Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Was It A Cat I Saw? (Nope: It Was A Palindrome)

Image via Wikipedia

Barry Duncan has an obsession that follows him everywhere he goes. "I see street signs, restaurant menus, objects while I'm walking along, and I'm just reversing them all the time," he tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered.

Duncan is a master palindromist. He creates phrases, sentences, even passages that read the same forward and backward. He's been at it since 1981, when he was working at a bookstore in Philadelphia and stumbled onto a book of wordplay.

"I was 24 years old, so I'm sure at that point I knew what a palindrome was," Duncan says. "But when I saw palindromes on the page, I just thought: I could do that. I just felt like something was missing that I needed to do. And so I've been doing it since then."

In the beginning, Duncan's palindrome obsession wasn't much fun. For the first 10 years, he says, it drove him a little crazy. "There was a point in the early '90s where I thought I would have to be hospitalized," Duncan says. "I would go to bed thinking I was missing three letters from the beginning of a palindrome and I could work it out, and I just couldn't. Now I know better."

Duncan is constantly working out new palindromes  -  not just on paper, but in his head. Strolling down the street, he spots a "Don't Walk" sign. He turns the words around in his head and comes up with "Don't nod" and "Walk Law"  -  both palindromes. He expands "Walk Law" to "Walk, sir, I risk law." He identifies the "I" as the middle pivot point and then begins to build it out on each side. "I walk, sir. I risk law. I" leaves that last "I" dangling, so he resolves it by adding one more word: "Won't I walk, sir? I risk law. It now." {Read on}