How to win the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest.

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June 2 2008 5:02 PM

How To Win the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest

A champion reveals the recipe for victory.

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Mildly amusing at best? Check. Theory of mind? Check. Proper nouns? Nope. And what better archetype of urban ennui could there be than a man in a cardigan holding a drink, yapping on his cell phone while blissfully unaware of looming dangers? A very similar cartoon by Jack Kirby from 1962—similar enough to lead the New York Post to shout plagiarism—has the person inside the window frightened and cowering, sans drink, glasses, or phone. But that was 50 years ago, and drudge and complacency have settled on the urban landscape sometime between now and then. You must look for these themes in your cartoon and pounce.

I will stop analyzing now, in deference to Seinfeld's New Yorker gospel: "Cartoons are like gossamer, and one doesn't dissect gossamer." But what does Jerry know, really? He may have a hit show, millions of dollars, and a beautiful wife, but he has never won The New Yorker caption contest. But I have. I have dissected gossamer. And now you can, too. Good luck.

Patrick House is a neuroscientist at Stanford University, studying Toxoplasma gondii.