Don Comis doesn't leave things to chance.
When I called his home in Arlington to tell him that he had won my latest neologism contest, Don was off at the courthouse, on jury duty. What kind of case? "He won't tell me!" said his wife, Helen. Leaving nothing to chance.
Later, during our victory repast at Dominique's, Don said he had been the talk of the jury room for recommending a 40-year sentence for a small-time PCP dealer. Leaving nothing to chance.
Don's winning entry was cut from the same cloth. The best-in-show word stood out, plain as day, on the fourth line of Don's letter. But just to be sure, Don sent along 12 other candidates on the same sheet of paper. Leaving nothing to chance.
Here's the challenge Don faced, and the winning way he faced it:
You work on a computer that's attached to a printer. The printer uses continuous-feed paper. The paper has holes along both sides, and it's perforated so that you can tear off the procession of holes, into long, thin strips. Those strips of hole-after-hole-after-hole are called . . . .
Don's answer was: computti.
Hard to do better than a marriage between computer and confetti, I thought. But Don's entry makes sense on grounds of lineage, too.
One of his grandmothers was born in Sicily, and she often spoke the native tongue around her grandson. "She mostly taught me the curse words," says Don. Still, a lot of them sounded like computti, and a lot of people curse pretty colorfully when they have to deal with computti -- day after day, strip after strip.
So Don would like to thank his grandmother for putting him in the winning frame of mind. I'd like to thank him for a word that's one of the cleverest my contest has ever produced. I hope it makes Webster one of these days. It deserves to.
Our winner's way with words is also his way to make a living. Don Comis is a 37-year-old writer-editor for the Department of Agriculture. He grew up in Utica, N.Y., taught elementary school in Buffalo for a while and has worked for Agriculture since 1976.
Don is a "race walker" in his spare time, and the kind of commuter there ought to be more of. He absolutely refuses to drive during the week. When he was assigned to an office in Lanham a couple of years ago, he commuted two hours each way by bus and subway, rather than endure the Beltway twice a day. Who says there are no saints on earth?
Don is also a regular entrant in Levey's contests. Last month, he made honorable mention. This month, he graduated to a corner table, under a picture of Elizabeth Taylor, where he put away a feast of crab soup, lobster, fresh strawberries and white wine. Grandma would have been proud of him, in any language.
I wasn't exactly ashamed of several other entries. They came pretty close to lobster quality themselves.
First, though, a little housekeeping.
The Golden Bridesmaid Award goes to J.J. Wind and Steve Hufford. They, too, proposed computti. But they proposed it three weeks after Don Comis. A bit faster next time, fellas, and Liz Taylor may gaze down upon you, too.
Meanwhile, in a dead heat for second place, there were these:
Margin For Tearer: Gloria Sussman of Reston.
Ratched Excess: That well-known radio personality, who obviously doubles as a punster, Dude Walker.
Strip Spoker: Dr. John N. Weinstein of Chevy Chase.
Refried bean aficionados will get this one -- Free-holeys: Lawson E. Richtmyer of Potomac and W.S. Todd of Springfield.
The Peripery: Bobbie Lieberman.
Sloppy Discard: Lt. Glenn Cox.
Holitosis: Leonard Osterman of Potomac.
Roll Aids: Judith A. Hill of Woodbridge.
Holistic Peeling: Janet Erbacher of Silver Spring.
Punch Lines: Barbara Hawkins of Wheaton.
Sheet Nothings: Robert E. Johnson of Vienna.
Last month's winner, Miles Klein of East Brunswick, N.J., nearly repeated with: Spare Rips.
Puncturation: Richard L. Lobb of Arlington.
Porous Line: Leigh S. Whitlock of Arlington.
A pair from soap opera fans: The Edge of Byte (Livezey H. More of Northwest) and The Guiding Blights (Mary Jane Williams of Hollywood, Md.).
Chock Full O' Naughts: Al Toner of Arlington.
And for those who feel like a 20-year nap after all this, Rip-then-Wrinkle: (Jerry Hauser of Kensington).
On we trundle to the March challenge, which is the brainchild of Cathy Hostetler of Rockville.
What do you call motorists who always slow down when they spot a police car -- even if they're already doing the speed limit, or less?
The most brilliant answerer wins the customary prize: a free lunch with Yours Truly at the restaurant of his/her choice inside the Beltway (or at least kissing close). Entries are due by March 29. Please mail them to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.