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Style Conversational Week 1501: We’ll never forget you


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Back in March, right around his 70th birthday, Elden Carnahan fell over.

Fortunately, he had decided that day not to go up on his roof and clear stuff off it. But the out-of-the-blue seizure convinced the essential Father of Loserdom — the guy who, in 1993, opened a phone book and started calling the other people whose names also appeared in this new humor contest in The Washington Post — that it was time to ask again, more forcefully now, for others to take over the tasks of maintaining the Loser Stats and a host of other roles that he’d assumed over the decades, after taking over the stats and website from Sandra Hull.

Elden’s been through a lot these past months: a long process to find the problem; the discovery of a thing in his head; the decision about what to do with the thing; the radiation and the nausea and the other unfun. Throughout, the Eldster has kept his wry humor, reveling in the companionship of his wife, daughters and grandchildren; one of his daughters lives just across the street in Laurel, Md. “I’m finally down to my college weight,” he reports. He even had a pedicure, if his Facebook post is for real.

But of course, something had to give, and that’s been the never-ending weekly process of doing the stats. You might have noticed that the Losers’ website at NRARS.org (named for the Losers’ original and “official” name, the Not Ready for the Algonquin Round-table Society) is a number of weeks behind, and some of the various lists aren’t up at all.

But we’re on our way back! Elden, who’s feeling better now that he’s not radiating, is working with a large team of Losers who’ve all volunteered their time to maintain, re-create and refine the multitude of tasks that he’d been doing week after week decades, mostly on his own — including some we were barely aware of until we started missing them.

— To run a program to automatically search each week’s results and tally up the ink for each Loser, then automatically update the stats tables for the current year’s standings (which also includes all-time stats for those on that list) as well as on the temporarily suspended all-time lists, one sorted by wins, runners-up, honorable mentions, etc.; the other by how much ink per year. Plus a separate One-Hit Wonders list of thousands of Losers who’ve never gotten a second blot of ink.

— To maintain and refine the Master Contest List, that indispensable collection of descriptions of each contest from Week 1 on — complete with one or more links to the contest itself (in text files and PDFs of the print and Web pages), with its sub-lists in a host of categories (horse names, limericks, fictoids, neologisms, etc.). Currently it runs through Week 1492.

— To update, every week, the All Invitational Text file, with all the text of all the Invites on one big, easy-to-search page — a must-have for all regular players so they’ll know what jokes and headlines not to repeat from earlier contests. Currently it’s up to mid-June 2022.

— To coordinate and list the monthly Loser brunches and other “Social Engorgements” such as the annual Flushies awards and winter party. That’s current — including our Aug. 21 brunch: see below!

— Work out and post a Loser Anagram — a.k.a. Granola Smear — for each new Loser.

— Maintain the website itself, the hosting, etc.

— And maybe, if they can get to it eventually, one of Elden’s newer projects, Permanent Inkstains: You click on your (or anyone’s) name to see what sort of blot you got in any given week. (This is currently offline.)

Those answering the call in various ways, and meeting on Zoom, include, first Kyle Hendrickson, who’s leading the group, scheduling the meetings, etc., as well as stepping up to schedule and coordinate social events (assisted by Kathleen Delano); Gary Crockett, who’s reprogramming the stats; Jeff Contompasis, who’s refining the Master Contest List; Todd DeLap, who’s doing some other Important Computer Thing; and various other contributions from Duncan Stevens, Jonathan Hardis, Jon Gearhart, Chris Doyle and Jesse Frankovich. I answer questions, feed them PDFs of the pages, and try to stay out of the way.

I am literally getting teary here on my back deck as I write this, in appreciation of the blood, tears, toil and drool (see Duncan’s inking entry today) so many of you have expended to keep the Loser culture thriving.

Elden was really hoping to join us at the Niagara Falls Loserfest a couple of weeks ago, but that just wasn’t workable (though now that he’s finished the radiation, he’s way more comfortable). So instead, we’re going to join him: Join us for brunch on Sunday, Aug. 21, at First Watch in Elden’s home base of Laurel, Md., or, as he likes to call it, “nether Scaggsville,” after the nearby village. First Watch, a chain that does only breakfast, brunch and lunch, doesn’t take reservations, so they told us to arrive by 11:45 so we can officially get in line; we can’t do that until most of the party is there. RSVP to brunch coordinator Kyle Hendrickson at BrunchOfLosers@gmail.com ASAP if you’d like to come. The restaurant is in the Towne Center shopping center on Route 1 (Baltimore Avenue); Laurel is midway between D.C. and Baltimore, conveniently reached from both I-95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, or just up (or down) Route 1 from the D.C. or Baltimore Beltway if you enjoy stoplights.

Musements*: The what-ifs from Week 1497

*Headline by Duncan Stevens from the last time we did this contest, in Week 1304

I was a bit concerned that for the Week 1497 “what if” contest, I hadn’t offered enough structure — you could muse on any hypothetical, past or present or future, any subject, though it did seem to work well when we did the same one in the first time we tried it, in 2018. The lack of guidance might have resulted in the relatively few entries this week, about 900. But I got a kick out of a good 5 percent of them: We have some 45 inking entries this week, about 40 of them on the print page. (Actually, my initial “shortlist” was more like 8 percent. Really plenty to choose from.)

It’s the 15th Invite win for Hall of Famer Jeff Contompasis, but it’s his first since we started giving out the Clowning Achievement trophy in December 2020. Finally scoring the Clowner turns out to be slightly problematic for JefCon: “I’ll have to hide it in the SI shrine in my Enchanted Grotto a.k.a. That Pile of Junk in the Basement,” Jeff told me after I posted the Invite this morning. “My wife actually suffers from coulrophobia.” Maybe we should also send Sarah Walsh’s dog.

Speaking of Jeff vis-a-vis Sarah: Jeff, a chemical engineer “whose name rhymes with ‘quantum gases,’ ” notes that there is something like what Sarah posited in one of her three inking entries: an anti-helium that makes your voice lower (if not exactly Barry White-romantic): It’s sulfur hexafluoride. Like this! Oooh, baby, now that is mood music.

What Pleased Ponch: Once again, the faves of Ace Copy Editor Ponch Garcia were all honorable mentions this week. (Though Ponch’s predecessor Doug Norwood used to agree more with my top picks, it doesn’t bother me at all that Ponch makes different choices: I like all the entries that run; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t run them.) Here are Ponch’s picks in no particular order:

If Earth had two moons, men would have twice as many reasons to blame women for everything. (Sarah Walsh)

What if all the brokenhearted people living in the world agreed? They’d let it be. (Dave Airozo)

What if alternating-current inventor Nikola Tesla came forward in time and discovered that the cars named for him run on direct current? He’d be the first person to unfollow Elon Musk for nothing he said. (Michie March) [It’s the second blot of ink ever for Michie (short for Michelle); she got the first one just last week.]

What if kids came with an instruction manual? My luck, it would be from Ikea. (Aaron Olszewski)

Ran-dum acts of kindness: This week’s contest, Week 1501

I’m not a regular habitue of Reddit; I have an account, but I’m full up with Facebook, what with my own page, the Style Invitational Devotees group, and the Style Invitational Ink of the Day dailyish graphic. And neither, I bet, was longtime Invite fan (and recent First Offender) Al Lubran, who sent me a recent listicle from an ad-riddled British aggregator site called The Poke. Which turned out to have lifted 18 examples from a Redditor’s thread asking in deadpan slyness, “What act of kindness do you do for strangers?”

And of course, what it really is is a different format for peeves about stupid behavior. Your mission for Week 1501 will be to come up with fresh observational humor about the irritants in life, in the guise of cheery helpfulness. Feel free to write conversationally in whatever format seems most fun to read (as long as it’s just a sentence or two, not a giant tome).

I’ll cross my fingers that y’all — or at least some of y’all — will come through. You always do.

And then next week we’re back with the most formatty format we do each year: the Limerixicon. Stay tuned. And I hope to see lots of you at brunch on the 21st.



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