Because it's a pain in the butt to find me on the Boston Globe website.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Hitting the links

Like I said, the joggling stories made national and even international headlines. Here are a few links, mostly to copycat stories.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

Charleston Daily Mail (nice, original reporting):

NPR (Host Debbie Elliott says "Now I've heard one of you is the better runner and one of you is the better juggler." Gee, wonder where she heard that?)

Columbus Dispatch (they used my story. Does that mean I get a royalty?)

Laura's blog

CNN (Kapral gave the Globe a shout-out)

SI's Pete McEntegart, a buddy, linked my story to the 10 spot

Harvard Crimson, with some nice original reporting

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I love history

The Inside Scoop: Like I said, I love these kinds of stories. Civil War diary discovered in the family attic. Written by a thoughtful, ex-slave-turned-soldier. Unfortunately, I had a tough time writing the piece, mainly because it could have been twice as long as it is. (A Globe South version I wrote was longer.) Also, I was spent after coming back from California and just didn't have the energy for this one. Still, the deadline didn't wait. It came out fine. The inside story on this one is that the Globe photo desk rejected the photo assignment to shoot the guy at the ceremony. It was the day after the marathon and apparently lots of photogs took the day off. That's understandable. What I still can't fathom is why they wouldn't accept the photos I took. I was kind of miffed they cancelled the assignment (how can you have a feature without a photo!) so I took my camera and shot photos like I did at Salem and Malden. Not boasting, but the photo here of Bill Gould is a lot better than the one the historical society took. But we had to use THEIR photo, because freelancers can't take photos. I dunno. It was just rotten journalism. Don't use the better photo. I'm still miffed, as you can tell.

Freedom and glory: The diary of an ex-slave
Descendant gives Union sailor's entries to historical society

The voice, clear and commanding, was Boston-born Bill Gould's. But the words he spoke were those of his great-grandfather, William Benjamin Gould, an escaped African-American slave who joined the Union Navy and kept a daily diary of his incredible passage to freedom.

''The next cruise that she makes will be for Uncle Samuel," Gould read aloud, intimating Petty Officer Gould's pride upon commandeering a Confederate vessel in 1864.

''Came to anchor at four bells," he continued, from an 1863 passage. ''Read the Articles of War. Also the Proclamation of Emancipation. Very good."

''This is a passage that I like in particular," Gould said before donating the 144-year-old diary, possibly the only one of its kind, to the Massachusetts Historical Society on Tuesday. The date was April 15, 1865. The war, and slavery, were about to end.

''On my return on board I heard the glad tidings," he read, ''that the Stars and Stripes had been planted over the capitol of the defeated confederacy by the invincible Grant. While we honor the living soldiers who have done so much, we must not forget to whisper for fear of disturbing the glorious sleep of the many who have fallen, martyrs to the cause of right and equality."

The diary, begun in 1862, was discovered in 1958, when Bill Gould's father, William B. Gould III, stumbled upon it while cleaning out the attic of the family's home in East Dedham, where William Benjamin Gould became a building contractor and community pillar after the Civil War.

Some chapters, unfortunately, were thrown out by accident. But the sections that remain -- hundreds of pages detailing Gould's wartime adventures to the day of his discharge at the Charlestown Navy Yard in 1865 -- provide an invaluable account of an African-American who joined the Union military months before Colonel Robert Gould Shaw recruited blacks for his fabled 54th Massachusetts Infantry.

The ex-slave's words are eloquent; his thoughts, considerate; his penmanship, extraordinary. On top of that, he had quite a life.

Bill Gould, a Stanford law professor who headed the National Labor Relations Board in the Clinton administration, has made researching the yellowed journal his life's passion. In 2002 he published a detailed book about the diary, ''Diary of a Contraband: The Civil War Passage of a Black Sailor." Wanting to share the diary with even more readers, he contacted the historical society.

Gould, whose full name is William Benjamin Gould IV, returned to Boston to throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park during ''Jackie Robinson Day" last weekend. (Though Gould grew up in New Jersey he is a life-long Red Sox fan.) On Tuesday he officially gifted the diary to the society, which will have portions on public display throughout the summer.

''The diary has taught me that I really got a lucky chance in life," he said. ''He was able to persevere under the most adverse circumstances. Escaping from slavery, serving under difficult circumstances during the war at sea, facing real bullets, then forging his own way on the basis of a craft. Hero is an overused term these days, particularly since 2001. But it seems to me that he fits this word very well."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Zach rules!


Record-setter Warren had a ball with this one

Juggling three yellow balls each step of the way, Harvard Divinity School student Zach Warren shattered his world record in the obscure sport of joggling -- running while juggling -- with a sub-three-hour finish in yesterday's Boston Marathon.

Eliciting cheers of ''Jog-gler, Jog-gler," some laughter, and his share of quizzical looks as he ran, Warren crossed the finish line in 2 hours 58 minutes and 23 seconds. His time was nearly nine minutes faster than the record he set in November at the Philadelphia Marathon of 3:07:05.

Warren bested his only competition, Canadian Michal Kapral, who held the record in marathon joggling before Warren. Kapral set a personal best of 3:06:45 while juggling three red balls.

The jogglers ran side by side until Warren pulled ahead around Mile 15. He literally never looked back.

''I wanted to turn my head and look, but I couldn't," said Warren. ''I had to just focus on the balls."

Jim Brusstar, a representative of the International Sport Juggling Federation, said the jogglers appeared to run clean races, meaning they took no more than two steps at any time without juggling. Still, his group plans on reviewing race video to verify the results.

Warren finished 911th overall, and Kapral finished 1,761st.

It was the first marathon on record in which two jogglers competed head to head, according to sport officials.

''I was happy with my time, but Zach just took off at the hills," said the 33-year-old Kapral. ''That guy is incredible."

''Having Michal there with me was such a blessing," said Warren, 24. ''It made it so much more fun for those first few miles. Toward the end I got lonely, to be honest."

Warren and Kapral were running to raise money for children's charities ( and They plan on a rematch in September's Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon.

The Inside Scoop: So, he did it. Kind of unbelievable, if you stop to think about it. And the best part is Zach smiled the entire way. Laura and I caught him around mile 17, where he was about 5 steps in front of Michal. Then we hopped the subway and literally raced Zach to the finish line. As we slogged on the Green Line, he ran 10 miles. We beat him by 3 minutes! He almost beat us while joggling! He cruised in faster than I couldn't get to the media viewing area, so Laura and I ran through the crowd to Copley to catch a glimpse of him along the sidelines. Good thing I saw those yellow balls in the air. Of course, we had no idea whether Kapral had finished. We hung around and he showed up about 9 minutes later. I met him right after the finish line (thanks to my media pass) and he jabbed away for like 20 minutes with me. This after running a marathon in almost 3 hours. Zach was in pretty good shape - not great, but pretty good - when he met us at the family waiting area, where Kapral's wife Dianne was hanging out. Zach had no one waiting for him -- no family or friends -- except for me. But at least they got to see him in the paper the next day. The sports editors apparently liked the first story because they gave "The Jugglers" a nice corner page. Again, very proud to get this kind of story in the paper. And this time, I got their charity websites, too. (Matthew J. Lee photo)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Joggling Breakthrough!

The Inside Scoop: This story came out great on so many levels. One, it put Zach on the national map. Appearing on the cover of the Sports section (my first section front there), it got picked up by more than 500 newspapers worldwide and probably hundreds of TV stations. CNN, NPR, CBS, ESPN and others interviewed Zach and Michal about their joggling showdown. It appears that this may be the first legitmate joggling story to appear in a major newspaper (that's what the joggling folks intimated, at least.) That, of course, makes me estatic. I love breaking new ground and shedding light on people/topics that never, never, never see the light of day in the mainstream media. I guess the only bummer is that I didn't get much credit. Amazingly, more than a dozen websites I've read quote my story verbatim and DON'T credit the Boston Globe, let alone me. Just how they have the scruples to do this, I don't know. Even when I worked for the Daily News Express in NYC, we credited our sources, even if it was just to say "wire reports." But we really did use wire reports! In this case, people - hundreds - just stole from the Globe. And me. Which wouldn't matter except that I don't get paid anything more. Is this what Limewire feels like to musicians? Anyway, the other bummer, which in the grand scheme is the greater bummer, is that few media outlets even mentioned the charities these guys are running for. I was so upset with myself for not getting in the websites for the charities. Had I, maybe more donations would have come in. I spoke with Kapral before the race: despite all the publicity, he'd only raised $1,000 for the race. That is so sad. PS - speaking of giving credit, it's Domenic Chavez's photo.


Juggling for 26.2 miles -- it 'joggles' the mind

Michal Kapral is the better runner. Pushing his 20-month-old daughter, Annika, in a stroller, he ran the Toronto marathon in 2 hours 49 minutes. With no baby in tow, his personal best is 2:32.

Zach Warren is the better juggler. Bowling pins, knives, and torches are all child's play to him. He can juggle while riding a unicycle; he can juggle while blindfolded.

On Marathon Monday, the two men will take their positions at the starting line in Hopkinton in what may prove to be one of the most curious showdowns in race history. Warren, a Harvard Divinity School student, is the current world record-holder in the obscure sport of marathon ''joggling," the official term for juggling while running. The man he stole the title from? That would be Kapral.

In the 20-odd-year history of joggling, two jogglers have never run the same marathon -- until now.

Warren, 24, and Kapral, 33, of Toronto, plan on running side by side, each juggling three bean-filled balls, for 20 or even 25 miles of the Boston race. From that point on, it'll be a sprint to the finish. May the best joggler win.

''It was a sort of a joke when I first started doing it," says Kapral, an editor for Westford-based Captivate Network, which operates electronic news boards found in elevators. ''But after doing it for hours and hours and miles and miles, I appreciate it as a truly beautiful sport. There's something poetic about it. When you get into a good groove and you see the balls flying in front of you, it really is poetry. You're a little moving circus."

''The way I figure," says Warren, a West Virginia native, ''if you're running a marathon, you're already in pain. Why not have a little fun while you're doing it? After all, laughter is an antidote."

Warren eclipsed Kapral's record by 41 seconds at the Philadelphia Marathon in November, finishing in 3:07:05. Competing head-to-head, the two hope to break three hours in Boston -- assuming Kapral doesn't lose a ball in the jostle at the starting line, or a bug doesn't fly into Warren's eye, as happened in his last race.

''It's not that people haven't joggled marathons before," says Bill Giduz, who helped coin the term ''joggling" in the early 1980s and is one of the sport's leading advocates. ''But these guys are the fastest yet. It would be wonderful if we have a photo finish. One could win by a ball."

The official story
According to joggling rules, Warren and Kapral can't take more than two steps without juggling. If someone drops a ball, he has to stop, go to the spot where he dropped it, and resume running from there.

About 800 runners in the United States identify themselves as jogglers, says Albert Lucas, co-founder of the Tampa-based International Sport Juggling Federation. Fewer than 100 of those runners are marathoners, Lucas says, making Monday's competition the most anticipated joggling event of the year.

''We'll have officials there," says Lucas, who himself holds the record for joggling the most marathons (12) without dropping a ball. ''Whoever crosses the finish line, we'll be able to certify them on the spot."

Jack Fleming, communications director for the Boston Athletic Association, says there are no rules against juggling during the race, just as there are no restrictions against running it backwards, in bare feet, wearing military gear, or dressed as Elvis.

''For some, the marathon is not enough," says Fleming. ''It needs to be more. 'How can we add a layer?' Some people might purely add that layer by trying to run as fast as possible. These guys are trying to add a layer by adding complexity."

While juggling and running may appear to have little in common, a juggler's arms sway back and forth almost exactly like a runner's. When throws are timed correctly, the motion is practically seamless, jogglers say.

''As long as you see where the ball peaks, you can usually position your hand to catch it; after a while it becomes natural," says Warren, who first tinkered with the sport in college, when he would relax before a big track meet by juggling on the sidelines.

Kapral, one of Canada's best marathoners, began joggling a little more than a year ago, after setting the Guinness world record for ''fastest marathon for pushing a baby in a stroller" in 2004.

''Everyone was asking me what I was going to do the next year," to top that," says Kapral. ''I'm not a juggler. I was dropping balls every three seconds at the beginning. Eventually, I could run an hour without dropping them. It's amazing what you can train yourself to do."

Kapral shattered the old world record by 13 minutes in the first marathon he ever joggled, the 2005 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Warren broke that record two months later while joggling his first marathon, the Philadelphia Marathon.

The challenge of Boston
The elements likely will play a large role in determining which man will take Boston. Kapral, the weaker juggler, says he struggled during the Toronto marathon because it was so humid.

''Toward the end of it, I was just covered in stickiness and was dropping the balls," he said ''Once I kicked it, too, by accident."

Kapral's juggling skills will also be tested while he fights his way through the sea of runners at the beginning of the race.

''When you're in a pack, you slow down because you're worried about dropping them," says Gil Pontius, 41, a Clark University professor who joggled the 1998 Boston Marathon in 4:35. ''I was in a close pack in the first 10 miles. I didn't want to lose a ball and have someone fall on it and trip and break an ankle."

But should Monday be a dry and windless day, the odds will favor the stronger runner, jogglers say. In this case, that is clearly Kapral, who won Toronto's marathon in 2002 and was the top Canadian finisher in the Boston Marathon that same year.

Warren, the local favorite, acknowledges that his competition will be stiff and that he is less prepared than he could be.

''I've been training for a unicycle record, not a running record," said the second-year graduate student, who two weeks ago attempted to ride the most miles on a unicycle in a single hour, only to fall short when a wheel bolt broke during his attempt in Fargo, N.D.

''We'll be running cooperatively for a certain period of time -- maybe 20 miles, maybe 25," Warren says. ''Then at some point, someone's going to turn on the fire. Mostly likely it's going to be him. So make sure you take your pictures before that point."

Kapral says it's anyone's race.

''Zach is incredibly talented, obviously," says Kapral. ''He broke my record. I'm certainly not going to brush him aside."

Beyond setting a world record, the two jogglers will be running to raise money for children's charities. Kapral is raising donations for the Toronto charity ''A Run For Liane," whose goal is to build a cancer research center, while Warren is trying to raise $10,000 for the Afghan Mobile Mini-Circus for Children, a Kabul-based group for which he volunteers as a juggling and unicycle instructor.

By sticking together most of the way, Kapral and Warren figure to attract twice as much attention to their causes.

They'll certainly turn twice as many heads.

''With joggling, I get a whole variety of reactions," says Warren. ''Complete laughter. Sometimes, like, absurd laughter. I hear people say, 'You know, if you drop one, you have to go back to the starting line.' Or 'Don't blink!' Some people say 'You're absurd,' or 'I wish I could do that.' And some say, 'Now, you're just showing off.' "

Sunday, April 09, 2006

What's up, doc? Carrot-centric dishes

The Inside Scoop: Keeping up with my tradition of picking the absolutely hardest foods on the planet to find, I picked carrots this week. The Indian dish was really, really good. But I had to go to two restaurants to find a good one, as the first restaurant's version tasted like shoe leather. The chocolate carrot cake was really a disappointment, though I didn't write that. The problem was you could barely even see the carrot shards, let alone taste them. But I really liked the baker and his tiny shop, so I kept it in there. Plus, it was different, albeit only in name. Common Ground was out there - something out of Lord of the Rings. I had no idea it was run by a religious group. Their pizza looked good. Alas, no carrot pizza.

TABLE HOPPING, April 9, 2006

In honor of the Easter Bunny, this week's Table Hopping is all about -- you guessed it -- carrots. Sure, they make your eyesight better. But carrots are also an extremely versatile cooking ingredient, present in soups, sweets, salads, stir-frys, breads and many more dishes. Bushy tail or not, the following carrot-centric dishes should impress.

Gandhi Restaurant
704 Mass Ave., Cambridge

Natives of India's Panjab region refer to gajaar ka halwa as carrot cake, but it's really more like a warm and moist carrot brownie. The dessert is hard to find in Boston, but Jarnel Singh, head cook at Gandhi in Central Square for more than 20 years, makes it just right. Pouring shredded carrots, spices, and milk into a saucepan, he adds in minced pistachios, almonds, cashews, and Indian pistachios (they're long and brown) for a nutty flavor. Sugar and ghee make the brownies sweet and almost creamy. I might have ordered seconds were it not so rich ($2.50).

Well, Well, Well . . .
23 Dartmouth St., Boston

''An experiment that worked" is how Well, Well, Well . . . owner Cornelia Hoskin describes organic carrots marsala, one of a few dozen gourmet frozen meals available at her South End takeout store. Cooking up fresh carrots from Busa Farm in Lexington, she drenches them in marsala wine, adds fresh black pepper, kosher salt, and a bit of onion and sugar, then flash freezes them. ''It just sort of sprung from chicken marsala," she says about her sweet side dish. ''You're wondering, 'Hmm . . . what would marsala go well with?' " Regulars pair an order ($9.99) with lemon broccoli chicken, lime cilantro swordfish kebabs, or veggie Barcelona, another homemade, carrot-laden dish.

New England Soup Factory
2-4 Brookline Place, Brookline Village

Marjorie Druker likes lots of foods, but she worships carrots. ''Some people may think of them as a mundane, everyday vegetable. But really, they're like royalty," says the Soup Factory's head chef and owner. Her carrot, honey, and ginger soup, introduced Friday, is simply regal. Made with crème fresh, ''the jaguar of sour cream," she says, the dish is zesty, almost like a yellow curry, but far smoother. Druker makes several carrot soups throughout the year, including carrot and roasted leek, but this one's her favorite. ''Carrots and honey together -- it's like saying peanut butter and jelly," she gushes ($5.50/pint).

Sweet Finnish
761 Centre St., Jamaica Plain

Flecks of carrots add both color and taste to Sweet Finnish's ''porkkanaleipa," the tongue-twisting Finnish name for carrot bread. ''We're big on big words," jokes Ulla Monestime, a Finnish native who opened her Internet bakery café on bustling Centre Street two years ago. Made with oats and wheat flour, porkkanaleipa is a hardy but tasty bread, and, well, slightly unusual. Monestime credits her mother with the recipe, noting that carrot bread is common across Finland. Request it in one of Sweet Finnish's turkey or ham sandwiches, or, for $5, try a loaf.

Blue Frog Bakery
3 Green St., Jamaica Plain

Brad Brown bakes a classic carrot cake in his tiny side-street bakery, but his chocolate carrot cake is what turns heads. ''We're the only people I know of who make it," says the Toronto native, who brought the recipe with him from Canada. ''People have been making chocolate cake with (a variety of) things for a long time. My mom made chocolate zucchini cake. Anything to make the cake more moist." Brown's triple-layer chocolate carrot cake is heavy on the chocolate and light on the carrots. Still, the little orange shreds leave a nice carrot aftertaste.

Common Ground
2243 Dorchester Ave.,Dorchester Lower Mills

Vitamins practically coursed through my veins as I slurped a glass of freshly squeezed carrot juice from Common Ground's juice bar one afternoon last week. The yummy frosted carrot cake I had for dessert wasn't nearly as nutritious, but, seeing as how it was made with organic carrots, organic flour and honey instead of sugar, my guilt was kept to a minimum. ''We serve things that are wholesome," says manager Nezer Aldokhi. Even Common Ground's pizzas, made with easy-to-digest spelt crust, have a healthy flair to them.


A mighty sticky wicket

The Inside Scoop: Flashback to the summer of 2000. Me. In Bed-Sty. The coach looks down the bench and waves me in. But it's not a baseball game: it's cricket. And I am the only non-Jamaican on the field. I wrote about my cricket tryout for the New York Times' Weekend Warrior section, not my best work but a great lead. So when Thomasine Berg pitched this story to me, I knew the subject cold. The main character was very very talkative -- any other reporter wouldn't have been as patient. But I'm glad he took me seriously and this was his moment in the sun. So I listened. And transcribed. And transcribed. And transcribed...

A cricket player takes his place serving the Red Sox faithful

By Peter DeMarco, Globe Correspondent | April 9, 2006

On his first evening in Boston as a freshman at Boston University, Marty Ray looked out the window of his Warren Towers dormitory room and saw the light.

It came from across the Massachusetts Turnpike, and it glowed above the rooftops.

''Is that some sort of stadium?" he asked the resident assistant on his floor.

She told him it was Fenway Park, where the Red Sox play, of course.

Ray looked at her. ''Who are the Red Sox?" he asked.

Eight years later, as Ray tells the tale, he mindlessly fidgets with the giant gold and diamond-studded ring on his finger. It's one of those Red Sox World Series Championship rings that all the players and Sox staffers got after the 2004 season. His last name is engraved on it.

As meteoric rises go, this one is up there. When Amartya ''Marty" Ray, an ace cricket player from Calcutta, moved here in 1998 to attend college, he didn't even know what a home run was. Today, at age 26, he is coordinator of fan and neighborhood services for the Red Sox.

For the past week he's been on overdrive, attending to 100 or so details for Tuesday's home Opening Day ceremonies, from the jet flyover to the proper placement of flags to the proofreading of public address announcer Carl Beane's script.

In 2003, he manned the phones the day after the Red Sox fell to the Yankees, logging complaint after complaint. The following year he drove the World Series trophy to towns across the Commonwealth, strapped safely next to him in the passenger's seat.

He knows how late into the night general manager Theo Epstein works because Ray usually works 60, 70, or 80 hours a week, too.

''Growing up in India I knew baseball was a sport," he says. ''I knew the Yankees were 'the best team.' Cal Ripken Jr. and Ken Griffey Jr. -- those were the players who were most famous. But I didn't even know what teams they played for. I didn't even know who the Red Sox were."

Like other boys in India, Ray grew up addicted to cricket, the British game in which batters hit bounced pitches with flat bats and run back and forth between two posts to tally runs.

In high school, Ray started for Calcutta's all-city junior team, one of 40 boys in a city of 8 million to make the squad. He had serious hopes of a professional career until a rotator cuff injury forced him to quit the sport his senior year. With cricket no longer an option, Ray opted for college in Boston, returning to America for the first time since he was a young child. (Ray's parents moved from Philadelphia to their native India when Ray was 4.)

That first night on campus, he wandered to Fenway Park, bought a standing-room-only ticket, and found a spot behind the third base grandstands. But he had no idea what he was watching.

''The natural tendency was to compare it to cricket," he says. ''My first thought was, 'This is odd. This is very odd.' The field has weird dimensions. The foul balls didn't make any sense to me. Then I thought, 'What's up with the gloves? They can't catch a ball with their bare hands?' "

But with Sox fans everywhere he turned, at school and in Kenmore Square, Ray couldn't help but start to pick up the sport.

He learned the rules, learned the lore -- by the time he attended his next game, Ray knew who Ted Williams was and ''that the Red Sox had sold Babe Ruth" -- and fell in love with baseball's strategies, which, though different from those of cricket, felt familiar.

His transformation from baseball foreigner to fan became complete in October 1999, when the Red Sox beat the Cleveland Indians in a must-win playoff game.

''Pedro Martinez came out of the bullpen and pitched six innings of shutout ball. It was one of those life-changing games," he says. By 5 the next morning Ray was in line outside Fenway Park with hundreds more crazed fans desperate for tickets. ''I was hooked."

The next summer Ray spotted an advertisement looking for Red Sox ''Fan Ambassadors," and sent in his resume. He was one of 25 people, from a pool of 3,800 candidates, picked for the job.

Working nights and weekends, he did everything, from helping first-time fans find their way to the park to forwarding autograph requests to ushering fans through the park during Williams's memorial service.

By 2003 he was working full time at Fenway, assisting team president/CEO Larry Lucchino and other Sox brass when called upon. The following summer he was put in charge of writing the daily pregame script, the one that begins ''Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls . . ."

''I was talking to the Major League Baseball guys during the World Series and they were like, 'When has an Indian guy ever written a script for the World Series?' " Ray says with pride.

''It's the biggest stage of anything. It's like writing scripts for the Super Bowl. They were like 'Well, even if it has happened, it hasn't happened that much.' "

The Sox victory and parade -- which Ray helped plan -- were whirlwind experiences, he says.

By the time he finished the trophy tour, accompanying the hardware to 79 communities, Ray was a full-fledged member of Red Sox Nation. He now dreams of one day becoming the first Indian CEO of a baseball team.

So, after all Ray's seen and done, which would he choose: cricket or baseball?

Ray laughs when asked the question. Cricket will always be his first love, he says. But baseball, it turns out, is his life.

''I think I have to spend as many years in baseball as I did in cricket -- at least 18 years -- to really answer that," he says.

''Then we'll see what happens."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

As funny as his captions

The Inside Scoop: Bob Mancoff was terrific to talk to for the sidebar. I wish I could have snuck more of his quotes into the story, especially his quip about the one caption that always works no matter what the cartoon: "He's an asshole." Funny stuff

The road to victory comes with a twist

What separates a winning New Yorker cartoon caption from thousands of also-rans?

Originality is important, but great captions go beyond that, says Bob Mankoff, the magazine's cartoon editor for nearly a decade.

Diction, tone, quirkiness, and pacing all play their part; the ideal caption shouldn't be too wordy or make the reader work too hard to get the joke.

Above all, the caption has to surprise.

If you can cover the last few words of the caption with your hand and guess them anyway, the joke's commonplace, Mankoff says.

''The Far Side" nature of a number of the New Yorker's contest cartoons -- dogs speak, accountants fly like Superman, and monster-wheel trucks squash string orchestras -- requires a dash of twisted thinking as well.

''What's interesting is there are many, many smart people who look at these pictures which need captions. People who I'm sure scored, especially in the Boston area, high on their SATs, who for the life of them couldn't come up with something," Mankoff said. ''You really have to tap into some sort of fantasy -- not logical, but having its own logic -- to come up with the caption."

The New Yorker's cartoons, he says, are ''little artificial wind-up toys that create some tension that is resolved in the punch line or the caption. 'A secretary in a pool of her own blood.' It's just a play frame. We don't have to put a lot together to understand it."

As for who wins the weekly contests, however, Mankoff can't offer much.

Entrants submit only their names and hometowns along with their captions (''We do get complete criminal records on them," he joked.)

But in this age of blogs and reality television, where participation in the media is greater than ever before, Mankoff assumes they're from all walks of life.

''There's not that bright a line sometimes between people who choose, unfortunately, a career in medicine rather than cartooning," he quipped.

''Maybe we'll do something at some point with the winners," he said. ''My people could invite the winners and have them divide into teams and have a contest. The ultimate cartoon contest smackdown!"

For everyone else, look for the New Yorker cartoon caption contest board game in stores by Christmas.


New Yorker Toons

The Inside Scoop: I give kudos to some good editing on this one (esp. Tom Sheehan and Tom Coakley). A decent story-turned-centerpiece, which is always good for my wallet. I'm not sure it deserved that much play but what do I know? The people who won the cartoon contest were really great sports. I penned a three versions (Northwest and North ran the other two) but this was the best.


Peter DeMarco, Globe Correspondent

April 2, 2006 Page: 1 Section: City Weekly

None of the three local winners is a comic. In Lou Rubino's case, his own adult sons don't even think he's that funny.

But at some point during the past year, while lounging on the couch, lying sick in bed, or perusing The New Yorker magazine's website, comedic inspiration of the highest order struck them all. They jotted down their pithiest punch lines and entered the magazine's weekly cartoon caption contest. And they won.

Now, music librarian Andrew Wilson has a standing offer to write for a greeting card company. Fifth-grade teacher Miriam Steinberg gets congratulated by her pupils' parents. Sarah Bell, a fund-raising assistant from Cambridge, has strangers recognize her name months after it appeared in the magazine.

"My friend's uncle was joking I should just go around captioning things in the house," said Bell, 23. "People who are diehard New Yorker readers thought it was really great. It was just fun to see someone they knew win. Like my grandmother. But people didn't look at me like I was any smarter. My friends probably know better."

Famous for its erudite and clever cartoons, The New Yorker let readers join in the fun by introducing the weekly caption contest a year ago. A cartoon depicting an odd or impossible scenario a business meeting aboard a subway train, a minotaur sipping martinis at a bar appears on the last page of the magazine. It's up to readers to come up with their wittiest take on the scene.

As many as 8,000 captions are sent in each week. The magazine's staff, including cartoon editor Bob Mankoff and editor-in-chief David Remnick, choose three finalists, and readers vote in the eventual winner. With 60,000 subscribers, Greater Boston is the New Yorker's fourth-largest market. New York and California readers have sent in the most cartoon captions, with Massachusetts a distant third, Mankoff says. But considering how large the other two states are, it's clear that Bostonians love the contest as much as anyone. Maybe more so.

And Boston has flexed its creative prowess, with three winners to date Bell, Steinberg and Wilson, all with Cambridge ties. (As if Nobel Prize winners, Harvard, and MIT weren't enough for the city.) Rubino, an executive recruiter from Burlington, was one of three finalists in an early-March contest.

In his contest, the cartoon featured a woman speaking with a partner in bed. The twist? He is a huge snow globe resembling Frosty the Snowman. To come up with a quirky enough caption, Rubino says, he had to create a quirky enough back story to explain the cartoon. The two weren't just lovers they were adulterers. Who was she cheating on? Another snow globe, of course.

His final caption: "I think the Manhattan skyline is getting suspicious."

Pitted against a pair of strong entries, Rubino came up short when the top vote-getter was announced Monday. He proved to be Carl Gable of Norcross, Ga. His caption: "Well, that was abominable."

Rubino, gracious in defeat, says he was shocked just to make the finals. Boston's other caption champions, likewise, never figured they would win. Bell, Wilson, and Steinberg had never submitted an entry before (or entered any comedic writing contest, for that matter). And while some New Yorker readers agonize hours or days over their entries, Boston's winners say they didn't exactly slave over theirs.

Steinberg, a teacher at Brighton's Conservatory Lab Charter School, was sick in bed in her Cambridge apartment when she came upon a captionless cartoon of a beaten man crawling toward an "Emergency Hotline" phone bank. A woman leans over to speak to him. Steinberg's entry: "Neither the time nor the place, Doug!"

"I thought, `That's it,' " she recalled. " `How could there possibly be another answer for this one?' "

The New Yorker's Mankoff agreed, calling her offering "really nicely phrased." "You understand the whole back story," he said. "And then, of course, there's the correct choice of `Doug.' You wanted a simple name, a one-syllable name. You definitely wouldn't want `Stephen,' you know? It sort of has that final little thing that ends that caption. `Doug.' "

Wilson, a string bass player who lives in Ayer and works at Harvard University's Loeb Music Library, said he'd forgotten about the contest by the time a New Yorker intern called him to let him know he was a finalist. "He actually had to remind me I had entered," he said.

Wilson won for a November cartoon in which a nebbish-looking businessman hails down a savage barbarian on a horse. A pair of villagers are in the background, whispering to each other. His caption: "Dibs on the briefcase."

Morbid humor? Sure. But Wilson says he was going for something a bit smarter like something co-workers from "The Office" might crack if their boss was about to get his comeuppance.

Mankoff said the caption, aside from being funny, was "elegant" in its diction and tone. "There were a lot of ones about the briefcase. `Dibs' was funny," he said. "Look how short that is. It's four words. That's sort of nice."

Bell was just trying to write something that would make her friend, a fellow New Yorker reader, laugh. "We live in different cities, so it was kind of fun to think of a caption and see what the other person comes up with," she said. Her cartoon was of a pair of businessmen one of them a wolf in a suit and tie walking down the street. The wolf appeared to be grumbling about something.

"Oh, sure, they find one secretary in a pool of her own blood and everybody wants to blame the werewolf," wrote Bell.

Mankoff said many entrants played with a werewolf theme in their submissions, but no one nailed the tone quite like Bell. "We thought it sort of had a bouncy line," he said. "I think it was strange and funny, which is usually a category we're looking for."

Readers love the contest because they get the chance to impress the magazine's editors with their wit, as opposed to the other way around, Mankoff said. But in the end, Mankoff stressed, it's still the readers who decide the winner. "Just like `American Idol'," he said. "And then, of course, they go on to fame and glory and no money at all."

Indeed, as Mankoff muses, the contest is really just for fun. And the winners clearly know that.

Bell says she's hung her prize an autographed print of the cartoon signed by artist Tom Cheney on her bedroom wall, "and hired someone to stand security." Wilson got an unsolicited invitation from a California company to write greeting card sentiments for $50 each. ("My ship has come in!" he joked.) Steinberg says it's just cool to get asked about the contest at parties once in a while by envious fellow Cantabrigians.

Perhaps Rubino has reaped the greatest reward for getting his name in print. Finally, no less a comedic authority than The New Yorker has determined that he really is funny.

"Both my sons always say to me, `Dad, you have no sense of humor,' " said Rubino. After his choice as a comedic finalist, he said, "I rubbed it in, in a nice way."