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ChronograMs: CLeVer Letter-seqVenCes enCoDIng Integers
November 30, 2012 7:11 AM   Subscribe

A chronogram is a text (often an inscription), in which certain letters, construed as Roman numerals, express a date via the sum of their numerical values. For example, the sentence ‘LorD haVe MerCIe Vpon Vs,’ printed on a pamphlet might indicate its year of publication as (L + D + V + M + C + I + V + V =) 1666.

Chronograms could be found on, for example, buildings & gravestones, medals & coins, and maps.

The mother-lode for all things chronogrammatical must surely be James Hilton's volume Chronograms—5000 and more in number excerpted out of various authors and collected at many places (1882) and its two sequels issued in 1885 and 1895 respectively.

Harry Mathews wrote a number of Oulipian chronograms: ‘An Ex-voto to include excursive excavators: a Chronogram for 1997’; ‘An exclusive evolutionary vortex of world excursions: the Chronogram for 1998’ and ’Clocking the World on Cue: The Chronogram for 2001.’

Outside of the Western languages (and the Latin alphabet), chronograms have been devised in Arabic, Persian and Urdu [PDF] using Abjad Numerals; and there is a ‘Javanese tradition [PDF] of expressing dates in candrasengkalas: i.e. by representing the numbers in dates by words having a fixed numerical value.’

Note also the related numerological techniques of gematria and isopsephy / isopsephia.

When writing your own chronograms, use this handy calculator to determine the year corresponding to your text!
posted by misteraitch (24 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is some seriously D&D dungeon-crawl puzzle-door shit right here.
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 7:15 AM on November 30, 2012 [15 favorites]


Think of the messages the mods can encode in deletion explanations now!

More seriously, these are awesome!
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:23 AM on November 30, 2012


Maya iMpending eXpiration Is Incorrect Information.
posted by hanoixan at 7:33 AM on November 30, 2012 [7 favorites]


The amazing thing about "Clocking the World on Cue" is that it is not only a chronogram for 2001, but that i is the only letter that corresponds to a Roman numeral that appears in it all, if I'm not mistaken.
posted by kenko at 7:34 AM on November 30, 2012


Maya iMpending eXpiration Is Incorrect Information.

MIMDIXIIIICCII?
posted by kenko at 7:35 AM on November 30, 2012


That's neat. Great post. I Fucking love this, x MetaFilter!
posted by iamkimiam at 7:39 AM on November 30, 2012


MIMDIXIIIICCII?

Hmm. Sorry. I seriously misread how one of these was made. Lemme try again.

Maya May eXaggerate InhabItants' ruIn?

I got nothing.
posted by hanoixan at 7:48 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Paging Casuistry, Casuistry to the white courtesy phone.
posted by aught at 7:59 AM on November 30, 2012


i is the only letter that corresponds to a Roman numeral that appears in it all, if I'm not mistaken.

C is 1000 -- thus the MCM$$$ that appeared in movie credits last century. Currently is MMXII

MIMDIXIIIICCII?

No, with chronograms, you don't format, you just add values of the Highlighted Letters. So you don't count the i in Impending. Thus, in that case, you count MMXIII -- which is 1000+1000+10+1+1+1.

Bonus points to hanoxian for actually getting the order right as well, so that the numerals parse correctly as 2013, but "Incorrect Information: Mayan eXperiation Is iMpending" would also be a valid chronogram (1+1+1000+10+1+1000) with the same answer.

The fun part about Roman Numerals is there really isn't a standard. I've seen the last year of the 1900s listed as MDCCCLXXXXVIIII, MCMXCIX, and neatest of all in my opinion, MIM. Playing with the 5s is silly, though, MCMVX is not a very good representation of 1905 -- a good rule of thumb is you should only use subtraction if it makes the written number shorter. Think of it this way. "I have to carve this in stone. How do I do this in the fewest letters?"
posted by eriko at 8:00 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


C is 1000 -- thus the MCM$$$ that appeared in movie credits last century. Currently is MMXII

C is 100.

But I meant in the text itself, excluding the title. (However, I'm still wrong, because there's a "d", unless that "and" should have been "&"—and the calculator assigns it—again, excluding the title— of 2508! Would be the still incorrect 2008 without the "and".)
posted by kenko at 8:06 AM on November 30, 2012


No, with chronograms, you don't format, you just add values of the Highlighted Letters

I was taught that you just add the values of the letters that correspond to Roman numerals. In Matthews' texts none of the letters is highlighted.
posted by kenko at 8:07 AM on November 30, 2012


If you can pick and choose which letters are included, both the difficulty and the interest of the form immediately become very close to zero. The Oulipo Compendium agrees with me:
Popular in earlier times, the chronogram exploits the double significance of those letters that are also Roman numerlas: i, v, x, l, c, d and m. When such letters are identified in a chronogram and added up according to their numerical value, their sum will correspond to a given year of the Christian era. (Proper chronograms use all the numerical letters that appear in a text.)
  1. Making up games is easy. = M + I + M + I = 2002
  2. A beautiful day for cracking conceptual games = I + L + D + C + C + I + C + C + L + M = 2002
Oulipians have rarely been drawn to this form:
In time's lexicon
appropriately codified,
lucky passion points us
opposite ways.
Like this one, chronograms are customarily brief works. Recently, however, Harry Matthews has experimented in combining the chronogram with the lipogram, and the result [an ex voto …] is a text of almost 2,000 words — arguably by far the longest chronogram ever written.
posted by kenko at 8:13 AM on November 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Since the text of "Clocking the World" contains other errors (e.g. "shirring" for "stirring"), I suspect that the "and" is spurious and wonder whether seven extraneous "i"s haven't snuck in.
posted by kenko at 8:15 AM on November 30, 2012


I was taught that you just add the values of the letters that correspond to Roman numerals.

That’s my understanding too. The rules as to which letters are considered numerals can vary, though: so U may or may not be considered to be the same as V, i.e. 5; and W may or may not be taken as VV, i.e. 10.
posted by misteraitch at 8:15 AM on November 30, 2012


Roman numerals, [...] via the sum of their numerical values

This is actually just called "Roman numerals".
posted by atbash at 8:17 AM on November 30, 2012


atbash—yes, but… the example in the FPP contains the letters ‘L, D, V, M, C, I, V, V.’ LDVMCIVV is nonsensical as a Roman number, and, when rearranged into a more realistic order we get MDCLVVVI, which we could use to express 1666, though we would probably write MDCLXVI instead, which then would require a different chronogram to represent it.
posted by misteraitch at 8:32 AM on November 30, 2012


Forsooth, one ought fear man's meager syntax's exponent; not extravagant, but an antique thirty-two bits.
posted by mubba at 8:32 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


Forsooth, one ought fear man's meager syntax's exponent; not extravagant, but an antique thirty-two bits.

Maybe we start to hoard gas and food now. hM?
posted by hanoixan at 8:42 AM on November 30, 2012


The default MeFi background color should be shifted to #0007DC for the remainder of the year and in 2013 shift to #0007DD in honor of the year represented in hex. This would create a chronochromagram.
posted by humanfont at 8:45 AM on November 30, 2012 [6 favorites]


COOOOL!!!!! Thank you!!!!!
posted by windykites at 8:46 AM on November 30, 2012


combining the chronogram with the lipogram

This is the best thing that's happened to me all day. I love writing with constraints. Life just got interesting.
posted by windykites at 8:50 AM on November 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


This has serious implications for the meaning of clavdivs's work around here. I just don't know what they are.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 9:55 AM on November 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


This kind of post is what I come to Metafilter for. Fascinating stuff (and I'm totally stealing it for gaming purposes!).
posted by immlass at 10:29 AM on November 30, 2012


MaMa Xena! It's Incredible!
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:48 PM on November 30, 2012


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