By the E, Pat Myers
Good morning, everyone (she said optimistically as she wrote this Thursday night). With this week’s contest, we travel back in time, sort of: both to 1999, when we did the original version, and of course to the mid-20th century, when many a pre-interstate highway offered lots of colorful reading material in the way of billboards and other ads, including the roadside equivalent of the flip book that we honor this week.
According to an authoritative-sounding (hey, it’s our standard at 1 a.m.) Wikipedia entry, Burma-Shave became “the second-highest selling brushless shaving cream in the United States” (discoverer of No. 1 wins a mini-tube of gourmet toothpaste!) with the help of the various series of six signs that the company implanted near highways in 46 states from 1925 to 1963. (A photo on the Wikipedia page shows how crudely made they were.)
While there were usually six signs in the actual Burma-Shave series, the little rhyming verses they announced were always four-liners, and that’s the form we’ll use for the contest (plus the optional tagline for Line 5). That’s how the Czar of The Style Invitational ran the results of Week 325, which asked for welcome signs for various localities. This time, though, we want you to write either a little ad for any product or company (or you can do, say, a government agency) or a PSA-type announcement to drivers. I deliberately did not specify a word or character limit for any given line, but obviously pithiness is the point; lengthy lines are just not in the spirit of the contest. I see that King of The Short-Form Invite Tom Witte got four inks in Week 325; let’s see if Tom — who doesn’t usually enter poetry contests — comes through again in Week 927.
THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE: THE RESULTS OF WEEK 923
This contest to create a new chemical element or other chemical term ended up, for the most part, as one of our many Jokes About Celebrities contests, as it was when we last did it back in 1997. But I’m glad we didn’t specify that the element had to refer to a person, since many of the best entries this time around — including the runner-up — didn’t.
Week 923 was relatively popular contest among non-Losers (as well as for many of the Losers themselves, many of whom are scientists); I added a lot of new e-mail addresses to the Invitational notification list this week. And many of them got the trick of the contest, which was to describe a person or a non-scientific concept in scientific terms (or wordplays on them). We have a whopping five First Offenders this week out of 30-odd entries.
So while it works well to say the element “newtium” “bonds frequently but not permanently,” as Russell Beland did, it doesn’t work to say, as someone else did, that “blagonium” is a “worthless element that thinks it’s $*&!@#^*” — because, duh, chemical elements don’t think. It screws up the double-entendre.
Some people blithely ignored the contest directions: They made some play on a chemistry term but defined it as something outside the realm of chemistry. This group included, as it turns out, Gene Weingarten in his only entry (sent pseudonymously as usual). Gene’s term, which might have worked in one of our change-by-one-letter contests: “Deoxyribonucleic Cid -- El Cid’s brainy younger brother, Gene.” No ink for Gene.
It’s the, wow, seventh Inker for Christopher Lamora, who’s down in Guatemala City representing the State Department, but who helpfully lets me mail his prizes to his house in Arlington. Seven Inkers out of 129 blots total — Christopher didn’t start Inviting until Week 733 — must be among the highest Naked Man-to-Ink ratios ever.
Beth Baniszewski — one of numerous MIT alumni among the Losers — first gained Invite success more than a decade ago as a student in Loser Kelly Midgley-Biggs’s high school English class in Columbia (Kelly offered extra credit for Invite ink). She lay low for a while, but we’re glad to see her back and adding to her now-53 inks, including seven above the fold. A huge week for Marcy Alvo, whose two D.C.-political entries (links are provided) bumped her life total from 11 to 13 (but already three “above the fold”). And Perennial Mystery Man Lawrence McGuire approaches his 100th ink (with 15 big blots) while still avoiding being sighted by the Empress. (Perhaps the Flushies in September?)
UNSAVORY ELEMENTS: THE SCARLET LETTER
After a week in which nothing really horrifying (except in quality) was sent in for the “Star-Spangled Banner” parodies, the Losers rebounded somewhat with some unprintable chemical terms:
Vic Krysko, of the Invitational’s Thai Island Paradise Bureau, offered the “Large Hardon Collider: A machine to study the effects of the collision of macho rivals.” And Jeff Contompasis, of the Ashburn, Va., Paradise Bureau (no photo found), sent in “Penisillin’: Saltpeter.” But this week’s Scarlet Letter goes to Chris Doyle for “Monsantorum: Leading producer of agricultural seed froth.” As in [warning: disgusting definition here] .
THE LOSER SOCIAL WHIRL (you must be THIS tall to ride this ride)
LAST WEEK: Last Saturday’s special-edition Loser Brunch was especially fun, as 14 Losers and Loser Auxiliaries gathered in Northern Virginia for three full hours of gorging and gabbing. The most notable brunchers were Loser Dave Komornik and his wife, Kelly, who were in town from way down in Danville, Va. (this week’s prize, the porta-john-cleaner hat, is discourtesy of Dave); and Amanda Yanovitch, a rookie Loser who drove all the way up from the Richmond area ON HER BIRTHDAY — leaving her husband and three young sons at home — to see what we were all about. A group photo and a few others are here; many more are on Facebook at the Style Invitational Devotees page. (Join!)
THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE: If you’d like to converse with some Losers but also find some intellectual stimulation, you might want to travel up to Baltimore on Sunday morning, July 17, where there will be a brunch at Gertrude’s John Shields’ Restaurant, at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Museum admission is free (and it’s a world-class collection, specializing in 20th-century art) and I’m told that the food at Gertrude’s is very good. I won’t be able to make it, but if you’re interested, contact me at email@example.com and I’ll put you in touch with someone who can give you details.
THE BIG SHEBANG, SEPT 10: Block out a few hours in the late afternoon (a Saturday) for the Losers’ own annual Flushies award “banquet,” this time in the surely more congenial setting of Elden Carnahan’s backyard in Laurel, Md.. The plan is to have catered barbecue, with options for meat-shunners, and I believe one of those tentlike structures. Last year’s Flushies organizers figure that the cost will be less this year than when we had it at the College Park Holiday Inn. While Laurel is a bit of a haul from Virginia, it’s right off I-95 — midway between D.C. and Baltimore — and is easy to get to. And that goes for you, too, Philadelphia- and New York-area people. More details as they emerge over the next weeks. Note: I am absolutely certain that Elden can use a lot of help putting the Flushies together. It’s a rewarding but labor-intensive experience. If you can volunteer some organizing time, e-mail him at elden [dot] carnahan [at] gmail . com.
THE CHATTING CLASSES
I got a wonderful e-mail the other day from Ryan Kellett, who recently joined The Post’s interactivity desk, the department that handles discussion groups such as The Style Conversational. I’d mentioned that while it seems that a fair number of people read my column here every week, very few of them anymore leave comments and get a discussion going in this venue, probably because it can be hard to use. Most of the commenters have either migrated to the Facebook group Style Invitational Devotees — where the chatting is lively and 100 percent civil; there are now 180 members — or have returned to Losernet, the private e-mail group that’s out of sight for me.
Ryan, of course, wishes that everyone would come back here, and he enthusiastically suggested measures to publicize this group; he even put it on the Post’s home page! And he invited commenters to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with problems, especially ones that might be specific to their computers or mobile devices. But given the much greater success of the Devotees page on Facebook, it may be best to just continue to have my column here and the discussion there. (If you have trouble locating the Facebook group, e-mail me and I’ll sign up you up.)