I first saluted the little word-find challenge in The Style Invitational three years ago, when it existed only on paper in the Times’s Sunday magazine (and PDF online), a low-tech pursuit I used to (and still do) pounce on as soon as it’s posted on Thursday nights at 10. But now that there’s a new set of letters every day of the week — in an elegant app you can update all day long if you have a subscription to the NYT puzzles — the little honeycomb perches impatiently in a corner of my brain until (if I’m lucky) I find all the words on editor Sam Ezersky’s somewhat arbitrary list and a Queen Bee cartoon pops up to congratulate me. (Don’t ask me how I know that a new set of letters comes online at exactly 3 a.m.)
But for our purposes this week, we’re not playing the actual game. In fact, it’s sort of the converse: In Week 1424, you look through any of 30 sets of seven letters for words that aren’t on the list, because they’re your own inventions. Neologisms, of course, are the Invite’s stock in trade; every year we probably have a half-dozen contests of some kind in which you make up new terms, usually by modifying an existing word, and the seven-letter sets of Spelling Bee provide lots of promising fodder.
The primary difference between Week 1424 and our annual Tile Invitational contest, which is based on the ScrabbleGrams game and also uses seven-letter sets, is that this week, you may use the letters in the set twice or more in the same word, and ignore others (though you must include the first letter in the set). When you’re used to simply arranging the seven letters in your mind, it takes some effort to “seeing” a letter used repeatedly in a word (and this week you can even make a phrase). We’ll do Tile Invitational soon.
Otherwise, it’s the regular Invite drill:
— We’re a humor contest, so your word and definition should manage to be funny, not just correct. Sometimes just the definition, even a terse one, will do the trick; other times a funny sentence showing how it’s used can be what earns the ink (especially if others have coined the same word).
— It’s a plus to coin a term that you could use in real life. For example, the definition in today’s example of “inktini” suggest that you can use it for any drink that makes a dark stain, not just a specific concoction that doesn’t really exist.
— YOU MUST tell me which letter set your word came from. And I’ve asked you to begin each entry with that set, as it appears in the list, so that I can sort the entries (I’ll probably receive more than 1,000) by group. So don’t number your entries; don’t group several entries under a single header. As always, you may send up to 25 entries in all; they can all be from one set or they can be from 25 different ones. And you may send them all on the same form, as long as each entry is on a separate line, beginning with that letter set.
LOL in a day’s work*: The song parodies of Week 1420
*Non-inking headline by Jesse Frankovich
I’d rather you spend time reading — and watching, and singing along with — this week’s 20 inking parodies than much more blather here, so I’ll just say that it was truly a joy (if a “lengthy joy”) to judge the hundreds of “work song” lyrics submitted for Week 1420. So many of the 140 lyricists who entered, some of them with a dozen or more songs each, offered songs that cleverly echoed the originals, and matched or even improved on the originals’ rhyme scheme.
While I don’t see the names of the writers while I judge the entries, it was clear that many of our Loserbards were writing about their own careers, using terminology or attitudes that sometimes would resonate more with colleagues in that field than the reading public. I sensed this in songs about teachers, Navy officers, beekeepers, translators, tax preparers, fossil preparers, party planners, audiobook readers, grant writers, musicians, glaciologists,
I don’t think, however, that Beverley Sharp was actually a “mad scientist” who sang “If I only had a brain” — one of many inkworthy entries that I just didn’t have room to run. What I will do, though, is to post it, along with a series of other non-inking parodies and videos, over the next couple of weeks in the Style Invitational Devotees Facebook group. I’ve already posted Hildy Zampella’s virtuosic ode to trash collectors that’s a full line-by-line parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
It’s the first Clowning Achievement trophy, but the third win and sixth ink “above the fold” for Bob Kruger, an impressive ratio against 45 blots of ink total since his debut in Week 1271. Bob wasn’t the first in his family to get ink, however; his son James — who learned about the Invite in Africa when he happened to be working in the Peace Corps alongside the daughter of Super-Loser Kevin Dopart — got eight inks beginning in Week 1008.
In this abundance of riches that was the Week 1420 entry pool, I kept going back to Bob’s song “by” the cosmetic surgeon, set to the short, energetic (and pretty inane) Beatlemania tune “I Saw Her Standing There.” Not only did Bob’s lyrics track perfectly with the original in its meter and accents, but he added variety to the rhyme scheme: Instead of repeating the final line of each verse (“I wouldn’t dance with another, ooh, when I saw her standing there”) Bob keeps bringing out more humor.
Ending of first verse: “So how ’bout I tuck in your tummy, ooh! / And lift your derriere?”
Ending of second verse: “There’s still time to look like Jane Fonda, ooh! / When you’re on Medicare.”
And the ending punchline to the song, with a change-up in the rhyming, but echoing the Fab Four’s “I’ll never dance with another”: But you’ll never look like your mother, ooh!/ Once you come in through my door.”
Bob’s Clowner-winner was his sole entry of the week. But this week’s second-place Loser, Hall of Famer and renowned parodist Mark Raffman, sent me ten parodies. In addition to his second-place play on “the birthin’ canal” (set to “The Erie Canal”) and “Baby, you’re a firin’ jerk” for Katy Perry’s “Firework,” I plan to also share on the Style Invitational Devotees page over the next couple of weeks (a) a dentist telling about his day to the “Beverly Hillbillies” theme; (b) mixed martial arts fighting to the “Barney” tune; (c) a cheesemonger’s song, “Cheeses Make the Meal’ (“Jesus Take the Wheel”); maybe even (d) a rather violent song about medical students and cadavers; and/or Mark’s signature parody fodder, “Be Our Guest,” this time a “Silicon Valley Work Song” (“We came west!”).
While I couldn’t possibly be surprised to discover that Mark’s song was among my very top picks this week, I was delighted to find that both my third- and fourth-place choices were by almost total newbies: Louise Dodenhoff Hauser (three drops of ink in 2012) and Irene Plotzker (two in 2014). What’s more, each of them sent me a whole set of impressive parodies; I’ll be sharing more of their work as well.
More podcast! More podcast!
In the latest half-hour episode of “You’re Invited,” Loser/host Mike Gips chats with the engaging Danielle Nowlin, who offers the perspective of a 365-time Loser (in just eight years), blotting up all that ink while building a family of three kids. Danielle weighs in on her favorite contests, has lots of compliments to share about her favorite entries of all time; and tells the tale of the Incident From Hell on her way to a Loser event that prompted her to host the Flushies safely from home (twice).
Listen to Danielle and Mike — and those in the 10 previous episodes — at bit.ly/invite-podcast, or look up “You’re Invited” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and some other podcast distributors. And I hear that coming up sometime in the next week will be Mark “Be Our Guest” Raffman.
Have a songful week, and take it from me: There’s no reason to look at Spelling Bee at 3 o’clock in the morning.