The Czar ran the contest again in 2001 and 2003, and I picked it up and ran with it beginning in 2004, shortly after I started Empressing. As I explained in Week 561: “This week’s contest is of a type the Empress loves: one in which contestants cannot steal their entries off the Internet, and one that requires readers to peruse The Washington Post, the fine publication that gives her real cash money as long as she does not use the word [blotted out on the page] or [blotted again] or, of course, [blotted again] (except as an adjective).”
All that, plus: There will always be a new source of material — each contest asks you to look at new articles, beginning with the day it’s published. And that source is huge, almost infinite: While we used to ask readers to use just that Sunday Post in which the Invitational appeared, now you’re free to use any publication — print or online — as long as it’s dated within the contest window, which has expanded to 11 days from first online posting on a Thursday to the filing deadline a week from Monday. (Yes, some Losers have complained to me — only sometimes in jest — about being forced to read enormous amounts of news coverage for 11 straight days. And yes, of course you can find lots of sentences within a few minutes, maybe even within a single article.)
Note that the requirements, as they were in recent years, have become even broader: You can drop a few nonessential words from the sentence, for example “Smith said,” and you can use two short sentences. But try not to use very long sentences, since your entry might be the one most easily trimmed for space. Also, not deleting those extra words is one way to show some cleverness.
In general — just as with the headlines used in our Mess With Our Heads bank headline contest — it’s better to use a sentence whose context the reader can roughly guess. That way the switch to a totally different meaning is funnier. The “domestic battery” sentence above works well here, transforming from serious to silly with some deft wordplay.
Contrast this with the second example to the same contest;
Answer: “A handkerchief edged in lace, resembling women’s panties, to put in a man’s breast pocket.” Question: What would be a bad birthday present to get President Clinton?
The initial answer is so odd — what on earth was Ann Landers talking about! — that it detracts from the pretty good question. Also, words like “panties” makes the joke almost too easy; you don’t get to enjoy the transformation offered by the battery joke.
So, for that ol’ Guidance & Inspiration®, here’s a smattering of Questionable Journalism entries from that past 20 years of the Invite:
A. “Well, we’re glad to be here,” astronaut Bonnie Dunbar replied from the shuttle. Q. Has President Clinton ever made inappropriate advances to female astronauts? (Dave Andrews, 1998)
A. We were in the Guggenheim for almost three hours and had absolutely no idea what the heck was going on. Q. What would you hate to overhear one doctor say to another as they leave the operating room after brain surgery on your wife? (Tom Kreitzberg, 2003)
A. His response: “I’m not worth anything anymore.” Q. What did the English teacher reply when his depressed son said, “I ain’t worth nothing no more”? (Russell Beland, 2005)
A. I feel for the guy. Q. Ms. Hilton, what do you do upon entering a darkened room? (Kevin Dopart, 2006)
A. This is the place that made me who I am. Q. What’s so special about the back seat of your parents’ SUV? (Jay Shuck, 2007)
A. I don’t know if I should say something, let it roll off, or what. Q. “Isn’t that the neighbors’ baby up on the roof?” (Beverley Sharp, 2008)
A. The 11 players and one substitute were reported missing over the weekend. Q. Where the heck is the Redskins’ offense? (Jeff Contompasis, 2009)
A. “We’re working our way happily and steadily through the process of production.” Q. What did the mechanical engineer reply when his mother-in-law said, “We hope you’ll soon make us proud grandparents”? (Cathy Lamaze, 2012)
A. Half the Republicans in the House have served three years or less. Q. Why do you say criminal sentencing guidelines are skewed to favor rich white males? Brendan Beary, 2014)
A. Negotiations have begun in Baghdad on settling long-standing sectarian disputes. Q. So, Sisyphus, what have you been up to lately? (Jeff Hazle, 2014) Note that this entry isn’t about taking the words out of context, but instead comments wryly on the news itself. I’d be happy to run some entries like this.
A. Go figure. Q. With the ban on guns now strictly enforced, what did the Math Olympiad official yell to start the competition? (Kevin Dopart, 2015)
A. “I just grayed out or blacked out a little bit.” Q. Do you deny starring in your fraternity’s racially insensitive minstrel show? (Tom Witte, 2016)
A. Blasting will be done during the day and “very rarely” at night or on weekends. Q, How will the Purple Line construction differ from the president’s use of Twitter? (Jesse Frankovich, 2017)
A. “Soybean prices are in the toilet right now.” Q. What happened when the grocery tagger had to bring his toddler to work with him? (Danielle Nowlin, 2019)
A. At the moment, social distancing is the only effective countermeasure. Q. How do I get my parents to stop asking me when I’m going to give them grandchildren? (Hannah Seidel’s first ink)
Now, go ahead and become an example for a future Style Conversational column.
Bardmouthing*: The results of Week 1429
*A non-inking headline by Tom Witte, who won instead with “Update Your Will” plus the honorable-mentions subhead, “The Errors of Comedy”
To quote a source even older than William Shakespeare, there’s nothing new under the sun. And in Week 1429, the Loser Community proved especially adept at matching up the Bard’s 400-year-old zingers to an equivalent, usually considerably less eloquent contemporary sentiment — often in some embarrassingly stupid pronouncement by a current unluminary.
When Obsessive Loser Duncan Stevens suggested examples for this contest — one of several Shakespeare-centered challenges he’s proposed — I told him that I wanted to stick to modern paraphrases, rather than taking him humorously out of context. Nothing about Caesar and his salad.
But how could I turn away Kevin Dopart’s “Now I see the bottom of your purpose,” as a warning not to stand up during a Zoom meeting? Or Sarah Walsh’s quote from a sonnet, " … Then might I not say so/ To give full growth to that which still doth grow,” about overly effective Viagra? Or even the play on “election” in Duncan’s own winning entry?
But most of this week’s 38 inking entries (31 on the print page) stuck to the original meaning, often quoting verbatim from some newsmaker or other.
Some Shakespeare quotes are used so widely in popular culture — say, “O that this too, too solid flesh would melt” in the context of a diet — that such entries seemed to pale next to less famous quotes. There was a lot of duplication this week, for instance a come-on by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the voice of various Shakespearean characters; usually, I chose my favorite combination of old and new, and other times gave double or even triple credit.
And as it’s done now 17 times, the win goes to Duncan Stevens himself, for this timely gem about Stacey Abrams’s activism for voting rights in Georgia:
If it be a sin to make a true election, she is damned.” (“Cymbeline”; the “election” is a choice of lover)
“Ms. Abrams, the Georgia legislature thinks there’s been way too much voting going on.”
While runners-up Frank Mann and Gary Crockett are familiar names in the Losers’ Circle, it’s the first appearance “above the fold” for Nancy McWhorter, who almost doubles her previous ink stash with three blots today.
And impressed congratulations also go to two First Offenders: Jim Sproules, one of three Losers to translate’s Shakespeare’s decorous turndown line “I do desire we may be better strangers” to “[Swipe left.],” has been a longtime member of the Style Invitational Devotees Facebook group, and had to remind me that this was his first ink; and a big two-ink debut (with more on my shortlist) for Karen Golden of Southern Maryland, who is clearly on the Invite wavelength.
And she’s off! Next week, the winning horse names
This weekend I’ll be curling up with more than 3,800 foal names from Week 1430, once again sorted and cleaned up by the indispensable Jonathan Hardis. As always, the entries are all grouped by horse, so if you sent in 25 entries, I’ll likely be seeing them in 25 different places. I hope as much as you do that your extra-clever pairing wasn’t the same extra-clever pairing that 15 people sent in — to avoid this as much as possible, that’s why I offer 100 names to mix. I’ll leave it to the many Losers who can tell you in five seconds how many possible combinations it allows for. What I do know is that the winners are certain to be fabulous. See you next Thursday and we’ll enjoy them together.
“Pranks for Asking,” the headline on today’s column, is by Chris Doyle, from an earlier Questionable Journalism contest.