Main menu


Style Conversational Week 1512 With the Invitational Empress

featured image


And I quote, verbatim, from an Oct. 23 email: “pat, are you kidding? am I missing something? YIKERS!”

I reminded Bob Staake that your 26-word sentence (or other writing) for Style Invitational Week 1512 doesn’t have to be in alphabetical order; it just has to have a word beginning with each letter. And hey, I even made that eXception. I was confident that the Powers of Loserdom would come through with great stuff. Meanwhile, Bob could easily illustrate the best of those five winners from Marilyn vos Savant’s recent challenge in Parade:

“Our library is supposed to be a very quiet zone for everyone; however, unfortunately, your nutty kids just played xylophones with cacophonous results, disturbing me greatly.” (Suzanne Bright, Coral Springs, Fla.)

And I quote, verbatim, from an Oct. 25 email: “All bats can dive eagerly for gnats, however in jungle kingdom locales, many nosh on porcupine quills. Razor-sharp, the undaunted vermin wolf, xylophonically yelping zealously.”

Attached was the sketch for today’s art.

So there you have today’s example — in which Bob decided to use all the words in alphabetical order. To be honest, the Parade one has more natural syntax and logical meaning, but did it come with a picture of a screaming purple bat being impaled on a porcupine quill — just in time for Halloween?

This week’s contest — thanks to Loser Al Lubran for noticing it in the supplement that I usually send right to the recycling box — is a first among our 1,512 to date. But we did run at least one contest — twice — that’s similar: Both Week 579, in the election season of 2004, and Week 984, in 2012, asked for sentences (etc.) whose words started with consecutive letters of the alphabet, but not necessarily all 26.

Here are some highlights of those two contests. Remember, they’re not the same as this week’s. But they might be constructive in how to creatively work with words beginning with particular letters:

From Week 579, November 2004, in my first year of Empressing (text file of full results here)

Report from Week 579, in which we asked for sentences whose words began with consecutive letters of the alphabet. A huge percentage of the contestants decided to include at least one entry featuring words beginning with all 26 letters (and some going around the alphabet a second time). Though many of these were amusing, reading them en masse felt like, well, a long sentence. (The Empress never wants to see the word “xenophobic” again.) … Note: These entries were written, and judged, before the election. No points were deducted for inaccurate predictions or for simply backing the losing side.

Third runner-up: Mellow, nonchalant, oblivious, Pompeii quietly rests, satisfied; totally unheeded, Vesuvius waits. (Marvin Solberg, Edgewater)

Second runner-up: Bill Clinton did everyone: Frenchwomen, Golda, Hillary, Ingemar Johansson, Kofi, Lorena, Monica, Nomar, Oprah, poor Quayle, Rambo, Schenectady Township, Uma, Vladimir, Wenceslas X, Young Zionists and … (Elden Carnahan, Laurel)

First runner-up, winner of the Aqua Frame fake aquarium: A badly coifed Donald egomaniacally fired God. (Mary Lou French, Eveleth, Minn.) [YES! 2004!]

And the winner of the Inker: John Kerry loves money — new, old, printed, quartered, recounted, stacked … Teresa’s. (Lawrence McGuire, Waldorf)

“Look, my naughty ol’ pal’s quickly revived,” said Tom upstandingly. (Chris Doyle, Forsyth, Mo.)

John Kerry leaves me no optimism — persistent questioning really stymies that underdog: Vote W! (Teri Chism, Winchester, Va.)

Condoleezza didn’t even flinch giving her Iraq justifications; kept listing mysterious nuclear objects, particularly quoting “really scary tubes” — ultimate violent weapons. (Marty McCullen, Gettysburg, Pa.)

Reverend Spooner’s tocabulary’s unusually vaxing. (Russell Beland, Springfield)

Jim’s kind lover may notice open pants, quickly requiring subtlety, tact; Ursula virtuously whispers, “XYZ.” (Joseph Romm, Washington)

Redskins should take up volleyball. (Elliott Schiff, Allentown, Pa.)

Is John Kerry looking more neutral, or pulling quietly right so the undecided voters will “X?” (Karl Reed, Fairfax)

And Last: A bygone Czar didn’t ever flub giving humor ink.*

*Just kidding! Like most nabobs, Old Poopyhead quite regularly screwed things up very well. (Dave Zarrow, Herndon)

And from 2012 (Full results here):

Report from Week 984, in which we asked you to write something in which each successive word started with the next letter of the alphabet — in either direction. And you could even turn around and switch directions, or head from Z on to A or vice versa (“A,” “and” and “the” could be added anywhere). This contest prompted a number of entrants to force the Empress to slog through 26-word and longer sentences … that all seemed to be about xanthippic yaks or yapping zebras. She will spare you further, and instead show how it’s done right:

The winner of the Inkin’ Memorial:

Z on to A, to Y: Zeroes, athletes, brainiacs, cheerleaders, dorks … Everybody faking grins … (Hey, it’s just kissing!) … “Look, Ma, no —” … Oops! photos … Quotes (really shallow, though) … Upperclassmen … Varsity winners … XOXOXO. Yearbook. (Christopher Lamora, Guatemala City)

2. Winner of the genuine 18-inch rubber chicken: H to A: Harry’s genitals frankly elicit doubts concerning bedroom abilities. (Ann Martin, Bracknell, England)

3. T back to A, then forward to R: Tampa Secret-Rendezvous Quarters: “President Obama’s a narcissistic Marxist, liar and Kenyan. Jeez, investigate the Hawaiian government! Follow the evidence! Democrats concealed the bozo’s actual birth certificate!” the Donald explains, flashing a goofy “hey, I’m just kooky” look. Mitt nods obligingly, pales and quickly retreats. (Chris Doyle, Ponder, Tex.) [Yes! 2012!]

Alpha bettered: Honorable mentions

Armstrong’s bicycling career: dope-pedaling. (Kevin Dopart, Washington)

A boa constrictor doesn’t ever forget: Giving hugs is just killing. Love murders. Neatly. On purpose. (Robert Schechter, Dix Hills, N.Y.)

Another bit casual dopers easily forget: Getting high inhaling joints kills living mitochondria. Nevertheless, optimistic potheads quietly remain stoned, toking up volumes while X-rays yield zero apparent “brain collapse” (duh). (Neal Starkman, Seattle)

A jaded Kate (lately Middleton): “Nosy, obnoxious pregnancy questions! Royalty sucks!” (Katherine Stikkers, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.)

Debt = China bought America. (Mark Raffman, Reston)

Joystick kaput? Luckily, men now overcome the problem; a quick remedy shapes things up. Viagra: a winner! (Beverley Sharp, Montgomery, Ala.)

Limbaugh makes news the oldest profession. (Dave Airozo, Silver Spring)

Bleeding crocodile? Dying elephant? Fractured goat? Hemorrhaging iguana? Jaundiced kangaroo? Languishing moose? Narcoleptic opossum? Paralyzed quail? This unflappable vet will X-ray your zoo animals! (Graham Lester, Roeland Park, Kan.)

The ABCs (and CBAs) of the Seven Deadly Sins

1. Anger begets choler and discontent. Eschew fury.

2. Curb dining extravagances; forgo gluttony henceforward.

3. X-rated yearnings and zest? Adultery? Be careful. Don’t even fantasize.

4. A dive eventually follows gloating, hauteur, insolence.

5. Relinquish slothful, tiresome, unproductive, vegetative ways.

6. Discontinue envy. Forever. God hath insisted.

7. Avarice banishes common decency. Eject filthy greed. (Mae Scanlan, Washington)

Noticed our politicians’ quality?: Ready, set — throw up. (Ann Martin)

Five Guys has incredibly juicy Kobe-like morsels. Now, only prime-quality rectal secretions transpire. (Matt Monitto, Elon, N.C.)

“Jobs keep lagging,” Mitt nags. Obama, the president, quickly responds, “Spend, tax!” (Robert Schechter)

And last: ZZZZZZ … Another “zinger” alphabet-bothering contest drowns the Empress. (David Genser)

And even laster: Avoiding brainier competitions delivering earnings, fame, glory, honor — I just keep losing. (Kevin Dopart)

A couple of things about submitting Week 1512 entries:

1. PLEASE check your entries to make sure (a) that they have exactly 26 words; hyphenates can count as one or two.

2. If your entry forms a single sentence or otherwise doesn’t have to break up into multiple lines, then please send it as one continuous line.
BUT if it’s a poem or otherwise in multiple lines, format it as it should appear. Before I do the Big Electronic Shuffle, I’ll scroll through the collected entries and just copy out the poems. I don’t expect a huge entry pool this week for this challenging contest — as opposed to the 2,228 entries I got for combining one-word movie titles.

graND LEvity*: The Tour de Fours neologisms of Week 1508

*Non-inking headline by Chris Doyle

I’d heard talk that some in the Loser Community wished Elden Carnahan had better letters in his name, but they came through with lots to spare (and no editorial cuts) in Week 1508, our annual Tour de Fours neologism contest. This time we honor Elden Carnahan, who’s finally handed over — after 29 years — the reins of the Loser Stats and many other roles after developing the magnificent archive that lives at

[In Style Conversational Week 1501, a tribute to Elden]

The ELDN block showed up in a number of permutations in this week’s slew of inking entries. LEND, of course, but also SinfaNDEL, buNDLE, SchaDENLoiter, PadDLENerf and more.

It’s the second Clowning Achievement but the sixth win all-time — and 229th ink in all for Bird Waring, who’s been at it since Week 204. The word “Splendooferous” — meaning magnificently stupid — deserves a spot in the Real Language, and Bird came up with the perfect example: the pathetically run, newly named Washington Commanders selling a mug with the team logo superimposed on a map of Washington … state.

The rest of this week’s Losers’ Circle is occupied by Usual Suspects Jonathan Jensen, Jeff Contompasis and Chris Doyle — all of whom got multiple ink this week. But the big puddes weren’t restricted to the vets; Jon Carter, who just got his first ink (and another one) last week with a runner-up, follows that with four honorable mentions today. Six inks in your first two weeks? I’ll leave it to the Statsnerds to determine that, but I’m going to guess that’s a record. Bring it on, Jon!

Due to a newly enacted arrangement for reading the Invite before I post it (see “Catching up” below), this week we have three editors weighing in with their faves: Ace Copy Editor Ponch Garcia, “slot” (second-read copy editor) Annabeth Carlson, and Arts & Style section deputy editor Amy Hitt.

What Pleased Ponch: He singled out Duncan Stevens’s “Ax Handel,” Jon Carter’s “Colonel Dijon,” Barbara Turner’s “Lendowment,” and Chris Doyle’s “The Golden Grillz,” a TV show about aging rappers who share a crib.

Annabeth’s Bet: Annabeth was partial to Jeff Hazle’s “Al dental,” severely undercooked pasta.

And Amy’s Hitt: Daniel Galef’s “Hot Cross Bundle” struck a chord with Amy, who remembers tootling out the three-note tune on her own junior recorder.

Catching up from last week

Last Thursday afternoon, I was finishing up writing the Week 1511 Style Conversational when I got an in-office Slack message that a dozen entries had been cut by a new editor, for reasons of taste and fairness, from that week’s Invite results, the one for state slogans based on the first letters of adjoining states. This was an extremely rare if not totally unprecedented move.

Upon hearing this news, I was able to talk at length right away to Ben Williams, The Post’s new executive editor for features — a sweeping domain that includes not just Style and the Sunday Arts & Style sections, but also Food, Travel, the Magazine, Weekend, Book World and many online departments. It wasn’t an ideal way to introduce myself and The Style Invitational — let’s say that I wasn’t exactly twinkling with good cheer at that moment — but we had a good, civil talk in which I noted the Invite’s long history of irreverent, edgy and pointed humor, and its amazing success in avoiding reader complaints — fewer than one per year for many years. Ben told me that he was concerned that Week 1507 seemed to be stereotyping red states as backward and illiterate — something I didn’t think the deleted entries did — but he assured me that he didn’t want the Invite to become a bland, Reader’s Digest-type page, nor did he expect to be cutting entries en masse from the Invitational in the future.

In the ensuing days I followed up with an email exchange in which I noted some other concerns, and yesterday a new plan was put into effect, one that I think is fair and reflects an effort on several sides to help produce the Invite each week without further surprises:

As I mentioned in the Style Invitational Devotees group over the weekend, the deletion of the entries several hours after I’d posted them online “wouldn’t have happened had I not had the freedom (most writers can’t do this) of publishing the column on my own on Thursday morning, before the final read was done on it. [On Thursday afternoon, a “slot,” or head copy editor, gives a second read; also editor Amy Hitt looks over all the Arts & Style section pages before they’re typeset.]

“That’s what put us in the embarrassing position today — embarrassing for everyone involved — of cutting entries that I’d already posted. The obvious solution for management is not to let me publish the Invite online until it’s been totally approved. But I’d very much like to avoid that measure, especially because many of you have been so helpful almost every week in pointing out mistakes that I can then fix before the print page is typeset around 5 p.m.

“It’s totally appropriate for top editors to order cuts to any content they think shouldn’t be in the paper, and ideally, those decisions should be made before readers would know about them.”

So this week the Stylistas made a way to accommodate that schedule: I’ll now be finishing the online version, rather than the print one, first and sending it on Wednesday afternoon to Amy, who’s very familiar with the Invite because she reads it on the page proofs every week. Then she’ll talk to me about anything she’s uncomfortable with, and she’ll sign off on the Invite before sending it on to the copy editor on Wednesday afternoon (up to now, I’d send it to the copy desk myself, and Amy wouldn’t see it till the Invite was already online). And not only will the copy editor — in our case it’s usually our beloved Ponch Garcia — read it, but the slot will also jump in and give that second read right then, instead of on Thursday.

This is all to ensure that I’ll still be able to publish the Invite online on Thursday morning and give you time to find all my mistakes! Meanwhile, Alla Dreyvitser or Joane Lee, who’ll lay out Arts & Style on any given week, will wait till Thursday morning to lay out the Invite — at which point I’ll trim in the column until it fits on the page.

This works well for several reasons: First, there won’t be any second-guessing on Thursday. Second, it takes the onus off the copy editors to alert editors about taste questions; it’s part of their job to flag questionable material, but for most stories, it’s usually already been seen by the editor the writer works with. Until this week, their eyes were the first ones on these jokes. I had really worried that last week’s incident would prompt the desk to start flagging everything.

And third, working directly with Amy lets me feel more connected to the features department and its editors. Having officially taken early retirement from The Post back in 2008 (after 26 years as a copy editor and slot), I’m technically a freelancer rather than a staff writer, and sometimes the Invite gets forgotten when it’s time to announce a change in deadlines, software, etc.

This week’s process couldn’t have gone better: I chose the winners, looked up the names, sent the Invite to Amy. She read it immediately, asked me about a couple of entries, listened to my response, and sent the column on to Ponch, intact. And even told me her fave.

One thing that likely won’t happen anymore: my longtime practice of adding the edgier entries into the online version, given that the few complaints we’ve gotten over the years have all been from print-paper readers. But we still have the Convo!

Happy Halloween — and now it’s time to dig into those 2,228 movie titles.