According to practitioner John Langdon, ambigrams were independently invented by himself and by Scott Kim in the 1970s. Kim used the name Inversions as the title of his first collection in 1981. The first published reference to “ambigram” was by Hofstadter, who attributes the origin of the word to conversations among a small group of friends during 1983-1984. The 1999 edition of Hofstadter’s Gï¿½del, Escher, Bach features a 3-D ambigram on the cover.
John Langdon is truly one of the great ambigramists, his work appearing on the covers of some recent best-selling books. Popularity of the ambigram soared when they were intertwined into the plot of Dan Brown’s bestseller ‘Angels and Demons’, the prequel to The Da Vinci Code. Langdon produced ambigrams that were used for the book cover, and a link to his website from Brown’s meant he was “suddenly inundated” with commissions. In fact the name Robert Langdon (the hero from the novel) is also an appreciation to Mr. John Langdon.
Ambigrams are popular with graphic artists, due not only to their unique symmetry but to their mysterious quality so readily appreciated on music albums and book jackets. Paul McCartney is but one of many rock musicians who have featured an ambigram on at least one of his albums.
Many people choose to get an ambigram tattoo on their forearm, where they can flip it one way or the other, giving viewers the full effect of the design.
Ambigrams usually fall into one of several categories:
A design that presents several instances of words when rotated through a fixed angle. This is usually 180 degrees, but rotational ambigrams of other angles exist, for example 90 or 45 degrees. The word spelled out from the alternative direction(s) is often the same, but may be a different word to the initially presented form. A simple example is the lower-case abbreviation for “Down”, dn, which looks like the lower-case word up when rotated 180 degrees.
A design that can be read when reflected in a mirror, usually as the same word or phrase both ways. Ambigrams that form different words when viewed in the mirror are also known as glass door ambigrams, because they can be printed on a glass door to be read differently when entering or exiting.
A design in which the spaces between the letters of one word form another word.
A design where a word (or sometimes words) are interlinked, forming a repeating chain. Letters are usually overlapped meaning that a word will start partway through another word. Sometimes chain ambigrams are presented in the form of a circle.
Similar to chain ambigrams, but tile to fill the 2-dimensional plane.
A version of space-filling ambigrams where the tiled word branches from itself and then shrinks in a self-similar manner, forming a fractal. See Scott Kim’s fractal of the word TREE for an animated example.
A design where an object is presented that will appear to read several letters or words when viewed from different angles. Such designs can be generated using constructive solid geometry.
A design with no symmetry but can be read as two different words depending on how the curves of the letters are interpreted.
A natural ambigram is a word that possesses one or more of the above symmetries when written in its natural state, requiring no typographic styling. For example, the words “dollop” and “suns” are natural rotational ambigrams. The word “bud” forms a natural mirror ambigram when reflected over a vertical axis. The words “CHOICE” and “OXIDE”, in all capitals, form a natural mirror ambigram when reflected over a horizontal axis. The word “TOOTH”, in all capitals, forms a natural mirror ambigram when its letters are stacked vertically and reflected over a vertical axis.
An Ambigram that, when rotated 180 degrees, can be read as a different word to the original.