Style Invitational, Week 827: Caller IDiot

(Bob Staake for The Washington Post)
Saturday, July 25, 2009

To the customer service line for Sylvania Double Soft White Light Bulbs:

Gene: I have a complaint about these products. They're not soft.

Robert: I'm sorry?

Gene: Your package says they're soft, but they're not. They smash just like any other bulbs. I've smashed 12 of them already.

The other day, the Empress received an instant message from her comrade-in-toilet-humor Gene Weingarten, writer of the Below the Beltway column in The Washington Post Magazine. "I am making 800-number calls," he reported. "You know, you could do an Invite on that. First lines to ask."

The Empress thought this was a pretty swell idea, and she and Gene continued to talk at length about how the contest would work -- who would judge, when we'd do it, would you need the real phone number, etc.

It was not till three hours later that it dawned on the Empress that she had done the identical contest three years ago -- and that Gene had chosen the winners.

So if neither of us remembered, what better excuse to do it again? This week: Name a real product or company and supply a stupid question or complaint for the consumer hotline person. This year's twist: Not only will Weingarten choose the top winners, but he also promises to call the top four 800-numbers for customer questions and complaints (the ones on the packages), and ask the questions, provided they're supplied along with the entry. So: You don't have to send in the 800-number; your entry doesn't even have to be for a product that offers one. But you won't make the top four. See for a link to the 2006 results; one way not to be duplicative is to write about a new product or to use a current angle.

Winner gets the Inker, the official Style Invitational trophy. Second place gets, courtesy of genuine economist Russell Beland, a Magic 8-Ball imitation that advises, "Buy now," "bear market ahead," etc. This is the same model that Tim Geithner uses. Ben Bernanke juggles several and goes with the most promising answer.

Other runners-up win a coveted Style Invitational Loser T-shirt or Loser Mug. Honorable mentions get one of the lusted-after Style Invitational Magnets. First Offenders get a smelly tree-shaped air "freshener" (Fir Stink for their First Ink). One prize per entrant per week. Send your entries by e-mail to or by fax to 202-334-4312. Deadline is Monday, Aug. 3. Put "Week 827" in the subject line of your e-mail or it risks being ignored as spam. Include your name, postal address and phone number with your entry. Contests are judged on the basis of humor and originality. All entries become the property of The Washington Post. Entries may be edited for taste or content. Results will be published Aug. 22. No purchase required for entry. Employees of The Washington Post and their immediate relatives are not eligible for prizes. Pseudonymous entries will be disqualified. This week's honorable-mentions name is by Kevin Dopart; next week's revised title was submitted by both Kevin Dopart and Michael Turniansky.

Report From Week 823

In which we sought haiku about current events -- "haiku," for our purposes, being any three-line poem with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second and five in the third. Many, many fine entries this week, although a lot of entries weren't by any stretch about any current event, and some people seemed unable to count to five or seven. The contest week coincided with the Iranian riots, the deaths of several celebrities, and the odd Father's Day vacation of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

The Winner of the Inker

Sanford and Spitzer,
Blagojevich, McGreevey:
All NEED governors. (Dave Zarrow, Reston)

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