Doubling in the Middle

Barry Duncan Is Quite Possibly the World’s First Master Palindromist, and He Refuses to Cede Control to the Alphabet

Gregory Kornbluh

In March 2010, Barry Duncan, master palindromist, was locked in an epic struggle with the alphabet. He was totally absorbed in the completion of a commissioned piece. “It’s draining me of every bit of energy I have,” he explained at the time. He was also just getting over a cold, his first since January 2002, and certain that it was the project that had made him sick. He’d been working on it for as many as twelve hours a day. Then, on April 6, after an estimated two hundred hours of toil, Barry Duncan unleashed on this world the greatest palindrome of his life. “Far and away the best reversible work I’ve ever, ever done,” he calls it.

You know palindromes—words or phrases that read the same forward or backward. “Party booby trap.” “Lisa Bonet ate no basil.” And, famously, “A man, a plan, a canal, Panama!” When you think about palindromes, you probably just think they’re fun.

For Duncan, though, they’re much more than that. He writes them constantly. He sees them everywhere. Have you ever killed twenty dull minutes scanning the grid of a word-search puzzle, and then afterward found yourself with a bit of a word-search hangover, your eyes involuntarily searching for words everywhere? Imagine doing the word search for three decades. That’s Barry Duncan with palindromes.

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