"Empress" of The Style Invitational, The Washington Post's weekly humor/wordplay contest

I rediscovered this week’s contest while catching up on a time-consuming but ultimately kinda fun task: to compile a booklet of the first 500 blots of ink awarded to each of our latest inductees into the Style Invitational Hall of Fame, Stephen Dudzik and Elden Carnahan. Steve and Elden both started entering the Invite in Year 1, 1993 — Steve got his first ink in Week 7, Elden in Week 22, and they’re both among the very few Losers to score ink in each of the past 20 years. Elden tore up proto-Loserland early on, scoring 151 inks in the first three years and 287 in the first six, while Steve also became a household name in the paleo-Invite, with more than 200 in those first six years. And so far, I’ve gotten through 1996 for each of them. Be patient, guys — you shouldn’t have written so many cartoon captions.

Thanks to the amazingly comprehensive Master Contest List that Elden has compiled, along with a searchable database containing virtually every word of every Invitational contest, it’s been easier to put these lists together than when I did the same exercise years ago for Hall of Famers Chuck Smith, Jennifer Hart, Russell Beland, Tom Witte, Chris Doyle, Brendan Beary and Kevin Dopart; back then, I had to call up each contest, one at a time, in which the person got ink.

But still, both Steve and Elden proved especially proficient at scoring ink for cartoon captions and other ink related to photos, which weren’t in his database. And so I started mining the ProQuest archive of DFs of The Post’s pages, which go all the way back to 1887 but stop at the end of 1996 (for now). It took a while to figure out how to get to them, but in the past few days I was able to send a whole pile of Invite PDFs to Elden, who’s putting them up as fast as he can on his Master List, with a WP icon you can click on to see them; as of this afternoon, he has the first 31 weeks up (along with many PDFs from later years; The Post’s own PDF archive starts in 2002, and I’ll continue to supply contests dating from them and later to Elden).

You should take a few minutes to look at the first weeks of Invite. One notable difference is that the cartoons for the first year were done by another freelance artist, Marc Rosenthal, whose style reminds me of engravings done by a madman wielding the burin. The Czar enjoyed Rosenthal’s art, but Marc had the misfortune to be unavailable for a few weeks in 1994, and the art department called up some wacky guy in St. Louis. In those weeks of working with Bob Staake, the Czar remembered today, “I began to realize I could use him not only as an artist, but to test contest ideas. If I had an idea and he couldn’t think of a good example, I knew it was probably not a good idea. Also, sometimes his examples were better than mine, and i used them.” Rosenthal — who’s a highly regarded cartoonist with at least one New Yorker cover to his name — was gracious enough to draw several cartoons for a “farewell contest,’ Week 61, which might or might not depict a cartoonist exacting bitter revenge. (How was there so much room for those big cartoons? Look at the winners below for Week 58: count ’em, nine entries total.)

Sooooo, anyway, here we are repeating Week 147, which I’m convinced will draw zillions of entries, and at least the few dozen good ones I need. Do be sure to check your entries against the results of that contest; as always, you can use the same place name, but your joke must be substantially different from the ones used in Week 147. (Last week I killed a word-in-word entry at the last minute after discovering that “Alas”ka was also used in a previous contest to express regret over Sarah Palin.)

(Note, yet again, the art-heavy Week 147 page, with its results of a rebus contest. Back then, The Post had its art department put together the Invitational, and there was just a lot more time and manpower available. Also, there was no website to deal with; it’s just not set up to fill a page with graphics. And: Note also that five entries got ink.)

Read upside down, they will look exactly like upside-down letters: The results of Week 1032

I’m waiting to get mail (probably snail mail) about the results of Week 1032, either thanking us for finally revealing the dark secrets that a media conspiracy had been intent on covering up, or complaining that no way was “Family Circus” in league with the Devil, because the writer had spoken to the Devil personally and he categorically denied it.

Particularly deft at decoding these pernicious subliminal assaults on our morals was Invite rookie Jeff Shirley, who nabs his first Inkin’ Memorial as well as his second — and third — ink “above the fold,” for a total of 12 blots of ink since his debut, seven in the last eight weeks. This week was one of a very few in which the same person scored two above-the-fold inks; when I started judging entries blindly, without seeing the entrants’ names, I was worried that one person would end up with two or three or all four top spots. It just hasn’t been a problem.

And yet more inky splotches for Kevin Dopart and Mark Raffman. At least Kevin won’t have to figure out with what to do with yet another mug or bag; I doubt that he already owns a dried baby blowfish from San Francisco, especially one wearing a teeny straw hat. He does, however, have to extract the bits of wrapping paper from the fish’s mini-spines.

With Malitz toward . . . Just back from his honeymoon in Puerto Rico, Sunday Style Editor David Malitz chose as his fave Danielle Nowlin’s observation about the symbolism of the Beltway vis-a-vis the Washington Monument.

Speaking of reading deep meaning into stuff: I got an e-mail last weekend from a reader who was offended by one of last week’s runners-up in Week 1031: First Offender Lela Martin’s “M‘ale’: what’s inside a guy after a night of too much drinking; fe‘male’: what’s inside a girl after a night of too much drinking”: While saying she ordinarily enjoys reading the Invite, the reader found the joke “a little sexist and date rape-y. ... Being that an Empress is now heading the SI, I would hope for better.”

I’m noting this because it’s so rare — which is sort of amazing to me — to get a complaint about an Invite entry. I respectfully disagreed with her; It’s one thing to acknowledge that overdrinking leads to less inhibition leads to more, unwise sex; it’s another, clearly outrageous thing to say it’s okay to have sex with a woman who’s too drunk to realize what she’s doing, or who, of course, doesn’t want to have sex. But I acknowledged that putting the m“ale” parallel with fe“male” might have implied that it was only the woman who had to care about overdrinking.

Hey, next Tuesday afternoon, Jeff Bezos is visiting The Post and holding a 90-minute Q&A for the newsroom! I wonder what he’ll say — and I wonder what people will ask him.

Presumably, I’ll still see you next week.