Score 1 for the Style Invitational: 20 Years of our irreverent humor/wordplay contest

Bob Staake for The Washington Post

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The Style Invitational is no longer a teenager – yes, it was 20 years ago this week that the humor contest emerged mewling and puking into The Post’s Sunday Style section. But it will be forever adolescent.

It’s not Beavis & Butt-head adolescence, though. It’s sophisticated juvenility, mixing the haughty and the potty. In more than 1,000 weekly contests so far, literary, political, historical references — and constantly clever wordplay — bump up against toilet and sex jokes, sometimes within the same contest entry. As one of our Loser Magnet prizes says, the Invitational is all about “putting the rude in erudition.”

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We know of no other newspaper contest in America in which FDR’s 1933 Bank Holiday is termed “a case of the runs,” courtesy of a contestant who’s a top Pentagon official.

For a decade under the its founder, the Czar (a certain Washington Post humor columnist who insisted on a gimmick of anonymity, as if 1.3 zillion references to “underpants” weren’t a giveaway), and then under the Empress since she deposed him mercilessly, and mirthfully, in December 2003, the Invite has shared the inspired work of almost 5,000 dedicated readers, many of whom proudly call themselves the Losers, after the “Loser” emblazoned across coveted runner-up T-shirts. They’ve offered up the funniest, cleverest, smartest (and sometimes grossest) material over a huge variety of genres — from sonnets to neologisms to Your Mama jokes — for no material reward for their “ink” (Loser-speak for a published entry) except for paper-thin refrigerator magnets and the occasional cheap tote bag, coffee mug or owl-vomit bolus. Which is a good thing, considering newspaper budgets these days.

This week we look back on some of the best entries of the past decade, just as the Czar did 10 years ago. And once again, you get to try to top any of them yourself.

Oh, that “mewling and puking” in the first paragraph? Yeah, I stole it from Shakespeare, as I like it. Larceny is part of our proud tradition: The Invitational itself was shamelessly patterned after the venerable New York Magazine Competition, which the Czar entered as a youth, failed to win, and solemnly vowed to someday plagiarize for a great metropolitan daily.

The NYMC died several years ago, after 973 installments. We’re now at Week 1011.

Yeah, do the math. We used to be Number Two, but now we’re Number One.

Be sure to check out the many segments of this 20th-anniversary Style Invitational retrospective: classic limericks; song parodies; neologisms (new words); horse “breeding” and “joint legislation”; and dozens of other winning entries from the past decade. Plus how to enter this week’s new contest, and a look at the Losers and their remarkable subculture. And even more! See the index of articles here.

This week’s contest: Week 1011: Enter any of the contests mentioned in this whole collection..

myersp@washpost.com

 
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