Saturday, June 4, 2011

THE NEXT STEP IN FILM EVOLUTION: It's been a while since we talked about what's out at the cineplex, and I have some things to say about X-Men: First Class. (Thoughts here are relatively spoiler-free, but comments may contain spoilage, so beware.)
  • I hadn't seen Jennifer Lawrence in anything substantive before this (didn't see Winter's Bone or The Beaver), but this performance absolutely sold me on her playing Katniss Everdeen. Indeed, her arc here as Mystique has an awful lot of similarities to Katniss' arc in The Hunger Games, though I think her character's motivation in this film is underwritten.
  • I've rarely seen a film with a more complicated relationship with continuity. The opening scene is either lifted from or pretty slavishly recreated from the first film, and by casting much younger actors and using some internal reset buttons (at one point, a scientist notes that Mystique ages much more slowly than a normal human or even most other mutants because of her DNA), pretty well deals with continuity issues for many of the principal characters who've appeared in previous films. That said, I'm not sure how the character of Beast fits into continuity at all, and the relationship established between Mystique and Xavier in this film doesn't really square at all with how they deal with each other in the earlier films.
  • Vaughn's developed a lot as a filmmaker. Layer Cake was a very gritty and dark film pulled along largely by the charisma of the then-unknown Daniel Craig, and Kick-Ass wasn't exactly epic in scope, but Vaughn here synchronizes action on multiple fronts, in multiple languages, gives pretty much everyone in the cast a chance to shine, and pulls off some neat directorial flourishes (in particular, in a 60s-ish training montage).
  • Really dug the script's conception of a young Charles Xavier--glad they recognize that if you were the world's most powerful telepath and a good looking 20-something, not all of your pursuits would necessarily be high-minded.
  • So nice not to see a film with unnecessary 3-D effects tacked in. There would have been a few moments where 3-D would have been cool, but it wasn't necessary or organic to the story, and because this is a relatively CGI-light film (most locations are practical, rather than green-screen), it wouldn't have worked that well anyway.

Friday, June 3, 2011

GOIN' DOWN BY THE RIVER WHERE IT'S WARM AND GREEN: Frequent commenter (and longtime friend) Jenn has a request:
Could you possibly do a post asking for food recommendations for me in New Orleans? I have two arguments there next week, and so, will be staying there for three nights. Given the arguments, I need to keep it to New Orleans proper. Obviously, I'd like for at least one night to be authentic Cajun or Creole, but I'd love to get recommendations for other cuisines, as well.
ROLL CALL!  It's been awhile since we've done one of these, and after a week like this it's appropriate for us to, once again, figure out and introduce who the heck is reading this site.  So, regulars and lurkers alike, please share with us the following, to the extent you're willing to share:
  • Hometown
  • Age
  • Occupation
  • Song you'd put on a "songs of summer" mixtape/playlist/whatever-it's-called-this-week.
P.S. If you're not yet on our Twitter list and would like to be added, please share your handle.

P.P.S. And here's why Watts is awesome - she's compiling the ALOTT5MA Songs of Summer video playlist.
ALOTT5MA FRIDAY GRAMMAR RODEO: It's time for us to tackle, at last, the Oxford (or serial) comma, as to which the Chicago Manual of Style states:
When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, a comma -- known as the serial or series comma or the Oxford comma -- should appear before the conjunction. Chicago strongly recommends this widely practiced usage, blessed by Fowler and other authorities (see bibliog. 1,2), since it prevents ambiguity.
Examples of such potential ambiguity are easy to imagine: "With gratitude to my parents, Mother Teresa and the pope."  Newspapers see it otherwise. The Associated Press has a "don't use it ... unless you need to use it" approach:
Q: Is clarity essentially the only rule determining when a serial comma should be included?
A: In a simple series, AP doesn't use a comma before the last item. For a series of complex terms, though, use commas after each for clarity.
As does the New York Times, whose deputy news editor offers:
I haven't researched the question, but I suspect that journalists' aversion to the additional comma arose in the old days when setting type was laborious and expensive. If you already have an "and," why bother with a comma, too? The practice persists, from habit and perhaps from the sense that fewer commas make prose seem more direct and rapid — qualities we journalists prize in our writing.

There are a few cases, however, where we have to make an exception for clarity. For example: The candidate promised lower taxes, higher spending, and ice cream and cake. Without a comma after "spending," the sentence would be a jumble.
The Economist concurs: "Do not put a comma before and at the end of a sequence of items unless one of the items includes another and. Thus 'The doctor suggested an aspirin, half a grapefruit and a cup of broth. But he ordered scrambled eggs, whisky and soda, and a selection from the trolley.'"

In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss wrote: "There are people who embrace the Oxford comma, and people who don't, and I'll just say this: never get between these people when drink has been taken." A poll has been posted, and it's time to throw down.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

2011 SCRIPPS NATIONAL SPELLING BEE - CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS:  I only competed in the Spelling Bee once, erring in fifth grade in the Philadelphia competition on dowdily. If there was a way to compete after that, it wasn't made apparent to me, and my schools showed no interest in sponsoring kids for the Bee thereafter. My parents did not push me in any particular academic direction; they were thankful that I was smart and motivated, and encouraged me to free-range in whatever direction my interests led.

Then came MathCounts, which I did in eighth grade. We didn't find out about the City competition until a week before it happened, then showed up and placed something like 1st, 2nd, 4th and 9th among the individual competitors in the field, won the team title and subsequently finished credibly in the state competition. I remained a competitive mathlete as a freshman in high school, but ultimately shifted to the debate/mock trial/Model UN track.

The last such competition I did was the now-defunct Citizen Bee as a senior in high school -- a history/civics/American culture amalgam in which I won the regional competition (with something like ten rounds just with the last two students, even though we both were guaranteed a slot at the state finals), then finished 6th in the state competition because I got an art question and I didn't know anything about Winslow freakin' Homer, other than that it's now twenty-one years later and I still know it's his fault.

Nights like this, in other words, bring back a lot of memories.  We begin with thirteen fantastic spellers. Tonight we celebrate the hard work that got them here, and treat their efforts with respect and good cheer. Join us.

AFTER THE BEE, VOL. II:  During this afternoon break before we return (ESPN, 8:30p EDT), please enjoy many more updates compiled by JJ Goldstein, showing just how much Bee veterans accomplish after (and based upon) this experience:
Megan McFall: #176, 1998 (85th) & #52, 1999 (22nd)

I went to Grove City College and I studied Business/Communication. I am currently working in Human Resources for Bechtel Power Corporation. On a serious note, I am working on a novel and would like to be published within the next year. On a slightly less serious but still somewhat plausible note, I would like to be the next spokesperson for Pepsi Max. (Yes, only Pepsi Max.)

I think more than anything the spelling bee taught me that you don't have to be the best to be good at something, you can work hard and still not win everything and the people who are the best/powerful/famous have just worked hard at something and so therefore they are good at it (usually). Obviously there are exceptions but in life it's good to remember where hard work can get you and to not be discouraged if you're not the best. Also, because of all of the word study I love to write hence the novel. 
Jesse Zymet: #129, 2002 (26th) & #4, 2003 (8th)

I just graduated from Rutgers University with majors in linguistics and quantitative economics and minors in mathematics and cognitive science. My choice of majors and minors reflects my attempt to keep as many doors open as possible. While my life goal is to eventually obtain a Ph.D. in theoretical linguistics (after which I would work in academia, if I get lucky) or computational linguistics (after which I would work in the computer industry), I decided to obtain additional degrees closely related to quantitative management in case I want to go into the private sector.

The bee has influenced me in a number of ways.

ROUND 7: We launch right back in with this new round. Laura Newcombe is up, bubbly, almost giggly. She's Canadian and full of energy. She spells choralcelo and heads back to relax.

Veronica Penny wants this too much. Maybe she spent too much time studying, worrying, stressing out about the Bee? I want her to go away and discover art and literature, nature and music. Or at least Beiber or Bella and Edward. Anything as long as she learns to relax before college.

11:10 am/2:10 pm: The spellers have been on stage for over 4 hours. Do they not get a bathroom break? Just curious...

Joining David Phan who went out on ocypode, Grace Remmer falls down on casquetel (a light open helmet without beaver or visor). I like how, once she hears the ding, she says brightly, “Thank you everybody!” She’ll be back next year, I’m sure.

Lily Jordan is back up. Her brothers are holding hands, dying with tension. They hug and pump their fists like this is a football game when their big sister spells dolichopodous.

Dakota, Nabeel and Siram sail through by easily spelling tough words. Arvind spells epigonism at lightning speed and then rushes back to his seat.

I think we might be about to lose Nicholas Rushlow on caffeol


It was just stated that for every speller from here on out, if they spell their word correctly, they are automatically in the tonight’s finals. Here we go:

Joanna Ye gets into the finals hyoptrichosis (a congenital deficiency of hair). My money is still on her.

We lose Anahita on boudin. She was guessing and her disappointment is all over her face. I'm not sure I like the lady in the kiss 'n cry area who takes their hands and rubs their backs as if she knows them. The kids stare at her, wondering why this stranger is acting like their moms and when they can get away from her. It's awkward.

Sukanya sails through to the finals on thalassocracy. Narahari struggles with ceratorhine and is out!

Mashad has movie star eyes. I want him to star in his own kiddie action movies. He’s the Brad Pitt of spelling. And…wait. The judges stop everything to discuss the word: melittologist (an entomologist specializing in the study of bees). Maybe they too were mesmerized by his eyes. And he spells it correctly and is in the finals!

Last speller in the round is Samuel Estep. I love that he looks exactly like a young BBC Bailly. Certiorari (a write issuing out of a superior court to call up the records of an inferior court or a body acting in a quasi judicial capacity) is his word. And he is in the finals!

We have 13 finalists! Laura Newcombe, Veronica Penny, Dhivya Murugan, Lily Jordan, Dakota jones, Nabeel Rahman, Sriram Hathwar, Arvnd Mahankali, Prakash Mishra, Joanna Ye, Sukaya Roy, Mashad Arora, and Samuel Estep.

I like this Bee. This Bee that takes place exclusively on ESPN. No controversy, no stopping a round to deal with the demands of prime time network TV. Just spelling. Pure and simple. Okay, nobody fainted this year. But we still have the finals...

ROUND 6: 26 Spellers remain. 14 boys. 12 girls. Here we go!

We begin with a very uncomfortable interview with heartbroken Jamaican speller Hanif. Shoving a microphone in his face is unkind; he tells us that this is his only time at the Bee because in Jamaica you only get once chance. Poor kid.

Laura Newcombe starts the round off with a very impressive display, spelling chlorthalidone right after muttering “Shoot!” under her breath in a panic.

The kids are very serious this year. Too serious. I am worried that either Veronica Penny or Jenny Solheim might vomit right there on the stage. BBC Bailly would not like that.

Dreikanter. Renminbi. Helychrysum. Liptauer. The words get more difficult and the kids keeps spelling them correctly.

Cutie Claire Zuo goes down on clepsydra. I am saddened to lose the coolest girl in the Bee. But she seems fine, calm and cool. Of course, anyone smart enough to list “sleeping” as one of her favorite activities wins my loyalty.

Stuti Mishra is mowed down by coelurosaur which is some kind of dinosaur. Her parents clutched their younger child, eyes closed. Stressed out. A kind of calm settled over Stuti, that calm that comes when you know you are going to lose and you want it over with. And she’s gone.

German words start coming into play. Surjo Bandyopadhyay looks disgusted and annoyed by his word, also a little disappointed in BBC Bailly. Nachschlag: a musical ornament consisting of one or several short unaccented grace notes attached to and played in the time of the preceding main note or tone. When he gets it wrong he howls, “FAIL!” And when BBC Bailly spells it for him, he laughs and says, “oooookay!” He is gracious and funny and I am sad this is his last year.

We lose Siddharth on semplice. And that is four spellers down out of 10. It’s a blood bath.

10:37 am/1:37 pm: Mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state. That is the definition of Anja Beth Swoap’s word weltschmerz. Another German word. I think I am weltschmerz most of the time. Isn’t everyone?

The children, they fall like dominoes. Conor Gunsbury goes down on pavonazzo. 6 of the last 7 spellers have been eliminated. In an interview, Surjo gleefully declares Round 6 “INSANE” in terms of the difficulty of the words.

Jenny Solheim is put out of her misery by a poisonous alkaloid used chiefly as a sedative in connection with morphine or other analgesics in surgery and obstetrics, in the prevention of motion sickness, and as the truth serum in lie detector tests. The word scopolamine knocks her to the mat and she is finished. I think she is relieved to have it over with. It is hard to tell. She barely blinks. I hope she gets to do something fun now. Like not study spelling words to be like her Bee alumni mother. Who I am sure is a very nice Mom but, dude, that child just did not look happy.

Nevada native, Dakota staunches the blood flow by correctly spelling solenne. He might win the whole thing...

Sweet Nabeel Rahman spells ponceau. 11 year old Sriram Hathwar blows everyone away by spelling degringolade in a relaxed, bored manner. In 2008, he was the youngest competitor every to compete in the Bee. This is old hat for him.

Nicholas Rushlow gets a word that means covered with minute crystals. He gets origin, has it pronounced a bunch then he asks for something else that can help him. BBC Bailly gives him a sentence. Nicholas says, “That didn’t help me.” The audience laughs. Nicholas sighs, defeated, and spells drusy. He nearly explodes with joy when he finds out he spelled it correctly.

Mashad Arora is starting to charm me. I find myself rooting for him. He spells entremets (dishes served in addition to the main course of a meal) correctly and beams with relief. Samuel Estep also correctly spells a French word: malentendu (a misunderstanding).

Last speller in Round 6, Parker is up. He goes down on vitrophyre. Round 6 is over. 8 spellers gone. 18 spellers remain. On to Round 7...
ROUND FIVE BEGINS: Right away Snigdha is eliminated with a word I have never even heard of – “kerystic”. Perhaps the Bee Keepers heard me say that too many Spellers remained at the end of Round 4.

Only 6 Spellers went down in Round 4. Round 5 is a place where we discover our real contenders. I hope.

Veronica Penny spells “arbustum” while we stare into her mom’s expressionless face in a split screen. I applaud the control it takes for her mother to reveal nothing with her facial muscles because she’s obviously on the edge of her seat with nerves.

The word gagaku (the ancient court music of Japan) makes me nervous. But the experts are telling us that Japanese words are easier to spell than most other words. Whatever. I’m playing along at home and I am being outspelled by 10 year old Dhivya Murugan and it doesn’t feel pretty.

Grace Remmer is back up at the microphone. She says “howdy”; BBC Bailly says “howdy” in return. I dig BBC Bailly. His sentences are getting more and more bizarre and he clearly enjoys himself. Grace spells inficete and lives to spell in Round 6.

Claire Zuo is another spelling cutie. I love her devil-may-care hair and her braces and her jeggings. Her favorite sport is Quidditch. I would like to set her up on a date with my 14 year old awesome geek nephew. Except, being a true geek, my nephew has yet to discover the ladies.

9:03 am/12:03 pm: Out of the ten spellers who have gone in this round, we have lost 3. Only 33 spellers remain. Does anyone remember how many spellers traditionally make it to the finals? I’m going to take a pause to check the rules

Am back. I have found out nothing.

Here it is. It is here. My favorite four words to utter every Bee? THE JAMAICAN IS DOWN!!! Hanif exhausted his time clock! He spells the word nataka correctly but he waiting too long to spell the word! BBC Bailly has to say “I’m sorry!” And Hanif is sent away! THE. JAMAICAN. IS. DOWN!
Does anyone else dig Lily Jordan's enthusiastic younger brothers and her naturally apple red cheeks as much as I do?

Cameron Diaz has filmed a video to the Spellers. ESPN is working hard to make sure that everyone knows that spelling is cool. I get it, I respect it. But it still makes me sad that we need to convince anyone. Although I applaud Cameron for getting behind spelling. What I hate? The commentator saying proudly “Celebrities LOVE the Bee.” As if that is more important than the awesome mouth-breathing Siddharth who is spelling his ASS off right now…

9:23 am/12:23 pm: Conor Gunsbury correctly spells conteur (a reciter or composer of short tales especially of adventure: a storyteller). When I retire for writing TV, I am going to become a conteur.

Jenny Solheim is back at the microphone. The poor thing is brilliant but she does not look as if she is having any fun. Her misery is palpable. I worry about her.

Dakota Jones is rocking the microphone again. Although he’s no longer speaking too loud which makes me sad. There aren’t nearly enough quirks amongst this year’s Spellers. They all seem terribly normal and well-adjusted. Dakota correctly spells espadon (a swordfish) while his dad videotapes the entire thing (Umm…doesn’t his dad realize that this is already being taped? Like for TV? Which, you know, means you can get a copy?).

Sriram Hathwar wants to be an ophthalmologist when he grows up. I love that someone wants to be an ophthalmologist when they grow up. He speaks in a tiny voice because he is a tiny kid. He spells desmachyme (connective tissue of sponges) – a word which angers me because I didn’t know that sponges HAD connective tissue nor did I know there was a word for it. My Ivy League educations fails again!

Oh My God! Arvind Mahankali is also a cheese fancier! Just like me! We both fancy cheese! We are turophiles! And yet, he still spells circles around me. Palynology which means…some branch of science that studies something.

Tony Incorvati can’t figure out how to spell syringadenous (of or relating to sweat glands) and he is out. He’s super disappointed. This is his final year of eligibility and so that is the last time he’ll ever face BBC Bailly at the microphone.

Nicholas Rushlow’s dad’s lips involuntarily spell along with his child. I am positive he doesn’t know he’s doing it – both he and Nicholas’ mom have their eyes closed tight in almost a prayer as their child spells. Their relief at his correct spelling is overwhelming. They are both biochemists – in their family, the geek flag flies proudly. I like them.

Spelling’s super model is back. Joanna Ye, a relaxed badass speller, tosses off pinetum (a scientific collection of living coniferous trees) and swaggers back to her seat. Bad. Ass. I am truly praying that she and Laura Newcombe are the last two standing. Just for awesomeness of an all girl badass Spell Off.

Seudah (a Jewish feast or banquet) is too tricky for Chetan who goes down. A lot of Hebrew words this year. Also a lot of French words.

Commentator Sage Steele is taking her job very seriously. I appreciate that. But she did the unforgivable – SHE SPOKE WHILE CHILDREN WERE AT THE MICROPHONE. She spoke over BBC Bailly, she spoke over the kids, she committed an unforgivable sin. Someone stop her.

Oh, look. They made a crazy video of the kids in the White House press room. Please. Make the lambs stop screaming. Please, ESPN. Don’t try to force the kids to be cute. Just spell. I beg you.

Best question to BBC Bailly (from Mashad Arora): "Is there any information that you think would be particularly helpful?" The word chevalet is the bridge of a stringed musical instrument.

Heartbreak! Anna-Marie Sprenger is gone! She misspelled privatim (not openly or in public). She once again said, “I think I got this.” But she didn’t. She didn’t have it. Bye bye, Anna Marie.

Parker is our last speller for Round 5! He makes it through! 9 Spellers went down in this round. On to the next…


6:56 am (West Coast time): I recently gave up coffee. So I have a cup of green tea by my side. I’m dressed for the event: sweatpants and a ponytail. I have warmed up my fingers. My keyboard is ready for typing. I am staring at ESPN impatiently waiting for 7 am. And I am a little more excited than is normal for a grown woman about to watch a bunch of children spell words. But I don’t care. It’s the best day of the year – Bee Day! Let the Scripps National Spelling Bee begin…

7:00/10 am: I am delighted by ESPN’s video montage of former local Bee contestants talking about their spelling experiences, some old and some young, none of whom can say the tongue twister “Scripps National Spelling Bee”. It’s charming.

It’s finally ON! 41 spellers will be competing. They don’t do any fancy commentating. Instead they go right to the spelling! Snigdha Nandipati is up first. Her word is “meridienne” and she gets it right! She likes collecting coins and reading mystery novels. I love her geeky cheer.

The hot hardcore speller that everyone is watching is Canadian Laura Newcombe. She’s up second and she spells “isochronal” in a bossy confident way that makes me want to applaud. Spell like you mean it, take no prisoners and make no apologies. I dig Laura.

Veronica Penny and David Phan. Their words are “boutade” and "deuteragonist” respectively. Deuteragonist is, obviously, the actor taking the part of second importance in a classical Greek drama. We all knew that. They both take a long time to sound out and ask questions (origin, use it in a sentence) but they get their words right.

"Duchesse" (a very small cream puff filled with sweet or savory filling used as a dessert or served with cocktails) is spelled by 5th grader Dhivya Murugan.

Grace Remmer tied for 9th last year. I remember her well. She’s got long hair and glasses, a weary confidence and she asks about Greek roots just because she can. Her word is “anaphylaxis” and spelling it is no big deal.

Commercial. During which I will take a moment to note that BBC (Bossy But Cute) Jacques Bailly is back, pronouncing words, cuter and bossier than ever. BBC Bailly was the 1980 Spelling Bee champ and now he serves as the official pronouncer of the Bee. He’s been pronouncing words since 2003 and no one does it better.

7:25: In the comments section of this post, Samir Patel (genius speller and one of my personal favorites) says that he guarantees that all these spellers want is for this day to be over. That feels incredibly true and incredibly sad. But boy is Pranay Sivakumar adorably cute, tiny and confident and spelling "excrescential" like he owns it.

Jamaica is back and spelling! Hanif Brown, Jr. Serious, deadly serious, frighteningly serious. He stares straight ahead. He spells “mansuetude” and marches back to his seat.

We have lost our first speller!! Emily Keaton goes down! She’s got great, lush hair curving over her face, a lovely Southern lilt and a killer smile. But it doesn’t matter. She is taken down by “sciamachy” which means “a fighting with a shadow; a mock or futile combat as with an imaginary foe”. The Spelling Bee is her sciamachy.

7:40/10:40 am: We lose local boy Sam Osheroff from Maryland on the word “nuque” and he looks devastated.

Surjo Bandyopadhyay asks BBC Bailly: “May I have all the information on this word that you can give me?” He gets a laugh and then Bailly gives him a huge amount of information and Surjo spells “lysozyme” easily.

I am fascinated by the parents of the Spellers. Some seems lost, befuddled by the single-minded brilliance of their offspring that brings them to the Bee. These parents don’t quite understand why their kid isn’t outside playing or pretending to be Hanna Montana or whatever. They never banked on a geek in the family. Some seem thrilled and amazed, all “my kid is so awesome even if I have no idea what that word is he/she is spelling!” These parents are my favorites. I love their exuberance and their joy. My least favorite parents? The ones who behave as if this is THEIR Bee, as if winning means everything, as if this Bee is all they have worked for. I worry about their children. And I fully admit that I’d likely be one of these Tracy Flick-ian parents myself. Which is why I keep my tiny human far, far from the Bee World.

7:52/10:52 am: Jenny Solheim is a 2nd generation Bee. Her mother was in the 1972 and 1974 Scripps Bee. Jenny does not look happy to be here. But maybe Jenny is just thinking very hard about her difficult word “exsculpate”.

Dakota Jones has been spelling hardcore words since he was 2 years old. Truly. They show us video to prove it. He’s cute as a button and speaks too loudly which makes me love him. He spells “whirlicote” and heads back to his seat.

Apparently, I am a “turophile” – a fancier of cheese. Prakash Mishra spells it easily.

Sunny Levine is back! She’s from Akron Ohio. I like Sunny because she loves Scrabble and wants a career in medicine. But she goes down on “lithotrity”…

BBC Bailly just referred to The Jeffersons in using a word in a sentence. I kid you not.

Nicholas Rushlow is a four time Bee speller. He also plays the violin, collect Legos and Star Wars stuff, swims competitively and also loves Scrabble (I am betting all these kids love Scrabble). He spells “devoir” and heads to his seat. He and Laura Newcombe and Joanna Ye are the most dangerous competitors in the competition…

8:21/11:21 am: I will be honest. I am rooting for Joanna Ye. Full on. She tied for 5th place last year with Laura Newcombe and she’s the super model of the competition -- pretty, poised and completely comfortable in her own skin. She wants to be a brain surgeon when she grows up and she plays both the flute and the alto sax. She rocks. She gets “brachygraphy” which is a method of writing rapidly by substituting characters, abbreviations or symbols for letters, words or phrases: shorthand. She spells it easily and laughs, charmed, by BBC Bailly’s use of Bernie Madoff in his sentence.

Sukanya Roy seems mousy and shy on the stage but in her interview we discover she’s a spitfire, full of giggles and energy. I decide she is simply all business when she is on stage; “mousy and shy” is just her game face. Her word is “hesthogenous” which means having a covering of down when hatched. She spells it methodically and easily, writing each letter on her hand with her finger. She’s through to the next round.

8:33/11:33 am: I am going to start using “nystagmus” (which means a rapid involuntary oscillation of the eyeballs occurring normally with dizziness during and after bodily rotation or abnormally after injuries) in daily conversation as much as possible. Mashad Arora spelled it to move on to the next round.

Anna-Marie Sprenger might be the most adorable geek here today. She has a flower in her hair, announces “I think I got this” before she spells and wears awesome earrings. She’s kind of a rock star of spelling cool and she knows it.

Random Musing At The End of Round Four: Not enough Spellers are went down in this round. We’re at the end at there’s WAY too many Spellers standing. The words next round must be brutal…

BEING TONY ROMO:  Good morning and welcome; we being today's Bee coverage with more from guest commentator Samir Patel on what it's like to return to the Bee year after year:
The Bee, in general, was a lot of fun. There were a lot of 'first' experiences for me -- Scripps does a great job of making Bee Week revolve around socialization and fellowship between the spellers. The Spelling Bee itself was only part of it. The traditional Memorial Day barbecue was probably my favorite part of the whole week. Of course, the organized tours were nice as well.

However, as I kept returning, it definitely did become more 'stressful' and less 'fun' each year. [In either '06 or '07, during the actual competition days, all I ate -- for ALL of the competition days -- was a bag of Doritos and a can of Coke. That's how stressed I was.] That's definitely a result of me growing up and the media paying so much attention to me, not because of anything Scripps did. The media actually made a lot of comparisons between me and famous quarterbacks -- Dan Marino especially. My personal favorite comparison was Tony Romo, not only because he's the Dallas Cowboys quarterback [go Cowboys!] but because I feel like his situation sort of mirrors my own. He came out of nowhere as an undrafted free agent that had been sitting on the bench for years to take the Cowboys into the playoffs for the first time in a while. I came out of nowhere at nine years old when I came in 3rd in '03. Like me, he was young and personable, and the media fell in love with him.

Well, over the next few years, Romo continued to do really well. But because of his early successes, the way he was viewed changed. No longer was he the 'miracle boy' who got a previously losing team into the playoffs. Now, the team wasn't doing as well as people expected. Romo was accused of "choking" when it counted, even though the team's problems didn't really have a lot to do with him [if your receivers drop balls, and your defense gives up 20+ yards a play, you could have any quarterback you wanted and still lose]. 
I can imagine how frustrating that must have been for him, because I had the same comparisons made about me -- "Samir's a great speller, but he can't win the big one."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

AFTER THE BEE: We're blessed this year to have three-time top ten finisher JJ Goldstein among our contributors (and recruiters of even more contributors). She's been doggedly tracking down some other former Bee standouts, so y'all can see what happens to these great kids when the bell stops ringing and the competition is over. This is the first of two parts, and we start with JJ herself:

JJ Goldstein: #142, 2000 (7th), #141, 2002 (3rd), & #17, 2003 (3rd)

I just graduated from Harvard with a degree in Neurobiology, and I am going to be working for the year while applying to medical school for the fall of 2012.

When I watch the National Spelling Bee now, it feels like a lifetime ago that it was me up on that stage. Thirteen years ago, I sat in the audience in the Grand Hyatt Ballroom watching my older sister compete in the bee. As an eight-year-old, I decided that I wanted to compete in the spelling bee, not because I particularly liked spelling or wanted to win the prizes, but because Bee Week was filled with fun activities for the spellers and their families, and I wanted the chance to experience that again. However, as I studied for and competed in the Bee myself, it became about a lot more than that. I am forever grateful for the friends I made and for the haven the bee provided for one week a year where enjoying learning and being good at academics wasn’t a reason to be made fun of. On the educational side, in addition to learning how to spell some crazy words and recognize Greek and Latin roots (which was of course helpful while studying for the SATs, not to mention its contribution to my reputation of being good at word games :)), I learned how to stay motivated and continue working toward a goal, even when there is no one telling me I have to—and I think this work ethic has been crucial to success in both academics and extracurricular activities. And while it was really frustrating to come so close to the top and just miss (twice), especially since it was largely because of factors out of my control, I learned how to handle that “failure” and to embrace the overall experience rather than being upset over “what-ifs.”

The Bee has changed a lot over the past eight years—I personally have had a hard time keeping track of what the written round counts for, how long spellers have at the microphone to spell, and what time on which channel each round will be airing. And as the Bee has grown in popularity, the focus has seemed to shift a little too much from celebrating the spellers’ achievements to garnering as much media attention as possible. (I for one am very glad that the final rounds are no longer airing on ABC, but I still wish they would just get rid of the prime-time focus and go back to finishing in the afternoon—I remember being exhausted spelling at 4pm, so I can’t imagine how tired the finalists must be spelling at 10pm!) But however much I don’t agree with many of the changes the Bee has made, I think that most of the valuable lessons and experiences are still there to be had, and I hope that the current spellers are still getting as much out of it, outside of all the media hoopla and regardless of what place they end up in, that I and other former spellers were able to.

Nupur Lala: #37, 1998 (81st) & #165, 1999 (1st)

I went to the University of Michigan and graduated in 2007 with a BS in Brain, Behavior and Cognitive Sciences.

I am in the process of applying to medical school. I worked for 2.5 years after college in the MIT Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory as a technical assistant, which is the same as what other institutions call a laboratory technician. The current goal is to just get into medical school first but ideally, I'd like to be a physician at an academic hospital where I could both practice and conduct basic research. I'd also like to create and maintain a serious blog and if I have enough material, write longer-form fiction and non-fiction. My other life goals are to start a family, own a dog, teach yoga at some point and compete in the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Yeah, I'm a nerd.

OUR 2011 NATIONAL SPELLING BEE POOL: Our rules are only slightly different from previous years, to account for the veteran-light nature of this year's Bee.

For this year's pool of 41 semifinalists, select any two spellers you want. There's only one four-timer left (though a bunch of three-timers), so tonight's early birds will get the most seasoned worms.  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 you cannot choose a speller once s/he spells tomorrow morning.

You will get one point for each word your spellers correctly spell during tomorrow's rounds of the Bee, which resumes at 10am eastern on ESPN. Most points wins; tiebreaker will be whoever has the individual speller going the furthest.

Previous pool winners are Elicia Chamberlin in 2006 (Close/Hooks), Professor Jeff and Amy tied in 2007  (O'Dorney and Thomas/Horton), KJ in 2008 (Mishra/Shivashankar), Cagey (Shivashankar/Pastapur) in 2009, and Bob Loblaw and Jenn tied last year (Veeramani and Chemudupaty/Denniss).

It's my pool, so I go first: for the second straight year, I'm taking Canada's Greatest Speller, Laura Newcombe, and will pair her with Sriram Hathwar, because he didn't have to come back. But he did.
U WIN R U DIE: We do talk about things other than the Bee here. Important things. Like Ned Stark meets LOLCats.
IT BEGINS: The official list of Semifinalists has been posted!

For the spellers (and for the serious Bee junkies out there), this is the longest mile of the Bee. The waiting. The stress that comes with moving from the ESPN 3 web cast today to the national TV screens via ESPN tomorrow.

There’s something magical and strange about the Bee. We take kids at their most vulnerable stage – that awkward lanky phase somewhere around puberty – and we put them on television and we watch them spell. Really, think about the oddity of it. Tiny humans stand up before an audience. And they spell words. They succeed. They fail. And, either way, we can’t stop watching.

I think our fascination is driven by the remarkable display of intelligence in a world that devalues intelligence. The show of hard work in a world that has come to value fame over actual achievement. I think it is the old-fashioned, elegance of brains over brawn. We like to spell along, we like to marvel at their genius, we like to picture who these brainiacs will grow to become. That’s why we like to watch.

Also, because sometimes kids faint while spelling.

More to come after I study the list of Semifinalist Spellers!
THE SEMIFINALS: [Post deleted. See Shonda's post above, and let's discuss there.]

We'll open our annual Bee Pool in a separate post at 8pm. Rules TBD based on how many 4th/3rd timers there are.
ROUND THREE: We're up and running with Round 3 of the Bee. Only 24 hours until the Canadian bloodbath!

10:34/1:34: Laura Newcombe is two-for-two in the oral rounds, with the relatively easy "efficacy." But how would she have done with her predecessor's name, "Anoufrieva"? (Isaac)

11:00/2:00: Poor Skye Merriam. The unbearable pressure of that last name. I would have checked in under a pseudonym, like Christopher Combee. (Isaac)

11:25/2:25: It is possible to misspell lagniappe by more letters than what a speller just did, but you'd have to get the l-a wrong too. I'm not watching the video feed right now, but that just hurt to read, and makes me sad. (Adam)

11:28/2:28: I have to say, it still just looks weird when Olathe, Kansas spells a word incorrectly. (Isaac)

12:18/3:18: I feel terribly for the kids who've erred twice before the microphone. It's a new form of embarrassment which didn't exist before this iteration of the Bee format. I think I'd rather they have a longer written exam, one guaranteed preliminary round before the microphone in the morning, and then start the next round after lunch with the top hundred spellers. Hmm. (Adam)

1:02/4:02: Ah, "kuru" makes an appearance, knocking "sabermetric" out of first on my list of my favorite Bee words of all time. Neither is difficult to spell, and I love my baseball statistics, but the Madagascan spongiform encephalopic disease that became Mad Cow to the rest of us has a special place in my heart. (Isaac)

1:51/4:51: And on the day of ALOTT5MA Fave Shaquille O'Neal's retirement announcement, someone with the first name of "O'Neal" gets braggadocio wrong. We live in an ironic and unkind universe. (Adam)

1:58/4:58: Saboteur, ipecac, pantomime, all in a row. Has Dr. Jacque Bailly gone soft? (Adam)
SPY HARD: Intrigue at the Spelling Bee -- who is this mysterious Christopher Combee? An obviously fabricated name, since the double-initial is the giveaway tic of a fiction writer. And Combee comes in as Speller No. 275, slipping into the end of the line, whistling tunelessly, as if nobody would notice him, as if two-hundred-and-seventy-four champion spellers would not notice Polk County, Florida appending itself to a tail of West Virginias and Wisconsins and Wyomings. But Combee carries himself with the confidence of a true agent, and meets every questioning glance with a hard stare. "Move along, Amari Bertagnolli," his steely eyes say, "because I myself am like thunder and lightning, and should you fall out of line, I will teach you brontophobia."
THE FIVE-TIMERS CLUB: What's it all like? Guest commentator Samir Patel, one of our favorites on the blog, explains:
The first year was really an eye-opening experience for me. I'd won the North South National Spelling Bee two years before at age 7, but competition there was nothing compared to Scripps. After making it through the Star-Telegram Regional bee to Scripps, I wasn't really expecting to do all that well -- after all, it was my first year, and I didn't think I stood a chance against older kids who'd been preparing much more seriously for a far longer time.

Well, obviously, I came in 3rd, which was a lot better than I expected. I was slightly disappointed at first, because as the competition had gone on and it was down to the final few, I thought I had a chance to win it -- and of course, as often happens, I knew every word except the one I missed [boudin]. That first year made me determined to study even more to do better the next year, y'know? I wanted that success again.

But after a few years, especially during the very last year, I started experiencing the burnout effect. Each year I'd been studying harder, but I'd gotten mixed results... again, luck of the draw. Looking back, I think some of the most important lessons learned from the Bee were persistence even in the face of obstacles and being able to accept that circumstances won't always be in your control.
As for what he's doing now:
I'm 17 now. I just graduated from high school as well as from North Lake College, a community college near Dallas, with an associate's degree in science. I'm attending UT Dallas in the fall for a bachelor's of science in biochemistry, minoring in business. My educational goals include a PhD in Chemical Engineering as well as an MBA.
Now I am... a Citizen on Patrol [police volunteer] for the City of Colleyville. A Clark Scholar [40hr/week summer research program] at UT-Dallas. Student Assistant for developmental math courses at North Lake College. 
I believe that a lot of the linguistic skills as well as the work ethic I developed in the spelling bee enabled me to succeed in college coursework that I took for dual credit starting in fall 2007 [a few months after my last spelling bee, when I started my freshman year of high school at 13.] The media frenzy around the bee also taught me a lot of lessons about losing gracefully, facing your mistakes, and the art of communicating with broad audiences. On a lighter note, some of the prize money from the Bee went towards my first car.
After the spelling bee was over, I've had time to work on a lot of other hobbies and extracurricular activities. NSB preparation, at least the way I did it, doesn't leave a whole lot of time for other things. Some of my activities have been spelling-related -- I wrote for the North Lake News-Register [the college newspaper] for three years, and I'm pretty sure I was the only person never to make a typo. I was an officer in two different college honor societies -- Phi Theta Kappa and Mu Alpha Theta -- which allowed me to meet some great people and develop a lot of leadership skills. I was a high school debater for several years. I also write creatively... one of my short stories is being published this summer in Duck Soup, the college's literary magazine. I'm working on several novels. I also like playing guitar and songwriting. I like the Halo series of video games a lot, and I still occasionally play Roller Coaster Tycoon [old-school, I know]. I've become relatively handy with consumer electronics -- one of my friends taught me how to replace computer hardware and install/solder guitar pickups. I tutor students for various college and high school classes as well as the SAT and ACT [funny story: during high school, I was interviewed, trained, and hired by North Lake as well as a private SAT prep company as a tutor, but was released when HR found out I was 15/16.]

The only reason I'm saying all this -- for any kids who are in the spelling bee now -- trust me, win or lose, life goes on after the spelling bee. So many people told me that, but I didn't believe them. Well, they were right. The spelling bee opened up a lot of doors for me and prepared me for a lot of life experiences, but all that time you spent on studying spelling can now be used for other things. Years later, when you look back at the spelling bee, you'll remember all the friends you made, not where you placed which year. So enjoy yourselves! It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
KEVIN LAZENBY OF OPELIKA, ALABAMA, COME ON DOWN! Welcome to Round Two of the 84th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.

There are two preliminary rounds today in which all 275 spellers will face the microphone, Dr. Jacque Bailly, and the cameras of ESPN3 online. Spellers receive 3 points for each word spelled correctly today; add that number to yesterday's written round score, and the top up-to-50 spellers advance to the semifinals tomorrow.

You can follow along in a few places (in addition to here): the Bee website, and a few places on Twitter worth noting: @ScrippsBee, @JGWhiteAP and hashtags #Bee11 and #SpellingBee.

And Kevin's word is duh LORE uh fyooj -- something that banishes or mitigates grief. It's on!

8:13am: 14/15 correct so far, and these are reasonably difficult words -- the most difficult so far being (IMHO) MEE ruhb -- the place in a mosque pointing you to Mecca. (And then, of course the next two spellers err.) (Adam)

8:27am: 32/36 correct so far. (Adam)

8:57am: 71/77 correct, including the "I hope you've seen this before" Weissnichtwo. Corollary and ibuprofen did cause some difficulty, but one speller's going to bring home a nice CHOHCH kee after today. (Adam)

10:00am: 126/137 through the first half of round two and the first six after the break have aced their words, so we're on a streak of 25 correct words right now. They're in a stretch of not-exactly-killer words -- simulacrum, wunderkind, fiduciary, exacerbate, paladin.

And then as soon as I was ready to publish, two of three Garden Staters erred -- gauche and dee fuhn BAHK ee uh -- "a small genus of tropical American erect plants (family Araceae) with long sheathing or clasping petioles and united stamens," named for Ernst dee fuhn BAHK. (Adam)

7:50 a.m., better coast: What subliminal messages are the Scripps powers sending with the innocuous-Wiccan-clairsentience-vituperative string? A message to our contestants: Use charms, talismans, spells, and incantations at will, but if you peek at the future for your answers, the bell will be a vengeful god. (Isaac)

Eric Xu spells for the News-Virginian and The Daily Progress. The News-Virginian is a regular newspaper. The Daily Progress is an 8.5x11" sheet taped to Eric Xu's refrigerator that tracks the status of the Xu family's weekly chores. This week, Eric's sister has double-duty of "unload dishwasher" and "take out recycling." Eric himself has a sole task: "win Bee." Scripps was unable to obtain a photograph of Eric Xu and instead is using a file photograph of Energy Secretary Steven Chu. (Isaac)

8:43/11:43: On the one hand, Ian Fraser is out. On the other hand, he is sixty years old and writes for the New Yorker, so I'm not sure how he finagled his way in anyway. (Isaac)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

BEE INFORMED:  Some nuggets from today's coverage:
And a reminder: the competition continues tomorrow morning at 8am with the first of two live preliminary rounds of the day. See you then, and I am so glad to see so many new participants here this year.
YOUNG, HAPPY BEAR DISCOVERING HIS BODY IS GOING THROUGH CHANGES:  Baseball teams ranked based on the worst logo in each team's history.
THE WRITTEN ROUND:  Because it was done live before all competitors simultaneously this year, as opposed to rotating them through a computer-administered test, it's already over. Only the last ten words might have proven difficult:

  • JIH guh dee: unsteady or jerky; a suboptimal way of getting with it.
  • IHN fo bahn: a series of tubes.
  • KAL uhn chuhr, KAL uhn cher:  "a fever formerly supposed to affect sailors in the tropics causing them to imagine the sea a green field and to leap into it."
  • buh NO bo, BAH nuh bo:  an ape.
  • pih nee uhl EK tuh mee:  when you get your pih NEE uhl gland out.
  • KOFF kuh ehsk:  I actually used this word in a brief two weeks ago. "Nightmarishly complex and illogical," like that dude KOFF kuh's stories.
  • muh NAH duh mus:  inhabiting a single dwelling while singing this catchy song.
  • vih teh LEN, vih teh LEEN, vih teh LIHN:  yolky.
  • ass uh TAIR ee uhs:  used in salads
  • HOO KEE LAU: Of or pertaining to a restaurant-slash-dinner theater in Chicopee, Mass.; a rambunctious Hawaiian fishing party.
Answers on the big board, so the spellers already know heading into tomorrow's two oral rounds just what shape they're in, and whether it's time to start scanning Thursday's IMAX schedules ...
I SUDDENLY FELT VERY OLD, RESPONSIBLE, EMBARRASSED, AND UNABLE TO SEEK REVENGE:  Hall-of-Famer Mike Schmidt pens something of an open letter to Jorge Posada, explaining his own decision to retire mid-season.
IT BEE-GINS:  At this moment, two-hundred seventy five of the world's best English language spellers have gathered in a hotel conference room in National Harbor, Maryland, for the written component of the 84th Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.  Unlike previous such tests administered via computer, this year all the kids will be in the room together as Dr. Jacque Bailly reads the word live, along with alternate pronunciations, the part of speech, origin, definition and using each in a sentence. Repeat info, pause for thirty seconds, move to the next word.  (Our takes on previous written rounds: 2006200720082009, and 2010.)

Their totals on this twenty-five word test, combined with tomorrow's two guaranteed trips before the microphone, will determine who are the up-to-fifty kids who'll make it to Thursday's competition. Tomorrow's rounds will be streamed online on ESPN3 in two feeds - the traditional info-packed feed and, for the first time, "a second 'play along' version, featuring the option to view its coverage without graphics for fans at home to test their knowledge against the champion spellers."

The competitors are evenly divided by gender, and range in age from eight-year-old Ethan Ruggeri of Virginia to a pair of fifteen-year-olds.  Twenty-four have relatives who have done this before, though for the first time since 2005 there won't be a Shivashankar among them. We do have two returners from 2010's primetime finals: Canada's Greatest Speller, third-timer Laura Newcombe and Carlisle (PA)'s Joanna Ye, whose preparation looked like this:
Soon after the bee ended last year she embarked on her plan to try for the finals this year — to study the entire dictionary, word by word. “It took me about five months. I compiled a huge list of words to study — about 40,000 words — which took up over 800 pages of notebook paper,” Ye said.

“All the words are in the dictionary. I thought if I memorized it, I’d have the bee down,” she said. But she soon found out there are way too many words. Many, like a genus of bacteria, would be impossible to reasonably use in a sentence in the bee, so she didn’t worry about them, and instead focused on the ones that would be more likely to be in the bee.

Along with the six notebooks filled with words to study, her father, Yunshan, helped her make about 10,000 flashcards. “I was planning on making 40,000, but I stopped because it took too long to make them.”

“It was tedious. I spent several hours a day reading the dictionary,” she said, but listening to Bob Dylan while she did it helped make it bearable. “I love multitasking,” she said.
We, too, love multitasking, love these kids and love the Bee. That's why we're back for a ninth straight year to live-blog it all, joined by a number of former national finalists, Bee SuperFan Shonda Rhimes, and anyone else who feels like dropping by to celebrate and enjoy this competition. Do enjoy.

Monday, May 30, 2011

LANGUAGE OF ORIGIN, PLEASE?  Tomorrow morning, the written competition begins. Wednesday, they step before the microphone and anything can happen ...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

THIS POST BROUGHT TO YOU BY VODKA. IT GETS YOU DRUNK. I didn't bother seeing the Morgan Spurlock movie about product placement, but this article about how Cupcake Winery is having a moment makes me think that their product placement department needs some help. It notes that the winery apparently paid for it to be placed on an episode of Glee, in which the bottle was carried around (and I believe drunk from) by Kristin Chenoweth's character. How on earth was that a good product placement? Not only does it introduce both "of age" issues (a large proportion of Glee's audience is below legal drinking age) and "responsible consumption" issues (Chenoweth's character is an alcoholic) but also taste issues--Chenoweth's character is a cheap floozy (with an admittedly spectacular voice). Why on earth would a wine company seek to promote itself in that way? "The wine for cheap floozies with a drinking problem!" isn't exactly a brand image I'd seek to cultivate.
THE WORLD DOESN'T MATTER HERE, IN THIS OUTDOOR THEATER WHERE THE SHOW ALWAYS GOES ON:  The Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic, Sarah Kaufmann, visits with the guards at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns to understand their work:
It’s all in the cadence. The soldiers practice their steps with a metronome, set to 72 beats per minute, the tempo of a slow march. A regal adagio time signature. Being chosen as a tomb guard is a rare honor, and even after training for five to seven months, they practice daily. The soldiers assigned to the duty serve 18-24 months. (There have been three female guards in the past, though there are none now.) After the cemetery closes, groups of them will walk the steps over and over. With perfection as the standard — this is written into the “sentinel’s creed” they learn during training — if they stop a half-inch off their mark and their supervisor sees it, they’ll hear about it.

When the new guard is in place, he is still mindful of his cadence. It governs every step — 21 at a time, the number chosen to echo the honor of a 21-gun salute. Then he turns and faces the tomb for 21 seconds. He swivels to face back down the mat, shifts his weapon to the outside shoulder, waits another 21 seconds, takes another 21 steps. This clean geometry and steady rhythm are traced over and over until he is relieved by another guard change.

“People always ask what we’re thinking,” says [Benton Thames, 24, assistant sergeant of the guard]. “But we’re not really thinking about anything. We’re counting.”