I am one of the last people in America to have gotten a smartphone; I’ve had mine for less than a year. (Even later to the party was the deposed Czar of The Style Invitational, who just wrote about his this month.) Of course, I’m totally at sea now without it; I left it at home accidentally when I went to the supermarket this morning, and I found myself thinking: As long as I don’t wonder about anything in the next hour ...
And maybe that’s why we’re about eight years late with this week’s contest.
I am old enough, and had the right career, to be reminded continually, still today, how exciting and game-changing it is to have All The Answers literally at one’s fingertips. You don’t wonder in print about whether something happened that way; you don’t ponder it with your companion. You find out. In two seconds. If you have a slow connection.
In my pre-Empress job at The Post (I did both simultaneously for several years, actually), I was a copy editor in the Style section, starting in 1982. Along with fixing grammar and writing headlines, Style copy editors also checked the stories as best they could for accuracy. I had one of the few jobs for which being good at trivia is a relevant skill. To aid us on the copy desk each night (it was an evening job), we had a table full of big reference books: a world atlas; the two volumes of Who’s Who in America; the World Almanac; the Diplomatic List of ambassadors and their spouses (Style covered more soiree-type events back then); a couple of film encyclopedias; a book of Billboard’s Top 40 since 1956; and of course the giant Webster’s Third to supplement our (incompatible) Webster’s New World desk dictionaries. And we kept a Rolodex — remember those? — full of index cards containing facts that we might need that weren’t in these books: for example, which local theaters spelled it “Theater” (Kennedy Center, Arena, Theater J) or “Theatre” (most everyone else but not all). If we were still stumped, we were to call the researchers in The Post’s newsroom library on the phone. And if there was something we didn’t understand from the writer, or something significant we thought we should change, we were supposed to call the writer on the phone at home.
I hated making phone calls; I was borderline phobic. (I could never have been a reporter.) It took years before I stopped having palpitations when I had to call a writer; I even avoided calling the library. The Post finally converted to PCs in the 1990s from the dedicated word processors it had used since around 1980, but it wasn’t until way into the 1990s when my tech-savvier fellow copy editor David Hall (now owner of the old-photo site Shorpy) showed me this thing called Alta Vista, in which you typed a bunch of keywords with various plus-signs and stuff ... and it would look things up for you! With no phone call!
The reference books did hang around on the table until we moved offices to another floor in the Post building; the giant dictionary and the increasingly outdated atlas moved with us.
And now, of course, there are no longer any mistakes of fact in The Washington Post.
The news of the world this past week has been beyond depressing, with so many people on so many sides acting shamefully and counterproductively, harming others, themselves, and their futures.
It’s enough to make you cry out: EVER-PRESENT EFFERVESCENT HEIFER PRESENT! And I hope that you, like me, will just break out laughing at the pointlessly, ridiculously funny entries like that one (by First Offender Joel Golden) and the 30 or so more rhyming answers to oddball questions in Week 1079 of the Invitational. They’re even stupidfunnier when you read them out loud, even the questions.
Also: In Washington, at least, the weather is freakishly nice and unjungly for the middle of the summer. The Nationals are in first place, and the local football team hasn’t lost a game yet this season. This very afternoon, Royal Scion No. 1 is bringing over his girlfriend, who’s visiting from Rome and would like to experience some Real Americana, and so we’re going to eat steamed crabs caked with Old Bay, and corn on the cob, and baked beans, and coleslaw, and watermelon, and even apple pie, and maybe we’ll read some of today’s inking entries as we down our Natty Bohs. And so let’s skip debating what “all the words must rhyme” should have meant. In next week’s contest, you can go back to playing perfectly by the rules. For limericks.
It’s the first win, and just the sixth blot of ink ever, for Rachel Bernhardt of D.C.’s Maryland suburbs. Rachel has been dabbling in the Invitational — with just the tip of a pinky toe, and then with great toweling off in between — since Week 169, when she was first runner-up in a contest to point out really stupid lyrics in existing songs (“The other night I was at a party / I was dancin’ with some other guy / Johnny jumped up and he hit him / ’Cause he still loved me, that’s why!”).
This turned out to be a fabulous contest for Loser Ace Mae Scanlan, whose four inks this week brings her to 257, including 22 “above the fold.” Mae, who’s noted that she went to elementary school in Connecticut with John McCain but she was in a higher grade, is a wonderfully clever wordsmith, poet and parodist, renowned in the light-verse world. But she’s often at a disadvantage in the Invite because she refuses to send me any entries she wouldn’t want her minister to read in the paper. Otherwise, Mae well might match the 1,300 inks of Tom Witte, who probably doesn’t labor under that same restriction.
You have to read John McCooey’s rhyme out loud, doing your best Paula Deen imitation, to get it. It’s John’s 28th ink since his debut in Week 903, and his second runner-up entry. And Doug Franks’s terse chronicle of Iowa’s two major raisons-d’etre — farming and political primaries — might be a tad out of date, given that the 2016 presidential hopefuls already have been trampling the cornfields, but I still love it. It gives Doug 59 blots of ink, seven above the fold.
But it’s always fun to have the August Loser brunch up in Gettysburg, Pa., where on Aug. 17 at noon a contingent will gather at the Appalachian Brewing Co. eatery and then take a battlefield tour led by hometown Loser Roger Dalrymple, probably accompanied by fellow G’burg Loser Marty McCullen. I’m not sure that I can make it this year, but if you’re interested in the Civil War or just want to get out to the countryside, it’s an entertaining and enlightening way to spend a Sunday. RSVP to Elden Carnahan here; there’s a good chance you can find someone to carpool with if you ask on the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook.
(As always, please don’t read the following if you don’t want to read crude jokes. Because that is what they are.) What do Manassas defense attorneys suggest you use if you’re sexting? Loaner boner. (Jeff Shirley)
What’s the nickname of the law permitting certain prescription drugs to be sold over the counter in suppository form? Poophole loophole. (Robert Schechter)
What do you call someone who is always making self-abuse jokes on Facebook? Fapper Yapper. (Elden Carnahan)
What’s the name of that new Brazilian wax salon? Shine a Vagina. (Rick Haynes)
What’s the only guaranteed way to get pussy in bed every night? Willow Pillow (Jacob Aldridge)