On Being a Finalist in The New Yorker’s Cartoon Caption Contest

I recently received some of the most exciting news of my life: I am a […]

Matt S / 10.21.13

NYContest FinalistI recently received some of the most exciting news of my life: I am a finalist in The New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest this week, Oct. 21 to Oct. 27. This is kind of a big deal. So I am shamelessly begging you to go to newyorker.com/humor/caption to vote for your favorite caption (hopefully mine, please) in Contest #399 by Sunday. This isn’t just a self-promoting plug though. Since I have your attention, I am going to take the opportunity to say a few words about this famously cool albeit geeky contest whose devotees have included the likes of film critic Roger Ebert and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

If you’re unfamiliar, each week the magazine publishes an un-finished cartoon in need of a caption. People may submit their caption ideas online, and then the thousands of submisisons are whittled down to three finalists that are left to a popular vote for choosing the one winner. Just becoming a finalist in the contest is such a ridiculously improbable honor that Ebert once had this to say:

I have entered the New Yorker’s cartoon caption contest almost weekly virtually since it began, and have never even been a finalist. Mark Twain advised: “Write without pay until somebody offers to pay you. If nobody offers within three years, sawing wood is what you were intended for.” I have done more writing for free for the New Yorker in the last five years than for anybody in the previous 40 years.

It’s not that I think my cartoon captions are better than anyone else’s, although some weeks, understandably, I do. It’s that just once I want to see one of my damn captions in the magazine that publishes the best cartoons in the world. Is that too much to ask? Maybe I’m too oblique for them.

Alas, Ebert did eventually win a couple of years later in Contest #281 (after entering the contest 107 times) with this caption:


Being a finalist is a lifetime highlight for me that’s up there with getting married, having kids, and being ordained. So thank you, The New Yorker for this wonderfully ego-boosting honor. Your cartoons have long been a Mockingbird favorite due to their pithy and perceptive one-line analyses of a wary humanity. I personally have been studying comedy/humor and its connection to the Christian faith for a little while (see examples here, here, here, here, and here). And in parallel fashion I have been attempting to cultivate my own chops as an amateur humorist mainly for theological and spiritual purposes, including exercising myself with this weekly contest. Though admittedly, I just like things that make me laugh, and The New Yorker comics are some of the best pieces of humor out there.

Well, partner, I humbly request you mosey on over to The New Yorker‘s website and cast your vote. You might even try your hand at entering this week’s contest for the sake of exercising your own funny muscles. You might just surprise yourself and find the experience devotional. Here are some tips that seriously helped me make the running.



15 responses to “On Being a Finalist in The New Yorker’s Cartoon Caption Contest”

  1. Ross says:

    Your caption is objectively the best. I voted for it. Good luck!

  2. Moth says:

    Haven’t voted yet but your caption stood out. Bishop vs. Queen eh. How did it make the finals? Is it a line a hardcore chess player would enjoy? Is it similar to mine but tidier? Can only end in a draw… okay, there are no other chess pieces in the drawing, Gets a little more interesting if you apply it to the Finals. If someone is a member of a big Catholic parish that’s 2,000 votes right there so don’t get too invested in lobbying or winning. Guy at work got so exasperated at not making the Finals he threatened to submit “you don’t see that everyday” every week. I submitted the dorky clueless humor I like that the NYer doesn’t like, something like “if he mysterious rook moves me I might have to mysterious rook move your queen.” Yours is tidier. They like tidy. My runner up referred to the Navajo/Hopi borderlands which are called the checkerboard but that’s way too regional, even if the region in the drawing is the Wild West. And why are they Cowboys instead of Indians? You kept it simple. Congrats.

  3. Alison White says:

    I second that motion!

  4. Win Bassett says:

    Congrats, Matt! I enter every week, and every Monday morning (until this point), I’m let down 😉

  5. Rebecca Wimer says:

    Done. 🙂

  6. Tim K says:

    Yours is clearly better than the others, hope you win.

  7. John Zahl says:

    Nice one, Matt! I voted too. 🙂

  8. Moth says:

    Still assessing the competition. Can only end in a draw. 3-way pun is good. Draw a gun, draw a cartoon, tie at chess. However, as puns go, it doesn’t catch one offguard.

  9. I thought mine ws clever, too. I had said”Checkmate partner!”

  10. Win Bassett says:

    Congrats for winning, Matt!

  11. John Zahl says:

    Hooray, Matt! Another huge “victory” for Christendom. 🙂

  12. Tricia says:


  13. Alison White says:

    Yay! Good job.

  14. James Cecil says:

    Congrats on winning the contest. It has sort of wormed it’s way in my life over the last five years. Not quite an obsession, but close. I have an issue you may be able to weight in on. I just found out I am a finalist, Great right? Well, we’ll see. My submission has a typo and I’m surprised to have been selected as a finalist of three. A duplicate word is the issue. Instead of “ I’m here to …,” I submitted “ I’m here here to…” duplicating the word here. Thoughts? Also, what are the implications of winning? Does one put the accomplishment on their resume? Any doors opened as a result of the victory? Are you a writer? If so, did the win help with any further literary endeavors? I know, lots of wind from me. Sorry, Just let me know what you think.
    James Cecil

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