From the Loser Community’s founding father, a contest fit for the Fourth

July 3, 2013

Elden Carnahan of Laurel, Md. — the man who had the idea back in 1993 to keep records of how much ink he was getting in The Style Invitational, and then to keep records of how much ink everyone was getting in The Style Invitational, and then to cold-call or send letters to some of these other people and ask if they’d like to get together for breakfast — continues to keep records for every single week of the Invite’s existence, recently adding to his several Loser Stats tables, now at nrars.org,, and recently enhanced by my very favorite Invite tool, the Master Contest List, which not only lists every contest, date and winner, but now has links to virtually all 1027 of them. There’s even a word search function, so you can track down the precise phrasing of that brilliant entry you wrote in 2001.

But Elden hasn’t been quite as consistent in entering the Invitational. While there’s never been a year in these past 20 in which he hasn’t gotten ink, it was in the 1990s that he was really blotting it up, scoring with as many as 70 entries in a year. Then, alas, the worker for an agency that’s been in the news a lot lately started getting distracted by the Wrong Crowd, like people from his church who travel to the South every year to rebuild homes for the poor and flood-ravaged. And Elden’s ink harvest dwindled to as few as four a year.

Lately, though, Elden has been in touch a lot more with the Empress lately, not only with entries — I see that he has 9 inks since mid-March — but also with contest ideas. And just maybe that has to do with the fact that Elden almostalmostalmost at the 500-ink portal of the Style Invitational Hall of Fame. And the history buff’s clearly terrific suggestion for a First Congress twist on our biennial-plus “joint legislation” for Week 1028 gives him Point 499.

Oops, how am I going to talk him up when he finally hits 500? Well, I guess there’s the anecdote about the Flushies picnic with the locked bathrooms ...

For those not familiar with the joint legislation contests: It’s entirely about wordplay; you don’t have to know anything about the actual members of Congress. You just string the names together to make them sound like a word, phrase or sentence, and then come up with a fitting and funny description of a law that partnership could sponsor. While the bills in this week’s examples combine two or three names, we’ve sometimes had long strings. The trick is that when I say “make them sound like a word, phrase or sentence,” I don’t mean to add “even if only in your own personal brain”: As someone who has read literally at least 10,000 of these entries, I inevitably receive numerous strings of names that don’t form anything sounding remotely like what their authors intend; in the last contest, for example, “Yoho-Vela-Williams” was supposed to be read as “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

The obvious solution: Ask someone else to read your entries, without any prompting from you, and tell you what they say. If you think your trusted companion is just being, um, distracted (Bob Staake didn’t get “Few-Moore-Coles”), get a second opinion in the same way from someone who you think might be more Invitationally attuned. Still, as the Bob examples show, there are times when the most straightforward combinations don’t register, and I’ve occasionally run a version of the results containing translations. Here’s the untranslated set of results of Week 1005, the last time we did this contest.

Pronunciation of the legislators’ names: First of all, we’re dealing with a much more Anglo-Saxon list than we do nowadays. But there are a few names whose pronunciation isn’t obvious: Eldridge Gerry, for example, pronounced his name with a hard G, as in “goat.” But given the centuries of distance, I’ll probably be inclined also to accept a fabulous joke about something with “jerry.” Here’s a good list from George Washington University of all the legislators, with their first names, in case you’d like to look them up further (note that Bourne is misspelled as Bourn, however). .

Take it past the limit: Coping with The Post’s new paywall

I’m still trying to gather information about The Post’s new “paywall,” the limit of 20 articles per month that you can read without becoming a paid subscriber. First off, if you subscribe to the print paper, you’re covered online as well; for people who live in town, this is an excellent deal. If you live out of town and you appreciate good journalism — not to mention the untold joys of the Style Invitational and everything it links to — $10 a month wouldn’t seem at all like very much money if not for the fact that we’d been giving it away to you for so many years now.

That said, there are a lot of ways to get around the paywall. First, if you log on from your school, government or military computer system, it’s free. And if you find it on a Google search, it’s free. And it’s supposed to be free through other links as well. As The Post’s own news story said, quoting a corporate press release: “ ‘Visitors who come to The Post through search engines or shared links will still be able to access the linked page regardless of the number of articles they have previously viewed.’ That includes readers who view an article through a link on Facebook or Twitter.” And if you click on any of the links on Elden’s Master Contest List, they’re also free — they’re either PDFs or simple text files, not live Web pages.

I’ve had a bit of contradictory evidence on this — at least one Loser reported hitting the paywall from a Facebook link. So I have some calls in; holiday weeks aren’t the best time to track people down, I’m afraid. I hope to have more for you on this next week, and on the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook as soon as I get reliable information. (If indeed Facebook links to Post stories will help you write lots of good entries for The Washington Post for which you might or might not earn a 20-cent magnet, I have no problem giving you lots of links on the Devotees page. If you’re not a member, join Facebook and sign up. You’ll even get your name anagrammed by your fellow Devotees. And you can even read all the cool details of how a rabid raccoon attacked me in my driveway last week, something I’m not going to repeat here, bizarro though it was )

Odd couplets indeed: The results of Week 1024

As with our Week 757 contest (text results here), our alphabet-couplet contest inspired by Edward Gorey’s gruesome “Gashlycrumb Tinies” produced lots of zingy and timely humor, with plenty of good entries in each of the 13 A/B, C/D, etc., pairs.

While I’d said that people didn’t need to match Gorey’s own three-beat (dactyl) rhythm, most of the regular Losers did, and I’m sure that most of today’s inking entries are in dactylic meter. The others, you’ll note, are in some regular meter; they just don’t run on like a prose sentence and happen to rhyme at the end with the other prose sentence. And I got the usual complement of bad rhymes, such as forms/worms and commences/grievances, along with humorously creative ones like obnoxious/poxious and toadier/Cambodia.

While I don’t see the entrants’ names while I’m judging their entries, I discovered from my e-mail that at least 20 of the Week 1024 entrants were students at a high school in Salinas, Calif. And I was pleased to discover that one of this week’s inking entries is by one of them, Daniel Gutierrez. As in the other entries that got ink this week, the second, R- line in Daniel’s entry followed wryly from the first, the Q-.

.It was exciting to discover that this week’s Inkin’ Memorial-winning entry, a writing’s-on-the-wall warning to Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, is by a total newbie, Jennifer Gittins-Harfst. And it’s not a fluke — Jennifer had severa l very good entries this week; she even has already learned the benefit of flattering the Empress (see her “And Last,” my close favorite among a number of similar Empress/Flattery entries).

Meteoric newbie Danielle Nowlin grabs another puddle of ink this week, including second place, with four blots to add to her previous 32. The legendary Loserbard Brendan Beary earns yet another runner-up, and there’s also one from a real Invite veteran, J. Calvin Smith, whose first ink was in Week 60 and who has an impressive 11 ”above the fold” winners among his 42 inks (including three this week).

With Malitz toward ... The fave of Sunday Style section editor David Malitz this week: was Robert Schechter’s Your Mama joke — YM jokes are becoming a running joke themselves in the Invite ever since our Your Mama contest in Week 932 (text results here)

X for X-rated, it goes without saying ... THE UNPRINTABLES

(Please don’t read these if you don’t like risque humor.)

O is for Owning a hot rod Corvette/ P is for Penis that’s smaller, I bet. (Debra Meislin, Annandale)

U’s for Uranus. The jokes that it spawns! / V is for Venus. The planet, not Mons. (Robert Schechter)

M is for Manscaping, newest of fads./ N is for Nair getting slathered on ’nads. (Chris Doyle)

A’s Awkwardly noticing stiff morning wood; B is for Bob Dole, who wishes he could. (Danielle Nowlin)

U is for Underwear, tight ‘neath your clothes. V is for Vaginas (see “Cameltoes”). (Dixon Wragg)

Anyone up for lunch on Friday in Old Town Alexandria?

I’m hand-delivering some second prizes to Losers Mike Gips and Nan Reiner this Friday at 12:30 at Pizzeria Paradiso in Old Town Alexandria, and a few other Losers are going to drop by as well. If you’d like to join us, e-mail me byFriday morning at myerspat [at] gmail [com].

Happy Fourth — get legislating.

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