When you read stupid things on the Internet, it’s hard to know if the writers (or those being written about) are being stupid or just playing at being stupid. The questions I’m quoting from the Yahoo Answers site in this week’s Style Invitational struck me as authentic, and the comments responding to them as a mix of sincere and obviously snarky. (I’ve linked to each thread in the examples so that you can read the comments.) There really are a lot of ignorant — I mean uninformed — people out there. And, well, a lot of stupid ones too.
The Invite has done several stupid-question contests over the years, in various forms. The first one, “Like, Duh” (Week 128, 1995), asked for “snappy answers to stupid questions,” but that wasn’t about comical ignorance; it was about questions whose answers were obvious, and the snarky response to them; Mad Magazine ran this sort of thing regularly. The results aren’t so pertinent to today’s contest, but they’re pretty funny. Here are the top winners:
Fourth Runner-Up: “Can I order a pizza?” “No, today we are delivering only gefilte fish.” (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)
-- Third Runner-Up: To a tall man: “Do you play basketball?” “No. Do you play miniature golf?” (Jim Jacobs, Arlington)|
-- Second Runner-Up: “Are those twins?” “No, they’re triplets, but I only take out two at a time. I rotate the third, like tires.” (Gary Patishnock, Laurel, who has twins)
-- First Runner-Up: “Do you know how fast you were going?” “I should think not, officer! At these speeds I prefer to keep my eyes on the road, not on the speedometer.” (Jerrold M. Witcher, Takoma Park)
-- And the winner of the stuffed and mounted turkey head: “Who do you think you are, anyway?” “I think I am Rene Descartes. Therefore, I am Rene Descartes. Who do you think you are?” (Phil Plait, Silver Spring)
The contest that was most like today’s was Week 217 (1997). Here are the examples the Czar offered, along with a warning that also pertains today.
— If there is a God, and if He is a loving God, why does He allow bad things to happen, like, you know, when you hiccup that sour stuff and it tastes all yucky?
— Why is the sky sort of greenish orange, or is that just me?
— What is the sound of two hands clapping?
This Week’s Contest was suggested by Jonathan Paul of Garrett Park, who wins a rubber housefly that swells to the size of a baseball when you drop it in water. Jonathan says his teachers always told him there were no stupid questions, but he suspects this advice was wrong. Come up with truly stupid questions. And please spare us the ones about Grant’s Tomb and why you drive on a parkway and park on a driveway, okay? We are looking for originality.
The results are all one-liners, and a fair number of them actually fall into the obvious-answer category. As it sometimes happens with the Invite, the results of Week 1081 might tend toward something I hadn’t had in mind, but turned out to be much funnier -- and this is why I’m so happy that the Losers are competing for a ceramic cup in the shape of a human breast, rather than, say, a diamond necklace:
Report from Week 217, in which you were asked to disprove the old maxim that there are no dumb questions. Despite our warning to the contrary, many people submitted tired old jokes, and some tired new jokes, such as why people call those things “hemorrhoids” instead of “asteroids.” Also, some people asked good questions that were too clever to win, such as this one by Bob Sorensen of Herndon: “Wasn’t the Army looking for trouble by calling them `drill’ instructors?” Here’s another, from John Kammer of Herndon: “Why could the Professor build a nuclear reactor out of coconuts but not fix a hole in a boat?” These violated the fundamental precept of the contest. The questions had to be stupid.
Sixth Runner-Up -- Excuse me, does this pharmacy carry that “date rape” drug? (Russell Beland, Springfield)
Fifth Runner-Up -- Why do people drive so close in front of me? Don’t they realize it’s dangerous? (Jerry Ewing, Fairfax)
Fourth Runner-Up -- Just where do you get off telling me what to do, Your Honor? (Elden Carnahan, Laurel)
Third Runner-Up -- Do I, like, have a shot at boinking you? (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)
Second Runner-Up -- Are you sure that’s a spaceship behind the comet? Because I wouldn’t want to make a mistake here. Okay, swell. Just checking. (Paul Styrene, Olney; John Kammer, Herndon)
First Runner-Up -- If you are not supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat? (Dave Ferry, Leesburg)
And the winner of the demonstration-model prostate gland: If I win this week, can I have the $75 instead of the prostate gland? (Edith Eisenberg, Potomac)
We also ran two contests called Caller IDiot, for stupid questions to ask customer service hotlines, as well as auto-related questions to ask the “Car Talk” guys. These actually are closer to the ignorant-questioner model than the results of Week 217.
The top winners of Week 648:
4. To Pampers: “It says ‘for up to 25 pounds.’ Isn’t that . . . kind of a lot of poop?” (Brenda Ware Jones, Jackson, Miss.; Dan Seidman, Watertown, Mass.)
3. To Blue Cross: “After a night of heavy drinking, I woke up to find an image of Muhammad tattooed on my chest. Do you think you might cover tattoo removal in this one case? It might be a pretty big health issue for me if I don’t do something.” (Fred Dawson, Beltsville)
2. : To The Washington Post: “I’m wondering about your name. I mean, you don’t really deliver the paper by mail anymore. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to call yourselves The Washington Guy Driving a Minivan?” (Russell Beland, Springfield)
And the Winner of the Inker: To Unilever Corp.: “Why do your Dove Bars taste like soap?” (Kevin Dopart, Washington)
From Week 736:
4. My son just got his license and wants a V-8 Mustang. I’m afraid he’ll drive too fast, trying to impress girls. Should we have him neutered first? (Russ Taylor, Vienna)
3. My 1999 Ford Taurus doesn’t run properly at night. See, I drive a lot for my job, and from 8:30 a.m. until 5, the car runs fine. But then I park it outside a tavern at 5:30, and when I come out a few hours later, it’s dark and my car veers all over the road. Please help. (Chris Rollins, Cumberland, Md.)
2.When I drive into a parking lot and set my car on “Park,” it just sits there, even if there are several empty places very close by. What am I doing wrong? (Elden Carnahan, Laurel)
And the Winner of the Inker: When I get my 2004 Mustang up to about 85 miles an hour, I hear a high-pitched whining off to my right that persists until I wind down to 60. What can I do to shut her up? (Chris Rollins)
And from Week 827:
The Winner of the Inker: To the White House: My 2006 Chrysler Sebring is hesitating when I step on the accelerator. When can I bring it in? (Jeff Hazle, Woodbridge)
2. To Procter & Gamble: I love your Charmin toilet paper, but I hate those rolls that dispense from the underside. Can you tell me where I can buy rolls that dispense from the top of the roll? (James Noble, Lexington Park)
3.To Whole Foods: Can I just come in to your downtown store and buy a cow? (Jane Auerbach, Los Angeles)
4. To Colgate: Goo goo ga ga ma ma. . . . What, you’re not understanding? Then why do your instructions for your Peroxyl Antiseptic Oral Cleanser very clearly say, “Children under 2: Consult a dentist or physician”? (Les Greenblatt, Ann Arbor, Mich.)
So this week, see what you can do about being stupid in some way without committing the stupidity of repeating these winners. You can see the complete results of the above contests on the Master Contest List at nrars.org.
Will we have a follow-up contest with answers to these questions? We’ll have to see how the entries shake out.
I wasn’t sure I could fill up a whole page of Invite with fresh, clever Tom Swifty jokes, ones that didn’t repeat any of the results of Week 44. Not a problem: I’m running about 40 entries, and robbing a number of others. I got lots and also lots of entries; 2,000 is a conservative estimate.
Not everyone seemed to understand what makes a Tom Swifty funny (at least in my book, but my book, my dears, is the book, she said patronizingly); some entries didn’t really use wordplay, or used an adverb that really made no sense on any level (“It’s true the world over, Tom said universally”).
I received a number of entries with Tom saying something “testily,” and had chosen Mark Richardson’s — “One more low blow and you’re disqualified!” the referee said testily — until I noticed the Week 44 runner-up “Well, at least she didn’t cut off everything,” John Bobbitt said testily,” credited to three entrants. (A few others, making jokes about standardized tests, etc., just didn’t make the cut.)
Also, because I was so specific in the contest announcement that the wordplay had to involve an adverb or verb, I didn’t include this clever adjective/noun play by Larry Gray: “Please reconnect my breathing tube,” Tom gestured with a detached air.”
In general, the jokes worked best when the adverb in the Swifty applied to the sentence itself on a literal level. But occasionally, the adverb was comically opposite the point of the joke: “beatifically” for Ike Turner, “bashfully” for Muhammad Ali.
It’s likely that readers won’t get the jokes in all the entries. I took the rare and risky move of explaining a few of the jokes in the intro, hopefully at a safe distance from them, to help turn readers in the right direction to get the rest. But there are also some references that not everyone will know; quite incredibly, the deposed Czar of The Style Invitational — a man whose Twitter avatar is a pile of dog poop — was not familiar with the term “deuce.” I added a few explanatory links, but if you’re stumped, feel free to ask in the comments thread where I post the Invite on the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook. The Devs won’t mock you — really, they’re very supportive. They save their snark for the Invite.
Theorize as you will, but for some (i.e., no) reason, all four of today’s “above the fold” ink-blotters are guys from Northern Virginia. It’s the fifth win for Greg Arnold, but his first Inkin’ Memorial — in fact, Greg’s last first-place finish was in Week 290, in 1998. Greg is famous as the guitarist of the Dueling Loser Band, which has amused the Great Unwashed at many a Loser function. It’s the 41st ink above the fold for Jeff Contompasis as he strides toward the 400-ink mark; Jeff Shirley once again finds himself in the Losers’ Circle as well. But it will be the first Loser Mug or Grossery Bag for David Litman, who gets his fourth blot of ink today. However, one of those blots was a win — in Week 269 (1998): How to alleviate traffic on the 14th Street Bridge: Rename it Runway 90L.
I can’t make it there myself, but there will definitely be a Confirmed Loser Sighting this Sunday at 11 at the Busboys & Poets branch in close-in Hyattsville, Md. If you’d like to join the party, RSVP to Elden Carnahan here.