Happy Springtime Religious Holiday Or None If You Prefer! Early this week I sent today’s three new-contest examples — all inking entries in an earlier contest — to our Big-Deal Cartoonist Bob Staake, and asked him which he’d like to draw. He got right back to me: Any of them would work, he said. And to prove it, he quickly (Bob does almost everything quickly) sent me a sketch for each of the three musical fictoids. It was a hard call. I chose the one of Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar for the dismayed polka dancers, but I wanted to share with you his Oscar Mayer Wienership for the Viking fictoid, as well as the six-fingered Carlos Guitarra (presumably Bob would have added two more tuning pegs on the guitar for the final).
Our fake-trivia contests have paid off handsomely for us every time — I think it’s because so many Losers are trivia buffs, and therefore know how to spoof the lists of Fun Facts they constantly encounter. Did you know that a group of current and former Losers and their auxiliaries — including Steve Fahey, author of the Carlos Guitarra fictoid, along with such other Loser Luminaries as Bob Dalton, Chuck Smith and Jennifer Hart — play a national trivia game at Grevey’s pub in Merrifield, Va., every Tuesday night? The multiple-choice questions , answered on an electronic controller, are challenging, but it’s all done with a sense of good spirit and — no surprise with this group — lots of funny comments. The main game starts at 8 p.m. but there’s an earlier round at 7:30. If you’re interested in attending — “It helps to be up on current events and recent deaths,” says regular Paul Kondis (an 85-time Loser himself) — e-mail Paul at paul.kondis [at] eia.gov. Grevey’s is at the corner of U.S. 50 and Gallows Road, just outside the Beltway.
By the way, you might be hearing more about, or even from, Bob over then next month or two: What might be his magnum opus, the wordless, duo-chromatic picture book “Bluebird,” is being released April 9, and it’s already drawn raves from industry publications. And he’ll be going on a 10-city book tour next month, including a stop in Washington (Bob has to check on when and where). I said earlier that Bob does almost everything quickly, but this book was 10 years in the making.
Judging Week 1011 felt like an immediate do-over, since I’d just been through the exercise of reviewing more than 500 sets of Invite results to choose material for our 20th-anniversary retrospective four weeks ago. Not surprisingly, the large majority of the entrants were veteran Losers who were willing to pore over the archived contests on Elden Carnahan’s ever-improving Master Contest List at nrars.org, as well as to be bold enough to try to top humor that had just been designated among the top entries of the past 10 years.
So did this week’s inking entries really beat out the ones cited in the retrospective? Did Barbara Sarshik’s song parody for Week 565 top her original? I’ll leave that for you to decide, but I’d certainly say that these entries make good company for the classics. (Barb’s “Les Miz” parody was the fave this week of Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford.)
Once again, the neologisms, Mess With Our Heads bank headlines, and song parodies proved especially fruitful. But depending on how you count, we’re showing off about 20 contests this week — another chance to display the scope of the Invite’s humor.
It turned out that three of this week’s top four winners had not become residents of Loserland back when most of these contests ran. Robert Schechter, who didn’t get his first ink until he thundered onto the scene less than two years ago in Week 931, gets his fifth win and close to his 100th ink for a contest that dates from 2003. Likewise, Robert’s comrade-in-verse Frank Osen (debuted Week 938) used most of his entries this week on the Week 580 challenge to combine two countries. Frank’s two inks this week give him a total of 22 so far, including three “above the fold.”
Dixon Wragg, however, gets his mug or tote bag for a neologism for Week 913 — a contest that he was not only around for (he debuted in Week 887), but one he entered, unsuccessfully. And his ink today contradicts my advice that it’s not fruitful to resubmit old entries in retrospective contests: Dixon got no ink in 2011 for this very same entry. Today he scores his 70th, and his eighth above the fold.
Kevin Dopart, who’s been the highest-scoring Loser in every full year since he started entering the Invite in Week 626, 2005, noted that he “mostly focused on contests that preceded my passage through the Gates of Loserdom”; this week he inks with entries for 545, 547, 557 and 580. And a much newer Loser phenom, Mark Raffman (debuted Week 979), scores with Weeks 531, 545, 695 and 891.
Among the honorable mentions, I was especially taken with Kathy Fraeman’s terrific song parody of “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun.” But I knew it didn’t make sense to run it in the print paper, where there’s no link to the music, because nobody knows that song. We found this out three years ago at the Losers’ award banquet, the Flushies, for which Mae Scanlan had penned a delightful multi-verse parody of this song (“He’s a man who has fun with a pun”) to honor Loser of the Year/ Rookie of the Year Craig Dykstra — and almost no one sang along. Even most of the Losers who formed an ad hoc little choir had to be taught it. Meanwhile, thanks to the movie version of “Les Miz,” a lot more people than before know the earworm tune that Babara Sarshik used. (By the way, Barbara has an expanded and reorganized version of her famed “Seder Songs” parody booklet for Passover, free to print out at barbarasarshik.com. It is truly fabulous.)
Details are still being worked out, but organizer Dave Prevar says it’s on for Saturday, May 11, at Jake’s pub in Northwest Washington. It’s not very near a Metro stop, so Dave is working on possible parking arrangements. Please save the date!
Because I judge the Invitational blindly whenever possible, I don’t see until the end of the process who wrote the inking entries. And often, it’s not till quite a bit after that (if at all) that I look up all the names of the people whose entries made my short list, but ended up not getting ink. I did that this past Tuesday for the results of Week 1010, the cartoon captions, and I found that Sheila Ratcliffe — a brand-new entrant — was on that list five times, for various cartoons. I sent her a note, telling her to keep trying, and it turned out that she hadn’t even known the results had been published yet. But I hope we hear lots more from Sheila — even Losers don’t deserve that kind of luck.
Now that he has the nrars.org website set up — the first official successor to the beloved gopherdrool.com — Elden Carnahan, keeper of the Loser Stats, is out to assemble a complete archive of all 1,000-plus Invite contests and results in an easily accessible, permanent format. The Post does have several hundred of the later contests online, but as we’ve learned, they have a way of disappearing from the Internet.
To that end, I’ve started sending Elden PDFs of the Web versions of some recent contests, since my home computer has a version of Adobe Acrobat that lets me combine several Web pages (usually there are two or three per week) into a single PDF file. The process takes 3 to 5 minutes per contest, which isn’t an eternity, of course, but it would be nice if the task could be split up with others in the Loser community who have similar software. In the coming days, in Elden will prepare a list of all the contests he needs PDFs for; if you can help out, please e-mail him at elden.carnahan [at] gmail.com, so he can let you know what needs doing. He has some other plans as well, including a giant searchable database. We adore Elden.
I have a way to send PDFs of the print pages from The Post’s system, so I'll continue to send him those. But as is true this week, there are often entries online that aren’t in the print version.
While very occasionally — I mean a few times a year — a reader will complain to me about some entry from that week’s results, The Post virtually never gets a complaint about the general disgustingosity of the entire column. That’s maybe surprising, but I think that Post readers either enjoy the column or, sensibly, choose not to read it. And the non-enjoyers certainly don’t tend to read the whole thing and take notes. But The Post’s new reader representative (the post replacing that of the ombudsman) did get an e-mail this week about the cartoon contest results: in the print paper:
“I don’t often read the Style Invitational page on Sundays, but sometimes I scan it,” the reader said. “At times, it’s a bit entertaining. Other times, I find it just plain ‘stupid.’ However, the reason I’m offering my opinion today is because, many other times, I find parts of it in very bad taste. I thought there were several reader-submitted captions for cartoons in this Sunday’s issue that were in poor taste.” She goes on to cite Howard Walderman’s caption “There are some things that many guys find equally appetizing,” for a cartoon shoing both a roast turkey and a naked woman, as well as an entry mentioning Lorena Bobbitt, plus the runner-up prizes.
She ends her complaint by asking, “Why are you stooping so low and what kind of readership are you targeting? And in the same section of the paper that you also publish KidsPost? ... Can’t the Post keep the Style Invitational page entertaining, while maintaining the high standards set for KidsPost and the rest of the Washington Post?”
The letter wasn’t sent to me and so I didn’t feel I needed to step in and answer it. I did do a little research, however, about the number of Style Invitational contests in which “Bobbitt” is mentioned (there are no Losers by that name): There have been sixty-two, and that doesn’t count ones just referring to “Lorena” or the even more oblique “I found it by the side of the road in Manassas.”
The pretty tasteless-sounding (I admit) Maybe You Touched Your Genitals hand sanitzer, one of the two prizes for first runner-up last week, was already given out as a prize years ago, to zero reader complaints.
Of course the Invitational isn’t going to appeal to everyone, and of course there’s humor that is too tasteless to run in the Invitational; I make that decision practically every week (see below). But I don’t think we ought to be held up to the high standards of KidsPost (target age 8 to 12). I am only relieved that we protected this poor reader from seeing the naked lady’s breasts.
Week 904, move the first letter to the end: Lumbers: Sleeping with a woody. (the brand-new Quinn Lobato)
Week 805, change a word by one letter: Hardonnay: A wine known for its aphrodisiac properties. (Tom Witte)
Week 913, move the last letter to the front: Ofellati: A noodle and cream sauce dish. (Tom Witte, again)
And a relatively mild one for Week 955, pair a word or phrase with its anagram: Tsetse testes: fly balls (Lyell Rodieck)