PT Puzzle: Songs and Reverse

A riddle for your inner echo chamber

By Andrea Bartz, published on July 3, 2011 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The auditory puzzle at left requires you to dial down your impulses: Your brain wants to just read the nonsense words back-to-front, but often, "phonetically, the backward name is spelled very differently from the forward name," says designer Scott Kim, "so pay attention to the sounds, not the spelling." You're using words in a nonlinguistic way, a skill some sound-sensitive thinkers (such as musicians) will find easy but others will find nearly impossible.

Give it a go and activate the auditory playback mechanism in your mind. That's the "echo chamber" that allows you to hear sounds—from a favorite song to your lines in a play—in a silent room, says neuro-scientist Richard Restak, who coauthored The Playful Brain with Kim. Audio memories activate the same brain regions as actual listening, primarily the auditory cortex in the temporal lobe.

Once you've sounded out, then flipped, the syllables, you must string them into a single word, then map it onto the name of a composer. To call up the moniker, you tap the brain area that helps store words and meanings. Restak can't think of the region's name off the top of his head, but he loops back with an answer the following day: the right anterior lobe. "How's that for irony?" he says with a laugh. —Andrea Bartz

We recorded classical composers' names and played them backward (so "Beethoven" sounded like "Nev vote Abe").Can you ID them from their flipped, phonetically spelled names?

  1. Cob

  2. Levar

  3. Eat toss

  4. Naposh

  5. Namoosh

  6. Tross tome

  7. Caught rob

  8. Eat all rocks

  9. Eenie choop

  10. Eeks niv arts


1. Bach 2. Ravel 3. Satie 4. Chopin 5. Schumann 6. Mozart 7. Bartok 8. Scarlatti 9. Puccini 10. Stravinsky