Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Crowd-sourced cartoons: The New Yorker caption contest

Did you know that men vastly outnumber women as entrants in the New Yorker's back page caption contest (5 to 1)? That's a stumper. Do they have more leisure time to participate in such endeavors? Are they more competitive?
Here's a popular favorite on the topic of reading drawn from The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest Book.
I actually like the second-place winner just as well: "You won't believe this, but I just remembered where they buried the remote." (As it happens, winners often squeak by the second place entrant by one or two percentage points.)
Because three New Yorker staff members vote on the three finalists before they're submitted for popular polling, it's their take on humor that rises to the top. I've seen many a published cartoon in the magazine itself I would have moved post haste to the reject pile. But contest contributors are dogged: more than 1 million captions have been submitted since the feature began in 2005.
Workplace tropes show up frequently, as do dog cartoons. Here's one that combines both.
(If you're a committed caninist, you will also find much to savor in The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs.) 
Many of the finalists interviewed turn out to be professional scribes of some sort. One such was playwright and screenwriter Peter Fox, who captioned the dog cartoon below "He's a stray, but I think I'll keep him." With the winning caption ("Don't laugh. He's made partner"), it no doubt adorns many a law office.

What makes a superior caption? Shorter and sweet say the experts, and having perused this anthology I concur that the pithiness factor reigns supreme. Take the sample below: 
 Compare John Maynard's winning caption with the increasingly wordy second and third place finalists: "Our conflict-resolution seminar ended a bit early today." / "Just remember to keep away from Fletcher's wife, and Davidson's daughter, and Harris's iPod." Like many of the interviewees, Maynard says that the caption came to him all at once. After being harassed by a caller who said the idea was his and he should have won and by disgruntled acquaintances who had submitted fruitlessly multiple times, Maynard decided that his neophyte plunge was enough and never entered again.
Responsible for the above caption, two-time contest winner Michelle Haimoff hasn't let success go to her head. She lists her "greatest accomplishments to date" as the following: 1) Assembled a small nightstand; 2) Introduced two friends who dated for a full year until their miserable breakup; and 3) Winner of the New Yorker cartoon caption contest.
There are some cases in which one person has a divine spark of inspiration and lesser mortals fall by the wayside. That was the case with this image, winningly captioned by Eric Sagalyn of Worcester, MA as "This is the most advanced case of Surrealism I've seen."
Time for one more? It's by Adam Schulman of Richmond, VA.


  1. I've been following the New Yorker caption contest the past 2 weeks, and have decided the judges are afflicted with a major case of ADD.
    So, I consulted a friend who writes fortune cookie messages for advice on concision.
    He once summed up Confucius' Analects thusly:
    "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

    Will this be a comment, or another posting in The Cyberspace Reader for Wee Fairies?

    1. the wee fairies have sprinkled fairy dust on you & your comments!

  2. You were an unfortunate victim in my ongoing battle against internet porn merchants. I tried another device to stop them ... too tedious to go into, but which involved reviewing comments before allowing them to be posted. Hope all this will be resolved before long. Thanks for not giving up on us!!

  3. I pledge to read all the blurry street signs and come up with all the rhymes to Mr. Mxyzptlk they can throw at me.
    I noticed a bit o' spam on the last post--the delay did not catch it.
    The vanishing act only affected my 2nd comments, so if I could learn to shut up, I'd be fine.
    Here goes....

    1. I'd better put "the captcha" back. Got how I hate those things. But it's a good stopgap against a major barrage of spam. i think i got that one instance you mention.
      LOVE your reference to Mr. Mxyzptlk ... the bizarro world Superman comics were some of my favorites!!