As I’m writing this — if all goes well, just a couple of hours before Style Invitational Week 1066 goes up online on Thursday afternoon — I’m watching The Post’s new Arts & Style section come together, by peeking from home at the various page layouts via the “content management system,” the unwieldy but admittedly useful Methode. And it looks enticing: Re-integrating the Arts and Sunday Style sections, which had been separated three years ago, it’s a 20-page broadsheet (full-size paper) section covering a range of classical and popular arts, both local and wider-ranging, as well as the advice columns, wedding page, comic strip and crossword that had resided in Sunday Style — along, of course, with the Invite. It will be headed up by the previous sections’ two editors: Christine Ledbetter will oversee the “Arts” pages, while David Malitz will continue to handle the “Style” part, including the Invite.
I see that, at least this week, Arts & Style is Section E and we’re on Page E18 — just flip to the back cover and turn back one page., and there we are on the left, complete with a color cartoon. We’re next to the challenging Post Puzzler crossword, under the umbrella header “Diversions.” (It had initially said “Puzzles,” but I wanted to make clear that for the vast majority of Post readers, the Invitational was a humor column to enjoy reading, not just a contest to do: In fact, if the actual number of entrants in any given week increased much past the 200 to 300 we usually get — at up to 25 entries per person — I’d be overwhelmed.)
Though in recent months the Invite took up the whole back page in Sunday Style, that was a tabloid-size page (here’s a picture of last Sunday’s layout), our half-page in Arts & Style seems to take up roughly the same number of column inches, running the length of the left half of a broadsheet page. Here’s a screen shot, as of noon today, of the top of the page (as it’s seen on the page designer’s computer, with various lines and boxes that won’t be in the paper) and one, in much smaller scale, of the full-page layout (the blank space is for ads).
The vertical layout harks back to the Invitational’s early years, such as this much cruder design from 1994; But you might have noticed one totally new aspect of the Arts & Style print Invite: The top headline is about the results of Week 1062, not the new contest of Week 1066, though the 1066 headline is right below it and the two halves of the section travel down the page in parallel. The design is another nod to the Invite’s primary role as a humor column, for readers, that’s fueled by our little but powerful Loser Army.
But when it comes to the online version of the column, we don’t have the option of running the new and old contests alongside each other; one has to go first. And so which one should it be?
For this week, it was a pretty easy call for me: Our horse-“breeding” contests are one of the most heavily entered of the year, probably the most popular. And it’s one that people who don’t otherwise think of entering the Invite will give a try to, because it’s pretty easy, and a lot of fun, to look at the list — in a nice little table right in front of you in the print paper — and come up with a few foal names in a matter of minutes. And I love to see new names in the inbox of firstname.lastname@example.org. Then I’ll have a week to think about what the headline and top of next week’s Invite should be online. I’d be happy to hear what you think.
It’s a promising field for the 20th running (not counting spinoffs) of the Pun for the Roses, with lots of names that cry out for humor and wordplay. I was tinkering with the list as late as last night, when I found out that a few names I’d gotten from a list of the year’s best Kentucky Derby prospects weren’t actually on the official list of Triple Crown-nominated 3-year-olds. So, dang, no Stash the Cat, Brewing or Outstrip — but there should be plenty of life in their replacements on the list, Brilliant Mess, Oogeley Eye and Tout.
I deliberately omitted from the list any horses whose names fit the 18-character limit only because their namers dropped the spaces between the words. You aren’t banned from this practice, which is used quite commonly and has gotten plenty of ink in the past (a random check of Week 268 reveals that second place pedigree was Mark the Moment x Rubiyat = RubiyatOfOMarkIAm (George Alan Esworthy and Carl Meredith, Cary, N.C.). But you see how hard it is to read a name like that. Given that I had more than 400 names to choose from this year, I chose to pass over Can’thelpbelieving, Footstepsinbronze, etc. And if I’m trying to decide between two equally clever entries, I’m likely to favor the more readable one. But some smushed names aren’t particularly hard to read, and if they’re incredibly clever they could well get ink. If you do leave out spaces in your horse name, capitalize the beginning of each word unless you’re leaving them lowercase for some comedic effect.
If you’re new to this contest, it’s a good idea to look back at some of the previous winners, which by now number more than 1,000, counting the “grandfoals” contests. To read to your heart’s content, call up Elden Carnahan’s Master Contest List at nrars.org, and search on “foal” or “horse.” See the week number, then click on that number on the right side of the table for a link to that week’s results. (You can actually click on “HOR” at the top to get a list only of the horse names contests, but they will show you that week’s introduction, not the results from three or four weeks later.)
How I judge the entries: As I do every week, I combine all the week’s e-mails into a single searchable file. Then I get a whole lot of coffee, sit down a t the computer, and search for every entry “breeding” the first horse on the list. When I see something clever featuring Horse No. 1, I copy it out onto a shortlist along with all the other clever entries featuring Horse No. 1. If more than three people submitted the same clever combination and foal name, I’ll put it on a list of foal names I might share, but without individual credits. Then I start all over with Horse No. 2. (This is why I implore you to spell the horse’s name correctly: I’ll try to search on just part of a name just in case, but don’t make me miss out on your incredible brilliance.) No, I don’t do this all in one sitting.
Usually, this process leads me to look at every entry twice, during my search on both, say, Horse 19 and Horse 62. But I’m going to see if I can load the list onto a spreadsheet and then color-code promising entries the first time through, and then ignore the colored entries the next time through (then sort them by color). This trick was shared with me by Ultra-Loser Kevin Dopart when he used Excel while judging Week 1055, his prize for having blotted up 1,000 drops of Invite ink.
In any case, I promise to read your entry, and even to do my best to understand it.
And as usual, when I publish the results four weeks from now, we’ll have the spinoff contest, in which you breed two of that week’s winning foal, or one foal with an original horse, to name a “grandfoal.”
(Subhead by Danielle Nowlin; it was a non-inking alternative-headline entry)
Once again, my list of 16 items — compiled from suggestions on the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook — yielded comparisons between them that were so clever and funny that you’d think the elements on the list had been engineered to produce them. But really, I just chose 16 nouns and noun phrases that sounded fun, and waited 10 days to see what the crowd would come up with. And given that we’d gotten wonderful results every time we’d done this contest in the past — and that’s many, many times — I wasn't tearing at myself with worry.
Sure enough, there were lots of entries, including lists from 16 people who, as far as I could see, hadn’t entered the Invitational before. As usual, I sometimes chose among a number of similar ideas for the one with the best wording.
This contest always draws many entries that have one particular construction that can be very funny, but not over and over. Here are several clever examples:
April Fools’ Day and the Arizona legislature: One is people playing sometimes cruel jokes on the vulnerable and gullible; the other is a holiday. (Neal Starkman)
A USB stick marked “Property of NSA” & the Arizona legislature: One is full trivialities and nonsense, pointlessly gathered under the guise of public service; the other is a computer storage device. (Joel Wasinger)
Bellybutton lint is different from Buzzfeed quizzes because one is a bit of stinking fluff and the other collects in the navel. (Edward Gordon)
It could be that I’m so thoroughly acquainted with that humor trope that I can always see the punch line coming; I don’t think any entries in this form get ink this week. They have inked in the past, though; I have nothing against running one entry like this in a given contest, even if I didn’t this time.
A wonderful debut by Dave Letizia, this week’s Inkin’ Memorial winner. While it’s Dave’s first inking entry, he’s not technically a First Offender, because he’d already been in the Invite twice: first with his prize donation of a coin purse made from the leather of a genuine kangaroo scrotum (the first of two we’ve given away), then with his suggestion for Week 1059, the one to add a parenthetical phrase to a song title. But I’ll send Dave a FirStink along with his Bobble-Linc, since you don’t get a prize for donating a prize or suggesting a contest.
I doubt that second-placer Jim Stiles — the winner of the “Let My People Go” matzo-motif toilet seat cover — is of Mosaic ethnicity, so I’ll be happy to substitute a Loser Mug or Grossery Bag if he prefers. Jim just started playing the Invite in Week 1026, and this is his first win “above the fold,” but he’s done remarkably well: this is already his 13th blot of ink. Meanwhile, runners-up Danielle Nowlin and Jeff Contompasis have shown up so many times above the fold that they probably use matched mug sets at Thanksgiving dinner.
Human Barbie and a Sochi hotel: Both are poorly constructed of toxic material and most men are afraid to enter either. (Bird Waring)
Sriracha Life Savers have a hole in the middle; as for the Human Barbie, we can’t be so sure now, can we? (Mark Raffman)
Sriracha Life Savers and a USB stick marked “Property of NSA”: Either would make Julian Assange crap his pants. (David Garratt)
And this isn’t risque, but it’s insider humor, with Jeff Contompasis playing on his reputation as a toadying fan of Bob Staake: “Bob Staake’s No. 2 pencils and bellybutton lint: I swear by my sacred box of his toenail clippings that I’m not stalking him for either.”
I hope to see you on Sunday at 11 at Grevey’s pub on Route 50 right outside the Beltway in Northern Virginia. I think we have about a dozen Losers and Devotees on the list, and can surely accommodate more. Click on the “Brunch information” link at nrars.org to RSVP to Elden Carnahan.
I hope to be sending out an invitation through The Post’s e-mail service for this year’s Flushies, the Loser Community’s annual awards luncheon. It’s Saturday, May 10, roughly noon to 4, at the Holiday Inn in College Park, right at the Beltway, and is open to all who pony up $38 for the buffet and their share of the room rental. Watch your e-mail!