The 2022 Winners

Hello, and welcome to the 2022 edition of the Lyttle Lytton Contest.  In the twenty-two years this competition has been running, we have never had a contestant win the whole thing twice, let alone twice in a row, but as we headed toward the end of 2021, it was starting to look like we had a back-to-back champion in the works.  As it turned out, the entry in question was caught just as the calendar turned, but still⁠—the ’21 contest was won by an entry signed “Bianca M.”, and check out this year’s second runner-up:

From across the room, she held my eyes with the same grip with which she used to hold my hand.

Bianca M.

Our first runner-up is somewhat similar:

Her face struck me like a baseball bat, kneecapping my heart.

Chris Barts

We have the same focus on a female character’s power over the narrator and the same semantic syllepsis applied to anatomy (holding hands and eyes, breaking hearts and legs)… though either would have been a worthy winner, I found myself leaning toward the Chris Barts entry mainly because it was a bit shorter and the phrase “kneecapping my heart” was so memorable.  But, though it was a close call, in the end I wound up going with neither of these, but rather with a fairly late-arriving entry that read slightly more like the first line of a novel.  The winner of the 2022 Lyttle Lytton Contest is:

Jason and Laura may have loved each other, but they were as sharply different as Pacific and Atlantic.

Elle Spohrer

As I’ve noted in previous Lyttle Lytton posts, plausibility plays a significantly bigger role in my choice of a winner than it does in my choice of whether an entry makes it onto the page at all.  What I love about this year’s winner is that it does indeed seem, at least to a North American reader, like the Pacific and Atlantic should indeed be opposites, and the reader’s mind tries to make it work.  Like, sure!  One’s much bigger!  The other’s much warmer, at least off the U.S. coast!  They’re home to different sets of species!  But, ultimately⁠—no.  They are not opposites.  Take it from someone who spent six years pulling up coordinates for Stochastic Planet, landing in the ocean well over five thousand times: like pretzels, oceans is the same.  This entry, therefore, is like a riddle in reverse.  Instead of offering up seeming nonsense that, after a little lateral thought, clicks into place and makes perfect sense, it presents an opening line that initially seems to make perfect sense but then dissolves into “wait, whut?” Of such mental short-circuts are Lyttle Lytton victories made.

Since this year’s winner revolves around a simile, I’ll kick off the honorable mentions with the traditional comparison section.  (Mentions that are extra honorable are in blue.)

The skin of her neck was bruised like a banana’s, and the shape of the marks betrayed that someone had left them there, unlike the banana, which bruises for unrelated reasons.


Also drawing comparisons to food (broadly defined) were these:

“What do you think?” I asked Boss, but her lips were as firmly crimped as the edge of an Uncrustable.

Adrian Dooley

Bethany and Hubert Hummel sat happily making a gingerbread house, unaware that their marriage was as brittle as Mr. Gingerbread’s limbs.


I want to give a shout-out to that last entrant above, who enters every year, always anonymously, and nearly always ends up making the list.  One excep­tion was last year, when this entrant’s submission was the very last one to be cut.  So, as a bonus, here it is: There was the love of my life, blinking at me beautifully. Next to her was my wife. It was going to be a long and tense One Direction concert.

I’ll get to the winners of the Found category at the bottom of the page, but I did want to sprinkle a few honorable mentions from that category in among the original ones, because sometimes that’s just where they fit best.  I mean, say what you like about this next entry, but you can’t say that it doesn’t revolve around similes:

Her skin was pale, like a pale ale… but her hair was amber, like an amber ale.

@mattybtweets69, 2021.1126
quoted by William Lubelski

Moving away from food and drink:

Madeleine, the first brunette cheer captain in the history of St. Paul High School, fell like Lucifer from the roof of the Dwight L. Moody Memorial Science Building.

Corrine Shaw

For those who didn’t spend a chunk of the ’00s tutoring at Northfield Mount Herman, a school Dwight L. Moody founded circa 1880⁠—Moody was a promi­nent evangelist of fundamentalist Christianity in the nineteenth century, so the idea of naming a science building after him is part of the joke here.  A modern equivalent might be something like the Louie Gohmert Center for Climatology.  But if it’s science you’re after, look no further than our next set of entries:

The sun shone through the window like a high-power COB LED collimated by a reflector dish and passed through a Tyndall-effect suspension to simulate Rayleigh scattering.


Night fell like a hammer dropped on the Moon, at a completely uniform speed unaffected by air resistance.

Mike G.

Not unike how mitochondria gives energy to the cell, Alice gave energy to John’s heart and penis, both of whom containing dozens of cells.


Mixing different types of jokes in a single entry is not usually a great idea⁠—they tend to rob each other of their punch⁠—but this one effectively combines several sources of humor: not only do mitochondria not necessarily make for the best simile here, but we also have a strained parallel (these organs also contain cells!), understatement (dozens of cells rather than billions), mangled language (“whom” in place of “which” and “containing” in place of “contain”), and the bathos of pairing “heart” and “penis”.  And the mention of a penis suggests that we have reached the segue from entries built around bad comparisons to those of a sexual nature⁠—though our next entrant seems to have asked, ¿Por qué no los dos?

Sunlight touched my breasts like I do during female masturbation.

Caleb Su

The number of sex-themed entries continued to decline from its 2020 high, while remaining well above its ’00s-’10s average.  The above was probably the best of this year’s crop: it’s short, the likening of extremely dissimilar forms of touching is clever, and “during masturbation” is an amusingly stilted substi­tute for “when I masturbate”.  The main gimmick, of course, is the conspicu­ously unnecessary deployment of the word “female”; it suggests that our imaginary author is leaping at the opportunity to write the phrase “female masturbation”, presumably for his own autoerotic purposes.  It also suggests that the narrator somehow has a choice of which type of masturbation in which to engage, which seems improbable, though I suppose Mystique is due for a spotlight issue in Immortal X‑Men one of these months.  This gimmick actually raises some interesting issues!  This sentence is meant to be the first line of a novel, and in the world of the reader, the narrator does not exist until these words speak her into being.  But within the world of the novel, the nar­rator did not just spring into existence a moment ago, so to her, the funda­mentals of her biology are sufficiently long established to be taken as a given.  She would be no more likely to specify that she engages in female mastur­bation than than she breathes with human lungs or walks on five-toed feet.  So while establishing a character’s sex early on may well be important to the story, and it makes a degree of sense that the author would want to cram that information in there… like, even if you think that the reference to “breasts” is not enough to do the job, this is not the way.  That’s a lot of wrongness packed into a ten-word sentence, and that’s what this contest is all about!

One thing that I didn’t notice until I started assembling this section is that this year’s batch of risqué entries is actually fairly tame⁠—more about arousal or even just attention to sexual characteristics rather than than actual descriptions of intercourse.  For instance, take this one:

Her breasts heaved with anticipation, ready to go to space.  Soon they would quiver at the slightest tremor, finally free after decades in a gravity well.

J. T. Helms

Of the entries to make this year’s list, the most explicit, if you can call it that, is this:

Mariachi song danced in my soul as my loins purred like the Prius we test drove that afternoon, scattering their bouquet inside her dynamite womanhood.

Bill Fishback

I believe that when Cardi B was on The Ed Sullivan Show to do her hit song, the producers asked her to change one of the lines to “Bring a bucket and a mop for this dynamite womanhood”.

I lusted for her like an asexual man who’d come to develop a strong attraction towards the opposite sex.


What interested me about the entry above is that after reading through many, many thousands of submissions over the years, I don’t think I’d previously seen one that does precisely what this does: employ a simile that is simultaneously a tautology and a contradiction in terms.

My Tinder fling’s breasts vibrated with horniness as her lithe frame slivered out of her tiny black dress.

Emily Ma

And this despite the gravity well!

Before we wrap up the racier entries, I wanted to share a submission that would have fit well into this section if not for the fact that it reads like the last line of a novel rather than the first.  But here it is, courtesy of Tracy Davidson: Reader, I straddled him.

And now, one more:

The fan blew cold air making her nipples as hard and aroused as the audiobook of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto made my mind.

Lydia Ruth

It looks like last year the segue out of the sex-themed entries was to vampires, but this year we’ll go with some true horror, namely, modern politics.  We’ll start with a Found entry:

Communism is all over the place.

opening text of the film 2025: The World Enslaved by a Virus
quoted by Sierra Trenton

Or, in Lyttle Lytton terms: “Communism,” said the fundamentalist Christian low-budget filmmaker, “is all over the place, communism, communism!”  I dunno⁠—maybe the guy saw some people walking around with pokies on a cold day and drew the wrong conclusions.

And now, some original entries that cover a lot of the early-’20s political landscape:

So, it all started the day I stood up to Tyranny. “I will not put on a mask,” I said heroically to the Starbucks employee like a modern Rosa Parks.

Bill Irons

Apparently this is basically the premise of the 2025 movie.

John Castor stared grimly at the shimmering holographic visage of the Chairperson, smirking wokely as she commanded him to choose his method of Cancellation.

Aimee Lim

These days I find myself increasingly inclined to select “Melancholia-style”.

The doors of my heart were as closed as those of the Capitol, that morning of January 6th.

Kyle J.

But once they were swung open, the love interest knew exactly where to go, because Barry Loudermilk had led a tour the day before.

I mentioned that last year’s writeup segued from sex to vampires.  This year’s segued from sex to politics.  Perhaps you thought that meant there were no vampire entries this year?  Perish the thought!

Ophelia had long dreamt of this, she mused, as she found a vampyre jaggedly masticating her crimson lifeblood.


On that note, here’s some more purple prose:

Jeffrey’s golden orbs gazed over the horizon, as the burning eye of the sun began to make its grudging appearance.

Maree Brittenford

The entry above goes to show that purple prose is cumulative.  “Golden orbs” is straight out of “The Eye of Argon” and needs to be fixed, but “the burn­ing eye of the sun” could conceivably work, and “its grudging appear­ance” is an interestingly offbeat bit of personification.  But put those latter two phra­ses together, and you don’t even need the “golden orbs” to ruin everything⁠—it’s just too much for one sentence.

A couple more strong contenders:

A smile rolled up and parked itself on the scene that was his face.


“This is why I hate your generation!” seethed George after his failed proposal to the girl whose 18th birthday was now ruined.

Jordan Plymale

That second one’s mangling of the language is a little more subtle than the first’s, but I love the way that the prepositional phrases and relative clauses keep piling up and changing our understanding of the situation the sentence describes.  Also, apparently the 2025 guy took some heat online for a similarly timed proposal, but since the teenager in question is now his wife, evidently he met with more success than George.

But George is not alone in finding himself unlucky in love:

Ouch!  Ouch!  Why didn’t anyone ever tell me loving that chick would hurt so bad?

Casey W.

Peru.  Cambodia.  New Zealand.  Loneliness.  Alexander Tremont was an explorer, not just of the world, but of his feelings.

Stanley Lim

“Schlormp” went the knife as she plunged it into my heart, breaking it not only physically, but also emotionally, since I loved her.

Matt Shivers

That “schlormp” announces that we have made it to the sound effects section; reigning supreme in this category this year is:

Boom boom pow, went my car’s elite sound system as I blasted the 2009 hot summer hit, “Boom Boom Pow”.

Madison Duarte

A quick postscript to the sound effects section⁠—last year we had an entry that read: “KRAKOW!” went the bolt of lightning as it struck my 3 bedroom 2.5 bathroom house, burning it down.  This year I received an entry that seems to be a reply to that one; it is too clearly an intentional joke to really qualify for this contest, but I wanted to share it nevertheless.  Courtesy of W. G. O’Driscoll: “KRAKOW!” The lightning bolt cast by Zeus, besotted by the wine of Dionysus, was horrendously off-target, landing in Gdansk, not Krakow.

Back to stories of troubled love.  These two are similar in theme, but the second one is sort of the “that escalated quickly” version of the first:

Sarah didn’t care what her parents said. She was wise beyond her years, and so she knew that Devon only lied to and belittled her because he was afraid of hurting her.

Caden Roylance

I walked up to the young painter, hand on the gun in my dress pocket. They had sent me back for him. “Herr Hitler,” I said. Our blue eyes met and I knew: I could change him.

Gunnar Þór Magnússon

More time travel:

“Cowabunga,” whispered the time traveler⁠—lest the weasel-eared security robots overhear his totally radical tendencies.

Gary Dougill

When I was a kid, “awesome” and “radical” were considered equally awesome and radical ways to say that you thought something was very good.  But their popularity peaked, and by the time I got to college, both were disdained as embarrassing ’80s slang.  You wouldn’t say that something was awesome any more than you would say that it was groovy.  By the turn of the millennium, though, “awesome” had crept back into the general vocabulary, and these days I don’t think it’s considered particularly era-bound, any more than “cool” is.  For “radical” the same cannot be said.  Interesting that the two words took such divergent paths.

As long as we’re in the future, I guess we’ll go to this one:

“Prepare to die, gaijin!” vociferated Lady Oni as she swung her futuristic katana at master hacker Jack Shadow, her bulbous bosoms swaying jubilantly with her gracefully spastic movements.

Dakota Speagle

That one is not a particularly subtle entry overall, but I do like the way its creator slipped in the phrase “futuristic katana”.  Has katana technology made substantial advancements in recent years?  Do modern katanas have USB ports and whatnot?  I don’t really follow this stuff.

In any case, the swordplay and screams of “prepare to die” signal that we have reached the more violent entries. 

Dale saw the murdered wife and pet; his suburban, revenge‑less life was over.

Sam Thomson

This is another one that packs multiple issues into a fairly short sentence.  The adjective “revenge-less” is one, all by itself.  The suggestion that taking his revenge inherently means leaving the suburbs is another.  Probably the main thing that marks this sentence is its curiously dissociative use of the word “the” in place of “his”, but what I came to appreciate just as much on my second reading is that our imaginary author doesn’t even bother to specify what kind of pet has met its demise.  (Even the bland word “saw” contributes to the effect of the entry.)

Joe killed everyone he met because he was a murderer. He even killed a policeman before (you aren’t supposed to kill policemen).


So he’s killed everyone he’s ever met, and yet in that entire time only one policeman has put himself within range?  I guess that based on what we saw in Uvalde, that sounds about right.

“Oh no!” I cried, as a hail of bullets brutally murdered my three wonderful children.

Xander MacIver

To be fair, I’ve read worse examples of the Punisher recapping his origin.

Brazil: green in the summer, blood red in the favelas.

Toby Tettamanti

This one got in mainly because it is ham-handedly lurid, but I also like the imperfect parallelism between a time and a place.  “I don’t care if Monday’s blue / Tuesday’s gray, São Paulo too…”

And when we set out for faraway lands, it helps to have a few maps:

0.1 Selected Maps of the Land of Erbundia ......... clvii

Alex Frenkel

I’m always slightly dubious about entries like the above, since “first line of a novel” generally means the first line of the body text, not the table of contents or the acknowledgments.  But I couldn’t resist that one.  Nor this one:

Thanks to my family, without whom this book wouldn’t exist, and to Google Translate, without which François’s half of this book wouldn’t exist.


Just a few more to go, so here’s a grab bag of the remaining honorable mentions:

The train maneuvered North by Northeast, yet Winnow D’Argento’s elven heart had long ago been totaled in a total derailment.

Thomas T. Carere

My mind was racing, NASCAR style.

Ellis Evan

Every time he smirked, David was reminded of his dad, who loved to smirk.

Arman Guerra

Ah, but did he smirk wokely?

And, as has become traditional, we’ll wrap up the original section with an entry that seemed as though the imaginary author was making a genuine attempt to pen a memorable first line to a novel, but just left me saying “whut”:

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but even a city could not dim Lexie’s spirit.



Finally, we have the remaining winners in the Found division.  A leading contender for the worst sentence to be submitted in this category this year was:

The horizontal slit of an octopus’s eye is a door that judges us.

World of Wonders by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
quoted anonymously

This is a sentence that really wants us to be impressed with the author’s gift for words, and it might have worked, too, if only doors were horizontal.  Or judgmental.  Other than that, though, nailed it! 

But while the above entry certainly ticks the “unintentionally bad” and “amusingly so” boxes, it doesn’t necessarily read like a first line.  This one does, and it’s short:

If being a wife were a corporation, June would have been a CEO.

Roseanne Cash’s eulogy for June Carter Cash
quoted by Sofie Z.

Still, even though its length is pushing it for this contest, ultimately I had to go with this as the winner of the Found division:

It is one of life’s richest surprises when the accidental meeting of two life paths lead them to proceed together along the common path as husband and wife.

“Simple Wedding Ceremony Script 1”,
quoted by Adam Williams

Not only does that read like the first line of a novel, it reads specifically like an impressively stilted rendition of the first line of a nineteenth-century romance: Jane Austen put back and forth through Google Translate a few times.  It doesn’t even work syntactically, as we have paths somehow joining path-hands and proceeding down another path.  Yo, dawg, I heard you like paths…

A couple more.  This one made me do a double-take when I discovered that it was a Found entry:

“So why this storm?” said Mespa, who was a black woman, renowned for her resilience, but who now looked close to being washed away by the rain beating down on the women’s heads.

Abarat by Clive Barker
quoted by Pedro Degiovanni

That “who was a black woman” made me think this had to be an original entry⁠—what kind of editor would let that “who was” through?⁠—but, no, it’s a published work.  One that, despite its insinuation that personal characteristics are rooted in race⁠—if not, why juxtapose those descriptions?⁠—was published in the twenty-first century.

And finally, an entry that takes the original Lyttle Lytton example sentence to a very dark place:

We had just visited Auschwitz, and I was ovulating.

Amanda Markowitz,
quoted by Jonathan Schnipper

And so the time has come for me to make my usual concluding remarks.  Thanks to those who help to spread the word about this contest, and parti­cular thanks to the entrants themselves, without whom there would not be a contest to spread the word about.  You are totally radical.  To those who would have made the cut in the early years of the contest but had the bad luck to be living in the 2020s, when the competition is stiffer, I’m sorry.  (Really, to any­one living in the 2020s in general, I’m sorry.)  If you enjoy Lyttle Lytton and are looking for a way to support it, you can always toss a few cents at my Patreon account, the proceeds from which pay for my annual spike in hosting fees and allow me to devote some time to this and other projects.  It would make a smile roll up and park itself on the scene that is my face.

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