Waaay back in the olden days, when people read their Washington Posts on a platform constructed from rolled-out shredded plant matter, there were these little bar things in the middles of words that didn’t quite fit at the end of a line of “type.” And in the waning days of that epoch, in 1996, the Invitational inaugurated a contest it called Hyphen the Terrible: to combine the first half of a hyphenated word with the second half of another hyphenated word in the same story in that Sunday’s Post (i.e., a gigantic assemblage of plant matter that more than 1 million people would receive on their doorsteps and peruse for hours, never once checking their Twitter feeds). The contest was suggested by Fred Dawson of Beltsville, Md., who would go on to achieve fame as the creator of the World’s Ugliest Painting.
Like all of the Invite’s neologism contests, Hyphen the Terrible yielded tons of great entries, and the Czar repeated it at least once a year, sometimes more. For some reason, the results from the first hyphen contest aren’t in the archives, so here are the top finishers in the second installment (Week 206, 1997):
Fifth Runner-Up: Hot-mometer, n. A device that men use to scope out good-looking chicks pushing strollers. (Stephen Dudzik, Silver Spring, Md.)
Fourth Runner-Up: Popu-mouth, n. The act of punching a New Yorker in the face. (David Genser, Vienna, Va.)
Third Runner-Up: 62-year-rated, adj. For very, very mature audiences only. (Mike Connaghan, Gaithersburg, Md.)
Second Runner-Up: Narcot-rifice, n. Any body cavity used to smuggle drugs. (Russell Beland, Springfield, Va.)
First Runner-Up: Think-ter, n. The muscle in one’s brain that contracts under stress to prevent crude or embarrassing thoughts from emerging. (David Hartman, Oakton, Va.)
And the Winner of the genuine fencer’s mask:
Pro-zakstan, n. A country that is always at peace. (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg, Md.)
Note that five out of these six contestants — Mr. Hartman is the exception — are still active in the Loser Community, although all five of them have changed residences.
But eventually, with the slow emergence of washingtonpost.com, a large percentage of the Losers were people who didn’t get the print Post — many lived out of town and couldn’t get a print paper, and others were in the area and preferred not to buy one. (Not that there was anything wrong with that. Okay, there was.) And stories on the Web don’t have justified lines; i.e., the words on the right side don’t line up perfectly, as they do in most newspaper type or in most books. And so there’s no reason to hyphenate the words for that reason. (Hyphens are also used for other purposes, of course, but there are a lot fewer of them if you don’t have the line-breaking ones.)
But we didn’t want to give up on this contest, so we modified it in various ways over the years to combine “beginnings” and “ends” of words, those terms defined in various ways. This week’s contest may well offer the most options yet: As long as the two words are from the same story or ad, you can combine them in any order, and even have two beginnings or two ends. So there is N.O. way anyone would complain to me about having to look through a whole week’s worth of The Washington Post.
Rules like this are likely to become more common in Invite-land with the upcoming semi-restrictions on the number of stories that non-subscribers may read on washingtonpost.com. I’m not sure, but I think you’ll still be able to read as many stories as you like if you find them through a search engine or if you have a link from somewhere else. But it does seem to spell the end for contests in which we insist that you call up a whole mess of Post pages over the space of a few days. (Note, D.C. area readers: The site will be totally free for print subscribers.)
As I note in the Style Invitational Rules and Guidelines, whenever possible I judge the contest without seeing who wrote the entries. While the process of deleting names and matching them back up with the entries is somewhat time-consuming, I like being able to assure others (and even myself) that my personal opinions of individual Losers and their abilities don’t come into play in the judging. And it’s especially fun to discover that one of my favorite entries for the week is by a First Offender. While I’m of course deeply grateful to all those obsessives who enter the Invite every week and continually sop up puddles of ink, it’s so heartening to see that lots more funny people out there are on our wavelength.
And this week, I got that kick three times over as I looked up each of the top four entries and found three unfamiliar names. While according to the Loser Stats, a Michael Gaffney got a single honorable mention in Week 767, he was listed as being from a different town (turns out he moved). Still!
Note also that all three runners-up, and in fact a remarkable number of all inking Losers this week, are from the Washington area. This might be coincidental — sometimes I find that 75 percent of the winners come from the first half of the alphabet, too — but it’s possible that a cartoon contest attracts more print-edition readers than a usual Invitational does. (Another possibility is that the 20th-anniversary retrospective — complete with both placement on the Sunday Style cover and even a “key” to it on Page A1 of the March 3 Post — drew readers who’d never noticed the Invite on the back page of Sunday Style, and then found their way to the previous week’s contest, Week 1010, which was still running for three more days.) I hope our new winners tell all — and keep coming back for more. While First Offenders usually get just the FirStink for their first ink, I do send above-the-fold winners the usual prize along with the air “freshener” (or, as it says on the smell-o-tree, “freshner”). Michael and Lyle, let me know if you’d prefer the mug or the bag.
Our winner today is not a newbie; John Glenn (no, another one) has been getting ink since 2006. John tends to send only a couple of entries at a time; for Week 1010 he sent just one. But he followed it up with a tweaked version that topped a number of similar jokes on “dressing.” John’s meticulousness perhaps gives a clue why, out of his 24 inks, seven of them have been above the fold — and two have been wins.
Four weeks ago, when this contest was announced, Losers who were especially quick on the, er, draw that Thursday afternoon saw a slightly different Cartoon 3: The lovely lady was initially quite buxom, and had anatomically correct breasts (or as correct as any anatomical feature is in a Staake cartoon). What happened was that after ordering up five cartoons from an assortment of mini-sketches that Bob had sent me several days before, I had neglected to look at the final version that was sent to the production people. And it was very late in the process — in fact, the Invite was already online — when my editor, no doubt remembering the New Yorker incident of last fall, saw the page and ordered a virtual mastectomy.
At the top of this page is one of the three pages of sketches I looked at — Bob is a geyser of creativity. I chose the woman but asked him to change the ham to a turkey, because I didn’t want a bunch of Jewish jokes. And I have to admit that I didn’t even remember that the woman in the sketch was naked, let alone that she was double-dotted.
I have learned my lesson.
Meanwhile, I deemed it too inside a joke to run this very good entry from Glenn Estridge for Cartoon 3: “At least you got to keep your breast.” (I did run a similar entry, “I’d like some breast, please,” that didn’t imply that the breast had been removed.).
See the Scarlet Letter-winning unprintable entry at the bottom of this column, but only if you’re not going to complain about it.
As often happens in caption contests, some of the entries have the best wording of a number of entries with the same idea. If your Geppetto or Lorena Bobbitt entry (or any number of others) was similar to one of the inking ones, sorry but it didn't do quite as much for me.
My new little outreach effort, the Style Invitational Ink of the Day page on Facebook, is slowly finding readers as the jokes from the Invite archives are shared on people’s news feeds or maybe e-mails. Inspired by this month’s 20th-anniversary retrospective, for which it was so hard deciding what to include, I’ve started to post gems of ink from a single contest each day, from one to three entries at a time. On each post is a link to the Invitational index so that new readers can find the Invite’s current contest. The link to the page is always bit.ly/inkofday, and you can read all the previous posts there as well. You do have to have a Facebook account to access the page, but remember that you don’t need to use your own name. If you click “Like” at the top of the Ink of the Day page, you’ll see the day’s new joke(s) on your Facebook news feed every day. (That doesn’t work if you just click “like” on the posting of the joke itself.)
There are only a few dozen, but most interesting to me are the people who’ve clicked Like on the page but are total strangers to me — they’re not even Facebook friends of my Facebook friends. There are people from all over the world. So the word must be getting around. Just as today’s results do, it shows the Post management that even at the advanced age of 20, we’re not just a little knot of old fogies huddled around the fire to warm our ancient bones — we’re getting new fogies all the time.
A note to the more than 2,200 readers who get my weekly e-mail every Thursday with the links to the new Invitational and Conversational: Next week, my Post e-mail is being “migrated” from the problematic-but-useful-for-certain-things Lotus Notes system to Microsoft Outlook. My e-mail address will become firstname.lastname@example.org, but my current one of email@example.com is also supposed to work. But for now, the address where you send Invite entries — firstname.lastname@example.org — will remain on Notes, and for various reasons, at least next week’s notification will probably go out from that address. So your inbox will likely show that you got a fun e-mail from ”Loser Internet Dropbox.” That would be your trusty Empress. Don’t trash me!
The Scarlet Letter letter this week goes to the irrepressible Stephen Dudzik, a Loser since Year 1, for this one for Cartoon 4: While Lizzie frowned on jerkin’ the gherkin, she wasn’t averse to whacking off a bit.