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

Week 957: Grading on a curve with symmetrical sentences; and across and down with the backward crossword

By the E, Pat Myers

Given all the gushing praise I got from the Losers about the rhopalic-sentence contests in Week 848 and Week 852 (sample entry for Week 848: “I DO NOT LIKE THESE STUPID EMPRESS CONTESTS!”; another: “Re 848: This sucks.”), each week yielded a batch of clever, creative results, with remarkably natural-sounding sentences. Here are the results of Week 852 (below the new contest, natch); there’s a link to the the Week 848 results in the introduction to this week’s Invite.

So I was immediately enthusiastic when Craig Dykstra suggested this one more twist — he’d thought of it, he said, after reminiscing over the rhopalic contests with Lois Douthitt and Mark Richardson at the recent Losers’ Holiday Party (Mark remembered, verbatim, Lois’s shirt-winning entry “My bra fits lower, dammit, because gravity’s heartless”).

While there weren’t enough good results for Week 848 to fill the page, I’m not concerned: For one thing, our page is smaller now; and for another, I can always run another obit poem or two.
I’ve tried to anticipate questions about what counts as a word for this contest, and have spelled out a number of rules (e.g., I said “passage,” not sentence, because the entry may consist of more than one sentence). But there will inevitably be some other rulings to be made; I prefer to take them on the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook, where hundreds of people at a time can read my Great Pronouncements, but I’ll also take them on e-mail. (Yes, yes, I’ll also look here on the Conversational, but I don’t have it open on my computer 20 hours a day, as I do Facebook and e-mail.)

One point about hyphenated words: Note that I said “compound words joined with hyphens” could count as either one or two words. A compound word results from two words being joined together, not a word with a mere prefix or suffix. So “two-inch penis” may be counted as two or three words for the purpose of this contest, but “non-cute penis” does not count as three words, because “non” is not a word. (Really, this Empress job is just like being a Talmudic scholar.)


After six previous Clue Us In (or Haven’t Got a Clue) contests, I was a bit concerned that the theme had played itself out. For one thing, I was worried that the crossword we used would end up repeating a bunch of words from the previous contests. But once again, Bob Klahn of CrosSynergy syndicate, the syndicate that provides the daily crosswords in The Post, dug up a puzzle for me that he thought would be especially fruitful. And it was. (It originally ran this past October.) Thanks again to Bob for doing me this favor for nothing more than gratitude and the immense glory that goes with having your name in minuscule letters in the Style Invitational.

As usual with a contest that doesn’t require a ton of work to produce an entry or two, I heard from lots of entrants, including dozens of new ones. And it was a relief, I have to tell you, to judge this contest for the first time with the 25-entry limit in place; in past years, a lot of people had seen it as a challenge to submit at least one entry for the 70-some words on the grid.

Dropping the numbers from the grid (done to be able to make the letters bigger and clearer in the print paper) turned out to be useful in the judging as well: Every year I’d beg people to include the pertinent word with each entry, rather than just “32 Across,” which I’d then have to look up on the grid. And every year a lot of people would omit the word anyway. So that was a problem I didn’t have to deal with this year — except for one entry that still referred to the clues only by number! The person, I guess, went and counted them out!

I judged the contest very systematically: I sat at the computer with my anonymous master list of all the entries, and searched electronically for all the entries submitted for each word, one at a time. When I saw one I liked, I copied it onto my short­list, compiling as many as 10 different good clues for a single word. When similar or identical clues popped up, I’d pull them as well and group them until it was clear there were too many for anyone to get credit. (In the past, especially when I posted one clue for every word, I’d sometimes use those clues and just credited “many entrants,” but there was no need to this year.) After assembling that list of probably 200 entries, I chopped it in half, and then chopped again after bouncing the list off a friend.

The print paper has a healthy 33 entries, and there are another 15 or so online. That’s a lot for a contest like this, even though they don’t take much space, because a reader has to puzzle a lot of them out; it can make the brain ache. I’m hoping the online links will help the confused reader; after a couple of people had no idea what some of the entries meant, I added a few outright explanations in brackets after the Losers’ names (when a link wouldn’t have done the trick). The explanations aren’t in the print paper; instead, there’s a line inviting readers to check out the online version. (Normally I’m not a fan of using the print paper as basically a preview of, but you really do miss a lot if you don’t see the Invite online; best, of course, is to see both, especially if you like to spend time reading in the bathroom.)

This week’s Inker winner was for me an easy call — I laughed out loud when I read it, and Style Invitational Lynn Medford called it her fave as well. (We are starting to agree on the winners with disturbing frequency.) It’s by Seth Brown, who was the Losers’ Rookie of the Year nine years ago, back when he was finishing college and soon after. Seth was a busy Loser for a few years — he had 231 inks, including seven Inkers, before this week — but then actually got a job or something and didn’t enter at all for a couple of years recently. I’m glad he’s back.

Second and third place go to more frequent ink-garnerers: to Barbara Turner, famed for her prize donations of two different-style dresses made of various Loser T-shirts (it’s her 82nd ink, 13th “above the fold”) and Barry Koch, inimitable song parodist and that rare someone whom you’re likely to use “gentlemanly” and “Loser” to describe. (It’s 95 inks all-time for Barry, also 13 above the fold.) Our fourth-place mug or T-shirt goes to a relative stranger, Robert Gallagher. This is just Robert’s sixth ink ... but! Of those six inks, two were runners-up, and one got the Inker — as a First Offender in Week 764. (Chuck Norris jokes: Chuck Norris doesn’t need to bathe. He just breaks your nose so you can’t smell.) I think Robert ought to be sending us a lot more stuff.


The next Loser brunch will be on Sunday, Feb., 19, at 11 a.m. at Buddy’s Crabs and Ribs, set picturesquely right by the City Dock in historic Annapolis. We had the Flushies there some years ago; it wasn’t great for that event because we couldn’t perform song parodies in the middle of a restaurant, but the lunch buffet was great. I think I’ll be able to go if I can ride with someone; the Royal Consort will be otherwise occupied. For directions and to RSVP to Founding Loser Elden Carnahan, click here.

And I believe that an announcement is imminent about a site and date for the Flushies, the Loser-coordinated awards banquet. I think I am permitted to say that it will be (a) in mid-May; (b) indoors; and (c) in a place with plumbing. The organizers are hoping for at least 70 people.

Also, Stephen Gold of Glasgow, Scotland, who won the obit-poem last week, has decided to come to the States to pick up his Inker in person. He and his wife will be in Washington probably the first weekend in June. We will surely work up a welcoming contingent.

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