Style Conversational Week 1408 with the Empress of The Style Invitational


In the half-hour interview with Mike, Gene tells how he started the contest when he became editor of the Style section’s Sunday edition in 1993, transforming it from its old identity as the vestige of Style as the “women’s section” into a must-read mini-magazine with a big feature story (often true-crime), a personal essay, a humor column by Tony Kornheiser, and, of course, on Page 2, The Style Invitational, a “rip-off” of the old New York Magazine Competition born from “pure vengeance” for Gene’s failure to get ink for a single entry he’d submitted as an NYU student more than 20 years earlier.

Mike asks Gene about his favorite and least favorite contests to judge, about memorable entries — Gene quotes by heart in his Bronx-born squawky voice an unprintable limerick about assisted-suicide advocate Jack Kevorkian (if YOU were the one who sent the entry including the word “tailpipe,” step forward and take credit!) — about his relationship with the Empress, and his idea for the perfect name for the Washington Football Team.

But Gene’s most colorful, NSFW anecdote is one he also told to former Post writer Dave Kindred for his 2011 history of The Post, “Morning Miracle”: It involves the zany Bob Staake cartoon pictured above, for Week 99 in February 1995. It, another busy Staake cartoon, and a picture of the Mona Lisa were all shown that week; the challenge was to say “what is wrong with these pictures.” And with her mailed-in entry (yes, it was largely snail mail back then), regular contestant Jean Sorensen sent a copy of the cartoon above with one element circled. “Well, this is wrong …”

Much angst ensued, followed by the perfect solution.

Gene turns the anecdote into an example of excellent editorial management by the editor of Style at the time, the great Mary Hadar (who’s also largely responsible for my own career at The Post), and explains how Bob — “the greatest artist in the world,” says Gene — was able to continue as the Invite’s cartoonist to this day.

l don’t know if Bob still has a copy of this ancient cartoon, but he does sell a lot of his Style Invitational illustrations, both the pencil sketches and the eventual pen-and-ink. See the special page on his website just for this: You tell him which illo you’re interested in and he’ll check to see if it’s available.

The results of Week 99, by the way (pdf from what looks like microfilm here), were not especially classic. None of the 13 inking entries noted that particular element, nor was it mentioned by the Czar. Most referred to the Mona Lisa picture. So maybe we won’t try this contest again.

Jest askin’*: The results of Week 1404

*Headline from an earlier Ask Backwards contest; I don’t want to take any future possibilities out of commission here

I wish I’d thought to contact Ken Jennings before I’d announced the “answers” for our Week 1404 Ask Backwards contest. If y’all known he’d agree to weigh in on the questions submitted for “Ken Jennings and Kylie Jenner” and “Alex Tribeca,” perhaps you would have sent more than the 40 to 50 questions in each category (compared with more than 150 for the Washington team mascot). But I admit that the notion didn’t occur to me until after the submission deadline.

I made Ken’s acquaintance through being a fan of “Omnibus,” a podcast he does with indie-rock name and fellow Seattle resident John Roderick, on offbeat historical topics old and recent — just one of a slew of enterprises into which the 74-time “Jeopardy” champ has parlayed his brainiosity, quick wit and snarky humor, all underlain with an almost comically wholesome, white-bread (but earnestly woke) persona — most recently as part of the “Jeopardy!” team itself in host Alex Trebek’s final season. Omnibus has a fan group on Facebook, and back in January when Style did a huge front-page feature on Jennings after he won the Greatest of All Time tournament, I posted a photo there of the page, and Ken contacted me to get a copy of the original.

And when I emailed him a couple of weeks ago about looking at my shortlist for the two pertinent categories for 1404, he immediately agreed. He truly is a Nice Guy. By the way, I recommend his book “Planet Funny,” an examination of how our humor-soaked culture developed, and how every last thing these days, even the most serious matters, seems to require a funny, irrevernt presentation — a culture Ken himself contributes to with regular zingy tweets to his 450,000 followers.

Anyway, once again I had far too many inkworthy entries than the 40 that run in today’s results. This inevitably happens when I put up so many categories (it’s crept up from the dozen that used to be used for this contest). On the other hand, though, with fewer categories comes more duplication; even with 18 categories this year, some of the best entries were duplicates; six people suggested that the name of the Washington Football Team’s mascot was The Washington Football Team’s Mascot. Numerous others suggested that it would be next on the president’s career path.

Gary Crockett’s play on the Pledge of Allegiance to ask about The Republic Forwhichistan brings him his 15th Style Invitational win, and a few steps closer to the Hall of Fame with career inks 469, 470 and 471. Runners-up Rob Huffman, Jeff Hazle and, especially recently, Frank Mann are common names as well in Loserdom, but it’s the first ink “above the fold”– and the eighth blot all-time — for Pia Palamidessi, one of a trio of entrants of late from the mountain town of Cumberland, Md. (she’s married to another of them, Brett Dimaio).

On the heels of last week’s four First Offenders we have three more this week: great debuts from Joe McManus (Cabinet department: Internal Reality Service), Leila Boyer (Chris Wallace’s glasses used by Fox people to drink the Kool-Aid) and Gail Carter with “Elemenopee” as a letter in the slurry language of Forwhichistan.

What Doug Dug: Ace Copy Editor Doug Norwood agreed with me on the Losers’ Circle this week, enjoying all four top winners. He also singled out Sarah Jay’s guess that May 30, 2022 will mark the end of the current year; Kevin Dopart’s and Frank Mann’s “Art Flushing” (also noted by Ken Jennings); for “Downton Outhouse,” Beverley Sharp’s “line of ladies-in-waiting” and Chris Doyle and John O’Byrne’s “creepy Crawleys”; Mark Raffman’s tweet from @UnrealAbrahamLincoln trash-talking James Buchanan; and Frank Mann’s mascot “Owen Sixteen.” Bonus: ‘Beth’s Best: As the copy desk “slot,” Annabeth Carlson does a second read after Doug’s; Annabeth’s favorite was Sarah Jay’s 2022 question.

Send what you can: This week’s contest, Week 1408

This week’s contest, Week 1408, is a close spinoff of Week 1254, in which you changed the name of a business by a single letter. (Results here, along with a gloriously dorky photo of Jeff Contompasis.) This time, though, we’re looking for charities and other nonprofits, and this time the change requirement isn’t so strict; it’s just not to change it so much that the original isn’t obvious.

Another similar contest, which provided the “American Rung Association” example today that Bob chose to illustrate, dates from Christmas season of 2012, Week 977. That asked for dubious charities, and some of the inking entries were indeed tweaks on the names of real organizations. But many others weren’t. Here are some of the winners.

1. Washington Wizards Basketball Camp Foundation: Contributions help provide basketball lessons to actual Washington Wizards. (Mark Raffman, Reston, Va.)

2. Bigots Defense Fund: Did you know that Bigo-Americans are the most oppressed minority group in America today? Please give generously — even you Jews. (Dixon Wragg, Santa Rosa, Calif.)

3. Shy Bladders Anonymous: A 12-step public restroom program. “Pee all that you can pee.” (Chris Doyle, Ponder, Tex.)

4. Tweeting Is Fundamental: Because today’s teenagers really need lessons in how to be more sarcastic. (David Genser, Poway, Calif.)

So Others Might Cheat: This compassionate group provides cellphones, adult website memberships, and even money for motels to indigent married people who otherwise could not afford the joys of infidelity. (Tom Witte, Montgomery Village, Md.)

National Trust for Histrionic Preservation: Show! Us! You! Care! (Anne Shively, Broadlands, Va.)

The Terrorist Reformation Society: We help would-be terrorists turn their lives around by giving them the tools they need for a legitimate trade, such as fertilizer for farming, nails for building and bullets for hunting. (Scott Poyer, Annapolis, Md.)

Plutocrats Anonymous: Brother, can you spare a diamond? (Chris Doyle)

Graypeace: A commuter-centric organization focused on preventing the nation’s precious parking lots from being wiped out and turned into unpaved, undrivable space. (David Garratt, Silver City, N.M.)

The VDW: Addressing the needs of our surviving veterans of America’s domestic wars. (Jeff Contompasis, Ashburn, Va.)

Floridians Lining Up to Fight Frostbite (FLUFF): We’re winning the battle — no reported cases last year! (Barry Koch, Catlett, Va.)

Writer’s Block Relief Fund: Charity begins a tome. (Chris Doyle)

Socks Without Partners: Every day thousands of socks across the country mysteriously lose their “sole mates” in washers and dryers, ending up forgotten in the backs of drawers, or humiliated by being used to buff the wax on cars. Please contribute to help these poor socks find a match. (Bill Nilsen, Arlington)

While the deadline for Week 1408 is the usual week-from-Monday, note that the results will run a day early: Wednesday, Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

And speaking of something to be thankful for: Let’s hope we do, next week. Happy Halloween, Time Change, and The Thing. See you next week, sanity permitting.


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