The Style Conversational
The Style Conversational
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Style Conversational Week 1039: Time for a sillyloquy from “Hamlet”

Bob Staake - Bob Staake’s original sketch for Cartoon A in Week 1035.

I’d been waiting for the start of the school year to do this iteration of our several-times-done “word bank” contest, in which we have you compose passages using only the given piece of literature. In the past we’ve used, among others, the Book of Genesis (scroll down on the link for results), the Gettysburg Address, the Constitution, the Ask Amy advice column, “The Cat in the Hat” — and the whole text of “Hamlet.”

The previous “Hamlet” contest, from 2006, required that you compose your own passage by using the words in the order they appeared in a given scene. This time you may arrange the words in any order you like, but of course, you have only a few words to work with — fewer than 300, if I’m to believe Ms. M.S. Word, my semi-trusty counter, and a lot of those are repeated. In a brainstorming session on the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook to come up with another suitable passage for this contest — something easily accessible to contestants, something in the public domain, something that’s not a sacred text (in retrospect, it wasn’t a good idea to use the text of the Bible to make sex and poop jokes), something that had not too many and not too few words — Devotee Marni Penning Coleman suggested Hamlet’s famed soliloquy, but I doubted that we’d have enough words to work with. But knowing my history of doubting any number of contest ideas that turned out to produce classic sets of results, I’m going with just the “To be” speech rather than add a second passage.

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(Bob Staake for The Washington Post) - The final four cartoons for Week 1035.

If you’re in the Devotees group, I can pretty much guarantee that one of the more obsessive Losers will be both motivated enough and generous enough to compile an alphabetical list of the words in this passage, and share it on the page, within a day or two. (Sign up at the link in the preceding paragraph and I’ll wave you in; you do need a free Facebook account, but you don’t need to use your real name; however, whatever name you use, you’ll be welcomed by the other Devotees’ turning it into creative anagrams.)

To anticipate a question that will inevitably arise: Do you get to combine words to make other words? I was going to forbid it outright because it’s really not in the spirit of the contest as I see it — to use the original words, hopefully recognizably, in funny contexts — I’m going to let you do this, but ask you not to go overboard. I admit that combining strings of very short words into long ones worked in the “Cat in the Hat” results — Kevin Dopart got ink with an entry including “in-for-mat-I-on” — but I don’t want to run many results like these. If I do run such combinations, I’ll be using hyphens between them, which means that a-we for “awe,” so-up for “soup,” etc., won’t work.

“The Cat in the Hat,” by the way, was written specifically with a severely limited vocabulary for beginning readers — the whole rhyming book used just 236 words, and a huge fraction of them were one-syllable words. Yet it yielded one of our funniest sets of results ever, with so many lengthy (and spicy) entries that I ended up running an extra set of honorable mentions on the Web. One of them, by Brendan Beary, was my Style Invitational Ink of the Day today (also, sorry, only on Facebook):

The house is cold, with little here
That we can do for kicks;
A ship came in, and mother’s gone
To shake her tail for tricks.
Oh Sally, we should go -- I fear
The mess will hit the fan,
If any of that lot find out
That mother is a man.

I’m almost certain that Brendan’s lovely poem contained no word combinations, just the whole words from the original list. So think what you can do with the bearing fardels and baring bodkins and all the other cool stuff that Hamlet ruminates over.

To judge this contest, I’m going to need some computer program to flag words in an entry that aren’t in the actual soliloquy passage. Supergeek Losers Jeff Contompasis and Steve Langer both helped me out in Week 1009, in which entrants could use only the letters in a chosen name to write something about that person (I still ended up giving ink to one illegal entry, but that was my own fault), and Kyle Hendrickson worked something up for me in the Constitution contest and a later one.

Finally, for inspiration, I offer this inking entry, one of many that week from Kevin Dopart, from the last “Hamlet” contest:

From Epilogue 1: Act 4, Scenes 5 and 6:“If you desire to know the Loser, know pelican brains! They bore on Sundays. They be slow and dumb. They bore thee much. Knowest, I direct them.” -- The Empress, Washington (Kevin Dopart, Washington)

See it this way — or this way — or this way: The results of Week 1035

When we do cartoon caption contests — and we’ve done scores of them — Bob Staake’s effusively fertile mind and crazed hand spins off a dozen or more little sketches, probably within the time it takes for his toast to pop out , and I choose four or five, sometimes asking for small alterations. I liked the sketch pictured above, but I asked him to omit the stripe from the thing atop the woman’s head. I’m glad, because what would have been only a bowling pin was seen variously (and probably not exclusively) as an ornament hanger, a dowser, a helmet, wires implanted into the brain, a thought balloon, a coat hanger, a lamp hoop, a TV antenna and an odd light bulb. See the final cartoons at left.

The angle on Week 1035 — to write captions saying “what news Bob is trying to tell us” — was an excuse to reference a similar contest from Week 535, to mark the Empress’s surviving her 500th contest. Perhaps the majority of entries ignored this instruction entirely. Some of the inking entries do stretch this parameter, as I acknowledge in the introduction to the winners, but I didn’t feel I could ignore it myself during the judging.

It’s the fifth win for Mike Gips, who got his first ink back in the Czarist era in 2003, but never got double-digit ink in a year until 2010-11. Mike’s “Tail-look scandal” gives him his 126th blot of ink, his 16th above the fold.

But it’s the first ink of any kind for the second-place winner, Roberta Dobbins, who chose to use the more distant sonogram-wand-wielding Rick Perry rather than her Virginian native son, Gov. Bob McDonnell. Roberta gets a FirStink along with the insect cookbook and the box of Larvets Worm Snax — a delicacy that, it turns out, the Czar also gave away, back in 1997 (it was a different actual box).

Runner-up Kevin Dopart creeps inexorably toward 1,000 inks with Ink 973 (and 974 and 975), while fellow above-the-folder Chris Doyle continues to sail away from the 1,500 buoy.

With Malitz toward . . .: The fave of Sunday Style Editor David Malitz this week is newbie Jim Stiles’s caption for Cartoon B, about Mrs. Bloomberg “new way to tackle obesity.” Keep bringing it, Jim!

 
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