Sunday, December 11, 2005


Dealing with the goldfish

Our friends the Verbs came over for dinner yesterday evening, and we played the New Yorker cartoon caption game.


In the past couple of years, The New Yorker has run a cartoon caption-writing context on its back page. I've pored over New Yorker cartoons, with their clever drawings and dry, sometimes humorless, captions my whole life. Why I don't know -- for every 20 cartoons, maybe five captions are really clever and only one laugh-out-loud funny. But but maybe that's a good ratio.

I'd like to win that contest one day, and I figure a good approach would be to get together with friends and brainstorm cartoon captions to get in practice. So Mr. Verb brought over an envelope stuffed with painstakingly clipped cartoons -- the original with the caption, and a copy with the caption cut off. We would circulate a de-captionated cartoon, come up with some captions, pick out the best one or two, and then compare it with the original.

Cartoon captioning is hard! There are probably some handy rules of thumb that the experts know about that can serve as guides to good caption writing. The only rule I've figured out is: a good caption has to deal with the goldfish. If the drawing has an unusual or salient detail -- like the goldfish in the cartoon above -- the caption has to refer to it in some way. Otherwise, I'm sure the judges would mark you down.

Here's what I thought was some of our better work. You can decide whether we (the Verbs and us) bested "them" -- the writers of the actual caption.


Them: "You've got one foot in the grave. Further testing will determine if it's your left or your right."

Us: "The good news is: it's a boy!"

[alternatively] "No shirt, no shoes, no service!"


Them: "Sign here if you don't want to take part in a prisoner-abuse scandal."
Us: "Reason for return?"

I should explain that B thought that the object behind the desk just to the left of the suspect -- either a package or a computer terminal sitting on the chair -- was a goldfish in this drawing.


Them: "Here at Hazmat Acres we take pride in our beautiful mystery mounds."

Funny, but it doesn't deal with the goldfish -- here, a man standing on a distant mound seeming to me to be aiming a rifle.


Us: "Most of the remaining neighbors are well out of range."

Okay, so maybe we didn't kick ass, but I thought we're off to a promising start.

Here's my entry: "In another toity years, we'll be toity-seven"

(I know which captions you lauged out loud to, you know...)
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