GUY RAZ, host: Our next story is about Barry Duncan. He is a man with an obsession that follows him everywhere he goes.

BARRY DUNCAN: I'm walking down the street...

RAZ: Boston, where he lives, and he'll see a street sign. For example...

DUNCAN: Don't walk.

RAZ: And Barry? He cannot help himself.

DUNCAN: What I usually think is where will the middle be? Like, what letter will this have to turn on? Don't walk. Don't walk.

RAZ: And after just a few moments...

DUNCAN: Where will the middle be, middle be?

RAZ: ...he's got it.

DUNCAN: I would just say: Walk, sir. I risk law.


RAZ: Which is a palindrome.

DUNCAN: Which is a palindrome.

RAZ: A palindrome. A phrase that could be read the same backward and forward, like, a man, a plan, a canal, Panama, or...

DUNCAN: Some men interpret nine memos.

RAZ: Barry Duncan calls himself a master palindromist. He is renowned for writing some of the longest palindromes in the world. One of them was 800 words long. He fills out pages and pages of notebooks. He recites them at parties, he writes them for local businesses. His obsession started in 1981. Back then, Barry Duncan was working at Encore Books, that's a bookstore in Philadelphia. He was 24. And one day, he picked up a book on wordplay.

DUNCAN: I just opened up to the page or chapter on palindromes. And when I saw palindromes on the page, I just felt like something was missing that I needed to do. And so I've been doing it since then.

RAZ: Now, what's most amazing is that Barry can do a lot of this in his head. Take the first example: Don't walk. How do you make don't walk into like a longer palindrome?

DUNCAN: If I said for example, walk, sir. I risk law. The I is the middle of it. And so you've got walk sir on one side and risk law on the other, then you could build it out from the center. So let's keep I in the middle: I walk, sir. I risk law. I. So you've got that I, I, I hanging, I risk law. I. So you might say: Won't I risk law? Won't I walk, sir? I risk law. It now.


RAZ: That's incredible. Anybody listening to this right now should be writing this down. You should listen to this with a pen in your hand.


RAZ: I need a pen. I can't do this using my brain.


DUNCAN: One of my favorite ones that I've written, just because it was never noticed, when I was in Russia in 1997, I sent an email to a friend, and I gave it the subject line: Part one. Russia is sure no trap. And the person never commented on it, so I think maybe it was never detected to be a palindrome. When the T - I was watching television, this is a couple of years ago, and I saw a commercial for the final episode of "Lost," TV show "Lost." And I thought, my gosh, those people are still on that island?


MATTHEW FOX: (As Jack Shepherd) I don't believe in destiny.

TERRY O'QUINN: (As John Locke) Yes, you do. You just don't know it yet.

DUNCAN: That's not over yet?


FOX: (As Jack Shepherd) Where are we?

DUNCAN: So I wrote one, and it's just: No, still? It's not so long? No, "Lost" on. Still, it's on?


DUNCAN: I like the incredulity expressed in that one.

RAZ: What's a secret to writing a good palindrome?

DUNCAN: The key - a key to writing a palindrome is finding the middle, the letter on which the palindrome is going to pivot and turn. Once you get the hang of it, it's a very beautiful thing. And, I mean, it's one of life's sweetest moments when we find the people or things that are right for us or fit us. And that's how I feel about me and reversibility.


DUNCAN: Once I saw it, I knew it was something that was missing. And now, we've had a pretty good relationship for 30 years.


RAZ: Master palindromist Barry Duncan. He spoke to us from WBUR in Boston. He wrote a palindrome for us here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. It's over 150 letters long. You can check it out at our web site,

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