The most creative telephone-answering messages boil down to "You've got to have a gimmick." Among the best:

Intimidation -- "Hello, this is (psychologist) Elliott Jaffa. If you dislike answering machines, let me tell you about a recent psychological study. People who hang up are easily intimidated, have a poor self-image and no chutzpah whatever.But I know that anyone calling me will leave their name and phone number. I now present the beep. The rest is up to you."

Parody -- "You've just made an important telephone call and realize there's no one home. What will you do? What will you do? Don't let this ruin your day. You've reached one of the millions of people protected by Phone Express, so you can leave your name and number at the sound of the tone. Phone Express. Don't leave home without it." (From cassettes marketed by We've Got Your Number.)

Practical Joke -- "Hi, this is (writer) Peter Funt. I'm not home now, so if you'd like to leave your name, wait for the beep. If you'd like to leave your phone number, wait for two beeps. If you'd like to leave your name and phone number wait for two beeps and a whistle . . ." etc.

Sympathy -- "Hi, this is (writer/producer) Hollie Davies. I'm really paranoid, and if you hang up it will worsen my condition. Have pity. Leave your name and number. Please."

Anger -- (Recorded by a friend of Foreign Service information officer Anne O'Leary) -- "Are you sick and tired of trying to reach Anne O'Leary? Well so am I. That's why I'm recording this message for her, asking you to please leave her name and number when you hear the tone."

Mellow -- (with jazz piano accompaniment) -- "Sometimes in life, what you seek is out of reach. In this case it happens to be (psychologist/actor) Lee Solow. So please leave your name and number when you hear the tone, and he'll call you back."

Tacky -- (sung to the tune of "How Dry I Am," played by a musical beer can/cigarette lighter) -- "Oh I'm not home. You rang my phone. Since no one's here. Leave a message that I'll hear -- when I get hoooome."