When I was a little girl living in suburban Philadelphia, my mother and I would ride the El train into Center City to see my Auntie Lee, my great-aunt and perhaps my dearest relative. Auntie Lee had never married and lived with a female friend; my mother told me she’d been a flapper in the 1920s. Lee regularly hosted a poker game in her apartment — I remember being told that next time, I should not announce the names of all her cards while she was playing — and would put out a tray of cold cuts from the Latimer Deli up 15th Street.
I remember snacking on the thin slices of corned beef, the pastrami, the tung … Well, that’s how I pictured the spelling of the richly colored, tasty meat. It wasn’t until I was in high school, and happened to see, wrapped up in Giant’s meat department, a big fat foot-long TONGUE of a cow. With taste buds. Ohhhh.
It was a long time before I’d eat that meat again.
But even that memory can’t compare in creepiness to Byron Hoover’s winning food fictoid for Week 1345 of The Style Invitational: “Pickled beef tongue tastes you back.” And that pithy entry earns Byron a Fir Stink — for his first ink — as well as the Lose Cannon trophy. But you won’t see his name — highlighted in yellow as a contest winner — on the One-Hit Wonders list at NRARS.org, the Losers’ own website: Byron got an honorable mention with another fictoid: “Long ago, cocaine used to contain Coca-Cola.”
That latter fictoid reflects the general theme of our fictoid contests: that they’re spoofing traditional trivia (although the 47 inking entries this week reflect a variety of approaches). This one plays on the long-lived “fact” that Coca-Cola used to contain cocaine; a baby Snopes.com gave it a “mixed” verdict in 1999. (A similar entry by Sally Booher: “Coca-Cola still has cocaine in it but only in one out of one hundred cans.” Another noink, by Art Grinath: “The Coca-Cola Co. once produced a soda called Oxycola, which had trace amounts of oxycodone.”)
It’s a good thing that I don’t see people’s names when I judge Invite contests; otherwise even I’d raise my eyebrows over the fact that two of this week’s runners-up, Bill Dorner and Robyn Carlson (plus HMs Jon Ketzner and Larry Yungk), are Losers whom the Royal Consort and I met last month at various points during our road trip to the Midwest. It’s the seventh trip to the Losers’ Circle (and 72nd and 73rd inks in all) for Bill, and it’s the fourth runner-up prize (and Ink No. 28) for Robyn. Meanwhile, D.C.-based Invite legend Kevin Dopart now has so much Invite ink that he keeps it in a repurposed heating oil tank buried in his backyard.
What Doug Dug: Ace Copy Editor Doug Norwood weighed in with lots of favorites this week before he’s off for a three-week staycation. Doug agreed with me on the tongue entry and Bill Dorner’s runner-up (heirloom tomatoes used to be called “deformed tomatoes”); Gary Crockett’s “An apple a day does indeed keep the doctor away if thrown properly”; another one by Bill, that in Britain, Lay’s Potato Chips are called Shag’s Crisps; Dean Alterman’s that in the Southern Hemisphere, M & M’s are W & W’s; Hildy Zampella on the way to distinguish between a buffalo and a bison: only one has wings; Eric Nelkin’s on the “single potato chip” interrogation method (the best of several similar entries); Byron’s Coca-Cola; Dave Letizia’s dig at the substance known as Vegemite; and while it “took me a minute” to get Ryan Martinez’s “Russian chickpeas” as Trump’s favorite dish at the Moscow dinner, it was “so worth it.”
Yes, there were unprintable entries. If you might be upset by offensive material, please don’t read the final section of this column, at the bottom of the page. I truly am not out to upset any readers.
Just for the Record: This week’s contest, Week 1349
Most Wednesdays, the Empress and the Royal Consort (teleworking once a week) sit laptop to laptop at the kitchen table or outdoor picnic table here at Mount Vermin. Mark works for the Congressional Research Service, which is the part of the Library of Congress that specifically works with Congress, and so he often curls up with that juicy read, the Congressional Record. The CR is a transcript, day by day, of all the proceedings of the House and Senate — plus big sections of text that was never actually uttered (surely to the relief of everyone attending that day’s floor sessions and hearings); when a member of Congress takes the House floor and asks permission “to revise and extend my remarks,” that’s for the Congressional Record.
As a U.S. citizen, I am grateful that the Record now appears online in searchable PDF form at congress.gov/congressional-record: Not only does it allow my spouse to work from home every Wednesday and make us pizza for lunch, but it also permits it to be fodder for a Style Invitational contest.
We’re using the “Questionable Journalism” paradigm; that’s our perennial contest to select a sentence appearing in The Post, and writing a question that that sentence could conceivably answer (if you can conceive of something pretty silly). It goes without saying that big chunks of the CR are dry as dust, but there’s also plenty of material to work with: You may use any transcript that you can reach through that home page — and I think they go back to 1995. Just please show me where to look to double-check your work.
For those new to Questionable Journalism, here are a few sample entries from the last QJ contest we ran, a few months ago in Week 1320:
Line from The Post: A cloud can amplify global warming, or it can limit it, depending on what kind of cloud it is, and its size, location, thickness, duration, etc.
Question it could answer: How did the first draft of “Both Sides Now” start? (Duncan Stevens)
A. No one wants to see a baby in distress. / Q. Why does the president usually watch cable news by himself? (Jesse Frankovich)
A. The more things change, the more they stay the same./ Q: How’s progress on The Post’s initiative to avoid using cliches? (Mark Raffman)
I’m not predicting thousands of entries and hundreds of entrants for this contest; whenever I make people look for material from another source, rather than just running a list in the paper, I know that I’ll be getting a smaller response, and that almost all the entrants will be veteran Losers. But I’m also confident that some people out there will see this challenge as lots of fun — and will send me lots of inkworthy questions.
Food for nought: Unprintable fictoids from Week 1345
Some entries that proved a bit too spicy, or left a bad taste in the mouth:
Dear Heloise: If you accidentally smear peanut butter on your private parts, your dog will willingly help you clean it up. Or so I’ve been told. (David Stonner, who got ink for a more decorous entry, about McDonald’s genetically modified chicken that grows huge nuggets)
Devilish National Lampoon-style humor but just too sick: “On at least three occasions in the 1970s, children in Africa starved to death because you refused to finish your vegetables.” (Eric Nelkin) Yup, it was illogical how our parents encouraged us to eat healthy food. But ugh, “children starved to death” is a bad phrase for a joke.
This one was published this morning as an honorable mention, but I killed it after receiving a furious email from an outraged reader accusing me of despising Christians: “At the Penultimate Supper, Jesus and the Apostles just had falafel. And Judas hated falafel.” (Brendan Beary) I really am not out to upset readers, and there’s just no way to argue that someone has no right to be offended. I’m just glad that no one (so far) is upset that a runner-up entry this week says that “manna” is Aramaic for “bird poop.”
And this last one wasn’t a taste question but it had a misleading premise that was kind of a cheap shot: “According to a prehistoric scroll recently purchased by the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., dinosaur meat tasted remarkably like chicken.” (Mark Raffman). While the Museum of the Bible is financed by evangelical Christians, and while scholars have criticized the Protestant orientation of some of its exhibits, it’s not a place like the Creation Museum, which says Earth is 6,000 years old. Yes, duh, this contest was for untrue things, but that entry would give readers the wrong idea about that place. Funny, though.