I’ve loved our string of fictoid contests — for “false facts” that sound like the items on innumerable trivia lists, at least until you realize they’re jokes. And that’s the catch: It’s not enough to offer up something that’s not true. It has to be not true and also funny.
We’ve been through lots of topics of untruth since our first all-purpose fictoid contest seven years ago
: movie trivia; medical/physiological; history; music; and, most recently, sports.
This week’s contest was one I wouldn't have thought to do myself; when Jeff Contompasis suggested it to me, I first wondered if the topic was too narrow. “I guess you’ve not been exposed to car culture,” Jeff scoffed. “NASCAR, Indy, Grand Prix, lowriders, classics, lemons, engine designs. It’s huge.” Actually, I’ve learned more about cars over the past few decades than most people have, courtesy of a son who was obsessed with cars starting in infancy and now regularly tests and reviews them in his blog. But even if you’re not an automotive aficionado, I do think the topic is broad enough that you could write some lies about traffic, roads, early models of cars, what’s being planned now — just keep it to material relating in some way to motor vehicles that go on roads, rather than planes, boats, trains, mules, etc.
My husband tells me that his father managed to convince him and his siblings that when they were driving up a hill, the angle seemed to get flatter and flatter because the weight of the car — especially with four children inside — was flattening the mountain. This was obviously a lie because three of the kids were stringbeans.
Winners of the previous contests:
General, 2007: Carlos Guitarra, inventor of the stringed instrument that bears his name, had six fingers on each hand. (Steve Fahey)
Movies, 2008: Despite its reputation, one out of seven people who saw “Gigli” actually liked it. Her name was Susan. (Russell Beland)
Medicine and physiology, 2009: Contrary to claims by some scientists, hair is not dead. It just has a high threshold of pain. (Stephen Dudzik)
History, 2011: Susan B. Anthony’s middle name was Barbie. (Judy Blanchard)
Music, 2013: Van Morrison wrote “Brown Eyed Girl” about his then-girlfriend Elizabeth Taylor. They broke up shortly thereafter.(Paul Kondis)
Sports, January 2014: Rosie Ruiz’s hopes for winning the 1981 Marine Corps Marathon were dashed by Metro’s weekend track maintenance on the Orange Line. (Seth Tucker)
The Week 1071 contest might have been more difficult than I’d predicted. Relatively few people entered -- reinforcing my reluctance to run contests that require you to consult a list online: The regulars have no problem with it, but I think I lose the occasional reader who looks at the contest over breakfast and retires to the throne to think of a joke or two. (This is why I insist on running the full list of horse names in the paper. We have no First Offenders this week.
But those who did enter came through, several of them mentioning that they particularly enjoyed this contest. So I think we’ll probably bring it back sometime down the road to examine another sliver of the alphabet.
It’s the fourth win and the 78th (and 79th, and 80th) blot of ink for Rob Huffman of Fredericksburg, Va., about 50 miles south of Washington. This makes Rob (at least this week) the No. 84 Loser of All Time, and I believe, except for one other person, the highest-ranking Loser from the greater D.C.-Baltimore area whom I’ve never met in person (the other is Lawrence McGuire, No. 35). And to give you an idea of how corporeal the Loser Community is: I’ve personally gazed into the eyeballs of 74 Losers who are above Rob on the list, in various locations.
And it will soon be No. 75, because on Saturday I’ll be meeting Frank Osen — who won both second and fourth places this week — and can present him directly with the Creepy Alligator Foot on a Stick, And presumably a back-scratcher. TSA might look twice at that thing when Frank heads back to Southern California.
And winning third place is Roger Dalrymple of Gettysburg, Pa., just above Rob on the Loser list. Roger is an experienced tour guide of the Civil War battlefields, and once again he’ll accompany a Loser contingent for lunch and walking around on Sunday, Aug. 17. We eat at a family-friendly pub called the Appalachian Brewing Company and then drive/walk among the sites and sights. Save the date — in the past we’ve had some carpool arrangements.
Another interesting name among this week’s inking entries: Niels Hoven got dozens of ink blots as a D.C. area high school whiz kid in the late 1990s, and some more when he went on to Rice University and then Berkeley. But Niels forsook us about nine years ago — until I saw his name in the Week 1071 inbox. And it’s clear that he remembers how to Invite: he gets two inks today (plus the unprintable below).
As I mentioned in last week’s Conversational, on Saturday I’ll be speaking at the West Chester University Poetry Conference about what makes a good song parody. (That’s where I’ll be meeting Frank Osen, who is an Actual Poet in addition to the Invite stuff.) In last week’s column I used Mark Raffman’s parody of “Be Our Guest” to illustrate the various qualities, and over the past week I also marveled over several other winners from over the years, including this Inker-winner by parody specialist Barbara Sarshik. It was from a 2005 contest for a song about the Real Washington:
To “Anything Goes” (link to music here; start at 0:37)
They come from Texas and Nebraska,
They’re coming here from Alaska with résumés.
They say their stay is temporary,
That life here is just a very short passing phase -- but everyone stays!
They all love to schmooze today ’bout the news today,
Pass a bill today on the Hill today,
Get a spouse today and buy a house today.
And then they don’t ever leave!
Some folks insist they miss home places
So full of familiar faces, where cattle graze
And everyone prays!
Though Bob Dole said he’d be returning,
I never see Bob Dole yearning for Kansas days.
I can see why I gave this song first place. First of all, the content is an amusing look at a phenomenon among congressional politicos (though it’s much less true now). And — so importantly for an Invite entry — it has a joke at the end: Remember how Sen. Dole used to constantly refer to himself in the third person, with both first and last names? Barbara gets that in twice.
And technically, the parody is just brilliant, perfectly matching the highly syncopated rhythm of Cole Porter’s original with words whose strong accents fit the tune as if it had been written for them. (“Pass a BILL today on the HILL today” ... “So FULL of faMIL-IAR FA-ces where CAT-tle GRAZE ...”)
And all those interior rhymes!
The only flaw I see is in the last line of the “bridge,” the verse with the different tune in the middle: “And then they don’t ever leave.” It doesn’t sound bad at all, since it’s at the end of a verse that doesn’t match the others anyway. But Porter ended that verse with “gigolos” — which means it matched “goes” at the ends of the other verses. So really, it would be nice if this song’s bridge ended with a word that rhymes with “stays.” I thought of”And they’re here all their days,” but “days” is in the final verse, and “today” is sprinkled throughout the bridge itself.
Does anyone have a better line there? Otherwise, I think this is a perfect parody.
Several funny entries this week that were obvious no-gos for the Invite:
CCA: The California Culinary Academy and the Catholic Campaign for America: One instructs you to “beat until stiff”; the other instructs you not to. (Danielle Nowlin, in yet one more entry that she won’t be sharing with her children anytime soon)
CGA: The Coast Guard Academy creates boatloads of seamen, while the Culver Girls Academy is full of upstanding young ladies. (Niels Hoven, who should be happy to see that we have this under-the-radar outlet for his work)
But the Scarlet Letter has to go to this one, which had me simultaneously gasping and guffawing, and immediately sharing my mirth on the Style Invitational Devotees page, but not sharing the entry itself:
DAP: Dog-Appeasing Pheromone and Direct-Action Penetrator: The mishap began when Ms. Hawkins misunderstood the vet’s advice to apply a DAP to her hyperactive schnauzer. (And only now did I look it up and discover that it was written by ... Frank Osen. I think I’d better not mention this one at the poetry conference.)