Everything you ever wanted to know about the Style Invitational Contest

August 12

Bob Staake produces original artwork for the Style Invitational Contest every week. (Bob Staake for The Washington Post)

 

Bad things to say to a waiter: “You call this lemonade, jerko? It’s barely yellow! Bring me some stronger stuff!”

Groaner puns on book titles: Did you hear that they made a PC version of the Harper Lee novel? It’s called “Tickle a Mockingbird.”

“Dear Blank” notes: Dear Leonardo: Your fly is open. Sincerely, Mona Lisa

A bad name for candy: Herpes Kisses.

Those are all winning entries from The Style Invitational, The Post’s weekly humor/wordplay contest, which for more than 20 years — in almost 1,100 contests — has offered up the most irreverent, edgy humor to be found anywhere in The Post, or probably any other Big Deal newspaper in America.

The Invite, as its fans call it, was founded in 1993 by the anonymous Czar of The Style Invitational, who is rumored to cavort unashamedly with Gene Weingarten‘s wife. The Czar was deposed in 2003 by the Empress, whom The Post eventually outed when it started using the byline of former Style editor Pat Myers.

Style Invitational contests cover a wide variety of humor genres — everything from elaborate song parodies to limericks (like this week’s contest) to neologisms (coining new words) to cartoon captions to Yo Mama jokes. But they all share the Invite’s signature brand of humor: a mix of highbrow and lowbrow. Sophisticated and juvenile. Political humor, literary humor, nerd humor — and lots of sex and toilet humor. So it’s the haughty and the potty — sometimes within the same contest entry.

Even if you’ve never read the Invitational itself, you may have seen some of the Invite’s winning entries over the years. Because they’re all over the Internet, usually without credit.

The list of new words created by changing a real word by one letter, like “sarchasm” (the gulf between edgy humor and people who fail to get it)? Those neologisms were from an Invite contest in 1988.

“Bad analogies by high school students,” like “Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze”? They were Invite winners from 1995.

The Hokey Pokey in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet? Yeah, that was ours, too.

The Invitational wouldn’t exist were it not for the amazingly clever and funny work of its contestants — readers from all over the English-speaking world. For no pay other than gag prizes (first place every week gets a bobblehead of the Lincoln Memorial statue)- almost 5,000 people have “gotten ink” in the Invite over the years. Lots of them have had just an entry or two published, but hundreds of others have become regulars, sending in jokes almost every week, year after year: some have had more than 1,000 entries published.

In fact, they’ve formed a whole community: Invite contestants proudly call themselves “the Losers” — for the coveted runner-up T-shirt labeled LOSER.  They compete against each other for Loser of the Year (awarded at an annual banquet); there are extensive statistics on the Loser website; there are monthly Loser brunches around the D.C.-Baltimore area; and the lively Style Invitational Devotees group on Facebook has more than 800 members.

There’s a new Style Invitational every Sunday in The Post’s Arts & Style section, and the Empress posts it every Thursday afternoon at washingtonpost.com/styleinvitational and on Facebook. Take a look at this week’s contest and results, and some previous ones — if you like irreverent humor, we hope you’ll become a regular reader. And you might be inspired to enter — who knows, you might score a Loser Mug  or Whole Fools shopping bag or Puns of Steel magnet.

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