Tuesday, May 27, 2014

SQUUSH:  Our first guest post of Bee Week!
Hi! My name is Amber Born. I competed four times in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, though if you’ve heard of me, you may know me from my fourth attempt in 2013, when I placed 4th (I was the one who said “She seems nice,” which I’m now regretting not copyrighting).  
I belong to The Order of the Squushy Carrots, which is a secret speller organization. It’s so secret, there’s an Associated Press article about it that’s on the ABC News website and a bunch of other places. However, I don’t know how long I can remain in the Order, because my hair has been getting parrot-like lately, and the theme song says “At least we don’t have hair like a parrot,” and I don’t want to be in violation of the rules. The other two rules, as stated in the theme song, are that every day we walk the Earth forever alone, and no one in the Order plays the sousaphone. Also you have to prefer your carrots squushy, not crunchy or squishy, but that’s a given. The other secret speller organization to which I belong is the Ghettopens, which is among the world’s most awesome and geeky puns. It’s from the winning word of the 2012 Bee, “guetapens.”  
My point in telling everyone this is partly to increase the fame of the Order and Ghettopens, but mostly because I think a lot of people are under the impression that the Bee is kind of a cutthroat endeavor full of nerds who have no friends and spell all the time, even when they’re in National Harbor for the actual Bee. Basically, we’re normal people, except for our taste in carrots and the geekiness of our puns. We’re so normal that we can use words like “geekiness,” even if they aren’t in Webster’s Third, the only decent dictionary, as far as the Bee is concerned. At least I think we can. Hopefully the speller mafia won’t come for me*.

*There isn’t an actual speller mafia, as far as I know. 


  1. meco19999:58 PM

    I've sometimes wondered why there isn't a big National Spelling Bee forum somewhere on the 'net where spellers can post study advice, trade words, and just chat with each other. I've searched and never really found a decent one. Is there anything like that out there?

  2. Because many of the spellers are under the age of 13, there are special federal laws relating to online privacy and such, so there are reasons such a forum (if it existed) would not be public.

  3. Marsha10:28 PM

    This is wonderful, Amber. Thanks so much for sharing these insider notes with us!

  4. Adam C.10:49 PM

    Yes, what Marsha said! Can't wait to share your post with my Bee-obsessed daughters, Amber.

  5. Amber, the first rule of the Speller Mafia is you don't TALK about the Speller Mafia... shh.

    More seriously, as much as I enjoy mocking social media, I feel like the increased ubiquity of this sort of thing is a direct result of the substantively lower geographical barriers to group interaction. I hate to pull out then "when I was a kid" line, but... chain emails were about as group-oriented as it got; Skype didn't exist and long-distance calling was still a thing that showed up on phone bills (sort of). Other than the mass emails, which never worked very well, it was usually person-to-person emails which went pretty strong in the first few weeks post-Bee then kinda tapered off by midsummer. Maybe this was just idiosyncratic to my experience (don't want to pretend to speak for an entire demographic of spellers), but I really only recall keeping in frequent contact with a couple NSBers every year. Seems, anecdotally, that spellers are better able to keep in touch now.

  6. Also, not to hijack the thread, but to respond to a comment you'd made elsewhere, Amber: I was actually a fan of the written/computerized test. (The one they did as Round 1 or Round 2.) Especially for the younger kids, the Bee is as much a contest of endurance as anything else. You're in a new city, amped up on no sleep, and maybe too nervous to eat. Then you spend two or three days with bright lights shining on you and live cameras rolling. My take might be biased because I was confident that I'd be through to the semifinals, but I was generally okay with anything that allowed me more sleep / relaxation / less time sweating on stage. Sitting through rounds of a hundred-odd other spellers wasn't very much fun for me... I preferred the quick funnel to shorter rounds.

  7. BeeFan5:38 AM

    Things like listservs and USENET go back to the 1980s (and both still exist). I don't know if spellers ever used them, but there were alternatives to group email.

  8. Great blog Amber! Doing the Ghettopens proud!

  9. Charles8:21 AM

    I gained several pen pals through the Bee, and we wrote each other for several years. I'm still in contact with one, in fact--the girl who sat next to me on stage. We corresponded via snail mail in the '80s. In the early '90s, she received the first e-mail I ever wrote. (Back then, at my university, e-mail was accessible via two computer labs on campus, and you had to give a research-related reason why you needed an account.) Now we chat via Twitter.

  10. Uncle Spike4:00 PM

    And THIS is why I love Amber. Brilliant speller, but equally brilliant comedian (if not more so). I can't wait to see where life takes her.