Bob Staake pauses during his book-signing appearance at Politics and Prose to inspect Loser Jeff Contompasis’s amazing ear canal. (By Janet Galope)

Happy Derby weekend, everyone. While I no longer indulge my girlhood horse obsession — in third grade I used to repeatedly check out “Great Racehorses of 1956” from the bowels of the Norfolk city library — I still try to watch the Run for the Roses every year, and of course I always root for one of “our” horses to win.

This year’s 20-horse Derby field (as of this morning, when I checked) includes 17 steeds who were on the list of 100 potential “studs” in the Week 1016 horse-breeding contest — not too shabby, since the initial pool was almost 400 horses. Eleven of those 17 resulted in inking foals, including the three current favorites in the race: Verrazano, Orb and Goldencents. (Goldencents is getting huge press because he’s owned by Kentucky basketball coach Rick Pitino, — even though “owned” means “5 percent owned.”) But while I do try to include the most promising Derby horses on my initial list, of course I didn’t choose this week’s winning and Losing entries by the abilities of the actual horses.

Judging the horse name contest — this was the Invite’s 19th, not counting the grandfoals and other spinoffs — is always labor-intensive and, okay, at times tedious: I don’t have a reliable tool to count the number of entries I received, but I can safely say there were several thousand this year; I received more than 400 e-mails, each of which contained up to 25 entries (and many had the full 25). I combined all the entries into one giant list and then searched on each name, from Abraham to Vyjack, copying out the worthy combinations. Some names were used in more than 150 entries, others only 30 or so. This initial pass yielded literally hundreds of good entries. I then culled that list to about 200, bounced it off (in two parts) the ever-obliging Czar of the Style Invitational, and eventually pared it down to the still-lengthy list of sixty-nine winning and Losing entries that appear today (including a whopping 57 in print).

Despite the time it takes to judge this contest, I always look forward to it (this is the 11th I’ve done, including the time I filled in as Auxiliary Czar in 2001), because the results are always so bleepin’ good. I know that we’ll end up with great material. And certainly this year was no exception.

While this contest is always one of the most widely entered, I’d always doubted how popular it is to readers. After all, each entry, while short, is a little puzzle that requires figuring out how the first two elements combine to produce the third. Is it a case of what we sometimes call Clever Not Funny?

Bob Staake finally meets the Empress in an impromptu visit to the newsroom the evening of April 29. She is actually wearing heels in this photo, obligingly taken by Style editor Michael Cavna on Bob’s phone. (Michael Cavna/The Washington Post)

Seems not, at least in the view of Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford, who proofreads the print edition every week and tells me her favorites. I got an e-mail last night whose subject line read: “BEST INVITE EVER!!!!”

I think that’s because the inking entries are more than just ingenious combinations: They’re jokes — the foal name is a punchline. The jokes are mostly of two kinds: A large proportion are puns — either plays on the sounds of words, or playing with two meanings of the same word; this week’s top three winners fall into that category: Am Fibbyous, Ta-ta!, and Deceit o’ the Pence. And there are also some in which the second name acts to humorously modify the first name, as in the self-deprecating fourth-place winner, Mineworks x Now and Then = I’m Turning 50, or the honorable mention Online Poker x Unlimited Budget = Unlimited Losses.

It’s always exciting when, after I’ve chosen the winners, I finally check to see who wrote them; in a contest like horse names, in which all the entries take virtually the same form, I don’t have a clue beforehand. I’m thrilled that 52 individual Losers ended up with ink; they include a healthy eight First Offenders, as well as some people who specialize in the horse contests every year, including Inkin’ Memorial winner Mark Eckenwiler; Laurie Brink and her father, Bernard; Jonathan Paul; Steve Price; Harvey Smith.

It’s the first Inkin’ Memorial but by no means the first win for Mark Eckenwiler: In fact, he won this very contest in 2002, 2006 and 2007 (as well as an Inker in an unrelated contest). Mark used to be a high-scoring Loser but of late he’s been entering just the equine and joint-legislation contests; this week marks his 174th (and 175th, 176th and 177th) blots of ink, including 18 “above the fold.”

Our Western Australia Bureau, Brad Alexander, edges closer to 100 inks with his second-place entry (I’m glad I’ll be mailing a book to Wanneroo, rather than some piece of glassware). Dudley Thompson cleans up once again with the ponies, gaining Ink No. 85 in the process; and the “turning 50” idea was submitted almost identically by Longtime Loser Mike Gips and relative newcomer and dabbler Andrew Ballard, London-based brother of the more obsessed Robert Ballard of the D.C. area.

What’s different about the grandfoal contest? Obviously, it’s pretty much the same thing. The only difference is that, because most of the initial names are puns that often reflect two elements already, it’s not as essential to incorporate every element of both names in the foal’s name. For instance, while in Week 1016 you couldn’t play on, say, Purple Egg by doing something about purple in general or eggs in general, you have a little more leeway in this second round. But still, we’re looking for funny, and being clever is still a big part of being funny.

This week’s HAW from the smitten Lynn? “I cannot pick a winner. Maybe Che P. Morgan [Chris Doyle], maybe Big Bong Theory [First Offender C.W. Johnson], maybe Waste Point [Susan Thompson], maybe Roe Roe Roe U boat [Gary Lefkowitz, Edmund Conti] ....dyin’ here!”

Watch genuine Style Invitational Losers play with their food: get your Flushies check in now!

The master of so many things Invite, Elden Carnahan, reports 40 reservations received as of this morning, with nine days to go, for the 18th annual Flushies, the Loser Community’s awards lunch and general gabfest, open to all. I hope that a bunch of you are merely dragging your various feet — put Elden and co-organizers Dave Prevar and Pie Snelson at ease by e-mailing Elden ASAP and telling him (truthfully, of course) that The Check Is In The Mail. I’ll of course be there at noon, Saturday, May 11, at Jake’s American Grille in Northwest Washington near Chevy Chase Circle, along with the patient Royal Consort, and Lynn will come in as well. On Saturday, I’ll be joining several Losers at Mae Scanlan’s house for a run-through of the Brand New Song Parody written by Mae in honor of the occasion, anchored as always by Mister Dave Prevar on cowbell. Here’s all the info; contact Elden at elden.carnahan [at] gmail [dot] com.

Also be sure to thank Elden for . . .

. . . his latest addition to Losers’ heaven, on his website In addition to his voluminous and comprehensive Loser Stats and Master Contest List (now including links to hundreds of contests), Elden posted just two days ago a “Contest Word Index: Weeks 1 to 734,” in which you can search on any of more than 47,000 words for your favorite entry, or as Chris Doyle did, to discover that there are 46 hits for “crap.”
I shared the new database today with the Czar of the Style Invitational, who’s responsible for Weeks 1 through 535. His response, via G-chat:

i have to stop.
too addictive.
i did find a contest where you chose all the wrong winners, though!

Well, look what the bluebird dragged in!

I work on the Invitational mostly from home; usually I go downtown to The Post’s newsroom only on Tuesdays to mail out prizes, print out entries, suck up to Lynn, etc. But this week I went in on Monday instead. Around 7:15 p.m. I was trying to wrap things up when I got a call from the security desk: “Pat Myers? There’s a Bob Staake here in the lobby.”

Bob, who lives on Cape Cod, was in town to promote his new, lavishly acclaimed picture book, “Bluebird,” in conjunction with Screen-Free Week (the subject of our Week 1019 contest), at the bookstore Politics & Prose on Tuesday. He had been scheduled tighter than a tick, with appearances at schools after the book signing, and so it seemed I wouldn’t have the chance to finally see Bob in the flesh for the first time in our nine-plus years of working together. But after he checked in to the hotel near Dupont Circle, he figured he might as well just walk over to the Post to see if anyone was still there.

And so I ran down the stairs to retrieve Bob and take him upstairs for a few minutes to show him where we put out the Invite. Lynn was still there, too, as was comics-blogger Mike Cavna (who took the photo at left with Bob’s phone), and the various Style layout people who’ve worked on the Invite over the years. Bob had hugs for everyone.

I was still backed up with the horses and couldn’t make it to Politics & Prose, but a healthy contingent of Losers did, and followed up with lunch at a French restaurant across the street. Above, Bob is captivated by the ear canal of Obsessive Loser Jeff Contompasis (you can check it out for yourself at the Flushies). Bob, of course, also delighted the (chronologically) younger members of the audience; here’s a 90-second video clip made by Geoff Miller, husband of Style Invitational Devotee Janet Galope. Upon watching the clip, my daughter declared, “That guy enjoys his job too much.”

I hope it’s not another nine years before we meet again.

Horses of a different color (blue): The unprintables of Week 1016

When a horse named Rockhardeleven is given as one of the “breeding” options, you know we’ll have lots of unrunnable entries. Among them:

Glowing Ember X Hardrock Eleven = Growing Member (Andrea Kelly)
Hardrock Eleven x Mr Palmer = Han Solo (William Kennard)
Black Onyx x Hardrock Eleven = In Your Dreams (Steve Honley)
Hardrock Eleven x Departing = Mourning Wood (newbie Ras-I Ehl)
Hardrock Eleven + Uncaptured = Free Willy (newbie Gene Villiva, who used all 25 entries on this horse)
Hardrock Eleven + Mr. Palmer = Both Hands Needed (also from Gene)
Hardrock Eleven + He’s Had Enough = Wet and Droopy (and this one, too)

And while “Harry Palmer” did get Web-only ink, these didn’t:
Mr Palmer x Giant Finish = Seminal Event (Andrea Kelly)
Mr Palmer x Tiz a Minister = Emissionary (Ras-I Ehl)