A recent drawing for the New Yorker’s weekly cartoon contest showed what appeared to be a lecture hall filled with ducks sitting in front of laptops. When I saw it, my first thought was of the infinite monkey theorem, which holds that a monkey, or group of monkeys, infinitely striking typewriter keys would eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare, or at least Hamlet. Accordingly, I submitted the caption, “I hope they do better than the monkeys.” One of the three finalists selected by the judges was a much funnier and timelier version of mine: “No Shakespeare yet, but they have reproduced several Presidential tweets.” I wouldn’t call my caption a near miss, but at least it was in the neighborhood of the finalist’s ballpark.
Reflecting on the captions I have entered or come close to entering in 132 consecutive contests, I compiled my top five almost successful attempts.
Near miss #1: Contest #590, October 30, 2017
My caption, submitted: “It’s a shame he won’t be appreciated until after he’s extinct.”
Winner, second place: “It will be worth even more when he’s extinct.”
Near miss #2: Contest #559, March 6, 2017
My caption, not submitted: “I thought he’d do a cannonball.”
Winner, second place: “See? A real pirate would have cannonballed.”
Near miss #3: Contest #548, December 5, 2016
My caption, submitted: “I don’t care if you were obeying the laws of thermodynamics.”
Winner, second place: “I don’t make the laws of physics, sir. I just enforce them.”
Near miss #4: Contest #566, April 24, 2017
My caption, not submitted: “She bested the parrot.”
Winner, second place: “We’ll see how affectionate he is when he finds out who ate his parrot.”
Near miss #5: Contest #497, November 9, 2015
My caption, submitted: “I’m the little engine that couldn’t.”
Winner, first place: “She left me for an engine that could.”
I remain hopeful that, one day, I’ll come up with the right combination of words at the right time. I think I can, I think I can . . .