Oregonian Mark Saltveit is a reigning world champion palindromist who’s getting ready to defend his title. “Huh?” you may ask. Saltveit answers: “EXACTLY!”

Saltveit’s profession (which is pronounced “Puh-LINN-droh-mist” in case you were wondering) is unusual; his skill, somewhat inscrutable. As explains in an interview with “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller and in the short documentary above, he writes symmetrical phrases that read the same forward as backward, as in the classic, “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.”

For a world champion, his beginnings were more than humble. As Saltveit tells it, his first attempt to create a palindrome was at 9 years old. He and a friend came up with: Eat Poop Tea. They celebrated for a moment and then realized it didn’t quite work. It was 20 years before Saltveit would take up palindromes again, and he went whole hog, creating The Palindromist Magazine and helping create a worldwide community around palindromes.

Mark Saltveit

Mark Saltveit

Courtesy of Mark Saltveit

In 2012, Saltveit won the first-ever world palindrome championship, and this weekend’s competition will only be the second time Saltveit and the other palindromists around the world have gotten together physically. He says they’ve remained in a tight community for years online.

“We’re constantly sending each other emails and throwing out new palindromes, riffing off them, mocking each other for bad work, that sort of thing,” he said.

Saltveit said since he’s the only world champion, literally everyone in the competition will be gunning for him this weekend. Competition is fierce, and he’s pulling out every stop to work his advantage. 

“I’ve done my work. I also work out,” Saltveit said. “And that kind of freaked out the other palindromists last time, so I’m continuing that … they’re pretty bookish, and maybe slightly on the doughy side.”

The competition is part of the 40th annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut, March 24-26.