Slate has dissected ways to win The New Yorker's cartoon caption contest. I'll tell you how to win ACP Internist's.
ACP Internist didn't really break new ground when it developed the cartoon caption contest and let readers vote online for the winner. Our six original cartoons had captions! We stripped them out when we started to brainstorm funny lines and decided that our readers would have just as much fun. Our cartoonists have also drawn for The New Yorker! Heck, other medical publications have caption contests too, although the readers don't get to vote.
The Slate article details ways to win. In short, appeal to the gatekeeper; follow the "theory of mind"; and use simple words and few, if any, proper nouns. The same advice applies to ACP Internist staff.
To appeal to our gatekeeper, it's tougher. At The New Yorker, a lone staffer picks though all the entries and narrows them down. At ACP Internist, there's five of us and we vote democratically on three finalists. Demographically, we're in our 20s through 40s. Two of us hold master's degrees and a third has one in progress. We're all journalists, although from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences.
The New Yorker entries overwhelmingly follow the theory of mind, which the Slate article explains very well but can be summarized as making a funny scenario out of the intent of one of the characters. We have that, but we're not above the simple pun when we have to, as you can see here and here.
Finally, The New Yorker winners phrase their entries simply, and that's usually what we pick up on when we screen entries to put forward to a vote. We don't pick obscure diseases. Other ideas are funny but invariably don't make the final cut because it took a paragraph to explain the gag.
Ultimately, though, it's our internist readers who decide the final winner. Let us know what you find funniest.