Listen up, you rabble. You're totally at our mercy, do you realise that?
Voting in this competition has been up and down, and in those weeks when we get fewer votes the opinions of the judges become more significant. So whether you agree or disagree with what we say, it's important that you keep on voting; if you don't, we are going to be the king makers in this contest.
And I can tell you, it's very close going into the final round. Depending on the public vote, any one of our contestants could go out. And as of the next issue, we're changing the way we give out scores.
Instead of marks out of ten, you're just going to get the crit. We'll individually rank you in first, second, third, fourth and fifth; first place will get five points, fifth just the one. You won't see these rankings on the page, but they will be plugged directly into my spreadsheet. This will make the gap between first and last wider, based on the judges' opinions, and will mean that voting becomes more important as a counterpoint to our scores.
It's entirely up to you guys whether you vote or not, of course, but if you don't, we'll end up picking the winner.
Over to our scores.
'Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova'
I knew the bare bones of this story (pardon the pun) so thanks for fleshing it out (groan). The clinical (almost cold) way you've reported the story and the lives of those involved - leaving no loose ends - well done, a true stretch as this is way outside your usual remit. A mystery solved for me, and no nitpicks.
Ashman is back on form with this piece, which is interesting, engaging and thorough. It's a fairly standard EG piece with few frills and no real attempt to engage the reader, but the standard of writing is so damn good that it's difficult not to be impressed. I'll certainly be looking for more life in your next piece. That's presuming, of course, that you make it through to the next round, but it would be a real shame if you aren't.
Definitely a strong Entry in Edited Guide terms, and one that fully meets the general requirement of the Challenge we set. (This Stretch, as all the contestants will have realised, was intended to test research aptitude and application). In the specific terms of the Stretcher Challenge though, it's markedly less good, and the suggestion that Anastasia represents an antithesis of envy is, to say the least, tenuous.
The lost marks here are more or less one for the above, another for too many signs of a rushed write-up (the word 'finally' appears in each of the last two sentences, for instance), and one for its slightly unsatisfying flat feel. I took a learning journey, but I would have enjoyed some measure of emotional journey.
'Bobby Sands MP 1954-1981'
Gluttony is a deadly sin...very smart opening. To then choose hunger-striking as your opposite-topic instead of the more obvious anorexia/bulimia was risky but you presented the facts without being emotional – still the reference back to suffragettes and bombing atrocities and innocent victims brought an emotional response from me. I'm still being amazed at the standard of writing being presented. It's an honour to read your work.
Like Alex's piece, this is a great straight-up EG Entry. It's carefully written with an almost gentle feel to it, and could well be held up as a fine example of how to cover potentially contentious subjects in the EG. You cover the subject matter very well, but you rely on the story itself to provide the emotional response, and by this stage of the competition I'm looking for the writing to really shine as well.
The only example this week of a subject I'd thought of myself, but the treatment is deeper and more patient than I'd have managed. This is quality journalism, with balance, poignancy and exceptional diligence in its construction.
One thing I don't like about this is the glancing treatment of the physiology of starvation. I think you should either make it a feature (and maybe challenge the reader with some unflinching detail), or you shouldn't touch it at all. The Entry is also on the long side, and digresses in places. Those are minor criticisms though. It's a fine piece for one running so straight along the Guidelines - often a guarantee of tedium - and it's an achievement to describe such a contentious subject with such coolness.
'The Munich Agreement: Peace For Our Time?'
Significant history-telling, told well and sticking to the facts = compelling account and no complaints for me. Well done Danny.
Again, a solid EG piece, and this time with a bit more 'Danny B' in it than there was in your last piece. However, you're as guilty as the two above of reverting to EG-type when presented with a fairly open challenge, and I've found it hard to give any of you high marks for writing the expected competently. Definitely a great EG piece, then, but missing something a little extra for The Stretcher.
Similar criticisms to those for Alex. Not quite as tenuous an example of the anti-Sin, maybe, but contrasting anger is surely easier than contrasting envy. And if anything, the Entry itself is even flatter. A piece has to have a style and a premise, since bland facts are never enough. I want to know why Chamberlain acted in this way. I want some impression of the human consequences of his diplomatic failure. I don't need trivial characterisation involving waste paper baskets and low-level indignation.
Disappointing, then, given previous heights. And what a lazy final sentence. I took a whole mark off (sadly) for the abysmal adverb.
'Anthony Comstock and the Death of Ida Craddock - Lust, Smut, and Sexual Spirituality'
Well this challenge started with a bang! Very impressive, this entry pushed every button for me, and conformed to the strict criteria! Well done dmitri.
I give in.
I sat on a high horse at the start of this competition. I reckoned there was no such thing as a 'perfect' Stretcher Entry, that nothing could be flawless, and that therefore I would be unable to give anything a straight ten, and it's been ruddy hard work to get even a nine from me.
This may be the only time I break that rule. This is masterful.
dmg certainly had the roll of the dice with his Sin-allocation, but we can't blame him for that. The antisymmetry of the characters is pleasingly clever, and there are wry smiles as well as provocative ideas here. It's another one of those subversive essays, in fact, and it skips round Guidelines with the neat trick of being a form-your-own-opinion piece.
This is by a distance the liveliest and the most stylish piece of the week. It satisfies my research expectations, and if it has a defect, it's that it's almost too cute for its (literally) chastening subject. I'm half-sure that 'concupiscent desire' is tautological, and finishing off with a four-word paragraph is getting perilously close to self-parody. Someday soon, we ought to call this guy for triteness. When you're as brisk, entertaining and downright clever as this, though, you can get away with quite a lot.
'Avarice and Osama bin Laden'
Interesting background, but I already knew all this and could have written it myself. I rather think the title should be just "Osama bin Laden". I will have to mark you down for "Although the US offered a reward of $25 million for his capture, he *managed to elude escape*" which screamed at me somewhat, and he *is* still on the loose, isn't he?
This is a terrific subject to have chosen in response to the challenge, perhaps the best of them all, in fact. I won't labour the point that it isn't really detailed enough, as I'm sure you're aware of that by now. That and the lack of any real personality make this a reasonably good PR piece, but a weak one in this company.
I saw Bobby Sands coming, but I didn't see Osama. Can't think why, because he's a well-chosen fit. Beyond that there is a workmanlike Entry, but there isn't a whole lot of spark. It's actually quite difficult to tackle such a bland and anonymous monster. I think the missing trick might have been to contrast his asceticism with the objects of his loathing. Might this Entry have started by invoking the opulence of the WTC lobbies and suites, for example?
Looking back over mVp's Stretcher efforts, I feel there's maybe a general tendency to finish too early. The skeletons of her Entries are good, but they're not always fleshed out sufficiently. It's unusual advice, because most purposeful writers need the opposite encouragement to pare and be spare, but I think mVp might score better if she spent some extra and well-separated time on embellishment.
'Saints Preserve Us From Energetic Men'
This is what I call thinking outside the box. There are some observations which are cruelly amusing, and even though the topic is a megalomaniac and what he did was dreadful, I still enjoyed reading about it, possibly because it actually took my mind off my aching jaw. It was also fun to guess who your subject was (I got it from his age) but "being, as he believed, a god and the son of a god" was a bit of a red herring - I thought it could be an Egyptian pharaoh or Roman emperor. I hope the other judges read your first draft before you changed it all!
This is a very, very good Entry. It's a great choice of subject, although it has to be said that you did a little shoehorning to make it fit both PR and the challenge, and it's the kind of essay that, without the need for it to relate directly to an anti-sin, should be able to find a home in PR. For me, that dual nature is the downfall of the piece; in needing to meet the challenge, you've weakened the appeal of it to PR, but if you'd gone too far towards a straighter biography you'd have lost the Stretcher aspect. There's a cruel irony in the fact that the competition has weakened what could have made a superb PR piece.
Interesting thesis, and it's surely valid to propose it, but I find this piece light on substantiation. There are some large numbers and nameless places offered as evidence of atrocities, but if you're going to accuse an icon of ancient history of tyranny, you really need to bring his excesses to life.
I like the ending, and there is the usual bristly agitation of TB's writing, commanding attention. In the end though, it's case unproven. A nice subject underdone, and therefore a middling score. There comes a point where the Stretching needs to be measured relative to the writer's proven capabilities, and on that basis TB is one of those in danger because she can and should do better.
Have Your Say!
Here's the table, then. And don't forget, our contestants really, really need you to vote; one of them has written their last challenge.
| Position || Researcher |
| 1 || Tibley Bobley |
| 2 || dmitrigheorgheni |
| 3 || Danny B |
| 4 || Beatrice |
| 5 || AlexAshman |
| 6 || MinorVogonPoet |
You may vote once, and once only. Please email your votes to The Stretchers. If you can't use this direct link, hovering your mouse over the link should reveal our email address. If you cannot get the link to work, simply post below and we'll try to help you. You must quote your username and h2g2 Researcher number (U-number) with your vote; votes without these will be rejected without query.
Votes received after the deadline or cast onsite will not be counted.
If you're taking part, do not ask other people to vote for you. This is not a popularity contest, and we hope that everyone will vote for the piece they genuinely feel is best each issue. We reserve the right to discount votes if we feel that contestants are canvassing, votes are being traded or unusual voting patterns are developing.
Contestants are perfectly entitled to vote for their own pieces if they feel their writing is the best submitted; however, please note that we will be on the look-out for dodgy voting patterns, and that includes contestants who consistently vote for themselves.
Votes will be tallied using a formula that normalises the votes cast and scores given, then returns a number between 0 and 2. We will publish the rankings, but not the actual scores as they are rather undramatic, relative rather than absolute, and fairly meaningless to look at. In the event of a tie, whichever piece is scored highest by Skankyrich is ranked highest. If there is still a tie, Skankyrich will decide who is placed higher.
The Next Challenge...
Will be presented in a fortnight's time, after which six will become five. So use your time to vote
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