Style Conversational Week 1404: The Empress of the Style Invitational on this week’s contest and results

But like just about everything else this year, the pandemic sent the Triple Crown schedule into cuckooland, with the Derby postponed from May to September, the Preakness till October, and the Belmont, usually last and longest, run first, but at a shorter length. What to do with the Invite: I wasn’t sure we’d get any Derby race at all, so back in May I went ahead with Week 1382, presenting a list of 100 previous Derby winners back to 1878 and putting them up for stud. The results were, as always, a delightful deluge of puns and other wordplay, sifted from almost 4,000 entries. And then, as usual, we had the encore “grandfoals” contest in which the inking entries were bred with one another, with similarly clever results.

But sure enough, the Kentucky Derby did go off on Sept. 5, and I couldn’t resist playing the ponies one more time — with the usual list of this year’s 3-year-old nominees in Week 1400. But would readers want to contribute to yet another race around the track, especially if they didn’t get ink before?

Yup, pretty much! I ended up with 3,451 entries from more than 300 Losers, and posted 70 of the best, from 59 different contestants, in this week’s results. (But still, I decided that a second grandfoal contest would be too much, even for me.) According to Loser Jonathan Hardis, who every year compiles all these often messy and misspelled entries into one perfectly sorted and arranged list, there were 1,889 different pairings of two horses (out of 4950 possible).

Not so surprisingly, 228 separate entries employed the stud service of Hail to the Chief — most of them, alas, to uninspired venting like Charlatan x Hail to the Chief = 45. But HTTC did succeed with three progeny: Hail to the Chief x Close Shave = Stubble Genius (Rick Haynes), x American Baby = Mad Don and Child (Elizabeth Kline), and, yes, x Charlatan = Bone Spurious (Stephen Dudzik). On the other end of the stud spectrum, only 11 entries tried Caracaro, and Sam Mertens parlayed its sound into the inking Superfecto x Caracaro = Expiali-docious.

As usual, most of the foals are puns, and a number of others are the “operative” variety, in which Horse A is modified by Horse B to produce Horse C. The third-place name, submitted separately by Laurie Brink and Duncan Stevens, is As Seen on TV x Censored = ** *een on TV. So is, in a different order, Laura Bennett Peterson’s As Seen on TV x Believe Now = Regret Later.

My “shortlist,” as usual, numbered around 200 totally inkworthy entries. You very well may have been robbed of ink. If this is so, you may file a claim for the return of your steep entry fee. Or you can send your best “noink” again in December when I run the retrospective redo of the previous year’s contest.

Maybe your entry was one of these clever ones?

Ancient Land x Telephone Talker = Babble On

Poe x Explosive (or Pneumatic) = The Tell-Tale Fart

As Seen on TV x Verb = Adverb

Pneumatic x Semper Fi = Drill Sergeant

Digital x Fort Knox = Goldfinger

Poe x Gimme Some Mo = Nevermo

Close Shave x Telephone Talker = Smooth Operator

All very nice, all sent by too many people to credit — anywhere from four to 18 per foal.

It is, to my surprise as I looked it up this morning, the very first Invite win for Longtime Loser Steve Langer, who’s achieved more fame (not to mention gratitude) in Loserdom by hosting, along with spouse Allison Fultz, the annual Losers’ Post Holiday Party every January for the past four years. ONE DAY we’ll return to the Langerfultzes! Anyway, Steve gets a Lose Cannon with Life on the Road x Villainous = RV Weinstein. The rest of the Losers’ Circle is populated by Invite Hall of Famers Chris Doyle and Duncan Stevens along with two people who mostly save themselves for the horse contests: Laurie Brink and Actual Horse Person Steve Price.

I’m also delighted to discover that we have six First Offenders this week, which is exactly six more than we had last week. It’s evidence that funny, clever readers continue to find the Invitational and keep it fresh and vibrant. This week they’ll get the coveted Fir Stink, but I’m looking forward to mailing them real prizes once they score a second time.

Didn’t get some of today’s inking entries? That’s okay — I don’t think that reflects badly on either you or the entries; people just have different ranges of knowledge. The Czar Himself, my predecessor, was unfamiliar with the term “jarhead” to mean a Marine, in Chris Doyle’s “Semper Fi x Well Connected = Jarhead Kushner.” You might not be familiar with Cardi B singing about her “money moves,” but her 2017 video of her earthy song “Bodak Yellow” has more than 900 million views. It’s a significant piece of popular culture.

Jonathan Hardis has a fairly successful MO for figuring out the references: He Googles the horse name, with the pun, and MrMs Google, that crazy smart Bot That Will Take Over Our Minds, more often than not supplies the original name or expression being punned on — because it’s programmed to anticipate the stupidest of misspellings. For instance, as Jonathan recounted in the Style Invitational Devotees group on Facebook this morning, he searched on Mark Raffman’s “Bomb in Gilead” and was instantly taken to a page about the beautiful spiritual “There Is a Balm in Gilead.” David Peckarsky’s “Little Bunny FU FU” made the smaller leap to the children’s song “Little Bunny Foo Foo.” I tried a few more: Our Lose Cannon-winning “RV Weinstein” sure enough brought up Harvey, Weinstein, but it didn’t figure out Laurence McGuire’s “Fauxnecia” as Phoenicia or Elizabeth Kline’s “Mad Don and Child” as Madonna and Child. “Notre Tame” straight out gave me “Notre Dame.” “Mayor Peat” evinced the polite “Did you mean Mayor Pete?” Not all that surprisingly, it had no trouble guessing whom “Jarhead Kushner” was referencing.

Still, the point isn’t in making the reader do research to figure out an obscure reference — it’s to make the reader laugh at a joke. And I hope that any Invite reader could do that easily with the large majority of this week’s 70 inking foal names.

Speaking of obscure references! This entry was fortunately accompanied by a note that at least kept me from wondering what I was missing: Wrecking Crew x Max Player = I Said “PLACE!” Loser Jeff Loren went on to explain: “think “The Sting” … “I said ‘Place it on Lucky Dan!’”; Wrecking Crew was the winner.” I had seen the movie “The Sting” as a middle-schooler when it came out in 1973, and perhaps several times since, but still had no idea. So out of curiosity I looked up the screenplay online and read the scene in which Studs Lonegan meant “place it” to mean bet on Lucky Dan to place, or finish second, but it’s misinterpreted and Lucky Dan does finish second and Studs loses $300,000. But actually, the winning horse in that race is named Syphon, not Wrecking Crew. Wrecking Crew is the winner in a different scene in which Lonegan doesn’t get his bet in on time. Whatever. It’s interesting that the horse Wrecking Crew on our list has the same name as a horse mentioned in one small scene in a 1973 movie, and props to Jeff for noticing, but this is not the basis for a joke.

Appropriately for a breeding contest, I guess, I’m counting three Loser Families getting ink today: a brother and sister, a father and daughter, and a husband and wife. First Offender Susan Zarrow immediately jumps off the One Hit Wonders list with a two-ink debut to join brother Dave Zarrow, one of the very, very few Losers to have blotted up ink in all 28 of the Invite’s years so far (though not this week). Laurie Brink and her father, Bernard, enter the horse name contests every year, and at least one of them always gets ink; both of them do today. And both Hall of Fame Loser Mark Raffman and his wife, Claudia, score magnets today. Members of other multiple-Loser families getting ink this week include Jonathan Hardis, brother of Kathy Hardis Fraeman; Dudley Thompson, hub of Susan; and Brett Dimaio, spouse of Pia Palamidessi. And I think that First Offender Paul Madigan is affiliated with horse person Mia Wyatt. I hope that these Losers’ family rivalry isn’t too horribly cutthroat.

What Doug Dug: Ace Copy Editor Doug Norwood agreed with me on all my choices for the top winners. And he also singled out Luke Baker’s Cardi O, First Offender Susan Zarrow’s Two Corinthians, Saint Nick, credited to both Claudia Raffman and Beryl Benderly; Rob Wolf’s The Real Dill, and Kathy Al-Assal’s BAM-boozle.

This Punnish Inquisition*: This week’s contest, another Ask Backwards

*By Seth Brown for a 2006 Ask Backwards

Okay, it’s not really “Jeopardy!”; it’s more like Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent bit with Ed McMahon, or the regular segments on the British comedy show “Mock the Week.” But starting with the very first Ask Backwards in Week 24, 1993, for years we asked: “You are on ‘Jeopardy!’ Those are the answers. What are the questions?”

So you can check out the Jeopardy page of the Master Contest List on the Losers’ website,, and click on any of the dozens of links in the right columns, and for inspiration and guidance for this week’s contest, see classic entries like these:

2018: A. Grace at the Trumps’ Thanksgiving dinner. / Q. After Lisa at the White House Halloween party and Julie at the Veterans Day breakfast, whom did he grab next? (Jesse Frankovich)

2013: A. The Wicked Witch of the Waist /Q. Who said, “Bring me the girl, and the little dog, too — but substitute a small salad for the fries, and can I have the dressing on the side?” (Mark Raffman)

2009: A. Ferret booties. Q. According to a recent poll, what are most male ferrets interested in, way ahead of “good ferret personality” and “good ferret sense of humor”? (Tom Witte)

2004: A. Victoria’s Secret Broccoli. Q. What was the original title of “The Crying Game”? (Seth Brown)

2000: A. Lucy in the Sky With Diapers. Q. What song actually does contain the lyric “The girl with colitis goes by”? (Sandra Hull)

1998: A. Saddam and Eve. Q, Name two people who are famous for not having any brothers-in-law. (Sue Lin Chong)

1994: A. Spelling, Punctuation and Gas. Question: What are three things related to the use of a colon? (Chuck Smith)

(The headline “A Foal and His Mommy” was a non-inking headline by Jon Gearhart for Week 1400.)

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