By The Associated Press Look closely at the calendar Saturday. Then do it backward. In either direction, it's still 2-02-02. You're in the middle of a palindrome — a string of numbers, words or sentences that read the same backward or forward. A palindrome year such as 2002 usually happens every 110 years, and Saturday's palindrome day is another rarity. Then Saturday night brings a palindrome in military time: 20:02, or 8:02 p.m. That's reason enough for a palindrome party, says Mark Saltveit, editor of The Palindromist magazine. To make the event more special, invite others who were around in 1991; having two palindrome years so close together is a thousand-year happening. Saltveit suggested a palindromic party menu: Ham — ah! Salad, alas. No lemons, no melon. Naive Evian. Yo, bro! Free beer for boy! "After Y2K and the heavy events of 2001, people are looking for something a little silly to occupy their minds," Saltveit said from Portland, Ore., coincidentally returning a reporter's call at 1:31 p.m. "Palindromes are as good as anything and better than most to take your mind off your troubles," he said. Palindromes were originated by Sotades the Obscene, whose vulgar verses about a ruler of ancient Greece led to the poet's painful execution. Officialdom apparently hasn't caught palindromania. There is no evidence of formal palindromania in the corridors of power — no pronouncements from White House or the United Nations, no congressional declarations or parliamentary citations. Even in the southwest Missouri palindromic community of Ava, City Clerk Marilyn Alms hadn't pondered palindromes until a reporter called. "I think our population is about 3,003, maybe that helps," she said. Ava was named after a place in the Bible — "It's mentioned in II Kings, and II is a palindrome," Alms said — and it's Missouri's largest town with a palindromic name (the others are Otto and Reger). Some palindromes make fine icebreakers: "Madam, I'm Adam." Some are clever tributes, such as the late Leigh Mercer's tribute to Theodore Roosevelt: "A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!" Other palindromes deliver tongue-twisting political sarcasm. Witness Saltveit's: "O naughty me, tut! It's Bush — substitute, myth, guano." Palindromic tweaking is nonpartisan: "Flog sad loser Al. Gore, zero, glares, old as golf." Some enthusiasts are into palindromic words and others specialize in numbers; it's permissible to play with spaces and punctuation. One of the most noted palindromists, Peter Hilton, possessed dual specialties. Hilton was an Allied genius who during World War II sorted numbers and letters that helped smash Nazi codes. After working all night breaking codes in 1943, Hilton burst forth with this palindrome: "Doc, note. I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod." For all the brainpower behind snappy palindromes, they aren't universally appreciated, as Sotades the Obscene found out the hard way in the third century B.C. He mocked the marriage of King Ptolemy II to the king's sister, verses that were raunchy when read backward. For his witty word exercises, Sotades was ordered encased in a lead box and tossed into the Mediterranean. "I suppose the king had no sense of humor," Saltveit said, "and for his art, Sotades suffered a fate something like concrete overshoes in an old Mafia movie." Amen, icy cinema.