Peeps Show 2
Monday, March 24, 2008; 1:00 PM
Washington Post staff writer Dan Zak was online Monday, March 24, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the results of Sunday Source's annual
A transcript follows.
Dan Zak: Good afternoon. It's 1 p.m., so you could be chatting with a professor and a blogger about Race, Gender and the Democratic Party, but instead you are here to talk about the artistic implementation of Peeps. Can't say I blame you. Please, let's have a challenging, spirited discussion that has nothing to do with race, gender or the Democratic Party.
Silver Spring, Md.: Given the timing of the contest and the announcement of the winners on Easter Sunday, can you explain why none of the finalists reflected any connection to Passover or Easter?
Dan Zak: Someone submitted a crucifixion diorama. As in, Peeps nailed to crosses. It was our only religion-oriented submission, as I recall. If we'd published it, the angry e-mails would have gone on forever. (Side note: It was submitted by someone under the pseudonym "Judas Ascarypeep.")
23112: I nuked a peep Sunday afternoon, and holy yummy! It got really chewy and just a little caramelized. I highly recommend it... 30 seconds or less.
Dan Zak: Google "Peep jousting." Play, then eat.
Reston, Va.: Just my two cents, worth about one penny. I liked the dioramas. Most of them, though, just seemed to use Peeps to portray some well-known event or scene. Peeps were just material to work with. Only one, Peep Art, seemed to capture the concept of Peeps as art. I liked the whole idea that the essence of Pop Art can be Peeps. Though most of the dioramas showed great craftsmanship, Peep Art showed great imagination and artistic (conceptual) creativity.
Dan Zak: Agreed. "Peep Art," as the creators said, took the concept to another level. Finalist "Nightmare in Pink" did the same, too, I think. The art form is perhaps reaching its adolescence: already we see it evolving from strict recreations to abstract commentary.
Beezy, D.C.: Do you get more "peep" entries from D.C., Maryland or Virginia? And what does that say about the distribution of creative talent across the area?
Dan Zak: Of the finalists and semifinalists, the most (43 percent) had at least one creator living in Virginia. Maryland was next (25 percent), followed very closely by D.C. (23 percent). Nine percent of that group had creators from out of town.
Washington, D.C.: How much were the judges influenced by the simple looks of the dioramas, independent of themes?
Dan Zak: Two things are important to us judges: concept and execution. A good Peep diorama gets high marks in both WHAT is depicted and HOW it is depicted. I'd say "Nightmare in Pink" stopped all of us in our tracks because of its arresting presentation. But it also had content to back it up: What does a Peep have nightmares about? Answer: Getting eaten. Ho ho. So, yes, exquisite execution always influences our decisions, but usually there is something more to it than looks.
Centreville, Va.: My family loves the peeps! We've really enjoyed them the last 2 years.
Can I suggest a children's competition as well next year?
Dan Zak: Children should be focused on their studies.
Springfield, Va.: As someone who entered the contest and was a semi-finalist, I have to say this was a really fun experience and I look forward to next year's.
Dan Zak: We're glad. People love the contest, and we love them for loving it. Everyone gets a good dose of crazy for a couple weeks.
Columbus, Ohio: Where are these on display? I MUST see them in person.
Dan Zak: Book a flight to Washington, you nutty Ohioan. Many of the semifinalists and finalists will be at Artomatic starting in May (www.artomatic.org).
Hunt Valley, Md.: The finalists the Post picked this year are great! My mom and I actually submitted an entry and although we weren't finalists, we're curious about suggestions for how to win over the judges next year. Any tips?
Dan Zak: Given the caliber of the entrees these past two years, you need to devote your life to planning and constructing the diorama. Start now. Brainstorm. Don't leave it til the last minute. As mentioned above, you need to wow us with both concept AND execution. (A pun is great, for example, but it needs to be backed by serious artistry.) If you're not crafty, find a friend who's a quick draw with a glue gun and pair up.
Washington, D.C.: Dan, non-peep related question. Was that really you in the pics from the article you did on local spas several months ago? If so, I totally want to buy you a drink.
Dan Zak: Yes, that was me. (I will never live that story down.) Send bottled beer to:
The Washington Post
1150 15th St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20071
From Pinky, D.C.: Which color Peep tastes the best?
I say the pink. They are also the prettiest.
Dan Zak: Hi Pinky. You sound like a very attractive person. I think I was 8 years old the last time I actually ate a Peep, so I consulted fellow staffers. Justin says "Brown is the color of flavor" but Holly says "The brown cocoa ones are awful." So there's that. Joe Heim says avoid the yellow Peeps, but, as a rule, I don't believe anything Joe says.
Washington, D.C.: Two years running this is one of my favorite things the Post does -- because it highlights what I love about the Washington DC area -- people are serious about politics and they are seriously hilarious (and talented!). I traveled to Art-o-Matic last year just to see the real things. I think there were too many great ones to pick only one favorite this year. Cheers to everyone for displaying such creativity -- I don't know how you all choose the finalists?!
I also think you all should consider displaying the finalists around town -- most especially Children's National Medical Center (where I work) I bet a lot of kids and parents would LOVE to see these and most won't get down to Art-o-matic to see them. Children's has traveling art exhibits on display all the time -- check in with their art dept. New Horizons.
Dan Zak: Many people say the same thing: the contest somehow says a lot about Washington, for better or worse. (We think for better.) Will definitely look into CNMC and New Horizons next year.
Burke, Va.: A practical question. Are peeps available for purchase year around?
washingtonpost.com: "Peeps. Always in season." (Just Born Quality Confections)
Dan Zak: Peeps are everywhere, always.
Washington, D.C.: when people use the word "peeps" does it ever get confusing as to whether they are referring to the Easter treat or their homies?
Dan Zak: This is where proper capitalization comes in handy.
McLean, Va.: Congratulations! I think you've outdone the Empress of the Style Invitational with this contest. There are many talented peep-le out there. With much time on their hands. These are works of art that should receive public display. Have you thought of partnering with a local gallery to display the best 40 or so dioramas? I would have suggested the lobby of the Vista Hotel... if the Vista was still around...
Dan Zak: Please do not talk of the Empress in those terms. It's considered light treason. (The dioramas will be on display at Artomatic in May. See www.artomatic.org.)
Vienna, Va.: Did you consider letting people vote for a Peeple's Choice diorama? Would you consider it for next year?
Dan Zak: There's a public poll running right now on the gallery. It's unscientific, though (meaning anyone can vote over and over again). As far as deeming an official "Peeple's Choice," perhaps will take the "winner" from this poll and feature it in an upcoming issue.
My boring office, D.C.: The Peeps article says that the pharaoh in the winning entry was clay with paint -- didn't I read somewhere, however, that the rules said that all the characters had to be Peeps? (just curious -- I thought the winning entry was fantastic!)
Dan Zak: Yes, but it was still a Peep character, you know? So we allowed it. A major violation would be, like, including Barbie dolls or Lego people. That's an affront to the art form.
Cary, N.C.: How many Peeps must a man dioram before they call him Rodin?
What happens to finalists and semi-finalists after their art take them to a higher plane of being? Are there lucrative film offers? Do they blow their winnings on tawdry Easter clearance candy and end up on Peep Rehab reality shows?
Dan Zak: Wow. That is a beautiful lyric. We may use that at some point.
There is such a thing as PPDD, or Post Peep Diorama Depression. Many finalists and semifinalists succumb to it after they finish their masterworks and re-confront the void in which they normally conduct their lives. Also, last year a major studio approached me to write a screenplay about Peeps. I said I'd only do so if Dom DeLuise could play the hero. Needless to say, they balked. But I'm still writing about Peeps, so everybody wins.
Annandale, Va.: I think this Peeps Diorama Contest is a fantastic idea. It was very entertaining to watch the slide show. My only suggestion would be to have other Diorama contests throughout the year for other holidays. Depending on the news cycle at the time, it would make for some great current events entries.
Dan Zak: We will not dilute the pedigree of the Easter competition by staging others throughout the year. Plus, it's already a heckuvalot of work on our end. Go ahead, stage your own Arbor Day diorama contest.
Killing time at work: Does one Peep shape curry favor over others in this contest?
Dan Zak: No. But you must be careful to pick the appropriate Peep for the appropriate role. A bunny conveys helplessness and naivete. A chick conveys haughtiness.
Springfield, Va.: Will I be able to fix up my diorama before the art show? I would like to fix some things in it.
Dan Zak: You're a regular Modigliani, aren't you? (Diva dioramists.) E-mail me: email@example.com.
Reston, Va.: I love the peep contest, but I was a bit surprised by your choice of winner. The King's Tut tomb was obviously beautifully executed, but it wasn't particularly clever. I would have thought clever and wit (like #2) would outweigh artistry for such a tongue-in-cheek contest. Care to comment?
Dan Zak: The completeness of the winner's art and set decoration was what swayed voting. There are many clever DETAILS: the precision of the hieroglyphics, the Peep mummy, the spectacles and bow ties on the anthropologists, the ornate headdress of the king Peep, the torches. "Peep Art" was a landmark in terms of concept, but some of us were not particularly blown away by the simple (but still clever) graphic manipulation of some of the pop art. Not to diminish anyone's work ethic, but the winning diorama was a major endeavor.
Falls Church, Va.: So, were any of the submissions ... pornographic?
Dan Zak: Sadly, no. But see below for a question on inappropriateness.
Re: Rules: What about "The Birds" entry? The birds were clearly not Peeps...
Dan Zak: Clearly. But we viewed them as background or setting. (Stop trying to trip us up; we make the rules, and we'll define and re-define them however we please. Pfft!)
Winchester, Va.: Have you thought about compiling a book of all of the entries?
Also, have you seen the new Peeps Cookbook from Chronicle Books?
washingtonpost.com: "Peeps!" cookbook (Chronicle Books)
Dan Zak: A book...that sounds like a lot of work. I have not seen the cookbook, but the mere thought makes me queasy.
Vienna, Va.: Dan - Great contest! It really does embody all that is wonderful about those of us who live and work in this area. I haven't yet perused the gallery, so forgive me if the answer is obvious, but has anyone done a Nats-related diorama yet? Or will mine be the first? (I am planning for next year.) Thanks
Dan Zak: No Nats dioramas that I can remember. Although now you just told your idea to the WORLD!
Jackson, Mo.: The St. Louis Post Dispatch does a Peep-o-Rama at this time of the year as well. Have you ever thought of a Peep tournament with brackets and bracket-ologists?
Dan Zak: One bracket (Beer Madness) is enough for us. I think we'll continue with our present model. But no doubt dioramists from the D.C. area would wipe the floor with St. Louis "dioramists."
Chocolate City, USA: I was disappointed that none of the finalists/semifinalists had really good wordplay, as the Post encouraged in its call for entries. As wordsmiths, why would the judges not choose an entry with excellent wordplay with adequate execution over another entry with better execution but subpar wordplay?
Dan Zak: Wordplay is, at best, a tiebreaker between two really good dioramas. (As I recall, the instructions for the competition said puns and wordplay were "bonus points.") We'd never award a diorama whose only good quality was its title. This year, the best dioramas simply did not have that. "Soylent Green is PEEPS," however, always always makes me laugh.
Logan Circle Gutter: Were there any submissions that were too tasteless to display, but not so tasteless that they couldn't be described by you?
Dan Zak: Let me say first: I admire the Post's courage for publishing photos of "Full Sugar Coating" and "No Country for Old Peeps," despite the graphic imagery and controversial subject matter.
That said, plenty of the submissions featured blood this year. Like, Peeps spattered with ketchup and condimental viscera. It's been a dark year for America, I guess. There was a really bloody Iron Chef diorama with slain Peeps as the secret ingredient in the dish. We had that crucifixion diorama, too, titled "Hanging with My Peeps." Nothing like last year's Saddam execution, though.
Alexandria, Va.: it seems somewhat unfair that professional artists and graphic designers can compete. That is like letting professional writers submit to a short story contest in competition with the local high school kids. Really not surprising who wins, going by the bios of the submitters. And no, I have never submitted anything nor do I intend to, just musing about the fairness.
Dan Zak: Life is not fair.
Also, for what it's worth, we had an 8-year-old semifinalist this year ("Elvis Peepsley"). And a couple teenagers, too. The appeal for our contest, I think, is that everyone competes with everyone. With enough willpower and planning, the most unartistic person can legitimately challenge a professional graphic designer. Peeps are a great equalizer.
Falls Church, Va.: I'm writing as a disgruntled entrant. It is unfair to dismiss an entire category: "we're tired of the campaigns" when there wasn't any criteria for the entries. This is Washington, it is the election season and you are the Washington Post for God's sake. As the creator of one of the "well-meaning" dioramas "encouraging peeple to vote" I take exception. In the future I'd like to see more of a balanced mix of finalists possibly spread across different categories: historical, political, pop culture reference, etc...
Congratulations to the 2008 finalists!
Dan Zak: Let me rephrase: We're tired of uninspired campaign dioramas.
That said, the chatter is right. Vote. You get the idea.
Silver Spring, Md.: Dan, you did have a 'religious theme' oriented diorama called "Let My Peeps Go" which was based on the seven plagues and Passover. It was brilliant, and friends of the contestant were surprised it didn't make the cut given that many were so less than inspired. BTW, The contest concept is also brilliant!
Dan Zak: You're right! My apologies. It was a stirring diorama. One of the compromises of the contest is that we can only give our first look via photo, and the grandeur of some dioramas translates best in person.
Falls Church, Va.: Dan,
Must the Peeps used be "Easter" Peeps? I ask because as you know, Peeps are available for other holidays. Thanks.
Dan Zak: No. One of the semifinalists, (#7, The Apeepening Leaves Hains Point) used Christmas Peeps and Halloween Peeps. Peeps are peeps, man.
Silver Spring, Md.: Can you describe the meta-diorama entry that made "the judges' heads explode?"
Abby and Carter Wilson
entry: "The Peep's Post: Peeple Diorama Contest"
Dan Zak: Hello Abby and Carter. You speak of your own diorama. The concept was certainly top-notch. For you other chatters: Their diorama showed a purple and blue Peep starting work on their diorama entry. Nearby is a miniature version of The Washington Post. Cute.
Outfox, ME: Were any Peeps consumed in the course of this exercise?
Dan Zak: No. Consuming Peeps during the judging would've meant that we nibbled on the finalists. That would be in bad form.
Chicago: The Chicago Tribune held the same contest this year ... but gave the WP no credit for the idea at all. Which was first? The chicken or the egg? The Post or the Trib?
washingtonpost.com: The Chicago Tribune's Peeps diorama winners' gallery
Dan Zak: No idea who was first, but we all know who is the best. (Answer: us. I mean, look at the Trib's submissions. Paltry.)
Washington, D.C.: I was a big fan of the "Suicide Food" entry where some campfire-side Peeps sit in a circle, roasting marshmallows. Would you consider this acceptable cannibalism?
Dan Zak: I would consider this acceptable cannibalism if Peeps tasted good. They do not, so I am duly repulsed by the diorama.
Houston, Tex.: After seeing the "Peeps" dioramas (btw: we don't have Peeps down here), I don't know whether to congratulate all of the entrants to the competition for imagination and creativity, or tell you that your lives are too EMPTY and you need to fill your time with something more worthwhile.
However, I am sticking with my first observation of the event, and, again congratulate all of the participants.
Now if I can just find out what a PEEP is....
Dan Zak: You don't have Peeps down there? I don't believe you. As I said before, Peeps are everywhere, always.
Also, these people's lives aren't empty. They are filled to the brim with mallowy love.
Silver Spring, Md.: I was disappointed that the judges dismissed any entries related to the presidential election. In Washington, D.C. during an historic primary season, I expected the Post to recognize such topical submissions. In the future, if any category is to be excluded, it would be fair to disclose such information in the published rules and guidelines.
submission: "The Peeple's President"
Dan Zak: Sorry, Sue. We didn't disqualify political dioramas. There just weren't any, um, outstanding ones.
Arlington, Va.: Hi, Dan. Since the Just Born company is having this kind of promotion with a number of large metro-area newspapers around the country, has there been talk of a "Peeps-Off" with winners from each paper competing against each other? Now THAT could be interesting.
Dan Zak: It would be interesting, yes, but a lot of work that none of us wants to do. And for the record: This was always our idea, not Just Born's. Although, of course, they are LOVING the attention.
Hi Dan: I used to work at the Franklin Institute Science Museum in Philadelphia and, to demonstrate the effects of space on the body, we would put a peep (bunny, not chick) into a vacuum jar, where it would significantly increase in size. Then we would bite their heads off, although that was not part of the show.
I have an idea for a peep-o-rama. The hallway of the Mayflower hotel, a door slightly a jar, aghast security detail nervously waiting...
washingtonpost.com: For example - Peep bunny in vacuum jar (YouTube)
Dan Zak: You are a sick, sick scientist. Don't let the SPCA get wind of your activities.
Yes, the Spitzer stuff came a bit too late for this year's contest. Unfortunately, by next year, it will be passe.
Columbia, Md.: I can't believe it, but I think the second year's entries topped the first. What creativity you've untapped. How did you come up with the idea for the contest in the first place?
Dan Zak: We'd heard about other newspapers hosting contests in the past, so we do not claim to have created the concept. But we do claim to hold the best contest, in terms of the rigors of the judging and the quality of the submissions.
Dan Zak: So there.
Mass Ave: witnessing the unifying effects of this Peep contest - do you think such a sweet challenge could be exported to help solve foreign domestic problems? maybe bridge the gap amongst minority groups in Syria - or even lead to to some form of agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians?
Dan Zak: I'm a very optimistic person, but I think Peeps bringing peace to the Middle East is too much to ask for. Although Peep chicks are very similar to doves...
Alexandria, Va.: A paltry 30 examples from more than 800 entries -- even the Empress of the Style Invitational gives us more. Please, more peep-show online!
Dan Zak: THIS STUFF IS SO MUCH WORK AS IT IS.
Washington, D.C.: Apart from which states entries came from, did you notice any patterns? For example, did more men than women (or vice versa) enter, young (less than 30) or old?
Dan Zak: In terms of our 37 finalists and semifinalists, it was incredibly diverse, just by chance. Senior citizens, 8-year-olds, 20-somethings, middle-aged marrieds, men and women. No patterns to speak of. Last year there appeared to be more women, although our winner was a guy.
Becoming the Susan Lucci of the Peeps Diorama Contest, Va.: Most of the finalists this year were just fantastic (King Tut's tomb, the Woodstock poster, Peep Art, Tippi Hedren in the Birds), some I could kind of see and others I just didn't get (Elvis? Really?). I was surprised to see how many of a particular genre (such as movies) made the finals, when there were surely more original dioramas out of the 800 entries.
Can you provide some insight as to how the judging was approached? Also, is there any discussion about possibly breaking the competition up into teams/individuals or amateurs/pros (people who work in design/the arts), etc?
Dan Zak: Judges approach the entrants on a gut level. Our process is described in the written story that accompanies the online gallery.
As for the movies thing: I guess that can be a freeway straight to our hearts. Something is often a little funnier if it's topical, you know? We don't try to represent each genre adequately. If it's good, it's good.
800 entries?: So how do you sort through 800 dioramas? Where do you keep them? I'm trying to picture the size room/warehouse it would take to hold them, let alone the logistics of accepting that many deliveries....
Dan Zak: That's the compromise I mentioned earlier. The only dioramas we see in person are the five finalists. The rest we have to judge by photograph. Imperfect, yes, but there's no other way to do it.
N.Y.: The judging process couldn't have been hard - the finalists were so obviously above the others!
Dan Zak: Eh, there are some finalists I would've gladly replaced with certain semifinalists.
Re: Houston: Oh, they so do have Peeps in Houston. My mother just brought me some this weekend that she purchased at a Wal-Mart in south Houston.
Dan Zak: Boo yah. WAKE UP, Houston.
Fort Worth, Tex.: There's Peeps in Fort Worth, if not in Houston. The FW Star-Telegram ran a diorama contest this year - while not quite up to the WP standard, there was an Andy Warhol/Peep Pop entry here, too. Ah, synchronicity.
Dan Zak: Gosh, the Peep diorama contest is going to become a newspaper staple, it seems, like the Sports section. Perhaps Peep dioramas will save the newspaper industry!
Washington, D.C.: How much "distance" between the finalists? Were the scores close or were there big differences?
Dan Zak: Ah, a nitty-gritty question. Let's just say that the winning diorama had a comfortable lead in the balloting. But it was by no means a blowout.
Vienna, Va.: Did you get many entries from kids? My 13 year old daughter has submitted entries the past two years, and I'm curious if many other kids participated as well, or if it's been almost all adults.
Dan Zak: Not sure. We view all the submissions blindly.
Washington, D.C.: Although you want to limit the Peeps to this time of year, I think you should have an election-related Peeps contest. We will probably need something fun to look forward to this election cycle.
Dan Zak: To be honest, all of us are looking forward to be done with Peeps for the year.
Peeple in Potomac, Md.: The Seattle Times premiered this contest several years before the WP caught on. What do you feel distinguishes the two contests? Have you "caught" anyone entering one diorama into both contests?
Dan Zak: I haven't viewed The Seattle Times' contest, so I can't comment officially. But unofficially: ours is better. For reasons mentioned in an earlier question. As far as one person entering both contests, there's really no way we can monitor that.
Toledo, Ohio: We now look forward to every Easter for the ham and the Peep Show. We had a great idea after seeing a recent Toles cartoon - the flight suit and the banner weren't too hard, but we couldn't get the battleship completed in time. Anyway, the Peep Show makes it clear that washingtonpost.com is truly a news site for everyone.
Dan Zak: Tell your friends; keep us employed.
Arlington, Va.: Speaking of bottled beer, Dan, how's your 'beer madness' bracket doing? Another creative idea from the WaPo. Beer and Peeps. I want to become a journalist.
washingtonpost.com: Beer Madness bracket (washingtonpost.com)
Dan Zak: That's Joe Heim's territory. Check the bracket at www.washingtonpost.com/source. But it's not all beer and Peeps, you know. Sometimes we have to go to the spa.
Ground Rules: Hi Dan,
Maybe I missed it somewhere, but what were the ground rules that contestants had to abide by to enter?
washingtonpost.com: Start Flexing Those Marshmallow Muscles: It's Contest Time! (Post Sunday Source, Feb. 10)
Dan Zak: There you go.
washingtonpost.com: Photo gallery from 2007's inaugural Sunday Source Peeps Diorama contest
Dan Zak: Don't forget to vote in our poll. Click the link, view the gallery, and then click on "Vote for your favorite diorama" above the gallery.
Pennsylvania Avenue: Thank you for this. I finally understand Peeps. I knew they weren't edible, but I'd always see them in the store, and I wondered what people did with them.
Dan Zak: You finally understand Peeps? Good. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and help ME understand. That's all for today folks. This was edifying.
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