By the E, Pat Myers
Quite honestly, I didn’t think I’d ever be in the situation to decide whether we’d be using a comma in “1000,” per The Post’s usual style for numerals. But here we are, and it turns out that we hadn’t done Our Greatest Hit in two years.
Our contest to change an existing word by one letter and redefine was headlined “The Stale Invitational” in Week 278 in 1998. But while it fit the rules of the contest, the headline actually made no sense, since that was the first time this contest had appeared in the Invite.
But in the ensuing years, even the quill-pen set found themselves reading and sharing things online, and for some reason, the results of Week 278 turned out to be one of those Things. And by June 2003, the Czar introduced Week 508 thus (yes, we had more space then in which to write at length):
“This week’s contest has been suggested, over the years, by literally dozens of clueless readers from around the country. These people’s only contact with The Style Invitational occurs online, and consists entirely of having read the excellent entries like those [examples from Week 278] above, ripped off from a long-ago contest. They have evidently concluded that The Style Invitational is a dreadfully boring and unimaginative contest that, week after week, for years and years, has been inviting readers to take a word from the dictionary, add, change or delete a single letter, and redefine the word. And so every so often, out of the blue, we get an entry from one of these people! This has been going on for years! These people’s entries are invariably terrible. So finally, we decided, what the hell. Here we go. One more time.”
Both Weeks 278 and 508 let people choose any word in the dictionary. But after the Empress took over a few months later — and was similarly treated (and still is! to this day!) to the same unsolicited entries, she trotted out Our Greatest Hit in Week 602 (2005), and, for once, thought ahead: This time she decreed that all the words to be altered had to begin with A, B, C or D. Meaning that, with no fear of duplication, she could then run it again with E, F, G, H (Week 699, 2007), I, J, K, L (Week 781, 2008), and Q, R, S (Week 880, 2010). And especially since in those days there was no entry limit, it was also a way to end up with a SOMEWHAT reasonable number of good entries to choose from.
This week’s features an unprecedented seven letters to choose from, but, you know, look at the letters. I didn’t think I could run just an X-Y-Z next time.
I don’t think we’ll need to retire this contest after this T-Z segment, though. We can just start over. When you’re working with all the words in a chunk of the dictionary, plus names and two-word terms, duplication doesn’t have to be a major worry.
SPEAKING OF GREATEST HITS ...
While the change-a-letter contest is definitely the one identified most with The Style Invitational (or its misnomer, the “Mensa Invitational”), there’s another set of Invite results — without the Invitational name attached — that might well be even more widespread.
Some of the results of Simile Outrageous, a 1995 contest for “inept analogies, rotten comparisons as a literary device,” started popping up in online lists with such headlines as “Bad Analogies Written in High School Essays.” If you search on “The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t” — an honorable mention that week by Russell Beland — you will get 162,000 hits.
And my guess is that a lot of those 162,000 hits from this 17-year-old contest are no more than a few DAYS old. And that’s because of what George Takei posted just last week. After a few years as Mr. Sulu on “Star Trek,” Takei became a gay-rights spokesman and now is one of the most popular content-sharers on Facebook, finding funny or thought-provoking pictures or memes (basically some text shared as a photo) with the more than 3 million people who have clicked “Like” on his page. And sure enough, he passed along a meme of “Really Bad Analogies Written by High School Students.” It has now been shared to others by, at this typing, 90,419 people.
Even among my own group of Facebook friends, several of them passed it along to me suggesting that something like this would make a good Style Invitational contest .
Of course, there’s no way to stuff something like this back in the bag. There is actually a page on the myth-debunking site Snopes.com, from 2008, that explains that the list is really from the prize-winning humor writers of The Style Invitational. But a lot of good that does. I did e-mail Takei’s site with an explanation including the links to our actual results plus those to Week 310, a second time we ran the contest, in 2007, but didn’t get a response. And I posted a shorter version on his Facebook “wall,” though it’s no longer there.
Should we try this contest one more time as well? I’m waffling about whether we can get enough great new stuff.
BACK TO THIS WEEK’S ISSUE: THE MASHED MAGS OF WEEK 996
As I’d predicted, our winning and Losing combinations of two magazine titles comprised some jokes on the content of those magazines (most of the entries), while others were puns on the titles (such as Chris Doyle’s blend of Oxygen and Match! to create Boom!). Once in a while, though, the second option was sometimes a little confusing: If you use “Mad,” it’s hard to think of that to mean angry or crazy, totally out of context from the wacky, often juvenile humor of Mad Magazine.
The Inkin’ Memorial features a timely and pithy reference to the Petraeus affair, our second entry about the case in two weeks (who could have predicted otherwise?). Winner Lawrence McGuire noted at the bottom of his entry, “If all humor is transformed anger, then, judging from the above, I must be really ticked at a certain Army general for soiling a brilliant career.” It’s Lawrence’s first Inkin’ Memorial but his fifth win overall, amid 127 blots of ink. I’d like to present it to him in person at the Losers’ Holiday Party at my house Jan. 5, since he lives only a few miles away, but Lawrence has so far resisted invitations to expose himself to Loserdom.
Gary Crockett’s adorably clever “particles” line drew the HAW this week from Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford; in fact, she read it out loud at the meeting of high-level editors in an effort to get a “key” to this week’s Invite on Page A1 of this Sunday’s paper (we’ll have to wait for the paper to see how much thanks I owe Gary, in addition to the rolling toy rat). It’s Gary’s 14th ink “above the fold” out of his 125 total. But his first rolling rat. Newbie Rob Huffman continues to lap up ink with Ink No. 29 (but his first My Cup Punneth Over mug or Grossery Bag), as does non-newbie David Genser, who rounds out the list of the Top 10 Losers of All Time with No. 388.
PLAIN BROWN WRAPPERS, PLEASE: THE UNPRINTABLES
Combine Sports Illustrated and Creampie: Call the new magazine Spurts Illustrated. (As my notes read: “Tom Witte, duh”)
Acupuncture Today + Playgirl: The Biggest Pricks (Robert Schechter)
Senior Living + Playboy = Senior Playboy Living: Check out the food section, with the recipe for spotted dick. (new Loser Daphne Steinberg)
THE NEW MAGNETS HAVE ARRIVED!
But the 500 each of the Not(e)worthy and the Discredit Card for honorable mentions are going to wait until I use up the Sunday Drivel and Middle-Wit Champion, and so they might not start appearing in Losers’ prize envelopes until 2013. If you fervently desire a new one before then — perhaps to decorate your Christmas tree — e-mail me after you win a magnet.
Happy Hanukkah, everyone!