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The Style Invitational

The Style Invitational, or S.I., is a long-running humor contest that ran first in the Style section of the Sunday Washington Post and currently is in Saturday's Style. Started in 1993, it has run weekly, except for a hiatus in late 1999. In that time, it has had several anonymous head judges who select winning entries, including "The Uncle," "The Czar," and currently, "The Empress." The Czar abdicated in late 2003, leaving the contest in the hands of his former associate, The Empress. The humor ranges from an intellectual vein to a less mature style, and frequently touches on sophisticated political or historical allusions. While the contest theme changes every week, some popular contests are periodically repeated. The S.I. has a loyal following of self-proclaimed "Losers," who refer to having a contest entry published as "getting ink".


The Style Invitational kicked off in March 1993 by asking readers to come up with a less offensive name for the Washington Redskins. The winner, published two weeks later, was Douglas R. Miller, with the entry "The Baltimore Redskins. No, don't move the team, just let Baltimore deal with it." He won a Timex watch, and apparently never entered again, as he wanted to retire undefeated. Another early contest asked entrants to help choose a better nickname for Washington, D.C., to replace "A Capital City". Exemplifying the S.I.'s irreverence, the winning entry was "A Work-Free Drug Place". A similar contest to replace the state of Maryland's slogan "Manly deeds, Womanly words" yielded up such responses as "Maryland - Home to its residents" and "Maryland - Wait! We can explain!"

The contest had a several-month hiatus beginning in August 1999, and restarted in January 2000. It usually receives entries from hundreds of persons each week and, since multiple entries are allowed for each individual, has received upwards of 20,000 entries in a single week.

A group of devotees (see links) of the S.I. meets periodically in the Washington, D.C. area, and hosts an annual "Flushies" awards dinner that has attracted gameplayers from as far away as Ireland and California. The contest also gets entries from England, Australia and New Zealand. Further indicative of interest in the S.I. was a (now-defunct) Rotisserie League, in which players championed and won points for the successes of their favorite entrants. There has also been a contest newsletter, "Depravda", begun by Elden Carnahan of Laurel, and subsequently foisted off on another unsuspecting Loser. Once a proud monthly periodical, "Depravda" now appears only when editorial inertia can be overcome.

In August, 2007, the contest was moved to the Style section of Saturday's Post when Sunday Style was shortened and combined with Arts.

Notable entrants

The most notable name in S.I. annals is Chuck Smith, of Woodbridge, Va., who first won in the contest's sixth week. His frequent successes inspired a contest solely to decide what to do about him. He won that contest, too.

Russell Beland, of Springfield, Va. holds the record for most entries printed. He passed 1,000 in 2006, and earned the opportunity to judge a week of the contest. He is known for his obsession with the contest, and has often drawn criticism for this and other quirks from the Czar or Empress.

Elden Carnahan, of Laurel, Md. (aka Grace Fuller) tabulates running statistics on the contest that are available on the "Losers"' unofficial web site.

Chris Doyle, currently entering either from Ponder, Tex., or various Internet cafes during an around-the-world trip, is known for his prodigious wordplay, poetry and anagrams, and was a perennial winner in a similar past contest in New York Magazine, from which the S.I. may have drawn its inspiration. He is also presently the second-most prolific contributor to the Omnificent English Dictionary in Limerick Form (OEDILF). Many Style Invitational Losers have become OEDILF contributors (and vice versa) after the Invitational's Week 572 Contest

Brendan Beary, of Great Mills, Md., was the 2005 chart topper, with over 100 "inks". Little is known of Mr. Beary, and his identity may indeed be classified under national security rules. He owns lots of refrigerator magnets. Recently, he won a limerick contest between himself and the aforementioned Chris Doyle.

Sarah Worcester Gaymon, of Gambrills, Md. is a former Jeopardy champion who was once labelled a "humongous genius" by The Czar, to get her to stop sending postcards detailing the escapades of the missing Week 64.

Jennifer Hart, of Arlington, Va. has been a frequent winner, and eclipsed Chuck Smith as all time points leader during the years in which she actively participated. Now no longer entering contests, Jennifer may actually be getting a life, unlike the rest of these Losers.

Ervin Stembol, of Alexandria, Va. has been an occasional winner in this and other humor contests. His unmasking as a "nom de plume" prompted the current contest rule barring pseudonymous entries. Losers suspect that in instances of maintaining national security this principle may not be rigidly adhered to by contest authorities.

Bob Staake (pronounced "Stack") illustrates the contest and occasionally suggests contest ideas.

Tom Witte, of Montgomery Village, Md, a frequent winner and contest-namer, is notoriously reclusive. It was once announced that he would be attending a gathering of Losers, who offered $10 to anyone who could get him to say how many children he had. He failed to show up.

Peter Metrinko of Chantilly, Va., enters the SI solely to collect refrigerator magnets, which he is using to build a particle accelerator in his backyard. He claims that consequently he purposely degrades the quality of his entries in order to avoid higher-rated prizes, such as t-shirts. Possibly his greatest claim to fame is that he was recently seen in the S.I. wearing his underpants on his head.


The Czar of the Style Invitational was, until December 2003, the pseudonymous man behind the Style Invitational, the Washington Post 's weekly humor contest. He chose all the winners - calling the contest the "last pure meritocracy on Earth" - and controlled all aspects of the contest.

Very little is known about the Czar of the Style Invitational. He worked for the Washington Post coming up with the contest ideas and choosing the winners for every week's contest. Some contestants have claimed that Post writer and humorist Gene Weingarten was the Czar; however he has said publicly that he was not.

The Czar retired in late 2003, giving all the power to the Empress of the Style Invitational.

The Empress has suggested she has a lower tolerance for immature or bathroom humor than the Czar.


Each week's contest begins with a few examples of answers to the contest, which is confusing since they appear before the contest theme for the week is presented. There is often a picture or pictorial example. Sometimes the contest relates to a picture, such as one where entrants suggest what a given cartoon picture or group of pictures might represent. Beneath this is a paragraph beginning with the phrase "This week's contest," followed by a description of the contest. There is then fine print describing the prizes, how to enter, and how to determine if you are eligible for the prizes.

Following is the "Report from Week X," where X = [this week's contest number] - 4, the result of the 4 weeks between when a contest is first shown and the winners are announced. These results begin with commentary by The Empress on the results, entries that were too common to publish, funny but un-printable entries, and anything else of note. There follows the runners-up, from last to first, followed by the winner. A generous list of Honorable Mentions follows, and the week's report ends with a reminder of which contest results will appear the next week. On occasion, the Post website includes "overflow" Honorable Mentions absent from the print editions; this is typically limited to contest results in which each entry is necessarily lengthy (e.g., song parody lyrics) and the print column capable of running only a small number of entries.

Winning isn't everything

Aside from the typical Winner, Runners-Up, and Honorable Mentions, there have been many other means to get one's name in print over the years. Ongoing methods include donating the weird prizes, suggesting the contest for the week, supplying a revised title for Honorable Mention entries for a given week's results, and writing the revised contest title that runs when the contest results are printed. There is an occasional "Anti-Invitational" entry printed (being an entry that is directly opposite what was asked for in the contest). Defunct past themes included writing the "Ear Nobody Reads", being "Uncle's Pick" (a reference to a humorless figure nominated to replace the Czar years ago), being the Rookie of the Week, and penning the Contest's short-lived "Dead Presidents" comic strip.

Individuals are often singled out for abuse by Czar or Empress. Verbal abuse is frequently heaped upon writers of remarkably obscene or distasteful entries, and individuals who whine about the judging (see Russell Beland) or overtly lobby for their own entries. The Empress is constantly on the look out for flagrant plagiarism (defined as "being in touch with one's inner Google"), the penalty for which is severe admonition and retribution.


Prizes have changed under the current administration, as tabulated:

                     Under the Czar (old)                   Under the Empress (current) 
Winner:              A strange, weird thing that            A trophy known as "The Inker"
                     few people would want. Changes
                     every week. 
First Runner-Up:     A Style Invitational Pen               A strange, weird thing that
                                                            few people would want. Changes every week.

Other Runners-Up:    A Style Invitational Shirt             A Style Invitational Shirt or Coffee Mug 
Honorable Mentions:  A Style Invitational Bumper Sticker    A Style Invitational Refrigerator Magnet

External links

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