Loser (Larry Gray, Union Bridge, Md.) has won The Style Invitational four times, but he says the celebrity in this picture is the tree. See our Meet the Parentheses section below. (Family Photo)

Style Conversational: Even if you first succeeded ...

The Empress revisits The Style Invitational’s revisiting contest

The Style Invitational has been doing second-chance contests like Week 1152 for almost as long as there’s been something to look back on: The first one was in Week 94, Jan. 1, 1995, and it invited readers to enter any contest from Week 1 through 93 with “an answer you may have thought of after the contest deadline was over.” The results contained entries to 17 different contests from 14 people. I know this because for the past several years, links to the Week 94 results — and all others — can be found on Elden Carnahan’s Master Contest List on the Losers’ website, NRARS.org.

But no such website existed in 1995, three years before the founding of Google. The Invite itself wasn’t even online until well into 1995 (The Post has since gone back and put up old Invites and many other old stories from the archives). It wasn’t until Week 54 that the Invite even started accepting e-mailed entries, judging from this announcement that betrays a little fuzziness about e-mail vs. websites: “This week the Style Invitational goes on line. You can submit entries through the Internet at this address: losers@access.digex.net.”

So the entrants in Week 94 most likely either had to remember their favorite Style Invitational contests of the preceding two years or had saved paper clippings. The situation was probably the same, at least for most contestants, in 1997, 1998 and maybe even 2001. What weirdos!

Just after the Empress took over the operation at the end of 2003, she was able to refer Week 538 entrants to the index of 100 previous contests at washingtonpost.com/styleinvitational, the same automatically compiled index that we use today. It wasn’t till 2005, though, that we started limiting the contest pool to those from the previous year, rather than Of All Time.

Now that the old contests are so much easier to access, though — both through washingtonpost.com and, usually more completely, with art, through PDFs on Elden’s list — maybe we should have a contest to reenter contests from 1998 or whatever.

General guidelines (though often broken) for retrospective contests: Short entries are more likely to get ink than longer ones, BUT I almost always run a couple of lengthy entries as well, especially song parodies. This is both because I want to provide an interesting mix of contests and because so many worthy parodies — often the most impressive work of the year from the Losers — lose out on ink the first time around because of space limitations. Also, caption contests and others involving graphics are unlikely to ink; we might reprint one cartoon in the results, but it takes a lot of space when there’s also the new contest on the page. And if a contest requires a long explanation for someone to understand the entry, that’s also a big strike against it for this contest. (I try to limit the descriptions to what’s really pertinent: For example, for Week 1118 I would say “‘Breed’ two racehorses from a list we provided” and not bother to explain that it was a list of 100 names of horses nominated for last year’s Triple Crown events, that the limit was 18 characters, etc.

In the early days of the Invite, there was a rule against resubmitting an old entry; I dropped that condition when I took over. My predecessor, the Czar, thought that was a big mistake because my judging could prove to be inconsistent. And perhaps it has; a few resubmissions have indeed gotten ink. But in general, that’s because I didn’t have room for them the first time around.

And there’s always a chance that you’ll get ink with an entry that someone else — or several someones-else — sent the first time around, and went inkless. Unfair to the first people? Arguably. But as long as the entry (or one like it) didn’t already run, I won’t disqualify it just because it was submitted earlier, even if it reveals some inconsistency on my part. Readers will enjoy the humor — what’s it to them if it had been submitted by someone else; I’ll save untold hours of research into my entry archives; and whoopee, you get a 20-cent magnet that that first person didn’t.

But don’t, of course, send an entry that you know someone else submitted earlier; on the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook, and in the Yahoo e-mail group Losernet, contestants sometimes share their “noinks,” and come on, I know that none of you would be such a cad as to consciously steal them.


If you belong to the Style Invitational Devotees group on Facebook, you’ll see numerous posts from someone who writes under a pseudonym and whose profile photo shows a woman wearing a tiger costume, her face covered by striped makeup. That would be Nan Reiner, a huge fan of the Princeton Tigers and a huge ly good writer of verse that plays off today’s headlines. And so I wasn’t shocked in the final stage of judging Week 1148 — the part where I search through my e-mail to find who wrote each of the inking entries — that over and over, Nan’s name kept showing up. This week’s Inkin’ Memorial gives Nan her 13th Invite win, and an amazing 41st ink “above the fold” among her 280-some blots of ink.

On the other hand, it’s just the 10th blot for the less Invite-addicted but clearly talented first runner-up Perry Beider, who gets our Ecumenically Tasteless Holiday Pack: the ugly white “Jewjitsu” T-shirt and the Christian jelly beans (“Red is for Christ’s blood). And the Losers’ Circle is filled out as is often the case, with zings from Beverley Sharp and Gary Crockett.

I was going to reluctantly self-censor First Offender Michael Rolfe’s TankaWanka about Germaine Greer, so I’m glad I consulted first with copy chief Courtney Rukan and ace editor Doug Norwood, who both thought saying “lop off your penis” in this context was all right even in the print Invite. However, I thought the following two very good TWs were better suited for the Conversational:

National Knee Day (October 22)
He told her, “Well, jeez,
Today’s in honor of knees.
To show my respect
In a manner that’s correct,
I’ll say: Get down on them, please!” (from the often saucy Brian Allgar)

And this one from the usually highly decorous Matt Monitto, who shows that today’s world can drive anyone to bad language (especially if it’s a foreign one):

The Paris attacks:
Mankind’s resolve never cracks.
We stand and issue
A response to this crisis:
“Va te faire foutre, ISIS.”


I can’t wait to return to the buffet at the sun-splashed London Curry House in the spit-spot Cameron Station section of Alexandria, Va. We’re having our first Loser Brunch there, and while I know it’s a crazy time of year, I hope many of you will join me. RSVP to Elden here. We’ll start at noon, as soon as the restaurant opens; I’ll need to leave by 1:30.


In his 4 1/2 years with the Invite, Larry has spent a lot of time hanging around the Losers’ Circle; he’s won four Inkin’ Memorials and six runners-up. His first ink was a neologism from the recession era: “Sellulose: Superabsorbent substance that sucks value from whatever it touches; commonly used as home insulating material in the past decade.” While Larry lives way out in the middle of nowhere, close to the Pennsylvania line, he’s come down for several Loser events and joined us on at least one of our annual Gettysburg day trips. As usual in our Meet the Parentheses series, Larry modified the Empress’s basic Q&A to answer what he felt like answering. Maybe all the Losers should participate in a political debate.

Age: 50-mumble

Where I Live: The bucolic outskirts of Union Bridge, Md.

What do people who’ve never heard of the Invite know you as? Larry. What? Oh, you mean, “What do they know about me?” Well, as a young’un I aspired to follow in the footsteps of noted naturalist and keeper of the Wild Kingdom, Marlin Perkins, and I studied hard so that I could sell Mutual of Omaha Insurance. No, wait ... I attended West Virginia University, where I majored in wildlife management.

I graduated just after the election of that great environmentalist Ronald Reagan, who apparently believed that “preserving wildlife” meant “making spotted-owl pickles.” Result: I never found a job working with the woodland critters. I got the last laugh, though; I rode the Ronnie wave and landed a job with the Defense Department. (From one kind of Predator to another.) Now, I spend as much of my time as possible acquiring expensive wood and reducing it to sawdust; playing a game called Whackdammit (which more coordinated people call “golf”); and making sounds come out of a guitar that should never be permitted in a civilized society.

Closest Brush With the Famous: See photo. It was taken in Mount Victoria Park in Wellington, New Zealand, and I’m perched in the tree from “The Lord of the Rings” under which Frodo and Sam spent their first night as they fled the Shire. That tree is a celebrity.

What’s Your Loser Anagram? My official Granola Smear is “Ay, Grrrl, Ay!” but if I could use my full name (with middle initial) I’d be “Crawly Avenger.” Who wouldn’t want to be “Crawly Avenger”?

When Did You Start Losing? I submitted my first entries (and scored my first ink) in Week 923 in 2011. So far, I’m at somewhere north of 75 official blots plus a few unofficial mentions in the Conversational.

What’s Your Favorite Ink? My favorites tend to be submitted by others, but here are two of my own that I’m particularly fond of:

Week 949, analogies: “A hand on a Bible is to a politician’s honesty as truck nuts are to a driver’s virility.”
Week 955. pair a word and its anagram: “Has-been banshee: Roseanne Barr.”

Proof of Loserosity: None needed. But I can give it up any time I want to. Really.