Happy Derby weekend, everyone. While I no longer indulge my girlhood horse obsession — in third grade I used to repeatedly check out “Great Racehorses of 1956” from the bowels of the Norfolk city library — I still try to watch the Run for the Roses every year, and of course I always root for one of “our” horses to win.
This year’s 20-horse Derby field (as of this morning, when I checked) includes 17 steeds who were on the list of 100 potential “studs” in the Week 1016 horse-breeding contest — not too shabby, since the initial pool was almost 400 horses. Eleven of those 17 resulted in inking foals, including the three current favorites in the race: Verrazano, Orb and Goldencents. (Goldencents is getting huge press because he’s owned by Kentucky basketball coach Rick Pitino, — even though “owned” means “5 percent owned.”) But while I do try to include the most promising Derby horses on my initial list, of course I didn’t choose this week’s winning and Losing entries by the abilities of the actual horses.
(Michael Cavna/The Washington Post) - Bob Staake finally meets the Empress in an impromptu visit to the newsroom the evening of April 29. She is actually wearing heels in this photo, obligingly taken by Style editor Michael Cavna on Bob’s phone.
Judging the horse name contest — this was the Invite’s 19th, not counting the grandfoals and other spinoffs — is always labor-intensive and, okay, at times tedious: I don’t have a reliable tool to count the number of entries I received, but I can safely say there were several thousand this year; I received more than 400 e-mails, each of which contained up to 25 entries (and many had the full 25). I combined all the entries into one giant list and then searched on each name, from Abraham to Vyjack, copying out the worthy combinations. Some names were used in more than 150 entries, others only 30 or so. This initial pass yielded literally hundreds of good entries. I then culled that list to about 200, bounced it off (in two parts) the ever-obliging Czar of the Style Invitational, and eventually pared it down to the still-lengthy list of sixty-nine winning and Losing entries that appear today (including a whopping 57 in print).
Despite the time it takes to judge this contest, I always look forward to it (this is the 11th I’ve done, including the time I filled in as Auxiliary Czar in 2001), because the results are always so bleepin’ good. I know that we’ll end up with great material. And certainly this year was no exception.
While this contest is always one of the most widely entered, I’d always doubted how popular it is to readers. After all, each entry, while short, is a little puzzle that requires figuring out how the first two elements combine to produce the third. Is it a case of what we sometimes call Clever Not Funny?
Seems not, at least in the view of Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford, who proofreads the print edition every week and tells me her favorites. I got an e-mail last night whose subject line read: “BEST INVITE EVER!!!!”
I think that’s because the inking entries are more than just ingenious combinations: They’re jokes — the foal name is a punchline. The jokes are mostly of two kinds: A large proportion are puns — either plays on the sounds of words, or playing with two meanings of the same word; this week’s top three winners fall into that category: Am Fibbyous, Ta-ta!, and Deceit o’ the Pence. And there are also some in which the second name acts to humorously modify the first name, as in the self-deprecating fourth-place winner, Mineworks x Now and Then = I’m Turning 50, or the honorable mention Online Poker x Unlimited Budget = Unlimited Losses.