Saturday, June 2, 2007

HE WANTS TO REAR YOUR CHILD: Judging from the interest in the thread below, it seems we probably could use a spoiler discussion thread for Knocked Up. And yeah, it's good, though I'm really not sure if I needed to see Jason Segel's naked ass on the big screen. A suggested starter for discussion--while 40 Year-Old Virgin was a very male-dominated movie, the breakout performances here (aside from Rogen's) are almost all from women--Heigl, Leslie Mann, Kristen Wiig, and Apatow's two little girls. Also worth discussing--could the film have worked with original female lead Anne Hathaway, or with Jennifer Love Hewitt or Kate Bosworth, both of whom auditioned for the part according to IMDB?
HUNGOVER HILDA IS SO HUNGOVER, (HOW HUNGOVER IS SHE???) SHE SPENT HER WHOLE SATURDAY WATCHING BLANK: GSN is honoring the genius of Charles Nelson Reilly all day today with a Match Game marathon, cumulating in a reshowing of the brilliant documentary The Real Match Game Story: Behind the Blank at 7 EDT. If nothing else, clear some room on your Tivo for the doc and the early Monday morning airings of What's My Line and I've Got a Secret featuring the man in the banana suit.
A CORRECTION FOUR YEARS IN THE MAKING: As posted last night by Spelling Bee Mom:
The word "email" given in round 1 of 2003 was much harder than you probably think.

The speller was not given the familiar word referring to electronic mail.

She got an entirely different word, with a very different meaning, pronunciation, and etymology.

The word "email" that was pronounced for the speller in the 2003 round 1 was "ay-my" with the first syllable rhyming with "hay" and the second syllable rhyming with "why." The Webster's definitions given were 1. enamel and 2. a moderate bluish green to greenish blue that is lighter than gendarm, deeper than cyan blue, and duller than parrot blue--called also bleu Louise.

The origin of the word is French.

The more familiar everyday "email" meaning electronic mail was not in the Webster's Third New International Dictionary back in 2003, so it could not have been used in the bee that year.
The Management regrets the error.
DANGEROUS WORK TO DO: I'll bet my life. He's going to pull it through.

Friday, June 1, 2007

LEAVING THE LUTE AT HOME: I recall there being more than a little interest here in the Police reunion tour. Here's the setlist from the first show, in Vancouver.

eta (by Alex): Here's drummer Stewart Copeland's disarmingly frank assessment of the first show. Hope you didn't pay too much for those tickets.
MUDVILLE NINE: Three notes upon leaving tonight's Phillies game early (and with good reason):
  • So, it was "Be A Phanatic About Reading" night, and so they had a bunch of kids on the field to receive honors as being the "most oustanding readers" at their schools. But they also had Pink Floyd's Roger Waters to throw out the first ball, since he's playing a concert across the street tonight. So you had this just bizarre scene in which all these kids are on the field holding up their plaques while, on the PA system, they're blasting the words "we don't need no education!" to recognize Waters. I'm going to go out on a limb and say someone erred here.
  • Then then brought out James Earl Jones, official ambassador for the telephone company sponsoring the reading awards. And just as I did four years ago, I did indeed shout "You killed Obi-Wan!" upon his introduction. (And then cheered. Living legend and all.)
  • Mr. Jones then read "Casey at the Bat" for all of us in that magnificent voice of his, which was cool. But as others have already wondered, up 4-2 with two outs, runners on second and third and Mudville's only good player at bat, why didn't the opposing manager walk Casey to load the bases and allow for a force out at every base?
FOOFARAW: Before we leave the topic, 1991 fourth-place finisher Rafael Noboa has some final thoughts on fixing the National Spelling Bee:

First, thanks for having me. It was a blast. I, frankly, hadn't paid much attention to the NSB since I competed, but watching those kids compete yesterday and today, I felt like I was back there, in 1991.

About the bee: I'd consider many things, but the first thing I'd consider would be a reduction in competitors. Ideally, you'd have two representatives from all 50 states, the territories (including the district), and then English-speaking countries. The numbers of competitors has ballooned since I competed, and it's gotten to be a bit ridiculous.

By cutting down on the numbers of competitors, you have a tighter, better organized bee. I think it would eliminate the need for a written test, and you'd have a more natural pacing, with the spoken rounds taking as long as they needed to take. You wouldn't have a bloodbath round where spellers are required to spell words correctly more or less randomly. The competition would still take two days, most likely, but I think it would be a better competition.

The level of pressure is simply brutal. Brutal. It was intense when I was there, but, now, with prime time coverage, I can't even imagine what it must be like. Amanda mentioned the litigiousness of the parents when the Samir Patel foofaraw erupted; with TV coverage, and fame (such as it is), said litigiousness is amplified. A change I would make there would be that the only person authorized to make a challenge to a spell-out is the speller's sponsor. I got the feeling all throughout that minor scrape that the person who really wanted Samir back in there was his mom (who was also his coach, much like my dad coached me). That Samir wanted to continue competing I'll grant; but he admitted to Stuart Scott that he out-thought himself, and it just reeked of sour grapes. There's winning like a champion, true; but there's also losing like a champion. Samir didn't lose like one. Actually, I take that back--he would've, except that his mom didn't let him.

I guess what I'm looking for is for the bee to be fun. I totally got the impression that, for many of these kids, spelling was anything but. Samir (I go back to him--he competed five times, and yet, his demeanor was so joyless) apologizing for losing -- what for? Sure, his father quickly told him not to worry, but that he felt he had to apologize at all was off-putting. I read and heard stories of kids practicing upwards of six hours -- and I know it happens, because I saw it happen with my own eyes!

When I competed, some of my fellow spellers were goggle-eyed at me, because I hardly practiced at all that week. I'd like to say it was because I was care-free, but it wasn't; it was because I was jittery and full of nervous energy. I wanted to get the whole thing done and over with. It was the first time I ever spent time around people who were involved in monastic, ascetic studying -- the kind where you pore over things for hours on end -- and it blew my mind. I couldn't do that; life was too entertaining, there's too much to do!

I'm sure there's other things that need fixing, but these are just random thoughts, off the top off my head.

Oh, and one last thing -- well, two.

First, play-by-play is almost superfluous for something like this. You really just want to give way to the tension and majesty of the moment. If you're not going to do play-by-play and color right, don't do it at all. Or else, cut out some of the wannabe Olympics personal stories out, and do analysis with that time. Personally, I think you keep the stories in and the analysis out.

Second, please, please, please -- enough with the commercials. Show the whole finals, even if it's on the Deuce. Something live is better than something old. I know Texas Hold 'Em is yippie-kay-yay and all, but only when it's live. Showing the '02/'03/'06 WSOP over and over, ad infinitum, amen, gets old. You show the finals, live across the nation, not tape-delay pretending to be live.

Third (okay, okay, I fibbed), instead of having Stuart Scott or Mike & Mike, have some former spellers sit in for those three. If we're good enough to (not really) do color, we're good enough to do the sideline bit that Stuart was doing and whatever the bloody deuce those two morning show lummoxes were doing. Who knows -- we couldn't ask worse questions than Stuart, or be any more unintentionally condescending than Mike & Mike.

NEXT STOP, HEIRLOOM TOMATOES AND ARTISANAL SUMMER SQUASHES: For years, I've been hearing all the foodies gushily waxing about those special little treats of springtime: ramps and fiddlehead ferns. Because spring is always a ragingly busy time in my household (suffice to say that a disproportionate fraction of the extended Cosmopolitan clan has their birthdays in May), I never manage to get myself to any of the restaurants that pride themselves on cooking with the freshest seasonal ingredients blah blah blah during fiddlehead/ramp season. This year, however, I decided to tackle the issue head on. Thanks to Mother's Little Helper, a/k/a FreshDirect, both fiddleheads and ramps arrived at my apartment over the weekend.

I am an advocate of the Let Vegetables Be Vegetables school of cooking, and so prepared both in the simplest manner possible. For the ramps, I roasted them with grapeseed oil, salt and pepper. Easy breezy Cover Girl -- and quite tasty, to boot. They have a similar flavor to the leek (which makes sense, given that the ramp also goes by the less glamorous name of "wild leek"), minus all the pain-in-the-butt cleaning that accompanies the cooking of leeks, plus a little dollop of outdoorsy flavor. Roasting them added a nice veneer of crispiness as well, which is always fun. Nothing earthshattering, but perfectly yummy.

If ramps represent the Easy-Bake-Oven version of leeks, then fiddlehead ferns are the high-maintenance cousin of . . . well . . . every other vegetable on the planet. A scan of google hits on the subject of fiddleheads tells you to run them under a shower of water to get them really clean, then to swish them around in a big bowl of water to remove the chaff, then to rub them in a towel to remove more chaff, then to ask them very nicely to please shake off any chaff that may not have been appropriately excised during the shower, the swish, or the rub. The problem here is that I really don't have any idea what chaff looks like in the fiddlehead context, and none of the websites offered "before" and "after" photos. So after 20 minutes of messing around with these little green spirally things, I either (a) left about half the chaff on the ferns or else (b) chafed away lots of fern fronds along with the chaff, leaving myself with somewhat denuded fiddleheads. In any event, I was a little concerned.

Most of the articles I read talked about blanching the fiddleheads before sauteing them, except for a couple that preferred to skip the blanching and go straight to the saute pan. Given both that my fiddlehead experience was already taking up way more of my evening than I'd planned and that I am not normally a fan of blanching (cf. Let Vegetables Be Vegetables), I tossed my either naked or overdressed fiddleheads into a pan, sauteed them with olive oil for about 6 minutes, swirled in some butter and salt, and sat down to give my cute little high-maintenance friends a try.

YUM. Ok, I get the joke on fiddlehead ferns. They are crunchy and unique and delicious. The flavor is somewhere in the green bean / okra / asparagus family, but unlike any of them. (Only after consuming a bowlful did I read that part of the reason for blanching the little buggers is that raw fiddleheads have some sort of tummy-upsetting toxins that need to be cooked away. I suffered no adverse effects, so apparently the extended cleansing process and the sauteeing were sufficient.)

I have a feeling that Tom Colicchio's versions of fiddleheads and ramps will far outshine my own, and one of these years I'll make it to Craft during the brief season, but for now, I am pleased to report that I am now a full-fledged participant in the springtime ritual of pretentious quacking about the glory of ramps and fiddlehead ferns.
LIKE WARREN HARDING, I PROMISE A RETURN TO (RELATIVE) NORMALCY: To ease us back into normal programming today, a couple of items that bridge the gap between Bee coverage and our normal topics in these parts (and new visitors, welcome and hang around!):
S-E-G-U-E: I can't thank enough all my co-bloggers -- including special guests Shonda Rhimes of Grey's Anatomy/Private Practice fame and former National Bee finalists Heather Powell and Rafael Noboa, as well as the former champions, finalists and parents thereof who showed up in the comments -- for making our fifth annual National Spelling Bee live-blog such a delight.

I started doing this in 2003 because Lucy had just been born and I was home, and it was on tv, and I was watching, and I couldn't believe some kids were getting Round 1 words like "email" in the same round that others were getting dinged on "phthisiology". (The first speller that day? 2006 champion Kerry Close.) And here we are, and next year, come Memorial Day Week, we'll be back with more live coverage, though we'll be sure throughout the year to highlight news items as they come over the transom.

In the meantime, however, we don't exactly go silent, so do feel free to stick around for the other fifty-one weeks, where we tackle things like today's release of the exceedingly well-reviewed Knocked Up, starring Seth Rogen and Grey's Anatomy star Katherine Heigl. Seriously, is anyone reading this blog not totally eager to see this movie, like, right now?
WEST COAST BEE CALL (no different from the East Coast except three hours later): Here’s what I hate about the Bee in Primetime: the cuteness. The “hey, look at the cute kids” of it all. The cute videos, the cute promo spots, the sugar-y cutie pie cuteness goes directly against the hardcore sport of spelling. On ESPN, the finals are dry, bland, almost cold in their directness. Here, on network, the Bee is forced into a charming 2 hour ratings moment. Don’t get me wrong. I write Grey’s Anatomy and I work for ABC – I love a good ratings moment. But I like my Bee like I like my tennis – hard court, lots of grunting and vicious competition.

So I pour myself a glass of red wine, settle in with a fresh pair of flannel pajamas and start channeling my inner geek with glee. Primetime or not, I love the Bee. I love it. I love the celebration of intelligence, the championing of nerd-ship, of the brotherhood of brainiac. This is why the Bee should be on primetime network television. So that the Steve Jobs in all of us gets some real screen time. So that the incredible freakiness of spelling into your hand has an audience. A chance to shine. A chance to let every kid who spends his evenings rocking back and forth in his bedroom dreading the misery of junior high see that it is going to be okay. That geekiness has a freaking point! The Bee is a nerd manifesto! WHOO-HOO!

Okay, maybe too much wine. But you get my point, right?

8:09 pm: Horton Hears A Who Boy (Jonathan Horton) goes out on his very first word. Girolle (dude, these words are hard). It’s heartbreaking as this is his last year but he is gracious to the end, remembers to say “thank you” after Bossy But Cute (BBC) Jacques Bailly gives him the correct spelling. Later, when he is interviewed, he weeps. He’s shocked and weeping but a gentleman and I adore him for it.

8:10 pm: Evan O’Dorney, my personal favorite is up. He’s an adorable pint-size spelling genius and I know in my heart that one day he’ll create some kind of amazing box-type object that will change the world somehow. Ooh! And he gets his word right! I’ve got my fingers and toes crossed…

8:14 pm: I’m a little worried about Tia Thomas. First of all, her parents make sure to tell us she is adopted. And then they make sure to tell us that she is not a nerd. As if to say, “y’all, we have no idea where this freaky brainy kid comes from so don’t blame us for her weirdness.” But they clearly love her so I’ll forgive them. Plus, she knits some kind of booties or hats for preemie babies so she gets extra points for being Harvard application ready at only 12 years old. However, she goes down quickly with “zacate” – a word I have never heard of and could never spell. I love that she curls up on her father’s lap for comfort. I want to see what this kid does next year.

We’ve lost three of the first four spellers. This Bee might be the shortest ever.

8:16 pm: My ten year old nephew emails to tell me that BBC Jacques Bailly is pronouncing all the words wrong. I tell him about Samir Patel. He takes this in. My nephew is a future Champion of the Bee. His name is Christian Bailey. Wait for him.

8:26 pm: Joseph Henares continues to be a network’s dream. He’s audience-charming, telling BBC that instead of “punaise”, he prefers its definition – bedbug. He gets his word right and moves on.

8:47 pm: Connor Spencer wows the crowd with his spelling of the word “helzel”. Once again, he spells into his number placard before speaking out loud and once again he pumps his fist. I dig him but his charm is starting to wear a little old – been there, done that. I’m begging the TV for him to do an end zone dance instead of a fist pump next time.

Important Discussion Question: what do you think BBC Jacques Bailly does with his time the rest of the year? Does he sit in a room alone pronouncing words? Or does he frolic on a beach with babes? What IS the secret life of BBC Jacques Bailly?

Matthew Evans sails through on “genizah” – which, obviously, is a storeroom or repository in a synagogue used for discarded, damaged or defective books, papers and sacred objects. Obviously. I’m starting to feel like an uneducated moron.

8:55 pm: Prateek Kohli has a mustache and attends a place someone was crazy enough to call Hicksville Middle School. I feel for him. But he spells “rigaree” like a champ.

9:01 pm: Amy Chyao is gone on “grognard” – the only word I actually knew how to spell. I feel smarter than a kid which is sad but all I have. Now, there’s only one girl left in the Bee – Isabel Jacobson. She’s the last hope for the vah-jay-jay crowd and I’m now rooting for her like crazy. Her word is “helodes” – and she rocks it. 7 spellers remain as Round 7 ends and we head for commercial and I head for more wine…

9:10 pm: First word up in Round 8, Bossy But Cute Jacques Bailly loses his mind and gives my sweet Evan O’Dorney the word “schuhplattler” which has such a long definition that I can’t even type it here. Even the audience is laughing. But Evan rocks his word and lives to fight another round.

I’ve just noticed that Joseph Henares forgets to move his arms when he walks and I love him for it. He’s the perfect Bee competitor. His word is “triticale” which is an amphidiploid hybrid between wheat and rye. I don’t know why anyone would want to eat a hybrid between wheat and rye but Joseph spells it flawlessly and heads back to his seat, arms frozen.

9:21 pm: Dude! Connor Spencer is down! He’s down! On “cachalot”! He’s down!!!! No more spelling into his number placard! It’s over for Connor! NOOOOOOOOOO!!!

I’m heartbroken. In the geek-roundup only Frozen Arm Boy is left as the biggest geek contender now.

BBC seems to be loving the French-origin words. Is it just me or is everything either French-sprung or Hebrew-sprung tonight? We lose Matthew Evans on “fauchard” and now only five spellers remain.

It strikes me as freaky that our White House least interested in being smart is hosting the spelling champs. I mean, Bush is nothing if not a frat boy who teased the geeks. Right? It gives me the oogy bumps. But maybe that’s just me.

9:33 pm: Round 9 begins with Evan O’Dorney who is from California (my state, by the way). Evan rolls through “laquear” like it’s no big thing. Then Nate Gartke steps up to the microphone. Up until now, I’ve ignored Nate Gartke because he’s Canadian…okay, not really. I dig Canada as much as anyone. No, I’ve ignored him because he’s so quiet and unassuming that I thought he’d never make it. But, here under the sparkly lights of primetime finals, he’s so full of confidence and spells so brilliantly that I’m getting the itchy feeling that maybe this Bee might belong to Canada.

9:40 pm: Joseph Henares has been given what I believe to be an impossible word. Aniseikonia. Can he do it? Can he? Ooh, he has braces. Braces and glasses – now I really love him because he reminds me of me and... Oops. He went down on the word. He’s gone. Only 4 spellers left! And now we’ve just lost Prateek! He’s down! And then Isabel is given the disturbing word “cyanophycean” which sounds like a disease but is really a blue green algae. And she’s out. Which means we now head into the Championship Rounds -- only two spellers remain. Nate Gartke and my Evan O’Dorney.

I told you. I’m just saying…

Championship Round: Evan is on his game – calm, mellow and self-assured. Go Evan! I can’t help but root against Nate who seems like a sweet kid and just as self-assured – he’s just not my Evan who I feel I’ve watched grow up here on this stage.

These final rounds are not that exciting. Why? Because there’s a commercial break every five seconds. I love commercials. I believe in commercials. I just want to see my Bee without so many breaks. I want to see the sweat on the brows of Evan and Nate. Also, it’s delaying the airing of Grey’s Anatomy. And I like Grey’s Anatomy.

10:04 pm: I dig Evan’s ears. He’s got the kind of face that is going to grow into those ears and be fantastic. He spells “yosenabe” like it’s nothing, no thang but a chicken wing, and keeps on moving. I’m so impressed.

Ach! Nate went down on coryza! I was barely paying attention cause he was so confident! He went down! Now, Evan must get the next word right in order to win.

The word is “serrefine” which is a word I instinctively spelled wrong. But Evan gets it right and-



I don’t know which is more exciting – me being right or Evan being right. Clearly, it should be Evan. But I’ve had some wine and it’s all unclear.

As I do every year, I get a little misty at the end of the Bee. But this year, I’m less misty than usual. Cause there was something missing. Some...magic. Magic was missing. Did anybody else feel that way?

Oh well. Bee Season over.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


So, the thing is, and someone pointed this out in the Comments, but it's a lot more fun to see kids spell hard words correctly than to see them get dinged. Seven of the first ten kids misspelled their words in primetime, and that's just not fun to watch. We understand why that happened -- because otherwise, this thing could go on all night -- but there has to be a better way to do this.

One way might be to make sure that they enter the evening coverage with 8-10 kids, not fifteen, and then dial back the intensity a bit on these words. Another might be to dial it back even further -- to something like round 4 -- but provide the kids with less time to spell each. Let us see each of the kids get a word or two correctly, let us settle on favorites, and then start bringing in the schuhplattlers of the world. Face it: it's just hard to structure the competition to ensure a winner within a two-hour period.

But, for next year, a little less random memorization, and a bit more on the demonstration of cultivated spelling skills? Please? Also, they only went halfway on the in-round commentary; analyst Paul A. Loeffler would repeatedly say things like, "Oh, that's a French root! Knowing that should help!" but didn't explain how it would help. One more sentence of analysis, a little more "see, in German, words with a 't' sound are often spelled with a 'd'" could have served to educate the viewers as to what they might anticipate.

One bright spot: Mike & Mike were almost invisible. But Stuart Scott has no business dealing with children -- Evan O'Dorney had no idea what to do with his questions.

Two notes on word choice: I know that the Championship Words are actually a bit easier, but "pappardelle" has no place that late in a competition. And what Nate Gartke did to "rognon" is one of the most hardcore things I've seen in a competition in some time, the equivalent of launching a three-point shot in basketball and turning to the crowd to smile before it goes in, just knowing without a doubt that you nailed it.

Finally, congratulations to Hawkhill and Amy, co-winners of our pool. Both had Evan O'Dorney and a speller eliminated in the first round tonight, and they share in the fame and glory for the next year. (Or, one can take the fame, and the other, the glory. Ronald Coase suggests you'll figure it out.)
CALIFORNIA DREAMING: The musical Evan O'Dorney takes the crown with serrefine, a little old word meaning a small spring forceps used for approximating the edges of a wound, or for temporarily closing an artery during surgery (as proper a word as any considering Grey's Anatomy just began).

And speaking of, stay tuned for a final word from Shonda, plus I'm sure further analysis from the usual suspects in the coming hours.

Evan, a grateful nation thanks you for keeping the title out of the hands of our hockey-loving neighbors to the north. Now, if the Ducks beat the Senators, you know it is going to be a long summer north of the 49th Parallel.
INVOLVING THE UPPER RESPIRATORY TRACT: In other words, just from waiting around for that plain little band of gold, a person can develop a kuh-REE-zah.

e.t.a.: Ay, seh-ruh-FEEN, away with this pretense! You cannot speak, but clamp me in my husband's absence.
EVAN v. NATE: We have our final two as we head into Round 10 and the championship words.
HIGH FIVE: Evans goes down, but five survive Round 8.

And should Laura Bush think about a career in acting, I think she is a natural to play the Alamo tour guide in the remake of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.
FOUR YEAR OLDS R-O-C-K: Cosmo Girl just watched Round 7 with me -- her first Bee experience. It was very exciting for everyone. She was astounded that each speller only got one chance to spell the word: "you mean they don't get to try again? Ever??" And she was sucked in by the stress almost immediately, jumping up and down when the spellers were running out of time and hiding behind me when they actually began to spell the word.

She asked if we could have our own spelling bee tomorrow night. I can't wait.

Back to the Bee, now that I have persuaded Cosmo Girl that no punaises lurk in her bed.
DAIRY QUEEN: And we end Round 7 with just seven spellers left, six boys and one girl, the multi-braceletted Isabel Jacobsen from Madison, Wis.

With Horton not hearing an "le" in girolle, Reader's Digest Word Power Challenge winner Matthew Evans has to be the odds-on favorite.
AND, JUST LIKE THAT... both of my pool picks are gone. Also, Mike Golic commenting on spelling is like my three year old daughter expounding on quantum physics.
NOT EXACTLY A MUSHROOM CONNOISSEUR: That was not an auspicious beginning to Round 7. Are hearing aids permissible?

e.t.a. Yowza. I knew when the Spanish plant speller pronounced the word that there was no way it was gonna end well.
SOMETHING PLEASANTLY INSIGNIFICANT: While we're busy learning about the Final Fifteen (Isabel Jacobson's favorite hard word? kakistocracy -- government by the worst men), the WaPo's Dan Steinberg catches up with Nebraska's Sarah Mirza, bounced in round six:

She was asked what lessons she'll take away from this experience. "I don't know," she said. "I'm trying to think of something pleasantly insignificant. But I haven't really, apart from how to spell lots of useless words."

She listed her interests as "reading, writing, ranting, raving, running and alliteratio," and apologized to the local reporter for excessive snarkiness.... "I've been doing this, people have been trying to train me for it since fourth grade," she explained. "I made it this far. I'm happy with that. I don't have to be trapped in a room being interviewed over and over and over for the next six hours until finals .... Between now and then I would much rather be a tourist than in a room not being able to get back through security."

Her mom stepped in to clarify a few things; like, for example, the fact that Sarah has actually only practiced spelling a total of one hour since March. Sarah said she got lucky. She also said she was glad to be eliminated before the finals, due to the since-proven-true rumors of a White House visit. "We didn't want any part of that, even being from what state we're from," her mom said.

"We went and heckled the President when he came to Grand Island to convince us to vote for his Republican buddies," Sarah said, and just imagine what would have happened if she actually had made the Finals and was asked about her super-duper White House visit.

I asked whether she didn't think this was a useful skill that would boost her standing in life, this spelling thing. "Well, I've always known how to spell," she said. "I mean, yeah, being able to spell is a good skill to have the rest of your life. It'll make your CV's look better and stuff like that. But being able to spell whatever my word was? I don't even remember, mouchoir? No. I'm never going to use it again."

SAMIR AND THE DOTTED SCHWA: For the full rundown on what happened to Samir Patel, Sean Mussenden has an audio interview with Dr. Jacque Bailly on the proper pronunciation of "clevis" which is a fascinating listen.
MEET THE FINAL 15: Here's a little afternoon reading for you, some background on each of the 15 remaining spellers (I'll be posting them five at a time). Official bios are here.
  • Jonathon Horton, Scottsdale, Ariz. Last year's sixth place finisher describes himself as "loquacious," "perspicacious," and "ardent." The 14-year-old home-schooler has been practicing on a custom computer program and watching past Bees for up to five hours a day.
  • Evan O'Dorney, Walnut Creek, Calif. A three-time vet, last year this home-schooler finished 14th overall. Evan prefers the logic of math and piano to spelling, which he practices while juggling.
  • Tia Thomas, Oakhusrt, Calif. Yet another Bee veteran, Thomas made it to the sixth round last year. Thomas is also home-schooled and has been studying upwards of eight hours a day in recent week.
  • Cody Wang, Calgary, Alberta. One of three Canadians left, Wang was eliminated in the sixth round of the Canadian national bee in April.
  • Nate Garke, Edmonton, Albert. Canadian No. 2 had quite a battle on his hands in the Northern Alberta Bee. Attends the Victoria School for Performing Arts, which given my limited knowledge of such things (mainly various incarnations of Fame), means he might break out in song and dance at the drop of a hat. Here's a nice picture of Nate and the Canadian ambassador.
  • Anqi Dong, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Nerves won't be a problem for this cool customer, whose spelling technique is to tap the letters of the word he's about to spell out on his palm before beginning. A big fan of Garfield: The Movie.
  • Joseph Henares, New Haven, Conn. Another home-schooler, Joseph has been studying six hours a day and memorized a book of common bee words. He's not just about the spelling, though. He once appeared on Jeopardy!
  • Claire Zhang, West Palm Beach, Fla. Saved thanks to instant replay earlier today, Zhang was knocked out in the fourth round last year. She's been studying about an hour a day in the ensuing year. She's an avid reader and a big fan of the Harry Potter books.
  • Kavya Shivashankar, Olathe, Kan. At 11, she's the youngest speller left, but she is also a veteran of last year's prime-time telecast. Kavya favors the spelling the word in the hand method. Her favorite movie? Spellbound, of course.
  • Nithya Vijayakumar, Canton, Mich. She skipped the sightseeing tour on Tuesday to study, which so far appears to be a good decision. The junior blackbelt in karate has been steadily studying about two hours a day in preparation for the big Bee.
  • Connor Spencer, Independence, Mo. Hailing from Harry S. Truman's hometown, Connor was in DC last year, but didn't make it past the written test. Away from spelling, Connor plays a mean Irish tin whistle and aspires to speak fluent Elven, the language of Elves from Lord of the Rings. He also breeds parakeets.
  • My apologies to fans of Matthew Evans, Prateek Kohli, Amy Chyao, and Isabel Jacobson, I ran out of time. As noted above, though, official bios are here. 10 minutes or so until the Finals!
EYE ON THEM CHILDREN IN THE POOL: The Bee goes from 59 entrants down to 15 for tonight; our pool has taken a similar plummet. Unless I've made an error -- which I often do -- here's who has both spellers remaining for tonight's primetime finals:

Me: Kavya Shivashankar and Jonathan Horton
Amy: Evan O'Dorney and Tia Thomas
Heather P: Kavya Shivashankar and Tia Thomas
Scott: Jonathan Horton and Matthew Evans
Hawkhill: Jonathan Horton and Evan O'Dorney
Bad Dad: Nithya Vijayakumar and Matthew Evans
Racquel: Kavya Shivashankar and Matthew Evans

(Note: If you just said "Samir," I put you down for Samir Patel; you cannot claim you meant El Paso's Samir Gupta, who's still in. Oops -- he's out, as is Sameer Mishra. But three Canadians are left.)

e.t.a. Only six of the fifteen finalists are covered above. It is possible for someone to win this without having two members still left; some entrants have finalists left not listed above, including Isabel Jacobson and Prateek Kohli, and if the finals last long enough, one of them can certainly win this.
"I GAVE IT THE BEST SHOT I COULD": While we're waiting for prime time, I wanted to share something from the Comments that you may have missed. Rafael Noboa, who's been active in the threads, placed fourth in the 1991 Bee. Here's what he has to say about it:
I moved to the U.S. in 1985, from Puerto Rico; my first language wasn't English, it was Spanish. My family moved to New Haven, where I competed in my first spelling bee a year later (in Spanish). From New Haven, we moved to Granville, OH, where I ended up spending the rest of my childhood.

Anyway, I competed in bees all through middle school, but I never even won a classroom bee until my 8th-grade year. I won that one, then I won the school bee, then I won the Columbus Dispatch regional bee to punch a ticket to nationals. I guess I got on a streak.

I didn't really start preparing or practicing until I made it to nationals. I know that sounds strange, but it's true. I'd practiced like crazy all the other times, and it didn't work out, so I figured, why mess with success? When my dad and I started prepping for the bee, we didn't engage in rote memorization so much as we played with words, studied what they meant, learned where they came from. To this day, I think the reason I've got such a large vocabulary comes from the preparation that I engaged in in the spring of 1991.

I practiced about 2 hours a day, sometimes more, but not much more than that. Bee prep had to be squeezed in with my violin practice, and my parents actually took that more seriously. The attitude that my parents had was, if you practice spelling, that's great, and if you don't, that's on you.

This caused a rather sudden shock when I made it to DC. I distinctly remember that lots of my fellow spellers (and their parents!) were really, really, really intense about this. That intensity just weirded me out.

Now, this is 1991, so, to my memory, the bee just wasn't a big deal. I mean, it was a big deal to me, but it's nothing like what it is now. We were all in the ballroom of the Capital Hilton (don't know if that's where it still happens), but everyone wore their own clothes. You didn't have a uniform like you have now. I remember that I wore my "lucky" sweater (the one that I wore when I won in Columbus, and in school).

I don't remember there being a written test. I remember there were something like 100-150 of us, and the whole competition was spoken. There definitely weren't any international spellers--every speller was from either a state or a territory.

I wasn't nervous at all--until the fourth round. I think the word I had was autochtonous, and I totally guessed on it. I steeled myself for the bell to ring, and when it didn't, I did a little fist pump. After that, I was fine, even when I misspelled my final word--plutogoguery, which I spelled plutogogary. I knew how to spell it, too -- I was tired, and I wasn't concentrating. So the bell rang. I sighed, then I went to the reader's table and shook his hand. I remember there was a lot of applause. I headed to the kiss-and-cry room after that.

When I got there, I noticed that there were a lot of spellers crying, people yelling, that sort of thing. I didn't. I guess the overwhelming feeling I had was relief, because it was all over. I was sad, because I wanted to win--I'm a really competitive person--but my relief at finally being able to relax outweighed that sadness. My mom and dad and my sponsor met me there. They were all expecting me to be upset, so I shocked them when they saw that I wasn't. They kept on asking me if I was okay, and I kept on telling them that I was fine -- I gave it the best shot I could.

Afterwards, I went back out to the ballroom, and saw Joanne (the '91 champion) and the runner-up go toe-to-toe for like an hour. That's the only time I kicked myself, because that's when it really sunk in that I could've won.

And now?

Well, in a way, I'm glad I didn't win. I look at the profiles that Time did of the winners between '86 and '92 (congrats, Amanda!), and I look at what they've accomplished. Joanne is studing neo-natology. Amanda's a lawyer, as are others.

Me, I'm just now finishing my bachelor's. I went to school, dropped out, joined the Army, went to war in Iraq, and I'm working in politics, doing what I love. I feel like I've accomplished a lot in my life, but if I had won in '91, and Time had profiled me, I get the feeling that people would have said, "he peaked at age 14", when I don't feel that's the case at all. I feel like I'm hitting my stride now, at age 30.

As for the bee ... I'm glad I competed. I really don't keep in touch with anyone, except for a couple of folks. That's not by choice -- if I could, I would. I just don't have their contact information.

No one I work with, and none of my friends -- not even my ex-wife--knows I competed in the bee. It's my little secret. I don't see it as germane to any conversation I have. People think I'm a good writer and have a big vocabulary because I read a lot (which I always have). I'm a good writer and I have an extensive vocabulary because I had a chance to go to the bee, and I took advantage of it.
AND THE CONCLUDES ROUND SIX: So Round Six ends with 15 spellers remaining to go live on ABC tonight. Six girls, nine boys. So get on line and start doing your research to handicap the finals! I'll see you there...
PROJECT FOR THIS AFTERNOON: For those watching at home, please come up with alternate titles for the video of Kyle and Max. Mine is "Letting Leapster Babysit My Children."
AND THEN THERE WERE 20: Rosa Nguyen goes down leaving us with 10 more or so spellers to eliminate before tonight's finals.
AN ARM OF THE CROSS GUARD OF A SWORD: Matthew Evans just rocked the house with “quillon.” And I actually did a little dance around my living room when he did it. Which tells us that I am far too invested in the Bee and that I need to get a life.

This just in: Samir’s appeal has been denied. He’s down for good. He’s gone for good. The King is dead, long live the King.
AND OVER ON ESPNEWS: 1:07 pm: I haven’t said a word this year about the Jamaican presence. The Jamaican spellers are, like always, very serious. VERY. They spell with an intensity and a strange lack of animation. They came to win, they came to spell. They, apparently, did not come to be crowd-cute or charismatic. I like the way Regina Bish questions Jacques Bailly numerous times and then very quietly says “Thank you, Dr. Bailly.” But she’s now gone too.

Gossip about the Samir thing abounds but there has been no official statement. I’m going to ignore it until there’s some actual news. Or until I have some gossip of my own…

1:11 pm: Izaak Baker goes out on “makimono”. Shame. He was charming.

1:15 pm: Connor Spencer is whispering into his number placard at the little man he keeps there again. I have to say, I’m starting to love him and his exuberance. He’s enjoying the Bee and spells like every letter is the most exciting letter ever. He’s a true Bee-fan. Plus, his family is as excited as he is.

1:19 pm: Pretty Girl Caroline Rouse has been ousted with “cyclazocine”. Go home to your gorgeous face and happy life and leave the rest of us alone!!! Okay, sorry. Too intense. But come on…you are not allowed to have EVERYTHING in life, are you?
ODDS ARE THEY DON'T SERVE MUCH COTECHINO AT THE OLIVE GARDEN: But it is worth noting that Claire Zhang appears to have broken the curse by correctly spelling this Italian New Year's delicacy.
SAMIR CONTROVERSY!: He’s questioned the pronunciations of the word “clevis”. The judges are conferring. So now what?

They are going over the replay. They are discussing and examining the dictionary. They are questioning the integrity of Jacques Bailly's pronunciation skills.

Oooh, this is bad. Because if Samir comes back, there's a cloud. If he doesn't, Icky. Plus, I don't like anyone messing with my Jacques.


12:53 pm: I am loving Joseph Henares who, when told that schiavone meant a two-edged basket–hilted sword said, “COOL.”

I can’t help but feel this is an exciting Bee. I mean, Samir drama? All we need is a fainter for this to be the best Bee ever.

And yet, I have every confidence that O’Dorney is taking this whole thing. I need to believe that he will win. He’s just so good.
THE POST-SAMIR ERA BEGINS AS ROUND 6 IS UNDERWAY: New favorite Jonathon Horton gets things started by correctly spelling his word. Thirty-three spellers left.

Meanwhile, what do all the don't smoke dope commercials (one implies that if you do, you will not be abducted by aliens) say about the Bee's target audience?

And now comes word that Samir is appealing the pronunciation of clevis.

ETA: 30 spellers left as the contest moves to ESPNews in 10 minutes to make room for women's softball. It looks like the official site is lagging behind.
SAMIR IS DOWN!!!!: OH. MY. God. Give me a minute to recover and I'll write more...


Okay. Have stopped hyperventilating and can face the horror. The word was "clevis". Samir spelled "clevice". There was the ding, then the gasp, and then it was true. Samir was down. The entire ballroom gave him a standing ovation as he exited but I don't think he noticed. He was too freaked out, he had that haunted look in his eye, that look Michelle Kwan has when she speaks of the Olympics. It's over for him. Either he'll be fine and get to be a regular kid now or he'll never recover and have nightmares about the Bee for the rest of his life.

Oh, it is probably a sad, sad, sad day for my buddies over at ABC Primetime -- no Samir two years in a row...


Samir says he knew the word and he has no idea why he spelled it wrong. He's angry with himself for getting out on such an easy word. He's polished and confident and so very changed from when we first saw him as a third grader who cried on his Mommy's lap when he got the ding. This Samir has got a mustache. And that is kinda freaky.

Round Five is over and 33 spellers remain.
AH, BUT DOES POLYHYMNIA ENJOY A GOOD BLINTZ? I'm joining the Bee crowd late this year, and apparently I've managed to miss the rounds in which I actually have a shot of spelling any of the non-food non-Judaica words correctly. Ooo, I just unearthed another category of words on which I have a prayer: Greek Muses. (Grace Upshaw, sadly, is not so fortunate.) So as long as the Bee is focused on Jewish foods enjoyed by the Muses, I'm a candidate for fame and glory.
“OOPORPHYRIN” MEANS A PALE BROWN PIGMENT IN EGGSHELLS: 11:16 am: Connor Spencer raises the numbered Bee placard all spellers wear around their necks and whispers into it before spelling. It’s strange and disquieting and very worrisome but he gets it right. Like Horton Hears A Who, perhaps he has a little man taped to the back of his placard. Perhaps I should get a tiny little man and whisper to him. Maybe that would help…

11:18: Caroline Rouse is tall, lovely, confident, plays in the junior LPGA. She’s too emotionally together to be in this Bee and I want her to go home. She’s all whole and comfortable in her own skin and that, my friends, is not what the Bee is all about.

11:20: Upon hearing the word “reblochon”, speller Sarah Harmsworth howled“I’m gonna ding!” And then she did.

11:25 A protest has been filed! Some kid spelled “suttler” and Jacques spelled “sutler”. Now he’s gone and checked the dictionary, found an obsolete version of the word spelled “suttler”. They deny his protest on the basis that obsolete is obsolete. We can all rest easy. The beauty and perfection of the bee has not been marred.

11:31: New Zealand has sent their Champion Kate Weir to our Bee. She’s like some sort of spelling Olympian. All strong, creamy-skinned and full of accent. They can’t understand a darned letter she spells and so she stands there, rolling her eyes and feeling superior to us Americans, as they play and replay her spelling again. I kinda love her. Right now there’s some controversy over whether she’s saying “g” or “j”. Oops, turns out she was saying the wrong letter. And she’s gone before I got to know her better. Bye, Scary Champion Speller With the Pretty Accent!

11:37: I call foul for inappropriate use of Coma-Mom! Shame on ESPN for dredging up the painful personal details of a 13 year old Grace Upshaw whose mother is in a coma for the emotional value of the bee. She had to stand there waiting while they ran the video piece and INTRODUCED HER to the crowd as “girl whose mother is in a coma.” She looks sad and tired and like she would rather be somewhere else. No wonder she dinged quickly and left. Poor thing.

11:41: I dig the look on Andrew Lay’s face after, to his amazement, he correctly spelled “negus”. He fully expected to hear the ding and when he didn’t, he almost leapt out of his tiny skin. I like him.

Almost two hours in and 40 spellers remain…
THE OLIVE GARDEN CURSE IS REAL: As Akshat Shekhar puts an extra f in tufoli, a 3/8 inch diameter, slightly curved, tube pasta that is approximately 2 inches long with straight cut ends that is often used with heavier sauces and baked. At least Selena Roper properly spelled a component of my breakfast this morning, as Kingsley notes below.
THE 2007 DOMINIC ERRAZO AWARD: For the third straight year, we are proud to announce the winner of the Dominic Errazo Award, named in honor of the speller each year who progresses the farthest with the shortest, easiest words. In Mr. Errazo's case in 2005, it was ennui, junco, emetic and chinook to take him well into Thursday. Last year, Lawrence Chiao's "grimace" in Round 3 made him an easy winner.

For 2007, Selena Roper of Annapolis, MD can already claim the prize. She's now into Round 6 having spelled primitive, requisite, oleic and now -- during a round that's otherwise been a bloodbath -- bee-ALL-ee, which any resident of the BOS-NY-PHL-DC-plex knows is like bagel, but different, and if you didn't know it from that basis, well, you know it from The Producers, as in, "-stock and Bloom". Congratulations, and good luck.
I FEEL LIKE KRAMER IN THE CONTEST: Lost amid all the drama of Claire Zhang's being dinged and reinstated after the judges reviewed the tape on burelage (her g sounded a little like a t), is the fact that one of my pool picks, the Chicago-area's very own Rose Sloan got eliminated on the toothy carnassial. With Alex Benjamin following Rose' s lead and missing on staphylotomy, the great state of Illinois has no more spellers.
HOW DO YOU SPELL "INSTANT REPLAY": 10:23: I already hate the commentators. They keep pointing out useless facts in a chipper and excited tone -- “Her favorite movie is High School Musical!” Seriously? Because she’s a teenage girl and every single teenage girl in the world loves High School Musical so that’s no surprise to me. You know what I want to know? Which kid spends her days rocking back and forth spelling words and reminding herself that when she’s finished college, having a brain will matter more than being a cheerleader? Which is kid is that tough? I don’t like the whole “brains – they are just like you and me!” motif going on. Because brains are not. They are special. That is, in fact, why they are on ESPN right now while the other kids are not. They get to be different and a little bit cooler today. It’s their day. So stop trying to make them seem all normal!

Okay, clearly I need to drink more coffee because I have childhood-geek rage a’bubbling…

10:30: I love that Chris Stanbridge is a champion speller trapped in the body of a tiny little slacker. And I like the sound of his voice. And he’s…oops, he misspelled a word and now, cruelly before I could come to adore his slacker vibe, he’s gone. Bye, bye Chris. We hardly knew ye. Maybe next year?

10:36: Bossy but Cute Jacques Bailly has his first amused smile of the day. He loves the Bee and it shows all over his face. In case you didn’t know, he’s the 1980 Bee Champion and can therefore sit behind his desk officially pronouncing his butt off with the confident air of one who has already worn the crown. Every year, I am overwhelmed with how much I love this guy and his pronouncing.

10:43: There is some scandal brewing! #59 Claire Zhang spelled her word correctly but still received the scary DING! She was led off the stage. Then the judges confer. Oh my God – instant replay. They are literally going to do an audio instant replay on Zhang’s word! Like…like…football. Like a beautiful ESPN sport. I get a little misty over the full force of sports being placed behind our spelling babies.

Claire stands frozen with nerves, awaiting her fate. They replay her spelling of “burelage”. And now -- she’s back in! Forcing her to pause in the action and do a stupid live interview in the middle of the Bee. Ack. But she’s back in so…

11:00 am: Spelller #97 Kennyi Aquad apparently charmed the crowd yesterday with his uncontrollable giggling over Jacques Bailly’s use of the phrase “doodledum” in a word. He laughed and laughed and laughed some more the way you do when you’re nervous and something is funny. I kinda love that about him and will now officially begin to root for him…oops, he’s gone too. No rooting.

11:06: Does anyone really know how to spell “porphyry” outside of a Bee? It makes me sad that word, that word that tells me I’m not even good enough to spell along on TV.

11:08: I like #116 Izaak Baker who was given the word “melioidosis” and said “melio-WHAT?” Eyeing Jacques with some suspicion that perhaps Jacques was joking. Then he went on to spell the word correctly. Not bad for a first timer.
SPELL-O-RAMA: So we start out with 59 spellers. 26 kids are repeaters. I’ve got my coffee, my laptop and I’m wearing my favorite pajamas. This is, scarily enough, the happiest freaking day of my life this year.

10:05 am: Samir Patel is interviewed right before the competition. The reporter keeps insisting he’s the favorite, Samir keeps insisting he is not. He’s cranky and just wants to be left alone to spell in peace. I’m worried about him already. This is way too much pressure, this is Michelle Kwan pressure, this is bad.

10:08 am: Horton Hears A Who Boy is back! He’s taller, more confident and …wait, wait for it …he still spells into his hand as if there is a tiny person inside his palm!!! Whoo-hoo! I love it when things stay the same. I was worried that he’d change his method and thus, ruin his spelling mojo. But no. He's the same.

10:09 am: Anjanet Loon is from a Catholic School in the Bahamas and the awkward geek inside me feels she is way too beautiful to be up there spelling. It’s not fair. I’m either rooting for her to beat the system or rooting against her to keep the pretty girls down. I’m not sure. She’s having trouble spelling the tough word “rhodochrosite” so I’m feeling pretty shallow.

And she spelled it wrong. Pretty Girl goes home. Dragged off the stage by the “volunteer” who will now stick her in the Crying Room (those of you new to the bee -- I’m not kidding) until she can pull it together.

10:13 am; Evan O’Dorney, the cutest tiniest sweetest little speller in the whole wide world (can you guess who my favorite is?), spells his first word so quickly as if to say “is that all you’ve got?” THAT? Lame!

Commerical break…
FOURTH TIME'S NOT A CHARM: Bee vet Maithreyi Gopalakrishnan (Boulder, Colo.) falls, tripped up by the last syllable of castrensian. Here's a nice profile of Maithreyi.
OUI, MADEMOISELLE: Round 5 is underway, and looks like "Parlez-vous francais?" is the question of the day. Words have included:
  • dif-i-seel ("hard to deal with, satisfy, or please")
  • a-feesh ("a notice posted in a public place, a poster")
  • soo-beez ("a brown or white sauce containing strained or puréed onions and served with meat")

[Kingsley blogged the intro simultaneously, and said this:] And we're back, with four of the first seven spellers already eliminated. This morning will be a bloodbath -- if they're trying to go from 59 kids down to 10-11 for prime time, that means eliminating 48 kids in three hours, or 16 per hour, or one every 3-4 minutes, on words like gahr-DAY, from the French, meaning "to warn someone else in chess that you're about to sack his queen."

Wicked-hard food word just gotten right by Calgary's Cody Wang -- soo-BEEZ, "a white or brown sauce containing onions or onion purée," named for 18th century French nobleman and military leader Charles de Rohan, Prince of [There]. Also, kudos to Ontario's Soohyun Park, who nailed eks-oh-FLAM-ik, which basically means something which looks like Large Marge in that scene in Pee Wee's Big Adventure.
WHEN I SAID LAST YEAR THEY COULD DO BETTER THAN CHRIS CONNELLY, THIS IS NOT WHAT I HAD IN MIND: Anchoring tonight's ABC primetime coverage of the Bee will be ESPN radio hosts Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg, who are apparently there "to provide a regular guy perspective." These are extraordinary kids, and it's unworthy of their skills to have people out there commenting who may not be bright enough to appreciate it beyond a "wow, that's a hard word!" response. And Stuart Scott won't help.

Since they're not using ABC's dramatis personae as I once suggested, would it be so hard for them to take a different pair of ESPN hosts, a pair of actually intelligent guys who just happen to be in Washington D.C. already, and let Tony Kornsheiser and Michael Wilbon anchor the coverage next year? Alternately, this is the sort of thing for which ABC should persuade Ted Koppel out of his retirement, if only for one night. Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

SAY I'M THE ONLY BEE IN YOUR BONNET: According to a friend who works across the street from the Bee, "the contest has drawn a good sized crowd of protesters who are demanding an increase in the number of words that are spelled phonetically. I kid you not." I suspect it's these folks.

Second, I just thought of another pool topic, one that's really suited towards some of the Bee veterans who've joined us this week: predict a word that you believe will be used in one of the later rounds tomorrow. The later, the better.

Finally, since we have attracted a number of former Bee finalists and/or parents, if you don't mind, feel free to tell us what it's like -- the preparation, the competition, the kiss-and-cry room, this year-round "speller nation" of Bee competitors that seems to have flourished -- whatever stories you feel like telling. We're all here this week because we love this stuff, and we'd be honored by anything you feel like sharing.
2007 ALOTT5MA SPELLING BEE POOL: With Round 4 now complete and 59 spellers remaining, it's time to open up our pool for this year's Bee.

As with last year, the rules are simple: Select two spellers, only one of whom can be from among the four rock stars for whom this is at least a fourth attempt at glory -- Samir Patel (247), Tia Thomas (12), Maithreyi Gopalakrishnan (45) or Matthew Evans (161). You will get one point for each word your spellers correctly spell during tomorrow's rounds of the Bee, which resumes at 10am on ESPN. Most points wins; tiebreaker will be whoever has the individual speller going the furthest.

While individual spellers can be used more than once, you cannot repeat the same pairing that someone else has already submitted. First come, first served, and the pool will close by noon tomorrow, and possibly sooner.

Because of privacy concerns, the Bee again isn’t providing biographical info on the competitors this year until we reach the prime-time finalists, so Google wisely.

As always, your sole prizes are Internet fame and glory forever (or at least as long as this site’s archives remain available), joining Elicia Chamberlin, last year's winner, who admittedly had some inside knowledge. Good luck to all.

It's my blog, so I go first: I'm taking Jonathan Horton and Kavya Shivashankar, going on the "pick people who went far last year" theory, but if it happens to be Samir Patel's year, well ....

2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee

THE OLIVE GARDEN CURSE: After ricotta and minestrone tripped up spellers in round 3, Louisiana's Olivia Faul is felled by brusˈket-ta in round 4. Mamma Mia!

2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee

MAZEL TOV! Let's raise a glass for New Haven's Joseph Henares as he nails "kiddush" in round 4.
ROUND FOUR: Has begun. It's harder, but favorites Jonathan Horton, Evan O'Dorney and four-timer Tia Thomas have all advanced, solving their logogriphs while the rest of us are preparing our corrigenda before settling down for some fresh-baked zwieback. Torquemada* ("Auto de fe? What's an auto de fe? It's what you oughtn't to do but you do anyway") was no torture for Josephine Kao, but John Doner couldn't bear "ursigram," Sam O'Donnell didn't get out of the woods with "silenus," "genetrix" left Amrit Sampalli (by the way, that dude is adorable) calling for his mother, and Olivia Lasché had trouble with a little word that isn't really used any more.

Canadians and Californians are still tied. Also, this just in: science is hard.

ETA: Kyle Mou be illeist**.

ETA: The Italian food curse claims the last Louisianan, Olivia Faul, with "bruschetta," Mandi Shoemaker goes out in search of a puncheon bag, and "truncal" truncates Lydia Wassink's run, but Akshat Shekar doesn't exsiccate with "exsiccate." I think "zeugma" is my new favorite word -- a classic example of a lexicographer giving a name to something that wasn't really begging for one. And just like that, a triple-elimination, including one person who couldn't spell the word for "the study of celebutards."

*Isaac took over at exactly this point in the post.
**Eugene Volokh loves this word.
SPONSORIALIA: I'm glad this round isn't on TV, because it makes the kids empty vessels into which we can hypothesize a personality and backstory to match their geography, sponsorship, and the words with which they will forever be associated. Did Theo Terry of Victoria, BC, slip out of the prelims transposing vowels in distracted, sweaty-palmed, palpitating infatuation with Hailey Ungar of Vancouver, BC -- a girl who lives but a ferry ride and a world away. Wait for him, Hailey -- spelling can be your bridge across the Straits of Georgia and Haro. And what potent concoction of boldness, understanding, and precocious (or precocial) mustacio was it that crowned subcontinental Prateek Kohli as king of the Long Island Jewish World? When will Dr. Bailly finally inform Kate Weir of Wellington, New Zealand, that while she is a speller par excellence, she stinks at geography, because this is the national spelling bee and New Zealand is neither a territory of the US nor a suburb (unlike the provinces)?

There is even drama playing out among the sponsors, apart from the spellers themselves. Look closely, and you'll see that among the assets transferred from the LA Times to the Chicago Trib in the Tribune Company's disastrous acquisition and disgorgement of the LAT was the LAT's Bee sponsorship slot. Now LA's entrant comes from the Daily News, which is less a newspaper than a stubborn protest of the one-paper system. How embarrassing is it when the LAT can't sponsor its own speller, while the Topics Newspapers of the possibly-fictitious town of Fishers, Indiana, can sponsor two?

And notice that no fewer than four newspapers -- curators of the English language -- use "intelligence" as a verb in their very own names? Spellers, commence intelligencing!
AND NOW, THE BATTLE BEGINS IN EARNEST: The spelling wheat has been separated from this year's chaff, and Round 3 has begun, with 286 spellers now reduced to 107 . . . ding!, 106, as the fear of poisons, TAHKS-uh-FO-bee-uh, has infected one of the spellers. Favorites Jonathan Horton and Evan O'Dorney are already through to the next round, as are many Californians.

Follow the spellers and words online, in a round that seems to be on "a college student should figure most of these out" level (beguile, exhilirate exhilarate (!), empiricism), and join us in the comments.

e.t.a. Italian food takes down two victims, as rih-KOTT-uh cheese and mihn-uh-STROWN-ee soup knock out a pair of North Carolinians. Only eight eliminations so far as we leave the 'O' states, as this continues to be a round of Words People Really Use.

e.t.a.: Round 3 is over, and 107 is reduced only to 94, which suggests that Round 4 may be a bloodbath. You'd hate to get jettisoned on a word like "jettison," but it just happened. (Meet George Jettison! Jane, his wife!)

Your challenge is to come up with alternate etymologies and definitions for Round 3 words "Sardoodledom" and "mollycoddle". Round 4 begins at 4:15p, and Samir Patel is now saying, “I’m come in third, I’ve come in second, everything other than first is been there done that.”
THE WRITTEN ROUND: First off, welcome to the visitors from Deadspin and Instapundit (and how many blogs get to say that?). The first round of the Bee was, as always, a twenty-five question written multiple choice round, where words were pronounced aloud and definitions and other hints given to the spellers. You don't get the multiple choices; you just get my attitude on the following selections from the round:

1. EYE-suh-kull: He's Mr. Ten Below.
3. buh-ZAHR: the one with the "How" song, not the one with the "Harper's" magazine.
4. kuh-LOSS-uhs: big guy played by Daniel Cudmore in the X-Men movies.
5. tuh-RAN-chuh-luh: big spider
6. CHOW: bye!
7. maal-uh-CLOO-zhun: big reason to see an orthodontist
9. deh-MYUR duh-MUHR: evil lawyer word (corrected)
10. SAHL-muh-zait: to "do, re, mi, fa" a song.
11. MEEN: how you carry yourself.
12. uh-NAN-ee-uss: a liar. From the Bible.
15. pih-RAS-tik: tenative, experimental
16. ray-TAH-blow: "a votive offering made in the form of a religious picture typically portraying Christian saints, painted on a panel, and hung in a church or chapel especially in Spain and Mexico"
17. teht-ruh-ZEE-nee: evil food word #1, often involving leftover turkey.
18. HAH-ree-kote: evil food word #2, usually vert!
19. sihss-ahr-KO-siss: "the junction of two or more bones by means of attached muscles"
22. NO-uh-siss: "purely intellectual apprehension"
23. SKIH-tuh-lee: a Spartan cipher.
24. EYE-lum: primordial stuff.
25. beh-VUHS-zeye(t)s-lahg-uh: That "eye" is a long "i" as in "high" or "guy"; I don't know how to explain it without the fancy diacritical marks. German for "a state of consciousness or a feeling devoid of sensory components," but you already knew that.

Good luck. Answers here. How hard was it? Says Sean Mussenden, "Anyone who got 21 or more points is going on to the next round." That's 18 here, plus three for the oral round. (corrected)

Spelling begins again at 2pm or so.
FIRST THING WE DO, LET'S KILL ALL THE LAWYERS: If there is a villain in this first two-thirds of the second round of the Bee, it is the evil lawyer. Contestants have been dismissed, summarily adjudged, vacated, and remanded to the crying room with such every-day lawyer parlance as "privilege," "notarize," "concede," "debtor," and "felony," each of which I have used in a brief in the last six months (I believe I've also used the exact phrase "gnarled raisiny mastodon," but that's a different story). One wonders if Dr. Jacque Bailly is lashing out after a particularly bruising encounter with the lawyer for Mrs. Dr. Jacque Bailly.
S-U-R-P-R-I-S-E: So Carolyn Andrews, Dr. Jacque Bailly and the gang seem to have come up with a completely different strategy for 2007, because the Round 2 everyone-gets-a-word words are shockingly easy -- just look at last year's list for comparison. This puts all the pressure on the written round to determine who makes it past the cut.

The first three words were INN-suh-den-tuhl, uh-LOO-mih-num and fee-ASS-ko, and 47 of the first 48 have aced their words without a problem. Among Shonda's favorites, Arizona's Jonathan Horton got reh-MEM-buh-ruhns, and the East Bay's Evan O'Dorney was asked to spell BOWN-duh-ree. Four-timer Maithreyi Gopalakrishnan of Colorado, who's happy to spell "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis" for you, just spelled JESS-tyuhr. It's that kind of round.

e.t.a.1: We're now up to 89/95 correct. The errors, if you're playing along at home, were on uhn-SENN-surd, eh-LEHK-trow-kyoot, NOGG-uhn (see! Watching Jack's Big Music Show pays off!), FEHL-uh-nee, MASS-teh-dahn and fuhn-duh-MEHN-tuh-list.

e.t.a.2: Kavya Shivashankar had no problem counting out the letters in ee-NOO-muh-RAYT, and we're up to 114/122 146/156 correct. Add RAY-zuhn-ee (the state of having too many dried grapes), pro-FAYN (dirty), NUHP-chuls/NUHP-shuls (clean) and duh-TEHR to the list of errors, and on the last one it looks like someone forgot to ask for a definition, because he correctly spelled the verb of "trying to persuade someone to do something else" rather than "a person who owes someone else money," which is what was asked. (fixed)

Reporter Sean Mussenden is inside the room on behalf of Media General News Service, and is liveblogging here: "Diana C. Morales of Miami gets asked for warrant. Definition? An instrument, issued by a magistrate, authorizing an officer to make an arrest, seize property, make a search, or carry a judgment into execution. Alternate definition? The single greatest rockband of all time. She’s obviously a fan of 80’s hair bands. She nails it."

e.t.a.3: 179/190 at the end of the second of three groups in the big room (and apparently, it's after they do this that they go and do the written round). Add kuhn-SEED and pahl-BAYR-uhr to the list of errors, both of which are darkly appropriate for a kid to get wrong in his one time at-bat. Sean adds: "Prateek Kohli of New York is asked to spell Martian, which Dr. Bailly defines as 'hypothetical inhabitants of the planet Mars.'" Hypothetical?

e.t.a.4: Fifteen spellers and Nixon's coming; four spellers doomed from Ohio on ree-pruh-DOO-sih-buhl, MAH-gut, ihn-kehn-VEEN-yent (ain't it the truth) and FUHR-vehnt. 194/209 correct in the round.

And just like that, four errors from the Keystone State to match, as representatives from Bucks County, Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Philadelphia and Reading err on GAHR-buhld, NO-tuh-rize, PRIH-vuh-lihj and kuhn-FYOO-zuh-buhl, respectively. It's not going to be easy making the cut without the +3 here. And Shanoff fave Jasmine Shaquielle O'Neal Willis just spelled fuh-NAH-tik much closer to the Phillies mascot than the actual word.

Don’t Point That Menu at My Child, Please - New York Times

THE "KIDS ARE ONLY SUPPOSED TO EAT KIDS' FOOD" STRATEGY: The NYT''s David Kamp bemoans the fact that, as he puts it, "America is in the grips of a nefarious chicken finger pandemic," as the "palate-deadening" and nutrition-destroying aspects of children's menus make him wonder why we just don't make kids eat the same stuff grownups are eating anymore.

1986: JON PENNINGTON - National Spelling Bee | TIME

"YOU DON'T WANT TO GIVE THE IMPRESSION OF HAVING PEAKED AT 14": Time Magazine profiles each of the National Spelling Bee champions from 1986-1992, all of whom have fond memories about the experience and seem to be high-achievers today. "How many people can say they were number one in their field at one time in their life?" asks 1989 winner Scott Isaacs, who doesn't often talk about the championship or list it on his office website. "In some ways, I view it as bragging. I ask myself if it's really germane to the conversation, would people be impressed or would they be put off? Some friends don't know, a lot of acquaintances don't know. It's almost kind of like a private little joy of my own."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A THOUSAND POINTS OF LIGHT: Today, I received one of those endless fliers from an expert witness service. They had a list of every conceivable kind of expert and, since I'm looking for an expert in an obscure field of late, I flipped through the list. There are some mighty obscure fields out there, but for all of them, I could conceive a reason to hire them: crowd control, suicidology, structural pest control. And then I saw "astronomy."

Now, I'm more of a bug for astronomy than anyone I know. But with the exception of "telescope manufacturing defect" can anyone in our readership please suggest a need for an expert astronomy witness? The more plausible, the better. But any reasonable rationale will suffice.
A-N-T-I-C-I-P-A-T-I-O-N: We should talk a bit about how the Bee actually works tomorrow. Here are the Rules.

The 286 spellers first will participate in a 25-word multiple-choice, written round with words of increasing difficulty like this. Then everybody has one turn at the microphone with a pretty damn hard word. The kids receive one point for each written word correct, plus three points if they get the oral word correctly for a maximum potential of 28 points. The 90 kids with the highest scores (and then including all those tied with whoever's in 90th) continue to the rest of the competition, which according to Sean Mussenden last year required a score of 21.

That's where the part of the competition that's most familiar kicks in. Single elimination, at the microphone, increasing difficulty each round (though round 3 is actually pretty easy by Bee standards.) They'll do a round or two of that on Wednesday, and continue Thursday morning until a round ends with around 10 kids, at which point they'll shut things down until prime time.

What can the kids ask of Dr. Jacque Bailly? Definition, sentence, part of speech, language(s) of origin, and alternate pronunciation(s). "If the speller wishes to ask if the dictionary lists a specific root word as the root of the word to be spelled, the speller must specify a pronunciation of the root (not a spelling), its language, and its definition." There are time constraints, and a speller can be disqualified for a variety of reasons, including not starting to spell when it's time, engaging in unsportsmanlike conduct, or someone "who, in the process of spelling, utters unintelligible or nonsense sounds."

[We'll be running a pool again this year, with the rules the same as last year. It'll open tomorrow afternoon and close at noon on Thursday.]

We'll go over the rules for the ending later, but I wanted to say a word about why we do this every year: it's because these are great kids who deserve praise and public attention, and they worked their asses off to get to D.C. The best way we can show respect for what they do is to take it seriously -- with a sense of humor, of course -- but always standing in awe of the fact that they can do something at age 10-14 that we can't do now ourselves as grownups.

Back in 2005, we rooted for South Carolina's Morgan Foster Gilliam, then the youngest entrant at age 9, and swore she'd be back some day. So did her mom, commenting here. Now, two years later, she has returned to the Finals, and I'm glad to see her mom has kept her sane:
The spelling bee semi-finals will be on ESPN on Thursday morning. The finals will be on ABC Thursday night at 8pm. I hope to see Morgan reach both levels, but honestly, I’m not sure she has studied enough for that. She has so much going on in her life and spelling bees are just one part of it. The kids I have seen as finalists eat, sleep, and breathe spelling. Morgan is brilliant but gets to the level she is at mainly through sheer brain power and not from studying. So, we’ll see what happens. I’m not sure that I would want her to be a speller robot anyway.
Robots aren't fun; kids are fun. The written round begins Wednesday at 8am. | From A `Survivor' Loincloth To A Suit

"I'M A BLUE COLLAR GUY WHO PAID FOR THREE COLLEGE EDUCATIONS WITH 39 DAYS OF WORK": Last seen kicking ass in the greatest Final Three immunity challenge ever, Survivor 10 winner Fireman Tom Westman has found that a million dollars doesn't quite go very far when you've got three 529 plans to fund, and fame can lapse as soon as a new victor is crowned. So what's he doing now? Selling insurance. "I want to be seen as the group benefits rep from The Hartford, not the guy running around in a loincloth," he said. "This is my new tribe now."
I AM GUESSING NO. 232 IS ALREADY ADAM'S SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE: CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell handicaps the Bee, calling his and everyone's favorite, Samir, the Peyton Manning of Spelling Bee.

Further down, Rovell has an update on the NFL's attempt to trademark the phrase "The Big Game."
NOT NOW, I HAVE C-E-P-H-A-L-A-L-G-I-A: Scattered among some of the traditional titles like Casablanca and Say Anything on Nerve's list of the 50 Best Date Movies are some offbeat selections such as Star Wars, The Jerk and The Triplets of Belleville. But perhaps the most unusual selection--unusual I should say unless you are a dedicated fan of this blog--is No. 40, Spellbound (the documentary, not the Hitchcock classic).

So, folks, what were some of your best/worst date movie memories? My favorite has to be watching Uptown Saturday Night in college with nothing for nourishment but a bag of Oreos and a cold bottle of Jagermeister. The worst had to be seeing the Cape Fear remake in a cavernous, run-down theater with three other people in the audience.
NO ONE PUTS BABY ON A CONSOLE: In a sign that we've actually run out of content to make video games out of, Dirty Dancing: The Video Game will arrive on PC later this year.
WHAT'S IN YOUR NETFLIX QUEUE? In a world where TV shows come out on DVD as a matter of course mere months after airing and where self-referential bloggers (ahem) dissect every nuance of every show, it's getting harder to find the Sports Nights of the world -- the brilliant hidden diamonds that we somehow missed when they first aired. The DVDs of such shows are of course ideal summertime fare, and I, for one, rely on the ThingThrowers to point me in the right direction.

My stack so far includes Season 1 of Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, and Veronica Mars, but I'm not 100% sure that any of these (other than BSG) are going to take. I'm considering adding Season 1 of Weeds and Entourage to the mix, just to have some more fluff with my darkness, but am open to other suggestions.

I'm sure that others are in the same boat as I, so let's have at it.

Related side note: I spent an hour last night flipping through the channel guide trying to find something interesting to seasonpass this summer other than SYTYCD, but I found the whole process less than helpful except as a means of proving that the only good movies that air on cable anymore are all on pay-per-view. Is NBC doing the smart thing and rerunning FNL from the beginning over the summer so that people like me can finally get into it?
THERE SHE IS, YOUR I . . D'OH! The evening gown competition is usually the most boring part of any beauty pageant. Usually. At last night's Miss Universe competition, Miss USA Rachel Smith demonstrated just how difficult it can be. You may want to watch this over and over again.

Never at a loss for words - Metropolitan - The Washington Times, America's Newspaper

C-A-T-A-F-A-L-Q-U-E: Just where do Spelling Bee words come from? The Associated Press explains, including the dreaded proper adjective problem which bested Samir Patel in 2005's final two. "Obviously, the competition can't go on forever," explained Carolyn Andrews, who's in charge of the task. "That's how you get a champion -- by making the words more difficult."

Monday, May 28, 2007

COUNTLESS SCREAMING ARGONAUTS: I really don't have that much to say about Jay Leno's fifteenth anniversary of assuming the Tonight Show reins, except to note yet again that Bill Carter's The Late Shift: Letterman, Leno and the Network Battle for the Night is simply one of the best pieces of reporting about any subject, ever (and it became a damn good HBO movie as well). As a tribute to the one-time pro wrestler, I want to repeat my favorite story from the book: even after Leno won the job and had replaced Carson, NBC executives still were considering axing him for the hipper Letterman, who was still on their lineup at 12:30am and obviously dissatisfied. So when the executives met in Boca Raton to discuss his fate, Jay Leno listened in:
After taping his show on Wednesday night, Jan. 6 [1993], Jay Leno dashed down to his dressing room to get back into jeans and a workshirt. As soon as he had changed clothes, he told his writers and producers that he was taking off. Saying some quick "See you tomorrows" he grabbed his shoulder bag and bolted.

"The Tonight Show" dressing room was one floor below ground level in Burbank. Leno dashed up the stairs, out into the broad hallway behind the stage and then outside, down the ramp toward the alley between the studio building and the main NBC office building. He dumped his bag in the cab of his black Chevy pickup and headed for NBC's back entrance, carrying a notebook under his arm. He didn't bother with the elevator but turned sharply and took the stairs to the second floor, where the NBC Entertainment division executives had their offices. It was getting close to 7 P.M., and the place seemed completely cleared out. He moved quietly down the long hall toward the big, heavy glass doors of the executive suite.

He pushed his way in. Warren Littlefield's office was to his left; John Agoglia's to his right. Jay moved into the darkened room where Agoglia's assistant and secretary worked. He knew where he was going. He slipped past the secretary's desk toward a door at the back of the room.

The room behind it was small, dark and crowded, like a closet, with a photocopier, fax machines and a shredder. Pushed up against a wall was a small desk where guests of the executives could sit to use a phone in private. Jay pulled the door closed behind him. Then he eased himself into the chair and arranged his notebook on the desk. His setup was complete. The phone before him would tell him when the conference call from Boca was coming in. Now all he had to do was sit in the dim light in this cramped closet of an office -- and wait....

Back in Burbank, adjacent to the office where Ludwin and Cardinal were loudly arguing over the speaker phone, Jay Leno sat in his gloomy closet, listening in intently, scribbling notes on his pad. The whole thing struck him as wildly funny; he felt like Huck Finn overhearing the mourners at his own funeral.... Jay Leno was edgy and excited. He had sat in his tiny room with the photocopier and the shredder and overheard the entire conference. He had taken notes on all of it, and now he had specific quotations on what people thought of him and his show. Best of all he knew exactly who was for him and who was against him. It had been intense and sort of thrilling, Jay concluded, like the Hardy boys hiding in a cave to figure out a mystery. Jay was proud of himself. He had taken some action. At one point the thought had crossed his mind: What if somebody opens the door and finds me in here? But in a second he laughed that off. "What are they going to do?" he thought, suppressing another laugh. "Fire me?"
It's a shame that the Jay Leno who was gutsy and shrewd enough to pull that off hasn't been seen much in the 3377 shows he's hosted. (Wow. Katie Couric hosted one night, but that's it. The man just guzzles workahol.) But back when he was only guest-hosting for Johnny Carson in 1990, Leno invited an obscure band named They Might Be Giants to the show. Watch them rock the heck out of "Birdhouse in Your Soul" with Doc Severinsen and a lot of brass instruments behind them.