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The Order of Oddfish


A tale of two contests: The New Yorker and The Order of Odd-Fish

May 14, 2009

“Just to confirm—I get seventy-two lemmings, right?”

Longtime readers of the blog know that I have a love-hate relationship with New Yorker cartoons. Last year in this space I outlined a parlor game: by getting a group of people together, drawing unrelated cartoons, writing unrelated captions, and randomly pairing them off by drawing them from a hat, I found that you can generate passable New Yorker cartoons about thirty percent of the time—not bad, considering! You can see the cartoon results of our experimental New Yorker game here.

My brother-in-law Chris has now taken the next step. Ever since he was a small boy, his appreciation of New Yorker cartoons has been keen; now, his instincts sharpened by the pitiless coliseum of playing our New Yorker game at family parties, he is now wrasslin’ with the big boys, in The New Yorker’s own “write-your-own-caption” contest.

The above is his contribution. Funny? Absolutely. New Yorker-y enough? Indeed: the urbane-yet-mildly-anxious tone (“just to confirm”), the political subtext, the genteel gloss on a grim topic, all make this New Yorker gold. Go vote for his entry here, at the New Yorker web site. The deadline for voting is Sunday, May 17.

But that’s not the only contest that’s going on. Paul Michael Murphy, of the immortal Murphblog, recently wound up his Order of Odd-Fish Week with a “Design Your Own Odd-Fish Specialty” Contest, in which contestants made up their own fields of pointless study for inclusion in the Odd-Fish Appendix.

(Just to bring those of you who haven’t read The Order of Odd-Fish up to speed: the purpose of the knights of the Odd-Fish is to research an “unreliable or useless” reference work of “dubious facts, rumors, and myths,” which serves as “a repository of questionable knowledge, and an opportunity to dither about.”)

All the entries are in the comments section. They’re ingenious! From “the study of outdated dance moves with a subspecialty in headbanging” to “the study of nose-blowing techniques” to “the study of improbable and illogical animals,” the astonishing fertility and creativity of the Murphblog commenters was humbling. It fell to Paul and me to make the difficult decision of who would win.

I wrote about the winner, the also-rans, and the reasoning behind my judgment, here at the Murphblog. In this piece I reveal which contestant was an alpaca, I discover that another contestant is fated for damnation, I make a joke about recursion even though only other computer programmers think that kind of thing is funny; and I reveal at last the sordid truth behind my scandalous affair with maneater (and perpetually misguided book reviewer) Lynne Farrell Stover. Go read it!

(And for those of you who missed Odd-Fish Week on the Murphblog — here’s Part One, about my writing process and the crazy road to Odd-Fish’s publication; Part Two, in which we talk about David Lynch’s “Eye of the Duck” theory, and you can see videos of Paul and me reading from Odd-Fish; Part Three, in which I reveal the thing I will always find funny; and Part Four, in which I answer the “lightning-round” questions and we see Paul and his adorable two-year-old daughter read aloud from The Order of Odd-Fish.)