Twenty years! At least we’re not old enough to drink.


The revised cartoon for the cover of this weekend’s Sunday Style section. (Bob Staake for the Washington Post)
March 1, 2013

Welcome to Loserland, everyone: not just the handful of inveterate degenerates who make the Style Invitational a continual week-long obsession, but also those sadly misguided souls who’ve just learned about the Invite by reading some of this weekend’s 20th-anniversary retrospective, and foolhardily kept clicking on links.

Actually, it’s the latter group for whom we put together this week’s “package,” as it’s called in newspapers. Sunday Style section editor Lynn Medford felt strongly that this decade-in-review was our best chance ever to reach the multitudes of “word people” our there, even in the Washington area, who weren’t aware of the Invitational at all, or who thought it was a once-a-year contest in in which you change a word by one letter. So if that’s you, stick around; if you’re one of the regulars, we know you’ll stick around, just to look for your name.

This weekend’s retrospective marks the third milestone that the Invite has reached in the past year. We had ourselves a little gloat last May in Week 974, when we racked up more contests than our “inspiration” (i.e., robbery victim), the New York Magazine Competition. Then in December, we logged our 1,000th contest, marking it with our classic change-a-letter neologism challenge (yes, we do do it about once a year, actually) .

But this week’s package is by far the biggest to-do The Post has made about the Invitational since the similar, even more massive greatest-hits album issued in March 2003. And this time, we’re focusing more on the Invite as a phenomenon, as well as sharing dozens of our favorte entries from the past decade (we figured we’d stick with “only” the past 515 contests). I’m especially delighted with the feature story about the Losers by Style section reporter David Montgomery, who not only delved into the stats and the Facebook page, and talked to at least a dozen Losers, but actually took a whole half of his Sunday to go and sit at a table with them (evidence is here; David is sitting next to the yellow-Loser-shirted Stephen Dudzik).

You might have noticed that I don’t decree the entries included this week as the best of the past decade. For one thing, just about anything of considerable length had to be sacrificed: The two song parodies I included, for example, are terrific and still timely, but they also happen to be fairly short. Entries that ran for whole paragraphs or several stanzas — or even if they were for contests that took a lot of room to describe — didn’t make the list. Also, a lot of the top entries were very topical, playing very quickly off headlines of the day; that’s part of what made them so great at the time. But obviously, they wouldn’t be the best choices now that their subject has become a historical footnote (for some it’s more like a toenailnote).


Never make a professional artist mad at you: The first cover version. (Bob Staake for The Washington Post)

Many of today’s entries won the Inker or its successor, the Inkin’ Memorial. Most of the others (at least) were runners-up. There might, however, be the stray honorable mention: When I reviewed each contest, I tried to look only at the top winners, but sometimes my eye caught some other hilarious entry that made me laugh out loud. (There was a LOT of laughing out loud during this task.) I never noted which entry had won what.

My initial list of Of Course We Have to Include This One entries in the main list first numbered about 200, then 115, then 100. Then reality set in and the list was chopped to about 70, then about 50, and finally to the 38 that appear today. On the other hand, those 38 are amply supplemented by separate lists of horse names, joint legislation, parodies, limericks and especially neologisms, which form a disproportionately long list online: The Loser neologists lucked out this week because the trims in the NeoList that I had made for the print didn’t transmit to the Web, something I just found out. (In fact, I’d already shared the neologisms “eruditz” and “flingpong” as examples of great entries that had to be cut. So it’ll be a happy surprise for John Kupiec and Tom Witte.)

Does that beat all? Week 1011, the Top This contest

I hope you’ll be inspired rather than daunted by all this great stuff this week, so that you’ll send me lots of anthology-level entries for a wide variety of contests. The new contest allows you to enter any of the contests I mention in the retrospective, and I’m going to be very lenient on whether a reference to some contest or entry counts as a mention. So there should be many options to choose from, even if you can’t find some of these contests on the Web.

What, we left out your favorite entry?
Five hundred fifteen contests, a few dozen results: It was fated to happen. Let us know your favorites, especially the entries of others. You can talk about them in the comment field below, but I much prefer having a discussion on the Style Invitation Devotees page on Facebook, where a thread that’s been added to automatically moves to the top of the page.

The Loser Stats, even statter

What wonderful timing for Week 1011 that Elden Carnahan has moved his vast collection of Loser Stats, the Master Contest List, and other Loserilia to a regular Web site where you don’t have to download anything. It’s NRARS.org (as in the Not Ready for the Algonquin Roundtable Society, the official Loser Community moniker). And in a terrific improvement to the already indispensable Master Contest List, Elden has just started adding links to the contests themselves. The link is to the column in which the contest was announced; click on the contest from four weeks after that to see the results.

Let’s go out for our anniversary, dear: Loser Brunch, March 10

Once again the ample and tasty brunch buffet at Paradiso awaits the Losers, a week from Sunday (March 10) at a leisurely 11:30. Paradiso is just outside the Beltway on Franconia Road in Northern Virginia, between Van Dorn Street and I-95. It’s in a pleasant, unpretentious stand-alone building with plenty of free parking. As with all Loser Brunches, everyone is welcome, even if you don’t play the Invite yourself but would just like to soak up the Loserly aura. I plan to be there. RSVP at the now-so-easy NRARS.org, so we can get an idea of how big a table we need.

Have fun reading all the segments, and be sure to share them with your fellow joke-appreciators. I’ll check back here for comments.

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