

In American Experience's new hour-long documentary Tesla, we see a portrait of Nikola Tesla, the visionary inventor who is now known as "the patron saint of geeks."

As a lifelong geek, I went into this documentary with a sudden realization: I don't actually know much about Tesla as a person. Sure, I've seen Tesla Coils and I've read about all the wireless energy stuff, but who was this guy? Where did he come from? An hour with this PBS special answers those questions and many more. Here's the first seven minutes of the documentary, just to get you started:

The first thing that jumped out at me while watching this film is that I've been pronouncing Nikola Tesla's first name incorrectly. Watch the clip above—it's properly pronounced "nih-COLE-uh," though some of the experts in the film use the more typical American pronunciation stressing the first syllable.

Aside from learning the man's name, I was surprised to learn that his first invention was a hook designed to catch frogs (and an invention soon after was a "motor" powered by June bugs). But his first breakthrough invention was of course the AC (Alternating Current) motor, and much of the AC-related infrastructure to go with it.

The documentary paints Tesla as a man of great talent and vision, but with fundamentally flawed business sense. Time after time, he makes bad business deals or wastes money, then finds his technical progress stymied by lack of funding. Perhaps as a consequence of this frustration, he goes off the rails mentally from time to time, as in his later years claiming to have received communications from Mars, or falling in love with a pigeon. It also seems clear that he suffered from psychiatric disorders that today could probably be treated, but in the 1800s and early 1900s forced him to engage in repetitive behavior and avoid much human contact.

In any case, Tesla is a fantastic exploration of the human story behind the legend. My only complaint is that I wish it were longer. (Okay, one more complaint: I would've loved to learn why he often posed for pictures with his right hand to his face.)


Tesla premieres Tuesday night (October 18, 2016) on PBS stations around the U.S. It will then begin streaming on October 19 on the PBS streaming apps.


You should really watch Edison online (for free, legally!) for a counterpoint. Edison and Tesla were contemporaries, and Tesla actually worked for Edison early on, both in Paris and the U.S. These two films together give us a view of the importance of an inventor's vision paired with his ability to run a business. The two men are fundamentally different both in their approach to invention and business, and it's worthwhile to compare and contrast. (Incidentally, Open Culture has a roundup of the 23 American Experience documentaries you can currently stream online—that's one way to fill up your lunch breaks for the next month!)


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