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‘Pun in the Sun’ at the O. Henry Pun Off World Championship

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Saturday, May 7, 2016 marked the 39th Annual O. Henry Pun Off World Championship in Austin, Texas. It was the first year that I attended the Pun Off, and what a time I had — it just flew.

They came in drips and drabs. Hats, chairs, sunglasses, coolers, and pups to fill up Brush Square Park, the backyard of the O. Henry Museum. The little patch of grass that passes for a park filled up with spectators in the late morning, and by the time the first Punster took the stage at noon, it was standing room only.

Jazz music set the scene, and we were even treated to something I had not heard before: country jazz. It was quite the foot-tapper.

Wordsmiths come together annually for Austin’s O. Henry Pun Off World Championships held at Brush Square Park, otherwise known as the backyard of the O. Henry Museum. Named after O. Henry’s witty writing style and comical wordplay, this festival features two Pun Off competitions: Punniest of Show and Punslingers. In each event, up to 32 contestants will either be given a topic to create puns with or have the chance to present prepared puns to an audience.

The Rules

Pun-Off Punslingers Banner

Photo: punoff.com

This year, there were so many contestants that the Pun Off the regulators had to hold a random draw to narrow the field to 64 contestants. I’m glad they didn’t count on me to figure that out.

The pun offs are broken into two categories:

  1. Punniest of Shows, where contestants prep and practice a pun that they have to deliver in two minutes or less.
  2. Punslingers, where contestants are given a subject in which they have seconds to start and pun-spar against another contestant in their bracket. Until only one is left standing.

If you’ve never been to a pun off, I recommend sitting in on one. To hear what you are in for you can check out this year’s punning via video on the Pun Off site.

Pun Off – What is it exactly?

O. Henry Pun Off in Austin Texas

Photo: Twitter/JoeBerkowitz

A Pun Off or Punslinging is like a debate between two contestants who can only use puns to push each other back and forth until one fumbles. You earn strikes, up to three, if you commit a foul. Fouls occur if you use a pun already spoken or something that is not relevant to the word or phrase provided.

The mud was slung until one word, “Gladiator”, stood on top of the heap. You may recognize the name: Jerzy Gwiazdowski.

Apparently, us “Jerseyians” are well-rounded in the English language and knowledge of countries.

3. Punslingers

O. Henry Pun off at O. Henry Museum

Photo: do512family.com

The Pun Off started shortly after noon with 32 volunteers. We heard about the birds and the bees, singers from the ’30s to ’90s, mythology, and geography. We got around the world in history and back.

It was grand time, and it was all over when the last note was sung, however, no clear winner was in sight. So a clap off was held..

What’s a clap off? It’s when the judges tie three punsters and cannot undo the knot. So the audience gets to decide and the winner was chosen by us. Hands down, Jerzy Gwiazdowski took home the best punster of 2016. (Since I come from Jersey, I find this almost fitting.)