I thought we’d get this article series started right by answering the question “What are Ambigrams”.
Ambigrams are textual designs that say one thing in one orientation and a different thing (or the same thing) in another orientation. With ambigrams, it’s always easier to show one than to describe one.
Here is an ambigram of my name (Mark) and my wife’s name (Laurie).
At first it seems impossible that one single design could be read from two different orientations. However, with some clever artistry two words can indeed be turned into one.
Of course, it isn’t possible to turn any arbitrary two words into an ambigram. The words “Joe” and “Samantha” will never become an ambigram since one word is so much shorter than the other. There is no way to stretch the word “Joe” to match up with the letters in the words “Samantha” without very seriously affecting legibility (and that’s an understatement).
In creating the ambigram generator that powers the FlipScript web site, we realized that even in cases like this it is often possible to create an ambigram of the two individual words and combine them into a multiple word ambigram. We call these “composite ambigrams”. They may not be quite as stunning as a single-word designs, but they are still pretty cool.
Here is the supposedly impossible “Joe” and “Samantha” ambigram as a two word design, fresh out of the ambigram generator:
In the strict sense, the word “ambigram” refers to a design that displays the same word in two different orientations. For instance a word that appears the same way when it is upright as when it is upside-down.
The word for a design that says something different in its alternate orientation is a “Symbiotogram“. For instance, both of the designs above are technically Symbiotograms. However, the word “ambigram” is typically used as an umbrella term to encompass all word forms that are ambiguous based on orientation or perspective, whether or not the words are the same or different. Symbiotogram only refers to designs where the words are different in the various orientations.
Although ambigrams have been a subset of the underground for decades, they were recently “discovered” with the release of Dan Brown’s book Angels and Demons. In this popular book, Dan Brown uses ambigrams as a symbol of the antagonist, the Illuminati, by branding the director of CERN and several of the highest ranking Catholic cardinals with an ambigram on their chests.
The illustrations in the book (drawn by ambigram artist John Langdon ) were the first exposure that many people had to ambigrams. In fact, the upcoming “Angels and Demons” movie starring Tom Hanks and directed by Ron Howard was one of the inspirations behind the ambigram generator on the FlipScript web site.
To learn even more about ambigrams, please visit the Google Knol article on ambigrams, or browse the other articles here.
For you to be reading this article about ambigrams, you must have a certain level of interest in them. How did you first hear about ambigrams?