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O. Henry Pun-off Day

In Austin, Texas, behind the O. Henry Museum, in Brush Square Park, you'll find the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships taking place today. This yearly competition celebrates puns and is named for O. Henry, a writer who incorporated wit, wordplay, and puns into his short stories. To become a contestant, one must register in advance. Viewing of the event is open to the public, and audience members are encouraged to groan with approval in reaction to puns.

A pun can either be a way of using a word or words so a different meaning is suggested, or it can be the use of two words that sound almost the same but have different meanings. They are usually humorous but don't necessarily need to be for the competition. Humor in puns happens naturally, and is subjective, with different people thinking different types are funny.

Two contests make up the competition: Punniest of Show and Punslingers. In Punniest of Show, up to 32 contestants are given 90 seconds to share prepared or rehearsed material that follows a certain theme. Props, costumes, and music are often used. After each contestant's time is up, a "soft" bell sounds. If they keep reciting puns and go past the two-minute mark, a "hard" bell sounds and they are disqualified. They are judged on a 1-10 scale by multiple judges and given a cumulative score. The top three point-getters are recognized as winners of the Punniest of Show. If there is a tie, the audience helps decide the outcome.

The Punslingers contest focuses on improvisation instead of on something that is prepared in advance. Just as in Punniest of Show, up to 32 contestants can take part. Pairs of competitors are given topics and must think on their feet. Judges give a signal and each player has 5 seconds to deliver or start delivering a pun. The judge then signals their competitor and they must deliver a pun. This goes on until contestants falter and are eliminated. Eventually, there is only one punslinger left!

O. Henry's given name was William Sydney Porter. During the last decade of his life, he became known for short stories about people from all walks of life that were replete with wit, wordplay, puns, skillful characterizations, plot twists, and surprise endings. Born on September 11, 1862, in Greensboro, North Carolina, he moved to Austin in 1884, where he married Athol Estes in 1887 and started a humorous newspaper called The Rolling Stone. After it folded, he wrote for the Houston Post.

Porter also worked as an Austin bank teller, and in 1896 he was indicted for embezzling funds, which was actually the result of technical mismanagement. He fled to New Orleans and then to Honduras. After finding out his wife was sick, he returned to Austin in 1897. She soon passed away and Porter was sent to a prison in Ohio. It was there he began writing adventure stories. He was released from prison in 1902, went to New York City, and began publishing as O. Henry. His first collection of stories, which he wrote while incarcerated, was published as Cabbages and Kings in 1904.

He gained popularity for writing stories about middle-class and lower-class people of New York City, which began appearing in Sunday World in 1904. Many of his stories were included in collections. One of his most well-known collections was The Four Million, which included one of his most popular stories, "Gift of the Magi." One of his other most noteworthy stories is "The Ransom of Red Chief." In total, he published over 300 stories before dying on June 5, 1910. Many of his stories continued to be collected and be published posthumously.

How to Observe O. Henry Pun-off Day

The best way to spend the day is to attend the O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships in Austin's Brush Square Park. If you wish to participate in the contests, make sure to register in advance to be entered in the contestant lottery. Otherwise, be an audience member, and make sure to groan at all the puns. You could also stop in the O. Henry Museum since you'll be right next to it. If you can't make it to Austin, watch a short video or a documentary about the competition. You could also spend the day saying puns wherever you are or read a book of puns. This is also an ideal day to read some O. Henry.

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