I wish we could have made it to a big 30th-anniversary retrospective of Invite wit like the ones we had in 2003 and 2013. But I’m glad that we had this one more week, today’s farewell column, Style Invitational Week 1518, that gave me — and my predecessor, Gene Weingarten — a chance to share a few dozen reader favorites among the more than 55,000 entries we’ve published since March 1993. Most of our Loseriest Losers are represented among the 39 gems, along with a few people we never saw again, like one Michael Sweet, who won Week 35 with his risque suggestion for what to do with a narrow 14-mile tunnel, then never got another blot of ink, Reading over the nominated entries, then seeing them as a mini-anthology, made both the Czar and the Empress a bit misty through the repeated guffaws. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we do.
But to use this last page for the retrospective, I had to deny that space to the results of Week 1514, what turned out to be our 41st and final Ask Backwards contest, which I hadn’t yet judged. So my idea was that I’d be totally democratic and put all the entries here in this week’s Style Conversational and let the readers choose their favorites.
Which is what I’m doing below — with some necessary alterations. First of all, there turned out to be 1,400 entries to 1514. And even though they could be divided into the 19 groups of “answers,” some of those individual lists numbered past 120 entries; even Loser Obsessives wouldn’t want to slog through those. And so I quickly scanned the entries and pulled a more manageable number from each set (and tossed a few of the categories entirely). They’re listed below, with none of the writers’ names attached; I haven’t see the names either. You’ll see that they’re not consistent in format, and you might feel that some of them aren’t Invite quality.
So my plan is that you’d read whichever category you liked, and note your favorite(s) in the comments thread. (No special format needed as long as it’s clear to me which entry you mean.) Later I’d tally up the votes and announce the winners on my still-extant and free Substack newsletter, TheStyleInvitational.substack.com. If you’re game and you’re able to leave a comment, go for it. If you vote for your own entry, I won’t know.
Because this is the last time I’ll be able to use this page to pass news along, let me share a few last notes:
The Loser Community lives! It’s on Facebook but Style Invitational Devotees is a private group, carefully overseen by me and several other Losers to ensure only civil behavior among its 1,500 active members. Not only can you meet and stay in touch with people who appreciate smart humor and wordplay, and continue to plan live social gatherings, but we’re even hoping to put up some informal Invite-style contests within the group. For instance, I or someone else would start a thread asking for obit poems for people who died in 2022, just as I did for all those years in the Invite, and people could take a few days and post in the thread, and other members would click Like or Love on their faves.
The archive lives, too!: If these greatest hits leave you wanting More! More! More!, just visit the newly enhanced Master Contest List at NRARS.org, the Losers’ own website, and you can read column after column. We’re even still working on finding PDFs for a last few missing weeks from the early years so we’ll have The Official Canon.
The Wake on Jan. 28: Our previously scheduled annual Losers’ Post-Holiday Party suddenly become more of a big-deal event. An Evite will go out soon for the potluck/songfest/blubberfest, to be held in a large — but not infinitely large — party room in a Crystal City (Arlington, Va.) apartment building. We had it last year and didn’t come close to the legal-maximum 75 people, but it might be a much hotter ticket this year.
While I truly do look forward to getting a little rest after a nonstop cycle of 982 straight contests since 2003, I happened to hear this very morning about an opportunity that could give an Empress a new realm of sorts. It’s very preliminary, but if something does come of it, I’d share it in the Devotees group.
A few more people to shout out: In last week’s Convo I thanked a number of colleagues who helped the Invite come out every week. Just as important to getting the contests to work was the totally volunteered (often unsolicited) help from various Losers on certain contests: Year after year, twice a year, Jonathan Hardis would take my raw list of 4,000 foal names in our annual racehorse name-“breeding” wordplay contests for foals and then grandfoals, and return them to me perfectly sorted and formatted, no matter what sort of mess they were in on arrival. Then there were name bank contests in which you had to use only words from a certain piece of writing, like Trump’s inaugural address or “The Night Before Christmas” or “American Pie.” Validation programs designed and run for me in various contests by Kyle Hendrickson, Gary Crockett, Steve Langer and Todd DeLap (who, famously, sent in an invalid entry for his week) made those very fun contests possible. And Jeff Contompasis sent me spreadsheets full of seven-letter sets from the ScrabbleGrams word game that I went on to use in nine Tile Invitational contests.
And once again, I salute and am inestimably grateful for 29 straight years of unpaid labor by Keeper of the Stats Elden Carnahan to maintain the Master Contest list, which I consulted continually in search of material to reuse or vary, not to mention the stats that encouraged hundreds of brainy, clever, funny people to write just a few more entries so they could snag that Loser of the Year prize, or at least climb a few rungs in the standings. I’m utterly convinced that without that competition, the Invite would have been far, far weaker.
So let’s see how this Ask Backwards thing works out. If people do prove game for judging lots of entries, I can also post the als0-canceled Week 1515 “sister cities of Europe,” contest, perhaps in the Devotees group.
Finally, all the answers!
I tossed a few categories that fizzled: The next name after the Commanders (many suggested “the Commodes” or, hopefully, “The Team No Longer Owned by Dan Snyder’); Three Squats and a Burpee; Ye’s Next Fashion Line (he’s just not very funny, I’m afraid); Tournament of Chimps; and You Boil It, for which one person suggested, “How do you kill the Empress?” Sorry, that’s not my pronoun.
1. 42 minutes – How long will a thirteen year old boy remain aroused after hearing the word “boobies”?
2. 42 Minutes • How long does it take your average guy to make Minute Rice?
3. 42 Minutes –How long will it take for the next performance of the Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl?
4. 42 minutes Q= What’s the meaning of “sec” in “I’ll be ready in a sec”?
5. 42 Minutes –What is the average time for a baseball game that the Nationals have a chance of winning?
6. 42 minutes. Q. According to Elon Musk, how long in 24 hours should someone rest from hard core work?
7. 42 minutes. Q. How do I know I’ve been to 42 meetings?
8. 42 Minutes. Q: About how long will the new House take before launching an investigation of Hunter Biden?
9. 42 Minutes. What TV news show employed Rose Mary Woods as an editor before she joined the Nixon White House?
10. 42 minutes: In the middle of the night, when you forgot to change the smoke alarm battery, how long will the smoke alarm beep before you rip it out of the wall? ”Q”
11. 42 Minutes: According to the new history curriculum guidelines proposed by the Virginia Dept. of Education, how long did slavery last?
12. 42 minutes: According to the new Twitter employee manual, what is a vacation day?
13. 42 Minutes: Due to CBS budget cuts, how much of “60 Minutes” will now consist of that ticking stopwatch?
14. 42 Minutes: How do men describe two minutes to their friends?
15. 42 Minutes: How long did Kamala Harris pause when asked “Madam Vice President, Should President Biden run again in 2024?”
16. 42 Minutes: How long does it take a Metro train to arrive at the next station 2,2 miles away if it leaves at 7:51 a.m. and can travel 59 mph?
17. 42 Minutes: How long does it take candidate Trump to make a 5-minute speech?
18. 42 Minutes: How long into a 48-minute NBA game do Washington Wizards fans hold out hope?
19. 42 Minutes: How long is a New York hour?
20. 42 Minutes: In a “significant concession,” the GOP’s new abortion bill will allow the procedure at up to what age of gestation?
21. 42 minutes: Under their new election rules, how long do Texas and Florida minority neighborhood polls stay open?
22. 42 minutes: What is 41 and a half minutes longer than Trump’s capacity to remain quiet?
23. 42 Minutes: What’s left if you cuss-edit a 3-hour Samuel L. Jackson film?
A Bad Name for an Ikea Product
1. A bad name for an IKEA Product – What is a Fjallenapaart?
2. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product – What is a Hoonkakraap?
3. A bad name for an Ikea product Q: What is Rikiti?
4. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product. Q. What is the Flymsï bookcase?
5. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product. Q. What is the Upsellå sofa?
6. A Bad Name for an IKEA product. What is the KLANSBACKA bedsheet series?
7. A Bad Name for an IKEA product. What is the Skrapo toilet?
8. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: “Jerker” is one such example, the appellation of a popular Scandinavian couch produced by a Swedish furniture retailer that did not sell much in the English-speaking world, despite simply meaning, “Eric.” Others include “Fanny” (a table) and “Titti” (a blanket). [I just put this one there to show that some people do go on!]
9. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: Häirinpüllin EZ Shelf System
10. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: What is “Made in China, Some Assembly Required?”
11. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: What is “Swedish Reindeer Meatballs”?
12. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: What is a Boäng chair?
13. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: What is Brōkbak?
14. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: What is CHAIR?
15. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: What is Cømmänders?
16. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: What is Fästfåilen?
17. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: What is Friggenhardtamayk?
18. A bad name for an IKEA product: What is GRÄBJÖRKREDITKÄRT?
19. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: What is Hammarthumb?
20. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: What is Softstool?
21. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: What is the Kallapsen shelving unit?
22. A Bad Name for an Ikea Product: What is YÖRSKRUD?
23. A Bad Name for an IKEA Product?—What is the Escher bunk bed?
In the comments at the bottom of the page, vote for your favorite by copying that answer into the thread, plus citing the number, e.g.:
“A blue check: No. 27: What hockey maneuver is named for rough police tactics?”
1. A blue check – What is valuable when free and worthless when it costs $8/month?
2. A Blue Check – What’s the only kind of check Elon Musk should expect from his Twitter investment?
3. A blue check. Q. How can you tell the sex of a Smurf?
4. A Blue Check. Q: What might one expect playing NHL hockey against St. Louis?
5. A Blue Check: What can you buy for $8 that costs Eli Lilly $15 billion?
6. A Blue Check: What did Elon Musk offer to laid-off Twitter workers instead of severance pay?
7. A Blue Check: What is a foolproof method to tell whether someone has stopped breathing?
8. A Blue Check: What is it called when a Smurf slams into an opponent in hockey?
9. A blue check: what is something of great value to people of little value?
10. A blue check: What kind of dress should I wear with ruby slippers?
11. A blue check: What was the last thing James Cameron did before shipping ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ to cinemas this week?
12. A Blue Check: What will be an “out” on the Washington Post’s annual “In/Out” list?
13. A blue check: what’s easier to get than COVID at an anti-Vaxxer rally?
A Leaf Blower and a Garden Slug
In the comments at the bottom of the page , vote for your favorite by copying that answer into the thread,
plus citing the number, e.g.: “A leaf blower and a garden slug: No. 27: In order, what are the most annoying
things to encounter when you walk out in your yard barefoot on a lovely morning?
1. A leaf blower and a garden slug. Q. What are anagrams of “a bowel flare” and “a gland surge”, respectively?
2. A Leaf Blower and a Garden Slug. Q: What are two cocktails one should never order?
3. A Leaf Blower and a Garden Slug. Q: What are two components of the ultimate prank on Mom while she’s sunbathing in the backyard?
4. A leaf blower and a garden slug. – What do you need to make a “backyard bazooka”?
5. A leaf blower and a garden slug. Q. What has Kari Lake found “exploring every avenue” to fight her election loss?
6. A Leaf Blower and a Garden Slug: After the apocalypse, what will be the only things surviving in a suburban yard?
7. A Leaf Blower and a Garden Slug: What animal flinging contraption keeps kids from egging your house twice?
8. A Leaf Blower and a Garden Slug: What are an unstoppable force and an immovable object?
9. A Leaf Blower and a Garden Slug: What are the only things loudly blowing more hot air, and oozing more slime, than Donald Trump?
10. A Leaf Blower and a Garden Slug: What do you need in order to make West Virginia Escargot?
11. A Leaf Blower and a Garden Slug: What show-and-tell demonstration earned Dylan the unique detention task of washing 19 of his classmates’ hair?
12. A Leaf Blower and a Garden Slug: What work, titled “Autumnal Meditation,” sold for $1.2 million after it was featured in a special exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Modern Art?
13. A leaf blower and a garden slug: What’s a terrible idea for an animated buddy movie?
14. A Leaf Blower and a Garden Slug: Who were the two snitches who informed on Peter Rabbit?
A Snickerdoodle (just a few!)
1. A snickerdoodle – What gets you fired during a meeting with Elon Musk?
2. A Snickerdoodle. Q. How can you tell Snicker isn’t housetrained?
3. A snickerdoodle: What new experimental dog breed is made in a chocolate lab?
4. A Snickerdoodle: What was the technical term for the terrifying prop in the “Caddyshack” swimming pool scene?
5. snickerdoodle: What’s the term for that totally hilarious sketch you passed to your friend during the Your Maturing Body unit in middle school health class?
1. Cat Toothpaste. Q: What leaves mouths “mousy-fresh”?
2. Cat Toothpaste. What product can honestly claim it’s never been tested on animals?
3. Cat Toothpaste: How did Mrs. Lovett diversify to supplement her pie business?
4. Cat Toothpaste: What can successfully be used as often as a broken condom?
5. Cat Toothpaste: What comes in tuna, shrimp, yarn and sofa flavors?
6. Cat Toothpaste: What do you call mackerel-flavored sandpaper?
7. Cat Toothpaste: What flavor of canine dentifrice is even more popular than “dead squirrel” and “my vomit?”
8. Cat Toothpaste: What is the best product for exfoliating cat owners’ arms and faces?
9. Cat toothpaste: What is the first rung on the Death Wish ladder?
10. Cat Toothpaste: What is Ultra Bite?
11. Cat Toothpaste: What product has the following warning , Do not apply unless wearing a full suit of armor!
12. Cat Toothpaste: What product is made by Tom’s of Manx?
13. Cat Toothpaste: What spoils the taste of cat orange juice when used first thing in the morning?
14. Cat Toothpaste: What was only slightly more successful than the Cat Waterpik?
15. Cat Toothpaste: What’s next to dog condoms at Petco?
16. Cat Toothpaste: Would you rather have six more years of Biden or have rotten fish rubbed into your gums?
Even Ken Burns Wouldn’t Do This One
1. Even Ken Burns Wouldn’t Do This One – What is the miniseries “The Jews Run Hollywood”?
2. Even Ken Burns Wouldn’t Do This One. Q. What is “Even Slower Camera Pans and Sadder Fiddles”?
3. Even Ken Burns wouldn’t do this one. Q. How should a documentary filmmaker pitch “Wilt Chamberlain: The Emperor of All Ladies”?
4. Even Ken Burns Wouldn’t Do This One. What is “The Age of Disco”?
5. Even Ken Burns Wouldn’t Do This One. What is: How Long Would You Wait for Godot?
6. Even Ken Burns Wouldn’t Do This One: How did PBS react to a pitch for a documentary about pickleball?
7. Even Ken Burns Wouldn’t Do This One: How do you describe a documentary on the Golden Age of aluminum siding?
8. Even Ken Burns Wouldn’t Do This One: What is “Bundling Home and Auto Insurance: The Documentary”?
9. Even Ken Burns Wouldn’t Do This One: What is “Night shift security guards, snoring in office buildings since 1885?”
10. Even Ken Burns Wouldn’t Do This One: What is a 31-part, day-by-day examination of William Henry Harrison’s remarkable presidency?
11. Even Ken Burns Wouldn’t Do This One: What is the most remarkable fact about the Big Horned Sheepeater Indian War?
1. National Bubble Radio. Where can you hear only pop music?
2. National Bubble Radio: On what network would Lawrence Welk do a podcast if he were still around today?
3. National Bubble Radio: What is a sud-sidiary of the Carbonation for Public Broadcasting?
4. National Bubble Radio: What network produces “Wait, Wait… Don’t Pop Me”?
5. National Bubble Radio: What network does Nina Totenburp work for?
6. National Bubble Radio: What service is partly funded by the gummint?
7. National Bubble Radio: What show features the Boston Pops?
8. National Bubble Radio: What station airs “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me What I Don’t Like to Hear?”
9. National Bubble Radio: What, what, what do, do, do residents, residents, residents of, of, of the, the, the echo, echo, echo chamber, chamber, chamber listen, listen, listen to, to, to?
10. National Bubble Radio: Where can you enjoy the sounds of underwater flatulence?
11. National Bubble Radio: Which station broadcasts ‘Wait, Wait… Don’t Pop Me’?
12. National Bubble Radio: Who does stories on tulips, dotcoms and cryptocurrency?
13. National Bubble Radio:Where do they never give a prize of a “Weekend Edition” lapel pin?
1. Rutabaga Ginsburg. Q: What vegetable could be served alongside a Warrenburger?
2. Rutabaga Ginsburg: what’s good for moral fiber?
3. Rutabaga Ginsburg: Who is the stripper known in Stockholm as the “Swedish Turnip?”
4. Rutabaga Ginsburg: Who was at the top of her class in Slaw School?
5. Rutabaga Ginsburg: Who was featured prominently in the book “Roots of American Jurisprudence”?
6. Rutabaga Ginsburg: Who was known as The Nutritious RBG?
7. Rutabaga Ginsburg: Who was the “Root of All Evil”? (DJT, FL)
8. Rutabaga Ginsburg: Who wears lace collards?
9. Rutabaga Ginsburg: Who were Republicans dying to uproot for 27 years?
10. Rutabaga Ginsburg: Who would turnip in a lace-collard robe to earn her celery on the Supreme Court?
(A Googlenope is some text that, if you search for it in quotes, returns no Google hits)
1. Still a Googlenope. Q. What is “cuddly Mitch McConnell plush toy”?
2. Still a Googlenope. Q. What is “Lindsey Graham: The next James Bond?”
3. Still a Googlenope. Q: What is “Biden’s brilliant insight”?
4. Still a Googlenope: What distinction does my failed entry to the last Style Invitational Googlenope contest possess?
5. Still a Googlenope: What is “My kid keeps asking for more kale”?
6. Still a Googlenope: What is “pest control through positive thinking”?
7. Still a Googlenope: What is “Daniel Synder fan fiction”?
8. Still a Googlenope: What is “I’m sure Herschel Walker isn’t my father”?
9. Still a Googlenope: What is “policy talk at CPAC?”
(just a few; “Vampire on the Roof” had too many entries)
1. Sunset, Sunrise – What do you see while waiting for customer service to pick up?
2. Sunset, Sunrise Question: What song is featured in “Roof on the Fiddler”?
3. Sunset, Sunrise. Q: Can you name a memorable musical number from “Vampire on the Roof”?
4. Sunset, Sunrise: How long is it between election cycles?
5. Sunset, Sunrise: What are the ‘9 to 5’ hours kept by college students?
6. Sunset, Sunrise: What do you get when you read the Hebrew translation of “Fiddler on the Roof” left to right?
7. Sunset, Sunrise: What song had audiences weeping in Benjamin Button’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof”?
1. The iPhone 29 Pro. Q: What will be released one week after I buy an iPhone 28 Pro?
2. The iPhone 29 Pro. When does Apple plan to introduce a side button for the flashlight?
3. The iPhone 29 Pro: Our Lord and Master, by what name shall we useless humans refer to You?
4. The iPhone 29 Pro: What is manufactured in terrible conditions by native Martians?
5. The iPhone 29 Pro: What will be marketed as the first userless smartphone?
6. The iPhone 29 Pro: When did Apple remove the “phone” function from its phone, and nobody noticed?
7. The iPhone 29 Pro: Which product will include AirPods as a retro throwback, for those who don’t want the brain implants?
The Style Invitational Mascot
1. The Style Invitational mascot – What is a naked mole rat crossed with a blind cave salamander?
2. The Style Invitational mascot – What is roadkill?
3. The Style Invitational mascot. Q. What dunce shot himself with a T-shirt cannon?
4. The Style Invitational Mascot. Q. What is The Stifled Groan?
5. The Style Invitational mascot: What is a giant squid that still doesn’t give you ink?
6. The Style Invitational Mascot: What is a laughing hernia?
7. The Style Invitational Mascot: What’s a smart ass?
8. The Style Invitational Mascot: Who will be the keynote speaker at the next Darwin awards banquet?
1. Vegan Bone Broth. Q: Are vegans good for anything?
2. Vegan Bone Broth: What can you make with a cauliflower carcass?
3. Vegan Bone Broth: What is faux pho?
4. Vegan Bone Broth: What is very expensive, totally organic, hot water?
5. Vegan Bone Broth: What makes a good base for kosher ham soup?
6. Vegan Bone Broth: What pairs well with nonalcoholic beer?
7. Vegan Bone Broth: What soup base is mentioned in the updated “Scarborough Fair” lyrics?