Thursday, May 31, 2012

THE BEST OF THE BEST:  Nine remarkable spellers remain, eight 14-year-olds and a 12-year-old for whom this is the third time in prime time. Watch it live on ESPN, and join us here.

9:50 pm:  And we are done. Early.  Congratulations to Snigdha Nandipati, who survived some pretty idiosyncratic words thrown at her en route to becoming the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion. We have much to discuss.



  1. Marsha9:52 PM

    Hey Samir, if you're still here - I can't find your email address. I'm m-ferziger at uchicago dot edu.

  2. codeman389:59 PM

    Don't you mean "survived some pretty ioqrsz3cuatroflvrq words"? :-p

  3. Samir Patel10:01 PM

    email sent.

  4. Samir Patel10:01 PM

    that Jack Pasche.  If any of the NSB competitors land a career in stand-up comedy, it'll be him.

  5. BeeFan10:03 PM

    I didn't participate in the live feed, so maybe this has already been mentioned:

    This is the second time "schwarmerei" has eliminated the runner-up.  The previous was Akshay Buddiga, just eight years ago.

  6. Marsha10:13 PM

    It's really strange to me that that is how this all goes down. It seems like there should be so many strange words that it would be a long time before you'd have to repeat on the CWL.

  7. Samir Patel10:17 PM

    According to official policy, Scripps doesn't consult the CWL when making the word list.

  8. It was noted.

    This round never got into the really weird stuff -- eponyms, Welsh, Mayan, etc.  (Of course, it was still damn impossible for us civilians.)<span> </span>

  9. If anyone wants to have a try at some of the toughest words from the modern bee, check out my Google doc:

    Have fun, and please suggest some candidate words from this year (mascalage and kahikatea come to the top of my mind).

    Although there's no such thing as absolute objectivity in bees, Snigdha is no doubt the worthy champion this year, adding a respectably difficult winning word \¦getə¦pän\ (guetapens) to bee history. Actually, that's really difficult AND obscure (Google says only ~20,000 tonight, but it will skyrocket as news spreads).

    That said, it was heartbreaking to see the last 8th graders ding out (the deliberately tricky porwigle, impossible schwas on ericeticolous, the sad irony of gleistlich, and the importance of studying past bees as demonstrated by the reappearance of schwarmerei and maieutic). They're still awesome and will certainly do themselves well in the future. And with a record of 9th, 3rd, and 3rd, Arvind will have a tremendous knowledge base and great experiences by the time 8th grade passes no matter what the outcome in his final year. I think only Close (2006) or K Shivashankar (2009) ever had such a consistently strong record in the top 10.

  10. BeeFan10:48 PM

    I just read the feed.  Glad to see Samir remembered.

    OK, I went ahead and read the feed.

    "<span>The TV flourishes are necessary to make the bee interesting and accessible for more people (unless ESPN wants an audience of a few hundred diehard spelling aficionados)."</span>

    Sorry, disagree.  I've been watching for years with non-aficionados (not the same ones every year), the sort that have to be explained the entire rule set.  And they're going "c'mon, c'mon, get on with it!" a lot more than I am.  Because I'm just jaded by now, I guess.

    "Stop showing the faint".  Yes, agree.  Enough already.  It's not cute and never was.  It was terrifying at the time, though we were quickly relieved when he got up and spelled the word.  And hard to watch him spell from that stool the rest of the bee (all the way to 2nd place).  (Trivia point - that was the first word ever spelled correctly under the old "bonus time" provision of the original timing rules!)

    No parents on stage.  Yeah, that was never a good idea.  Lasted a bit more than a decade, didn't it?

    On the possibility of ex-spellers as commentators:  well, Loeffler is one.  I agree that the Steeles were annoying.  Has anyone watched Canspell in recent years?  A few years ago they had Finola Hackett doing commentary and she was excellent.

    Interesting question about whether an Amish speller has ever competed.  I live in rural PA where there are some Amish and have no idea.  I do know that the girls division of the National Marbles Championship was won by an Amish girl once - in the 1940s, I think.

    Oh yeah.  Lena Greenberg, if you're googling: no, you are not stupid.  Not not not.  Really.

  11. BeeFan10:51 PM

    "<span>I think only Close (2006) or K Shivashankar (2009) ever had such a consistently strong record in the top 10."</span>

    George Thampy went 4-3-1 in his only three appearances.

  12. Marsha10:55 PM

    Oh, amen to that last part. There isn't a single kid at that bee who is anywhere close to stupid. Lena Greenberg, you are spectacular and brilliant and you have every reason to be very, very proud of yourself tonight.

  13. Marsha10:58 PM

    I love this tribute to Lena:

    Choice lines: "Basically, she does more before breakfast than you have done in your entire life, like a smaller, female Chuck Norris." "Lena Greenberg is here to rule the world one letter at a time, and you don't want to miss it."

  14. Genevieve11:05 PM

    I started late and caught up on the live-blogging - thank you all for your informed and amusing commentary!  Very excited for Snighda, though sad for Stuti.

  15. BeeFan11:13 PM

    Cool article on Lena.  I see I'm not the only one who saw a bit of Rebecca Sealfon in her.

    Oh, and the Chuck Norris reference.  I can see it starting:

    "Lena Greenberg doesn't spell words.  Words spell Lena Greenberg!"

  16. Marsha11:14 PM

    Hey Adam, has the pool ever been this close before? Only two people managed to choose two finalists, one of which is in common, and those three spellers were the final three. The common speller comes in third, and the pool is decided on the final word.

    Again, well done Marnie and (winner, if I have this right) Bobby!

  17. BeeFan11:18 PM

    "Congratulations to Snigdha Nandipati, who survived some pretty idiosyncratic words thrown at her en route to becoming the 2012 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion."

    Dang.  I went back and looked at the list.  She sure didn't back into it, did she?

  18. Samir Patel11:22 PM

    To Lena, if you ever see this: there's not a person in this world that hasn't made a mistake.  And, honestly, if adding a letter to a word in the National Spelling Bee is the worst mistake you ever make, you're going to have a fantastic life.  I made five mistakes -- one of which was stupid -- at the National Spelling Bee.  And guess what?  Five years later at eighteen, not one of those ranks on my top ten list of "mistakes I regret."  

    You rock.  I know that you're going to be wonderfully successful in whatever endeavors you pursue in high school and beyond.

  19. Samir Patel11:23 PM

    [And of course, everything Marsha said is spot on.]

  20. Uncle Spike11:33 PM

    Hey, y'all...thanks for the words of support for Frank. He's pretty disappointed tonight...for obvious reasons, but more of which I'll probably post about tomorrow. (I may have to get his approval to write some of the specifics.) I'm a bit bummed, became clear to me as the bee went on that Frank really had the potential to go all the way. Samir and Nupur, I know he'll be thrilled to read what you've said about him and "porwigle" too. Maybe I'm biased, but I'm convinced it was the toughest word of the finals, if not the whole bee, because it was just so damned inscrutable.

  21. Lori Miller11:38 PM

    Frank did wonderfully, Uncle Spike, and "porwigle" was a mean, mean word (well, "mean" in the sense that it was the WTF word of the finals). Congratulations to him!

  22. BeeFan11:40 PM

    Can I beat on ESPN some more? 

    They put up that trivia list.

    They had one wrong.  George Thampy was not the most recent homeschooler to win.  Evan O'Dorney was.

  23. Marsha11:47 PM

    I hope you've told him that there was a whole community of crazy bee fans rooting for him. He was amazing, and that word was pretty much un-gettable.

    There's so much luck that determines who goes all the way - he could easily have been given any of the  words full of Latin and Greek roots, or the weird ones that he actually knew. Every kid in that final was amazing and should be very proud tonight. I know you know that, but this is my way of giving both you and Frank a virtual hug.

  24. Oh yes! Thampy (2000), now a judge at the bee since 2006.

  25. Samir Patel11:52 PM

    Spike: [and feel free to pass this along to Frank and family]

    IMO, "porwigle" was not only the most difficult word in this year's NSB, but possibly the most difficult word ever asked.  I probably would've gone with the double g too.  What makes porwigle so awful is that it's "unfindable" -- I won't clarify exactly what I mean by that [trade secret] but suffice to say that it's not algorithmically findable.  Basically, you could only come across that word by browsing through the dictionary.

    Frank should be proud of himself.  He did a stellar job.

    As for the disappointment, it's quite understandable, but I'm doing a post on it that may provide some perspective.  Look for a link tomorrow.

  26. Frank had a very strong showing. Porwigle is in neither CWL, Trinkle et al, nor Words of Wisdom (I don't know about other lists), is very obscure, and has a rather unhelpful etymology [alteration of a ME word] (btw why does the bee no longer specify Middle/Old English? Dr. Bailey only said "English"). Guessing possibilities:

    por, poor, pore
    wigle, wiggle, (whigle, whiggle are less likely, possibily having /h/ sounds)

    So it's very difficult (1/6 chance or less), though I would not go as far as THE most difficult ever asked (still guessable if the speller hasn't seen it). Have you seen my list? I've compiled some cool bee history about some of the hardest words and I'm looking for advice on which words to add from this year's bee, please look!

  27. Uncle Spike12:29 AM

    I cannot wait. I know he'll be thrilled to read what you've said (and what you will say). And, of course, I have tremendous respect for you and the experience you have. What you say will really resonate with Frank.

  28. codeman3812:36 AM

    They also said that it was unlikely that a home-schooler would win... when Lena was still very much in the competition...

  29. Oh yes one more thing - out of the 2012 competition only, porwigle was defniitely in the top 5 of the most challenging words - I'd say there was only ONE word definitively tougher than porwigle:

    Round 5 \ˌmäskəˈlä(ˌ)hā\ mascalage
    [origin unknown] (less than 500 hits on Google as of now - nowhere to be found!)

    Good luck with your future successes!

  30. Uncle Spike, my mom and I were huge Frank Cahill fans. She and I both wish he could come back. He not only had such a pleasant, sweet demeanor but he's accomplished so much in so many realms. My mom was like "How many spellers play varsity basketball?" Looks like you were coaching a real renaissance man.

    I think I actually said "Good lord" aloud when I saw how porwigle was spelled. He was a sad casualty of one of the most irregular words in perhaps the world's most irregular language. I'm so sorry to hear that he's disappointed because he shouldn't be at all. What impressed me was how you would have never guessed that he was disappointed. That's the mark of a champion to me.

    PS: My friend Billy thinks you're the coolest champion ever after seeing your commentary and reading more about you online. Yes, that came from one of MY best friends. ;) I think I agree with him.

  31. Oh wait, mascalage is in CWL-I! My mistake! Porwigle may well be the toughest word from 2012, along with kahikatea, and perhaps polynee and pejerrey... btw, what are you opinions on the judge's word choices this year? There was lots of Latin/Greek-derived-Latin at the start of the semis, then things started to get really hairy in rounds 5 and 6.

  32. Sophietje10:19 AM

    You mispelled schwarmerei in your list.  :)

    that missing umlaut makes it so darn hard! 

  33. I'm no champion speller, but I thought "pour" might also be an option, since it was English (colour, humour, etc.) 

  34. graceb11:57 AM

    You can beat on ESPN all you want.  Allow me to proffer a different perspective: 
    Having the bee on TV to watch is such a gift!  When my kids participated years ago, the folks back home were lucky to catch snippets on CNN throughout the day and a brief announcement of the winner and the winning word.  I don't get to go every year myself anymore now that I no longer coordinate a Regional Bee, and I so much appreciate having it live on TV. 
    I'm VERY glad the experiment with primetime network is over, and some of the trappings that came with it.  The ESPN broadcast this year was better than last in terms of showcasing the competition, and I hope the trend continues.
    On the subject of the effect of the spellers' having to wait before getting their next word because of a commercial break or insertion of a package, my opinion is that it has changed the competition for the better.  In the old days I would see some kids get so freaked out towards the end of the contest that they would rush and misspell words they knew.  The pace is much better for the kids' concentration now, thanks to the breaks.  I wouldn't have expected a good effect to come from the enforced waiting, so it was striking when I observed it in person.
    My overall reaction to the broadcast is one of celebrating the kids and their performance under pressure.  Are there some stupid comments?  Inaccurate graphics?  Awkward moments?  Of course!  Are there brilliant, poignant, inspiring, heartwarming moments?  Of course!  Instead of blanket condemnation of ESPN, why not just point out all those moments?  

  35. Adam C.1:05 PM

    Graceb makes some really good points here.  I think the biggest complaint this year lies with the ESPN personalities themselves - Sage Steele did too much talking over the spellers (and offered little of substance anyway), and Samantha Steele's interviews ran the full gamut from atrocious to embarrasing (capped by her really inexcusable "wrong girl" mistake after Snigdha had won - my 8-year-old's immediate response: "Umm, she's wearing a GIANT NAME TAG!").  Keep Paul Loeffler around for color commentary; replace Sam Steele with a commentator/interviewer who has Bee experience (hmmm, do we know anyone around here who would want to do that?), to go along with a host who can stay out of the way while keeping things running smoothly, and they'd have many of their problems licked.

  36. Adam C.1:06 PM

    Yeah, embarrassing that I misspelled "embarrasing."  

  37. Nupur5:24 PM

    ESPN is and has always beaten the pants off of the embarrassing hot mess that was primetime spelling bee coverage. The bee officials and ESPN are smart enough that I'm sure Sam Steele will not be allowed to cover the bee again. What they need are two hosts who balance each other well like Steve Cyphers and 1979 champ Katie McCrimmon did in the '90's. Steve would ask all the right questions to give inexperienced viewers context and most importantly, showed real respect and admiration for the spellers. Katie provided color commentary and the insider's perspective but also maintained the right amount of professional distance from the bee.

    What I was surprised with was the overall positive reaction to the speller bios and interviews interspersed throughout the coverage. I think it is just us diehards who miss the "professional" format of yore. I'm okay with suffering through some kid who has an exceptional handle on Greek and Latin roots being forced to play with alphabet blocks for ESPN if it increases viewership and thus increases more kids trying their hand at the spelling bee.

  38. graceb10:44 PM

    or maybe do away with "sideline" interviews, and also move the comfort area to a private place again?

  39. Adam C.11:36 PM

    Nupur, my own kids (10 and 8) loved the speller bios and interviews, and wouldn't let me skip ahead on TiVo, even during the Finals when they'd already seen the exact same piece during the semis. It's a small price to pay, indeed.

  40. Uncle Spike4:52 PM

    <span>Yow...that's some awfully high praise! Thank you! And thanks to Billy, too.</span>