In Ellis Rosen’s cartoon, an older man is sitting in the passenger seat of a car being driven by a much younger man. The car is perpendicular to the flow of traffic on a multi-lane highway.
I initially assumed that the older man was a driving instructor:
- “Failing to signal is the least of it.”
- “You didn’t signal.”
- “It doesn’t matter how well you did on the written test.”
I then assumed that the driver had misunderstood his passenger’s instruction: “I meant you should turn at the light.”
I was going to make a perpendicular parking joke but the double line makes it clear that the cartoon is set on a highway where no one would park.
My final caption has the passenger offering advice in the form of a common expression: “Go with the flow.”
Now let’s see how you did.
The following captions all tell the very same joke, which gets better as it gets shorter.
- “When I said ‘turn left’ I meant at the intersection.”
- “I meant left at the next intersection”
- “I meant left at the intersection.”
- “I meant at the intersection.”
The fourth caption is best because it trusts the audience to get the joke without much of an explanation.
The next two captions are variations on that same joke:
- “I said the next possible left.”
- “Exit left doesn’t mean right this instant.”
That last entry would be stronger without the word “right.” Make sure every word in your caption is necessary. That doesn’t mean that every caption has to be short, but every word should serve a purpose.
On November 15, 2010, I won the New Yorker’s Cartoon Caption Contest with this entry:
The next two entries may be references to that cartoon.
- “Try honking again.”
- “Try swearing again.”
As I did, many of you assumed the passenger was a driving instructor administering a road test:
- “Congratulations. Your driving test is officially over.”
- “Would you like to reschedule your road test right now?”
- “I’m quite sure you won’t pass this time, either.”
- “Stop telling me how well you did on the written.”
- “You failed.”
That last caption deserves points for being the shortest, but #4—which is similar to but far superior to one of my own (“It doesn’t matter how well you did on the written test”)—is a strong contender for best of the week.
In the 1988 comedy, The Naked Gun, John Houseman plays a driving instructor administering a road test to a young student named Stephanie. Their car is commandeered by Leslie Nielsen’s police detective, who forces them to participate in a high speed chase. After a truck driver yells at Stephanie, the instructor calmly gives her an instruction that’s very similar to the following entry: “Open your window and extend your middle finger.”
In the next entry, the passenger could be a driving instructor or the young man’s father: “Let me know when you want me take over.”
Like I did, many of you focused on whether the driver signaled before turning into traffic:
- “Put on your turn signal.”
- “You forgot to signal.”
- “On the bright side, you signaled first.”
As I explained before, I didn’t think any perpendicular/parallel parking jokes would work, but this entry proved to be the exception to the rule: “First you’ll need to work on your parallel driving.”
There were many jokes about navigation systems, but this morbid one was the best: “GPS says we’ve reached our final destination.”
The next set of captions highlight the generation gap between the driver and passenger:
- “In my day, there were no other cars.”
- “Maybe on a snowboard, but in cars we have brakes.”
- “Leave it to you leftists to screw things up.”
- “Ok, Millenial.”
The following three captions presume that the driver is youthfully rebellious:
- “On the freeway we march to the same drummer.”
- “Non-conformity has its limits.”
- “Just pay the toll.”
Here, the driver is not just rebellious but obtuse: “You’re right. It’s them.” And in this entry, the passenger is equally obtuse: “They’re all going the wrong way.”
Finally, here are five strong captions that don’t fit into any particular category:
- “I’m so looking forward to driverless cars.”
- “Don’t worry. I don’t have to pee anymore.”
- “Have you considered public transportation?”
- “I hope you have an exit strategy.”
- “It was a lot easier getting across town before they built the freeway.”
Rosen’s cartoon inspired an impressive number of good captions. As I indicated above, however, the best of the lot is, “Stop telling me how well you did on the written.”