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On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: five

[ by Charles Cameron — Hofstadter Langdon Kim — for Gabi Nasemann, & in recognition of Gödel Escher Bach ]

My friend the photographer Gabi Nasemann recently inquired whether I knew John Langdon‘s book, Wordplay, and I responded, DoubleQuote-style, with Scott Kim‘s Inversions:

SPEC kim langdon

I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Kim lo these many years past at the Computer Game Developers Conference, and he was kind enough to say of my HipBone Games:

Your game does seem to really call to mind the Bead Game. Almost a divination system, much more metaphorical than most games.


Scott Kim and his friend Doug Hofstadter both have a keen interest in Bach, so I thought it might be neat to see Scott’s treatment of the name — an ambigram, lower panel below — and how John Langdon might treat it — upper panel:

SPEC bach

Langdon’s Bach I assembled from his own typeface, Biform, which apparently seeped from his grasp into the wider world under the entirely irrelevant name Lampoon.


Of all Langdon’s ambigrams, the one that’s no doubt best known — since Dan Brown used it in one of his execrable books — is his square of the four elements, upper panel, below:

SPEC langdon oronce

It was a nice touch, though, that Brown offered Langdon an hommage by naming his professor of symbiology after him. No doubt the fictional Robert Langdon would be familiar with the glorious diagram of the elements created by Oronce Fine, which he’d have run across in a 1549 Harvard Houghton Library volume, Le Sphere du Monde, and which I have elsewhere compared with Jewish and Christian diagrams:

Sembl and HipBone gameboards are in the same genre.. being games of linkage that you play with your mind:

games you play in your mind


Sources and further readings:

  • John Langdon, Ambigrams
  • Scott Kim, Ambigrams on Google Search
  • Scientific American, Remembering Martin Gardner, with Douglas Hofstadter
  • Slate, Can You Really Be a Professor of Symbology?
  • The New Yorker, Harvard_ No Symbology Here
  • Wikipedia, Robert Langdon
  • Random House, The Official Website of Harvard Symbologist Robert Langdon
  • John Langdon, Biform
  • John Langdon, Lampoon
  • Triple Canopy, This is your brain on paper
  • 2 Responses to “On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: five”

    1. same as it ever was Says:

      This will interest you, Johann Sebastian Bach’s own ambigram / monogram – http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~tas3/crownofthorns.html

    2. Charles Cameron Says:

      I’d seen that page a long time ago, Derek, but while I knew Bach had “played” with the notes “BACH” in one of his fugues and have long been fascinated by his monogram:

      Bach monogram

      I’d forgotten the musical cross that Timothy Smith found (both are on that page you linked). And I’m reminded, too, of the various later composers who worked on the theme “BACH” including Schumann, Liszt and Max Reger.
      Quite a trip down memory lane you took me on there!

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