college of education | fall 2003

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Words as Art and Play

Punya Mishra is not only a top-flight scholar and researcher at the College of Education, he’s a passionate ambigrammist.


In fact, he is one of the best in the world at creating ambigrams. If you are not sure what they are, you can be forgiven because even the word is relatively new. You won't find it in Webster’s—yet.

Ambigrams are, as Mishra explains it, a particular type of visual wordplay in which words are written such that they can be read in more than one way.
An example is the “Space-mandala” shown here—where the word “space” reads the same even when turned upside down.

Mishra, an educational psychologist whose research focuses on technology and learning, began creating the ambigrams in graduate school. His work has been featured in puzzle magazines and newspaper articles around the world.
On his Web site ( ) he has hundreds. They range from the personal (he has created ambigrams for his wife, Smita, his two children and many of his friends) to the professional (such as the one for educational psychology) to everything in between.

Mishra tries to choose words that evoke meanings. For instance, of the “teach-learn” ambigram he says: “Teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have one without the other.” The Ed Psych ambigram plays with the idea of figure and ground, where the letters for “ED” are embedded within the international symbol for psychology (the greek letter psi, ψ).


For Mishra, ambigrams are a creative outlet for which he finds time in between work and family. “Ambigrams also connect to my interests in creativity and cognition,” he says. “It just shows what a magical process reading is—making meaning from a series of black and white squiggles on a page.”

Mishra has also constructed workbooks to help students learn to create ambigrams. He’d love to publish a book of his ambigrams and hopes more people will come to appreciate the uniqueness of the art form. Regardless, Mishra is hooked and will continue penning ambigrams for as long as he is able to think them up.

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