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Style Conversational Week 1425: Sketchy situations with Bob Staake

The Empress of The Style Invitational talks about this week’s caption contest and ‘Alternagural Address’ results

The sheet of sketches -- often he'll send even more -- that Bob Staake sent to me this week as options for the four I needed for the Week 1425 caption contest. I went with D, F, G and H (now renamed A, B, C and D).

While Bob Staake’s illustrations (dis)grace The Style Invitational just about every week of the year, it’s time for a Bobocentric contest, which we last did in August. Though that one was a special edition in which Bob drew “blank stages” of various well-worn cartoon panel settings (e.g., desert island) and we asked for novel takes on them (results here), this week it’s Classic Staake for Week 1425.

I’ve worked with Bob so long -- every week for more than 17 years -- that I don’t need to tell him that the final pictures should include people with different skin tones, that he’d let me know about any possibly controversial details that I might not notice in the mini-sketches, etc.

Meanwhile, if you missed Mike Gips’s interview with Bob, “Staake Talks Smaake,” check out Episode 9 of “You’re Invited,” Mike’s podcast about The Style Invitational. Bob talks about the Invite’s caption contests (including his least favorite genre of caption joke) and gives his side of the famed Cartoon With a ???? Hidden in the Middle story. (Check out all 11 episodes so far at or search for “You’re Invited” in Apple Podcasts or Spotify.)

By the way, Bob is making his Invite art, both pencil sketches and final pen-and-ink drawings, available to the Loser Community at low-for-a-famous-artist prices at Tell him what you’re looking for -- write to me first if you need help in figuring out the date, details of the cartoon, etc. -- and he’ll check to see if he still has it.

Aaand once again .... The early returns from last week’s contest, the Spelling Bee neologisms ( -- deadline Monday night, March 1), showed widespread disregard for the contest instructions to begin each entry with the relevant letter set, not to use the letters as a heading for several different entries. The latter means I won’t be able to sort them out by letter set, or even know which of the 30 sets the neologism came from, without going back and attaching them before the sort (or reading them without sorting).

Yea, still I hold out hope: I am even optimistic that everyone who sends more than one entry for Week 1425 will format them thus, as I note in both the contest and the entry form:


PIcture A: A zingy caption for Picture A.

Picture A: Another zingy caption for Picture A.

Picture B: Something that made the Empress spit out her coffee on two different readings.


Picture A:

A caption that doesn’t say which picture it’s for

A second caption that doesn’t say which it’s for


1. Picture A: skfjlksdjflk

2. Picture B: sdlkfjskldjf

(or bullets, dingbats, etc.)

Thanks, guys -- you know I love you. But I’d love you more if.

Them’s Biden words*: The Alternaugural Addresses from Week 1421

*Non-inking but super headline by Jesse Frankovich

As soon as the presidential election results were finally official that Saturday morning, Nov. 7 -- once I let four-plus years of despair and anxiety pfffft out of my body like a screaming balloon -- I said, “Guess we’ll be doing another inaugural-address word bank contest.”

But would it fly? It was one thing to mock the harsh, xenophobic rhetoric of Trump’s “American carnage” speech, not to mention the already outrageous record of the man himself -- and the results of Style Invitational Week 1214 did that with glee, in a contest to pluck words from here and there in the inaugural address to write something else. Would it be funny, or even fair, to give “equal treatment” to Joe Biden’s calls for unity and reason?

Yeah, yeah, it worked fine. Just look at today’s results from Week 1421.

When judging the contest, I gravitated toward entries that were not just ingenious juxtapositions of words -- someone sent in an uncannily accurate total paraphrase of Macbeth’s “sound and fury” soliloquy -- but were also funny. A literally laugh-out-loud “confession” is certainly what earns this week’s Clowning Achievement trophy for rookie George Thompson for his first Invite win, and his 12th blot of ink in all, though an astonishing four of them have been “above the fold,” one of the week’s top four. [HAHAHAH! I just looked -- it turns out that the Macbeth thing was also by George Thompson!]

While I’ve expressed a strong desire to get past the Invite’s many years of Trump-centered digs, it was hard to ignore the Ex-ecutive, especially when it came to Frank Osen’s perfectly executed wordplay on “profound conviction.” Jonathan Jensen gets another visit to the Losers’ Circle with one of numerous poems in different genres submitted this week (be sure also to see Mark Raffman’s); I was hesitant to run an entry talking about “Depends” -- for either Biden or Trump -- but at least it says “I don’t need Depends.” Numerous other entries were not so restrained. The runners-up are rounded out by another excellent rookie, Hannah Seidel, with her creative “commercial” for what sounds like a pay-per-view wrestling match between McConnell and Pelosi.

What Doug Dug: The faves of Ace Copy Editor Doug Norwood came from this week’s honorable mentions, though he told me he enjoyed the whole column: Doug singled out John O’Byrne’s “Has he left yet” (John, who lives in Dublin, Ireland, is a dyed-in-the-wool wonk about U.S. politics); Kevin Dopart’s Biden promising “all my heart to stand behind women, but they clearly don’t like it”; Frank Osen’s “I would like to thank the deep state”; and two that had nothing to do with government: Jesse Frankovich’s “Good husbands know the paper should always be put on with the torn end hung forward,” and the “And Last” by Elden Carnahan, who’s been entering -- and keeping the stats for -- the Invite every year since its birth in 1993: “This is the first time in many weeks that I have put together any good words for this paper. Perhaps I will get an ‘And Last’ out of it.”

I had lots of fun judging this contest, but that was ONLY because Loser Todd DeLap volunteered to run my shortlist of 63 entries through a validation program that he had constructed just for this purpose. I can’t imagine how I could even have checked to make sure that none of the entries included words that weren’t included in the text of the inaugural address, and used no more often than in the speech. (The word “were” was not in there at all, it turns out; “am” only once in the speech.)

Todd returned my list the very next morning with twenty-seven entries flagged. Some of them weren’t really invalid, since I had explicitly said you could change any capitalization or punctuation; so it was okay to use “mothers” when the speech had “mother’s,” and also to drop the apostrophe and turn “we’re” into “were.” But other entries had added words like “soon,” or used a shorter form of the word (“task” instead of “tasks”) or added prefixes and suffixes. For instance, Biden used “children" five times but “children’s” just once, which put this otherwise good one by Leif Picoult out of fixable contention: “If we do this, then our children and our children’s children, and our children’s children’s children, and our children’s children’s children’s children—where was I?”

Most of the errors, though, were easily solved, often by just deleting the invalid word. Some of today’s inking entries had a little rescue treatment.

One more nutty little problem arose: Loser David Shombert wrote to tell me that instead of using the transcript I’d specified, from the White House, he found another one, from the New York Times, that seems to reflect all the words Biden actually spoke, rather than the prepared remarks. The perhaps impromptu line included the word “ceiling,” which David confirmed by watching a recording of the speech on YouTube. Alas, no Invite ink for David, since I said we were going with the White House version, but here’s some no-magnet Convo pixels for an entry that would probably have been too risque anyway to attribute to the president:

“I gave my women a foolish fantasy, then I could not rise to the challenge. They lay in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, wondering: will it never happen? Not tomorrow? Only once in a century?”

And finally: Once again, Loser Hildy Zampella submitted a zinger that was too long for the Invite, but too funny to hide. Here’s her inaugural-address entry:

It turns out that Trump really DID leave a note for President Biden in the Resolute Desk:

To the new President (don’t make me say your name): I lost. There. I said it. That’s over. In reality, it’s a great opportunity for me. America’s parties are in chaos. I will start one of my own. Rest assured, I will seek racial justice for ALL white people. They have lost so much.

Yet, even with these ugly setbacks, they have the resolve to restore the power their forebearers [sic in the transcript; should be “forebears”] gave them. Their struggle is painful to watch. It inspires me to look inward as I start a new master class with the greatest people, just like me.

So, about that woman you have -- the one who says, “Call me Dr.” Wives (and in truth, all women) are exhausting! Right? When Pelosi and Kamala have their periods -- look out! Well, the Speaker is up in years. Not a good example.

To close, I have the decency to hand you a great America, and you should thank me for that. Promise me you will not do better than me. Remember who is the best ever and always will be: ME!

One more thing: security objects when you let “friends” come for the night.


Okay, we’re out of here -- send those Spelling Bee neologisms in by Monday, March 1, for Week 1424! Formatted correctly.