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

Week 965: Another time around the track — but what will the grand prize be?


By the E, Pat Myers

This is an exceedingly long post. I don’t want you to miss the stuff at the bottom, so you might want to wait till later to read the lengthy top section, “The Horse-Names Contest: Its History and How You Can Improve Your Chances of Getting Ink,” and instead skip down for now to:
II. An Interim Inker Replacement
III. The Results of Week 961
IV. Unprintable Entries for Same
and/or V. Last Call for Saturday’s Loser Brunch

Here we are once again at the starting gate for Week 965, the 18th annual Run for the ... um, well, we’re not quite certain. We’re pretty sure it won’t be an Inker. (More on that in the next section.).

The contest variously called “What Kind of Foal Am I,” “April Foals,” “Fun for the Roses,” “It’s Post Time,” and “Foaling Around” debuted in Week 113 (1995), at the suggestion of already-an-Invite-veteran Mike Hammer, who also happens to be a serious horse player (but not a detective). “This is an old game among horse breeders,” the Czar noted at the time, since racehorses are often named to reflect their parentage; for example, Seabiscuit’s father was Hard Tack, whose father was Man O’War. The Invite printed the complete list of horses nominated for that year’s Triple Crown races (it’s a new set of horses each year, since only 3-year-olds race in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont), though the list comprised about 200 horses rather than the 400-plus these days.

Three weeks later, the Czar announced: “A gigantic response: 18,000 entries from 1,550 people. Neither number, we are delighted to report, is a record. Mary Lee Fox Roe of Mount Kisco, N.Y., alone submitted 502 entries, which, we are truly saddened to report, is also not a record. You folks need to obtain lives.” Given that there was no electronic way to count entries back then (and hardly is now), one might take that figure with a lick of salt. But it was clear that the contest was a keeper. And we haven’t skipped a year since.

The first set of winners:

Eighth Runner-Up: Quiet Deception x You’re the One = Nixon’s the One (Russell Beland, Springfield)
Seventh Runner-Up: Copy Editor x Bungee Jumper = Danglin’ Participle (Mary W. Matthews, Germantown)
Sixth Runner-Up: Evanston x Fort Wayne = Sucky Travel Agent (Peter Johnson, Alexandria)
Fifth Runner-Up: De Niro x Wild Gump = Duh Niro (Kitty Thuermer, Washington)
Fourth Runner-Up: Mystical Canyon x Uptown Bear = Yogi Bear (Mary Lee Fox Roe, Mount Kisco, N.Y.)
Third Runner-Up: Nostra x Picnicker = Nosepicker (Mike Thring, Leesburg)
Second Runner-Up: Easily Moved x King James = Royal Flush (Harold Mantle, Darnestown)
First Runner-Up: King James x Hare Raising = Bible Thumper (Paul Kondis, Alexandria)
And the winner of the White House wooden Easter egg: Dazzling Falls x Gaily Gold = Louganis (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)

By the next year, the “above the fold” list was more manageable, and the entries more like the ones getting most of the ink today — most notably, the foal names don’t contain words from the parents’ names (it’s not a disqualifier even today, but USUALLY such entries aren’t as clever as ones that don’t repeat the word):

Third Runner-Up: Mate Monkey Seventeen with Grindstone and name the foal Rhesus Pieces (Tommy Litz, Bowie)
Second Runner-Up: Mate On Line with Gotcha and name the foal Mitsubishi (Charlie Myers, Laurel)
First Runner-Up: Mate Blow Out with Editor’s Note and name the foal “Alleged” Unabomber (Jessica Steinhice, Washington)
And the winner of the prize so disgusting its name cannot be spoken: Mate Call for Change with Tiz the Whiz and name the foal Pay Toilet (Russ Beland, Springfield)

Toilets always did bring a special thrill to the Czar. Actually, I don’t get the second runner-up ...
Over the years, especially during my tenure, we’ve made some modifications in the contest. In his last year before being deposed (2003), the Czar instituted a 25-entry limit for the horse contest. The next spring, I stupidly didn’t continue the entry limit but at least trimmed the list of horse names to 100 (a mix of likely top race finishers and a bunch of names that seemed good to work with) — a change that Chris Doyle greeted enthusiastically by noting that now he could consider every possible combination of those hundred names.

While that was my first year as Empress, I’d judged this contest in 2001, in the role of Auxiliary Czar while the Czar was off writing one of several screenplays that have not yet made it to the screen. And I was just overwhelmed with hundreds and hundreds of clever entries; that’s the week I ended putting something like 150 entries online (the first Invite Web supplement, not to be repeated for a long time), for of more than 200 blots of ink in all. Russell Beland alone got 20 entries published. It was probably a mistake to run so many, but I had not yet developed the icy-heartedness that has enabled me to slash page after page of printout with my Pen of Death, signifying “No Ink Here.”

Actually, I no longer work from printouts for this contest, and instead do a systematic Ctrl-F search through all the combined entries, one horse name at a time, and compile the names I like, and, eventually, drastically cull that list until I have the 50 or so names that get ink. And yes, nerdy people, that does mean that I’m looking at the vast majority of entries twice -- once for each horse in the combination. It’s good that I do, because it’s possible that I won’t fully appreciate the joke at first glance.

This is why I beg you to spell the horse’s name right in your entry. I try to search on just part of the horse’s name, but it’s amazing what people will send in sometimes.

We’ve published the entries in a number of different formats over the years: “Mate xxx with xxx and name the foal zzzz”; “Xxxxx + Yyyyy” = Zzzz; maybe once or twice the names were in all capitals. This year, as last, they’ll be “Aaaaa x Bbbbbb = Cccccc.” I won’t object if you use that format. Please do not use all capital letters; that means I have to retype them.

Which horse to name first in the pair? Sometimes it doesn’t matter; other times the order enhances the clarity of the joke. Let’s look at last year’s top four, in which I think the order helped the humor of each of the entries:

1. Cloud Man x Extra Fifty = Meatierologist (Jonathan Paul)
2. Old Guys Rule x Brilliant Speed = Balder Dash (Dudley Thompson)
3. Archarcharch x Pants on Fire = Frying Buttresses (Jeff Contompasis)
4. Midnight Interlude x Litigate = Run Around, Sue (Beverley Sharp)

Cloud Man sets up first the expected word “meteorologist,” and then Extra Fifty functions as a punch line to note the change to “meatier.” It’s a similar story with Archarcharch setting up “flying buttresses and Pants on Fire coming along to change to “frying.” Meanwhile, in the other two entries, the first and second parents’ names correspond with the first and second elements of the foal’s name: Balder and Dash, and Run Around and Sue.

DISAPPEARING INKER

One of several changes that the Empress brought with her as she snatched the crown from the head of the fallen Czar in Week 536 was the institution of the Inker as first prize; until then, the gag prize would be given to the winner each week. I wanted to award something that, no matter how silly or cheap, would look like a prize, and could be put on display as some kind of award (even though at least one of our Losers was sharply advised by a real estate agent to put those things away immediately).

After shopping around in 2003 for possibly suitable trophies, and finding out that custom-made bobbleheads were beyond the budget, I discovered a knickknack that seemed to be offered by every cheesy-decorating website on the planet: a pair of “Thinker” bookends. Made of a fragile resin pretentiously called Alabastrite and standing a cute 7 inches high, they retailed for about $20 a pair and were available in bulk for almost half that. Carol Porter of The Post’s art department designed a template for a kraft-paper bag to put over the Thinker’s head in embarrassment, and we had ... the Inker.

I’d buy the things, 15 or 25 or 50 pairs at a time, from whichever vendor had the best price at the moment. A week or two later, they’d arrive in little boxes within a huge packing box, and I’d inspect each one to make sure it hadn’t broken (that step tended to happen in the final mailing). This went on many times for more than eight years.

A few days ago I ventured into the Invite Prize Closet (actually some lower shelves and floor space) in the newsroom and saw that there was only one pair left. So I sat down and Googled “thinker bookends” and found lots of sites, as usual. What was not usual was that they were all out of stock, one after another. Finally I found one that didn’t say that, and ordered 50 pairs. An hour later I was sent my money back. No stock. This happened with four successive vendors. (And you thought I sat around all day judging your entries.) As of this morning, I am still waiting to hear back from one more vendor, but I have no reason to think that it will be any different, unless this one doesn’t give me my money back.

Meanwhile, we’ll be having some Style Invitational winners who’ll be winning trophies. And while we ponder what to do — find something that’s funny, that’s related to the Invite in some way, that looks like a prize, and that’s dirt-cheap (suggestions welcome) — I’ve ordered, in the interim, what seem to be the last 15 in existence of this fine bobblehead. With a similar head bag, it will become, yes, the Inkin’ Memorial. You are welcome. Unless that last dubious cheesy-decorating source comes through with Inkers, the winners of Weeks 963 through 977 will get the Nodding Republican.

LENGTH MATTERS: THE RESULTS OF WEEK 961

Much like their predecessors in our chain of rhopalic passages and ridiculous variations thereof, the entries in Week 961 — a piece of writing in which all the words had to have the same number of letters — tended to be more wow-clever than pffflrrrt!!!!-funny. But wow-clever is also funny, in a less pffflrrrty way, and we did have some amazing examples of that — especially Chris Doyle’s multiple lists of entries and definitions for various perennial Invite contests ... all in seven-letter words.

Chris’s comprehensive recounting of the entire Romney-dog road trip, all in four-letter words, wasn’t too shabby either, earning him one of the last Inkers ever (though I hope he’ll continue to decline it as he’s been doing for a few years now; Chris has, after all, 44 first-place finishes, most of them in the Inker era — by far the most of anyone).

Gary Crockett appropriately “wins” the bags of chocolate Democrap and Repooplican donkey and elephant dung for his chiding of Rick Santorum — a man who, I’m sure, has had other strings of four-letter words directed at him, but not like these. Craig Dykstra scores with an all-four-letter Your Mama joke — I think I’ve gotten at least one YM entry ever since we did the contest for those jokes back in Week 932; and John Glenn scores with what for him is rare non-political humor as his And Last-type seven-letter-word sentence about the Empress’s career path poked upstairs to earn him a shirt, mug or, now, bag.

Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford is back with her weekly HAW — her fave this week was yet another one by Chris Doyle, the personal ad with a long list of seven-letter qualifications and desires.

NO WY: THE UNPRINTABLES

First up, as he is so often in this department, is the incorrigible Tom Witte, who specializes in the pithy as well as in the fi’thy:

Ef me as if it is Pa.

Tom also suggested the same sentence with “Ma.”

But the Scarlet Letter this week goes to the famously unpithy Nan Reiner for this crafty all-six-letter “ad” for an artwork donated to The Style Invitational, for what I hope can be a future prize: a hand-knitted re-creation of a woman’s nether region; dozens of them were sent to male members of Congress after the highly male-dominated efforts to restrict the availablility of contraception:
Ladies: Miffed? Ensure THEY’re muffed! Deftly avenge health panel’s rebuff. Crafty retort: Create, bestow fabric “women’s secret places.” Vicuna vagina, anyone? Mohair merkin? Silken cervix? Artful scheme, worthy effort. Alpaca carton!

LAST CALL: LOSER BRUNCH SATURDAY AT 11!

We have 14 signed up so far, including Ann Martin, who’s visiting from England. It’s at Paradiso on Franconia Road in outer Alexandria/Springfield. Convenient, convivial and delicious. We’re always interested in meeting new Losers and reconnecting with old, shriveled-up ones, so RSVP to Elden Carnahan right here. I’ll be out of town on April 15, so I’ll have to miss the brunch at Cafe Deluxe across from Washington National Cathedral, but we had a great time there last year.

And again, get your checks in for the Flushies, Saturday afternoon, May 12. Details here.

 
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