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

Week 941: What Mary Ann Madden would never say ... and what Bob Staake just might

In this week’s contest, once again, we sincerely flatter the Unwilling Grandma of The Style Invitational, Mary Ann Madden, editor of the New York Magazine Competition for 973 installments (leisurely spread out over 30 years) until her retirement (and the contest’s demise) in 2000. It was Ms. Madden whose rejection of a single name-chain entry many, many years ago from a young New Yorker named Gene Weingarten inspired Gene to exact his re-- his tribute to her, decades later: As editor of The Washington Post’s Sunday Style section, he started up a weekly contest in the previously reputable Post in 1993, and recruited an incorrigible character named The Czar to run it.

While the two contests were similar in structure — and from the beginning, the Invite “borrowed” both contest subjects (lavishly credited) and some of the contestants themselves — The Czar’s winners were often of a significantly earthier bent than those of La Madden. Evidently she wasn’t wildly honored to be the subject of The Czar’s homage; she wrote one reader that The Post had “arrogated” her contest.

And here we are, arrogating away once again. This time we were prompted not by one of our ubiquitous Losers who used to get frequent ink in NY Mag, such as Chris Doyle, John O’Byrne or Edmund Conti, but by an occasional Loser and longtime Washingtonian named Courtney Knauth, who enjoyed reading one set of New York Magazine results so much that she remembered a couple of the “what they didn’t say” entries — and so precisely that we were able to track down the entire set of June 30,1986, results of that contest on Google Books. (And sure enough, there’s Ed Conti’s name, along with those of sometime-Losers Sheila Blume and Don Hauptman.)

As impressive and numerous as these results are, we should be able to avoid duplicating them a quarter-century later. You’ll have 25 more years’ worth of of names to work with, for one thing, though I’m not restricting entries to names better known since 1986 (maybe I should have, she wondered at 1 a.m. Friday). And to those Losers who’ve been griping about the Invite’s new 25-entry limit and my requirement that there be a line of space between two entries: Note that for the New York Magazine Competition, you had to type your entry on a postcard and mail it in. And that was one entry per person. (Or actually, it seems, one entry per name: One illustrious Loser reports having received 12 inks in a single NYMag contest — under 12 different monikers, and 12 postcards.)


Amid a run of contests that generated overwhelming Loser response — the foreign-term neologisms, the Edward Lear limericks, the movie mashups — this twist on our recurring contest featuring Bob Staake’s picture-book artwork drew a relatively small response (just regular whelming) from the Greater Loser Community. It might have been that the lush colors and busy scenes of Bob’s Photoshop-based compositions made them harder to see (especially in the print paper) than Bob’s usual cartoons for us. Some of the consistently prolific Losers offered just two or three entries; “I believe this is the shortest entry I’ve ever submitted,” one of them noted.

’Sokay. We ended up with a fun, varied assortment of captions that interpret these appropriately oddball pictures in even odderball ways.

The Inker this week goes to a Loser who’s been with the Invite since it all began; Stephen Dudzik got his first ink in Week 7, and his 485th blot today — in those final steps to the Invite Hall of Fame — and his 14th win. I especially liked how Steve’s caption for the picture from “Pets Go Pop” (a pop-up book) took note of the boy’s green head (elderberry); the drink; Mr. Wilson (the picture on the wall); and of course Mrs. Wilson.

It turns out to be the second week in a row that Jim Reagan ends up with the gag prize for second place — last time the Slap Ya Mama spice mix, and this time the dress created by Loser Barbara Turner from two Loser T-shirts. (Jim, if there’s no one of small-woman size who can fit into it at your household, I can send you a regular shirt and we’ll get the dress to a good home. Otherwise, I demand pix.) Jim’s entry for the Little Golden Book “I’m a Truck” was the only one to see the truck as sticking out the car window. (This was also Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford’s favorite of the truck entries.)

Lynn’s favorite among all the entries — her weekly North Carolina “Haw!” — goes to the third-place winner, Art Grinath’s wry comment on the agreeable, loyal character of man’s not-always-best friend. And up-and-coming rookie Larry Gray of Middle of Nowhere, Md., gets his sixth ink and first above the fold since his Week 923 debut.

Maybe I just tossed them with an “are you kidding???” rather than remembering to save them for this venue, but I’m surprised to say that I don’t recall anything horribly risque among the caption entries. I did think this one by Chris Doyle for Picture C was just too sick: “Olivia was just too young to attain the inner peace required for a successful self-immolation.” So I think an honorary Scarlet Letter should go to Bob Staake himself for perennial inappropriateness in drafts of his Invitational cartoons. At least he’s learning to self-edit a bit, as evidenced by Bob’s own alteration (so to speak) of the cartoon that accompanied the limerick example about a man with a “beard.”


We’re now up to 247 members of the Style Invitational Devotees Facebook group — and it’s just about entirely replaced this site as a place for public Loserly discussion, bantering, sharing, venting, etc. It’s also where I’m most likely to see questions quickly about the new contest. So, really, join up and check the page once in a while. Facebook has changed things so that you’re no longer bombarded with e-mails.


Newly reinstalled Loserfest Pope Kyle Hendrickson has just announced a late-in-the-year version of the annual weekend trip open to all interested Losers and anyone interested in communing with them:

This year it’ll be the World Punkin Chunkin Championship in the small town of Bridgeville, Del., about 60 miles past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge (so a possible day trip for those who can’t spare the whole weekend), followed by dinner and an overnight stay at a very nice bed-and-breakfast in Rehoboth Beach (or at a more modest spot; your call). Here’s the whole Papal Bull:

Saturday, November 5, 12 p.m. – Smashing Pumpkins
What: Attending the World Punkin Chunkin Championship. 18657 Sussex Highway, Bridgeville, DE is at the closest major intersection.

Watch competitors use cannons, trebuchets and a variety other contraptions to blast, hurl and otherwise propel pumpkins as far as they can into a field. The event will be recorded and broadcast on the SciFi channel on Thanksgiving Day. It runs from Friday to Sunday, but we’ll be attending Saturday afternoon. If your desire to see stuff smashed is insatiable, you can always stop from more Punkin Chunkin on the way back home. Or catch reruns of Gallagher.

The event costs $10.00 for adults. Children under 10 are free. Parking is free.... What to bring: Blankets, chairs, cooler filled with drinks (yes, alcohol is permitted), snacks, binoculars, lucky rabbits foot, anything to make you more comfortable. What we’ll eat: It’s your call. Eat before arriving, or eat what you bring or eat vendor tent food (funnel cakes, hot dogs, squirrel and other fair/carnival food).

4:30ish – Beachy Keen
Once we’ve had our fill of punkin chunkin, we’ll head to Rehoboth and check-in to our hotel(s). Here’s the official Loserfest Lodging Location (though you are welcome to stay where you like):
The Bellmoor Inn*Spa*Gardens
6 Christian Street Rehoboth, DE 19971

I picked this hotel because it’s on Christian Street. Kidding. I picked it because it was given a 4-out-of-5-star rating on the Internet. Plus, their website was fancy-schmancy. It’s pricier than some other hotels [$169 and up], but you get what you pay for and I, for one, have stayed at too many odiferous, loud and poorly run hotels. Don’t delay, book today!

The room rate includes breakfast, served from 7 to 10:30. As a result, breakfast on Sunday will be here. The hotel is two blocks away from the beach. If you want an ocean view, you’ll have to stay elsewhere. You need to make your own reservation. Do I look like your mother?

7:00 p.m. – Dinner at Dogfish Head Brewery & Eats
I chose this restaurant because they have a variety of food to suit a variety of tastes. It has nothing to do with the beer. It has nothing to do with the beer. It has nothing to do with the beer. Okay, I lied. It has something to do with the beer.

8:30 p.m. – Saltwater Boarding
After dinner, and weather permitting, we’ll walk along the Rehoboth boardwalk to enjoy the coastal breeze, as we slip in and out of shops to buy salt water taffy (a Delaware state law) and possibly grab some dessert. Besides saltwater taffy, I mean.

10 p.m. – Rehaboth
You can sleep when you’re dead. In the meantime, let’s go have a few drinks at a local bar.

Sunday, 10 a.m. — Breakfast
For those of use staying at the Bellmoor, breakfast will be here because it’s complimentary. However, if enough people stay elsewhere I will consider changing the location for breakfast. I might even let others know if this happens.

If you’d like to join any part of Loserfest Weekend — and who can resist a pumpkin shot with a trebuchet? — e-mail Pope Kyle at kjhendrickson [at] gmail [dot] com, and he’ll give you the rest of the details. I don’t know yet if the Royal Consort and I can make it.

Now back to the Lear Limericks.

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