Emdashes—Modern Times Between the Lines

The Basics:
About Emdashes | Email us

Before it moved to The New Yorker:
Ask the Librarians

Best of Emdashes: Hit Parade
A Web Comic: The Wavy Rule


Special Dispatch From Rome: How to Win the Caption Contest

Filed under: Seal Barks   Tagged: , , ,

As I while away the hour or two before flyin’ home, I think I’ll take a moment to note that, in an introspective spirit akin to that of some of our caption contest interviewees, recent winner Patrick House summarizes (for Slate), with a light touch and mighty candor, the mental processes necessary to get a viable caption past the discerning Farley Katz—and, of course, others. Well done, Mr. House, and I hope I can persuade you to chat with one of our talented new interns about your experience. Also, a quick note on your statement here:
To understand what makes the perfect caption, you must start with the readership. Paging through The New Yorker is a lonesome withdrawal, not a group activity. The reader is isolated and introspective, probably on the train commuting to work. He suffers from urban ennui. He does not make eye contact. Laughing out loud is, in this context, an unseemly act sure to draw unwanted attention.
At Emdashes, we try to soothe that periodical loneliness with cheerful camaraderie, meandering reflections, selective spelunking, and, between magazines, digital balm for the paper shakes. Won’t you join us? We can’t promise anything, but you may find yourself laughing a little bit louder.


Patrick House’s caption — “O.K. I’m at the window. To the right? Your right or my right?” — was good, but I think even he’ll admit that it wasn’t as good as the one I submitted: “O.K. I’m at the window. My right or your right?” Brevity being the soul of wit, my shorter caption (which was substantively identical to the winning entry) should have been selected over Mr. House’s. Why wasn’t it? I can’t be sure, but since I’ve already won two caption contests (nos. 92 and 123), I think The New Yorker is reluctant to give me a third victory. Or maybe it’s because I’m Jewish. The New Yorker is a notoriously anti-Semitic publication.

Lawrence WoodJune 03, 2008

I’m not gonna touch your last assertion there, Lawrence, but there have been a handful of articles about the many varieties on a single theme that come in to the caption contest. Some kind of magic software sorts the similar phrases together, and if the powers that be like a given phrase group, they choose their idea of the funniest caption therein. Humor’s subjective—whaddaya gonna do?

Congratulations on your winning captions, by the way! For readers, they were “If he’s so damn intelligent, let him get a job” and “You should be happy. How many husbands even notice window treatments?”

Don’t worry. I don’t really think The New Yorker is anti-Semitic. If anything, it’s like a Jewish conspiracy, what with Remnick, Gopnik, Hertzberg, and Mankoff running the show.
And I don’t mind losing to someone who submits a caption that’s similar to mine. One contest winner from Berkeley submitted a caption — “How soon can you start?”— that was identical to mine, and I figured that was just the luck of the draw.
I responded to the news about Patrick House’s article only because he tried to have it both ways. While bragging about his victory, he maintained that the captions aren’t even supposed to be funny. What nonsense. Sometimes they’re not funny, and sometimes The New Yorker rejects what is obviously the funniest caption because it’s just too vulgar (e.g., “I can’t belive I fucked a snowglobe,” which I heard was submitted as a caption for the cartoon of a frustrated woman smoking a cigarette in bed while sitting next to a huge snowglobe), but most of the winning captions are pretty good.
I have to admit, it was disappointing to come so close to a third victory (and to tying the record set by that Virginian bastard, Carl Gable), but I’m going to follow Mr. House’s advice and just keep trying.

Lawrence WoodJune 05, 2008

Periodical loneliness? I love it.

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, it may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Thanks for waiting.)

2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree