I was reminded of the “good/bad/ugly” contest — which my predecessor, the Czar, ran in 2000 — when I was recently compiling a booklet of the first 500 blots of ink blotted up by Stephen Dudzik, the little prize that comes with induction into the Style Invitational Hall of Fame. While Steve continues to snarf up the ink to this very day — he’s one of only five people to have inked in all 21 years of the Invite — he earned most most of the 500 during the contest’s first decade, and so I found myself reading over a lot of old contests (all available, by the way, through links on Elden Carnahan’s Master Contest List). And I enjoyed rereading the Good/Bad/Ugly so much that I wanted to give it another go.
Very few Invite contests that ran before about 2005 are still on washingtonpost.com, but every one of them is available, in some form, via Elden’s list at nrars.org. Many are just text files, but many others are PDFs of the print pages. There are also links to online pages, though some of those pages have lost their cartoons and photos in The Post’s archiving process. (This is why we’ve started making PDFs of the Web pages as well.) And none of them will count against the monthly limit of Post articles available to nonsubscribers. (Though you should still subscribe — did you hear that Jeff Bezos is pumping money into the Post newsroom?)
Here’s the link to the text version of Week 347, which contains the good, almost good and not at all ugly results of Week 343. Besides the three inking entries I used for the Week 1058 example, here are a few more:
Good: It’s 10 o’clock and you know where your children are.
Bad: They’re in Lorton Penitentiary.
Ugly: Visiting you. (Joel Knanishu)
Good: You are running a four-minute mile!
Bad: After your burglary job got interrupted.
Ugly: The Rottweilers behind you are running a three-minute mile. (Jennifer Hart)
And the week’s winning entry:
Good: Microsoft is found guilty of anti-competitive behavior, leveling the playing field for legit software vendors worldwide.
Bad: Microsoft appeals, miring the federal government in costly litigation while competitive innovation continues to be hindered by Microsoft’s monopolistic practices.
Ugly: Bill Gates’s hair. (Teen Sheng)
As always with our Dead Letters contest — this is the 11th — I got to learn about a wide range of Departees from the notable-death lists. There were 15 poems submitted just for Andre Cassagnes, inventor of the Etch-a-Sketch and the subject of this week’s winning entry. Also as usual, many entries contained a clever phrase or punch line but weren’t sustained quite enough by the rest of the poem; “near rhymes” or lax meter takes a lot out of a verse that was clearly intended to have rhyme and meter. (And those that weren’t intended to — except for humorous effect , such as clerihews*— just weren’t as effective as those with well-crafted rhyme and meter.) As Stephen Sondheim notes in his book “Finishing the Hat,” in which he’s talking about the related genre of song lyrics, “Claiming that true rhyme is the enemy of substance is the sustaining excuse of lyricists who are unable to rhyme well with any consistency. ... I’ve never come across a near rhyme that works better than a perfect one would.”
The Style Invitational’s roster of Loser Bards stepped up once again; you’ll see lots of names usually blotting up scads of ink in Invite poetry contests, such as Chris Doyle, Brendan Beary, Nan Reiner, Frank Osen and this week’s winner, Gary Crockett. But it was refreshing also to see two contestants who aren’t Invite fixtures among this week’s “above the fold” winners: It’s the 14th blot of ink for Mike Duffy, now relocated from Washington to Butte, Mont., though I think it’s his first Invite poem. And while it’s but the ninth blot of ink for Chris O’Carroll, Chris is a veteran poet, with two published collections of light verse. (“Frequently confused about the distinction between light verse and serious poetry, he does what he can to confuse others.”) Meanwhile, Gary and Nan, who started the Invitational about the same time about four years ago, have been spattered with 171 and 165 inks, respectively.
With Malitz toward ... The fave this week of Sunday Style Editor David Malitz was Frank Osen’s verse about end-of-the-world predictor Harold Camping, an entry that edged out 16 other odes to Camping, some of them pretty similar.
In addition to Nan’s four inking entries this week, she also submitted a very fine poem about Mikhail Kalashnikov that was humorous only in the way that bitingly witty editorial cartoons are humorous. It had one problem, though: the premise was inaccurate — Adam Lanza didn’t use an AK-47. But I still wanted to share this double dactyl:
Lived yet to see,
Thanks to his masterpiece,
Twenty sweet six-year-olds
Die before he.
(The Scarlet Letter for excellence in unprintability appears at the bottom of this column.)
*Clerihews are short biographical verses that rhyme but have deliberately irregular meter, which is part of their humor. The problem is that that humor wears thin after you’ve read a few of these. The best ones I saw in this contest:
Chose parts carefully as a rule,
But sometimes the drinking
Muddied his thinking
And he would agree
In some cinematic abhorrence
That disgraced the memory of “Lawrence.” (Rob Stuart)
And in the traditional four-line form:
Whose prose wasn’t fancy,
Still wrote many best-sellers,
Which he thought gave him license to act like a schmuck to most fellers. (Brendan Beary)
While judging the Week 1054 obit poems, I gasped at this pair from a Henry Herrmann:
1. He wrote clever verses, you see,
And did it much better than me
Gave the Empress a smile,
Was always in Style,
Steve Ettinger, the PhD.
2. I hate to be the messenger,
But Stephen J. Ettinger
Has seen his last ink.
As you’ll see from this lovely tribute, being an 18-time Loser was just a small part of Steve Ettinger’s life. But among those 18 blots of ink, spread from 1997 to 2008, were some Invite classics, including an “Ask Backwards” zinger about President Bush’s commuting of the sentence of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in the Valerie Plame affair: “A. More bizarre than Karl Rove dancing. Q. What is Scooter Libby walking?
But Steve’s favorite Invite genre was poetry. For instance, he was a runner-up in a contest to write poems about any of the obscure words on a list we supplied:
Oubliette, a dungeon with an opening only in the ceiling (the word comes from the French word for “forget”):
With an old oubliette, one could just forget
About terrorists like old Geronimo.
So why must the press write of the distress
At our new oubliette in Guantanamo?
And, yes, he got ink with an obit poem, for the boxer Max Schmeling:
The Aryan myth was Maxing out,
When he and Louis clashed,
In two short minutes of their bout,
Along with him it crashed.
Who guessed he’d be a friend of Joe’s
And end up Schmeling like a rose?
Henry Herrmann is an old canoeing buddy of Steve’s, and I’m sure Steve would think Henry’s Invite entries are the perfect tribute.
This weekend, The Post might be running this letter to the editor from Dorothy M. Pugh of Potomac, Md.:
“It’s obvious that men have more time for themselves than women. Of the 22 answers to the Style Invitational contest in The Post on Jan. 26 [Week 1053 results], 19 were by men. In fact, one of these men had three answers listed and two men had two listed. And don’t try to tell me they are more clever than women.”
Until reading that letter, I hadn’t noticed the gender imbalance in last week’s results. In any case, these days such a lopsided ratio is an aberration; in fact, three of the top six Losers of the past year (since last March) carry the distaff: Danielle Nowlin, Nan Reiner and Beverley Sharp, with 68, 54 and 54 inks among them. And of course there are many other active female Losers as well. Still, there always have been more men than women competing, and inking, in the Invite, and Ms. Pugh may very well have put her finger on the reason: that perhaps men have more time for themselves. At least she didn’t accuse me, at least explicitly, of failing to appreciate the humor of the XX demographic.
It’s every February, for some reason, that the Loser brunch is held at Buddy’s Crabs and Ribs in Annapolis, Md. — maybe it’s to avoid the summer crowds of tourists. Anyway, it’s a nice buffet right by the river in the historic town; I’m not sure yet whether I’m going — it’s at noon on Sunday, Feb. 16 — but if there’s a new Loser who’d like to come, I’ll try to make it out there. Last February, Post reporter David Montgomery joined us to interview the Losers for a Style section feature published as part of the Invite’s 20-year retrospective, which led to a crowd of something like 20 people. This time, without the media presence, it should be more intimate. Details and an RSVP link here.
Actually, two entries from intermittent Loser Stan McLeroy were both impressive and very daring, especially for an obit poem. Needless to say, his honorable mention about Peter O’Toole won’t be appearing in the print paper, and is instead safely buried under dozens of other poems, so that only those not likely to be offended will read that far down the page. But this one, which I think is even better, was just too graphic for Invite ink. But it’s well deserving of this week’s Scarlet Letter.
Sex researcher Virginia Johnson:
Masters and Johnson studied what leads up to Philip Morris,
The ups and down and ins and outs of penis and clitoris.
At 88 Virginia Johnson saddened us by dyin’
(Though we’d hoped she’d croak spread-eagle at the age of sixty-nyin).
As Death drew near, male interns say, she still engaged in humming,
And just before she died she screamed aloud, “Oh God, I’m coming!”