I don’t care if the whole world is shut down: We have to play those ponies. If indeed the 146th Kentucky Derby is run on its new date of Saturday, Sept. 5 — I hope it does: it’s never once been canceled — The Style Invitational can do its regular contest then. But for now, Week 1382, we turn to the winners of yesteryear, which in terms of the Derby has a big yester indeed.
The game’s exactly the same: Based on the principle that racehorses are often named to reflect their parentage — e.g., 1944 Derby winner Pensive was the sire of the 1949 winner, Ponder — the contest asks you to choose any two names on the list, even though almost all are male and some in fact are gelded males, and “breed” them to produce a “foal” that cleverly incorporates both names, often with a pun. Normally I choose the 100 names from the 400 or so 3-year-olds nominated for that year’s Triple Crown races; this year’s nomination period has been extended indefinitely.
The foal name contest is consistently the most heavily entered Invite contest of the year, with around 4,000 total entries from 300 to 400 submissions. Many people send in the maximum of 25 names; before I instituted an entry limit, a few crazies would send in well over 100; one Mary Lee Fox Roe holds the record, once submitting 650 entries in a single week. Some people (like Mary Lee) enter the horse contest (and its spinoff, the “grandfoals”) every year, but only the horse contest.
Despite the number of entries and the same weekly deadline I always have, I always look forward to the horse contests — because I know that there will be loads of super-clever material from which to choose. My job has become exponentially easier for me since Loser Jonathan Hardis offered, a number of years ago, to sort the entries for me with the help of a program he devised, and has helped me out every year since. (It’s even possible that if everyone follows the simple directions in this week’s entry form, I can do this myself without having to bother Jonathan.)
I chose the 100 horses we’re using this week by deleting 45 that seemed less “fertile” for the game ahead: horses named for obscure people, or unfamiliar foreign words, names too much like other names. I left some horses’ names because they’re so famous: Secretariat, for example. And I couldn’t bear to drop Lucky Debonair, winner of the first Derby that I remember watching, as a horse-crazy little girl in 1965.
If you’re not familiar with the Invite’s horse name contests, you really should check out some of the previous results, both to get an idea of what we’re looking for and to just enjoy the level of wordplay. There’s a special page just for the horses on Loser Elden Carnahan’s Master Contest List at NRARS.org. Each row of the table links to both that week’s contest and, now, on a right-hand column, to the results of that contest, in either plain text or a PDF of the Post print or Web page, all the way back to the first contest, Week 113 in 1995.
Meanwhile, here are a few winners from the 2019 crop:
4. Easy Shot x Code of Honor = Can’t, Miss (Danielle Nowlin)
3. Castle Casanova x Maximum Security = Romeo in Joliet (Steve Smith; Jonathan Paul)
2. Kingly x Plug and Play = The Royal Wii (John Hutchins)
And the winner of the Lose Cannon: Improbable x Skywriting = WillYouDivorceMe? (Bill Dorner)
And what the heck, one from 10 years ago (Week 810):
4. Street Car x Rocket to the Moon = Stellaaaar! (Mark Eckenwiler)
3. Pitched Perfectly x Danger to Society = Criminal in Tent (Susan Thompson)
2. Pitched Perfectly x Gone Astray = Don Larceny (Andrew Hoenig)
And the winner of the Inker: Sir Phenomenal x Empire State = Knight Who Says NY (Jonathan Paul, Garrett Park)
Okay, onnnne more — twenty years ago (Week 320):
5. Sailor’s Warning x Cartel: Avast Conspiracy (Susan Reese)
4. Black Mercury x Forestry: Hg a Tree (Jennifer Hart)
3. Answer Lively x Ghost Story: Phantom of the Oprah (Catherine Hagman)
2. Polish Pianist x Drama Critic: Show Pan (David Genser)
And the winner of the William Donald Schaefer plate: Breathtaking View x King of Scat: Awe Crap. (Dante D. Bruno)
Reminder once again: Don’t give your foal a name that’s a third name on the list. People do this every single year and it’s not a clever enough trick to get ink.
Will we do a “grandfoals” contest four weeks from now in which you breed any two of this contest’s inking entries? We’ll see. Probably.
Sing Around the Rosie*: The results of the Week 1378 song contest
*Non-inking headline by Kevin Dopart, alluding to the theory that the children’s song with “ashes, ashes, all fall down” was about the Great Plague of 1665 that devastated London.
My delight in the cleverness of the foal names — as well as my disappointment in having to toss so much good material — is multiplied exponentially when it comes to our song parody contests. It certainly was for this week’s results, for songs on the theme of “Life in the Time of Corona.” I received hundreds and hundreds (I didn’t count) of parodies and a few originals from 231 people, and spent hour after hour listening to the melodies on YouTube as I read the lyrics, and watched at least 25 videos. As always, there’s much more material that deserves to be shared. And so in the coming days, I’ll post some “noinks,” as the Losers call them — entries that didn’t get ink — in the Style Invitational Devotees group on Facebook, with the hashtag #coronaparody. So you can enter that hashtag in the search bar at the left of the page and, if all goes well, you’ll be able to find everything I post. (The Devs are about a dozen members short of 2,000; join as No. 2000 and they’ll do something extra-special for you, more than the usual Anagramming of Your Name.) I’ll start with the first noink on Friday morning, May 1.
My editor’s worry when I posted the contest — for fear that it would produce a slew of sick humor making light of death and misery — wasn’t realized; almost all of them focused either on light tangential topics (Zoom meetings without pants; not getting your hair done) or on barbs flicked expertly at the nation’s leadership. And a few were poignant; I’m thinking of First Offender Richard Zorowitz’s “Another hundred people don’t get off of a train,” about the eerie emptiness of a stricken New York. In fact, many of the songs were of the “come on, people, we can do it!” attitude, almost rah-rah.
While this week’s top winners are all fixtures of the Invitational — Loserbards Mark Raffman, Hildy Zampella, Beverley Sharp and Jesse Frankovich are frequent denizens of the Losers’ Circle — we welcome some terrific First Offenders this week, three of them on video: Jonathan Miller, a Chicago-based choral conductor, sent in a number of entertaining parodies filmed at various locations of his home including his bathroom, as well as the original bluesy number that gets him ink today. Wayne Wilentz, who offered up the parody of Steely Dan’s “Hey Nineteen” — hey, it’s just “too easy” because you didn’t think of it, did you? — is a D.C.-based jazz keyboardist and teacher. And Fiona Smith, who sang a song from the musical “The Drowsy Chaperone,” is a theater person at Walt Whitman High in Bethesda, Md. I hope we hear from them all again.
My one disappointment in the final results was that I’d hoped to use at least some newish material for the source songs. But it just didn’t work out that way: Except for the second-place parody, Lee Ann Womack’s country-pop “I Hope You Dance” (2000 — a song I didn’t know before), and Fiona’s “Drowsy Chaperone” song (1998, brought to Broadway in 2006), all the originals are a full generation old, and most of them much older. Perhaps it’s that show tunes and other old-style songs tend to have a square, verselike structure, with a clear ending, that translates better to a printed page.
Many rock, pop and rap songs, on the other hand, really need to be performed, not read in a block of text. They’re often full of short repeated phrases that are great to hear but not so much fun to read. (Also, there’s just the physical length: I received a well-done parody of “My Shot” from “Hamilton” that ran 1,000 words — about the length of a usual week’s entire Style Invitational column.) As more and more music fans become skilled at making music videos, I’m predicting that the Invite will be able to feature more takeoffs on current music. Future Weird Als: Put 'em right here.