The Style Conversational
The Style Conversational
Loser-friendly discussion with The Empress of The Style Invitational

Week 918: Back to the starting gate with ‘grandfoals’

Happy Kentucky Derby Weekend, everyone. For once, at least half of Saturday’s Kentucky Derby field will consist of horses whose names were on our list of possibilities for the foal contest -- and most of those are mentioned in this week’s results. While Uncle Mo is the favorite -- and he got ink at least once -- also in tomorrow’s field are the highly Invite-friendly Archarcharch, Brilliant Speed, Comma to the Top, Mucho Macho Man, Midnight Interlude, Soldat, Twice the Appeal … and the ever-lovin’ Pants on Fire.

We had a simply enormous number of entries for Week 914’s 17th annual contest to “breed” two horses selected from a list of the year’s Triple Crown-eligibles: My computer’s numbering system didn’t cooperate, but I’m pretty sure it was between 6,000 and 7,000. About 350 people sent lists of names, and obviously I was glad I’d continued the limit of 25 entries per person.

I judged the contest very systematically: After combining all the entries onto one humongoid master Word file (the person who sent her 25 entries as a table with 75 fields just about crashed the thing --please don’t do this, people!), I went through the original horse names one by one, searching for each entry that used Annual Update, and copying out the worthy ones onto a list. (I did try to anticipate misspelled names by searching on only a few letters of the name.) Then I went on to Anthony’s Cross, and on and on through the 100th name, Uncle Mo.

If you’re still awake, it may have occurred to you that I therefore ended up looking at all 6,000 entries twice: First I searched for one horse in the entry, and later for the other horse. This is true, at least until near the end, when I immediately continued the search when I saw an entry I had already judged. So if (and it sometimes happens even to the Perfect among us) I hadn’t appreciated the wit of an entry the first time around, I had a chance to dismiss it again.

As you’ll see from the results, to get ink you couldn’t just produce a foal name that reflected both parents’ names; there were far too many entries that cleared that bar. No: The name itself often had to be the name a pun or other wordplay, or an especially funny observation. For example:
Not getting ink: Fire With Fire x Praise the Bird = Phoenix
Getting ink: Comma to the Top x Burns = Apostrophoenix (Brian Cohen)

With very few exceptions, the inking entries reference the significant elements of the names of both parents, and also very few repeated words in the parents’ names. For the Grandfoals contest — because the inking foal names are themselves wordplays and combinations — it’s not as important that every element be accounted for in the grandfoal name. In fact, you can end up with an ingenious name that somehow manages to reference the original names, the pun on the original names, everything, but just isn’t funny. We want funny.

I haven’t counted the total, but because you may breed either two foal names or one foal and one parent (Louis Malle is optioning the movie rights to Week 918), you should have lots and lots of choices, even though I didn’t choose the final winners with an eye toward including as many different names as possible.

A lot of people — especially new ones — combined the two horses to produce a third name that was on the list already. I hope that they didn’t misunderstand the contest; some lists consisted entirely of such entries. But given that the contest announcement — “ ‘Breed’ any two of them – even though almost all are male – and name the ‘foal,’ as in the examples above” — and the examples weren’t from the list, either they did pay attention or perhaps just thought the idea of using another name from the list was more clever than coming up with an original name. It wasn’t.

As I realize every year — and it’s true for many Invitational contests — often, a series of variations on a given idea is funnier than any given entry. For example, not one of these plays on artists’ names got ink, but they’re all funny, in my opinion, and especially funny en masse — just not funnier than what did get ink:

Major Art x Cat Sweep = Clawed Monet (Laurie Brink)
x My Dividend = Easy Monet (Mae Scanlan)
t x French Fury = Colere of Money (John O’Byrne)
x Old Guys Rule = Jean Aarp (J.D. Berry)

Or for pairings with Astrology:
Astrology x Glint = What’s Your Shine? (Mia Wyatt)
x Energized = Watt’s Your Sign? (Jeff Contompasis)
x Derivative = What’s Your Sine? (Roy Ashley)
x Sky Music = What’s Your Sing? (Barry Koch)
x Uncle Mo = What’s Your Sinai? (Dave Komornik)

etc. etc. etc. Literally hundreds of entries with similarly clever wordplay. But puns weren’t the only form of humor among the entries: One entry that made me laugh out loud was from our ELEVEN First Offenders this week (an unprecedented number, Elden?) Rachel Depo: Pants on Fire x Moon on Fire = Clumsy Astronaut. Oopsie!

Despite the exciting influx of new names, the four in-the-money Losers are all Invitational veterans: While he’s been only an occasional visitor since the Empress deposed the Czar at the end of 2003, Jonathan Paul is snapping up his 23rd top win, 75th (!!!) above the fold, and Inks Nos. 365 and 366. A specialist in poetry as well as the horse names, Jonathan once won first place (before there were Inkers) nine times in a single year. Another selective entrant, Dudley Thompson — one of three inking pairs of family members this week — grabs his 11th ink above the fold and 53rd blot overall. Dudley always goes to town with both the horses and our biennial joint-legislation contest. Jeff Contompasis, aside from Kevin Dopart perhaps our most prolific entrant of late, gets yet another shirt or mug for one of his three inks this week, for a total of 177, and 18 above the fold. And Beverley Sharp — who we’re relieved to say was unscathed while the tornadoes roared through perhaps 10 miles from her new home in Montgomery, Ala. — will be able to sip next year’s Derby mint julep from a new mug (or maybe from a new shirt — as she snarfs up Inks 245 and 246.

I’ll assume they’re friendly rivalries and not the cutthroat type, so it was fun to see three pairs of relatives cross the finish line this week: Dudley and Susan Thompson have both entered the Invite since they lived in Rockville many years ago; Bernard and Laurie Brink of Missouri have been successfully entering with mostly (if not only) the horse names contests for several years running; and, as we mentioned a few weeks ago, novice Loser Jonathan Hardis has plunged into the Invite with alarming success as he aims to catch up with his sister, longtime Loser Kathy Hardis Fraeman.

Other notable entrants this week: As far as I know, it was the first dip into the Foaling Around water — and a most appropriate one — for Vinnie Perrone, who covered horse racing for The Post for many years (and has the world’s best racing-writer name). Vinnie also was the sports editor at my college paper, the University of Maryland Diamondback, when I worked there in the late 1970s (also covering sports there at the same time: Norman Chad). And while she missed getting ink this week, perennial horse-names Loser Mary Lee Fox Roe — another veteran Loser, Sarah Gaymon, named her own horse after her — wishes to extend an invitation to the Loser Community an invitation to her annual Derby-watching party at her home in Mount Kisco, N.Y. Next year’s Loserfest, perhaps?


We’re going to try a little experiment over the next few weeks or perhaps months, something similar to something we did back in 2001 when I, as Auxiliary Czar, judged the Invite for three months or so. Washington Post Official Font of Humor Gene Weingarten — the Pulitzer Prize-winning feature writer, humor columnist, online chatter and customer service line crank-caller — is also a devoted fan of The Style Invitational, constantly claiming (as do most of you) that he could have written something way better than that drivel that got the Inker that week, if only he’d bothered. So we’re giving Gene a chance: He’s gotten approval from Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford to enter the Invite under a pseudonym — a different one each week (or every week he chooses to enter). The Empress will do her regular judging thing, and then, once her picks are made and the column is close to going to press, he’ll tell her which entries were his. If he gets ink, I’ll credit him in that week’s Invite (though as a Post employee except in a highly technical sense, he’s ineligible for prizes); if he doesn’t get ink, I’ll post his entries in the Conversational.

In 2001, the Czar of The Style Invitational — a disturbingly intimate friend of Weingarten — was on leave for 13 weeks, but entered the contest every week under a variety of names. In that time, he won the entire contest twice.


It’s not set in stone yet, but a well-known publisher is interested in putting out a book featuring a collection of Invitational neologisms and possibly a selection of other contests as well. It would be a small-scale book, no sweeping anthology reflecting the Invite’s amazing breadth and depth of wit, but it would help spread the word about the Invitational and would surely appeal to all those people who continue to post those “Mensa Invitational” lists. Yes, I will insist that all the entrants get credit (if it comes to fruition); no, you don’t get a share of the dozens of dollars of royalties that are guaranteed to flow in. But maybe we’ll have you over for some popcorn or something. What, do we look like sauvignon blanc and Brie?


Brunchmaster Elden Carnahan has been under the lovely Washington weather this week, but promises to line up a Loser Brunch site and time on Sunday, May 22, most likely in Northern Virginia and starting in the morning. I have to be in Prince George’s County at 2:30 that day, so I’m pushing for something close in and early.


Courtesy of Facebook, I see that 10-time Loser Stephen Litterst of Newark, Del., is crowing over the brand-new Abigail Kathryn Litterst, coming into this world in a big way at 10 pounds 3 ounces. We’re waiting for the Littersts to be one more of those inking pairs of relatives.


As you can see in this week’s column, Bob Staake has worked up another Loser magnet design, which we should start sending out in about a month (we have about 100 left of the current models). Actually, as usual he did two designs, but I didn’t have room on the print page to run pictures of both this week, unless I wanted to cut out a slew of horse names. However, Bob handily posted the other design on Facebook yesterday; if you’d like to see it now, check him out there. (Also, you really ought to Facebook-friend Bob, as well as me; he regularly posts artwork and other things that wonderfully reflect that peculiar Bobbean humor.)

Feel free to post comments or questions below by clicking on the link to this week’s thread that appears below this note -- you need to register with but it’s free and you can be anonymous. (But once you out yourself as the particular Loser behind Studmuffin 8, then of course we’re free to remember who you are. Also, if your pseudonym is, say, an anagram of your name, we’re not going to consider that a secret.) To see all the comments, be sure to click on “All Posts” rather than “Top Posts” on the bar above where the comments start. Almost all the posts are Top -- it’s a little bit of Lake Wobegon here at The Style Conversational -- but for some reason the automated “bot” will occasionally deem one otherwise.

— Pat Myers, the Empress of The Style Invitational

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