Tuesday, May 24, 2016

NUNATUK:  Right now in National Harbor, Maryland, 285 incredibly talented children are sitting down for a four-part spelling and vocabulary test which will help determine their fates at the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee, and for the 14th year* we will be trying to cover all of the joy, agita, and triumph. If you're not a regular here, welcome aboard; if you only come here this one week per-year, welcome back. And if you're in your early twenties or younger, this is called a "blog" (short for "web log") -- it's like Twitter, but longer, and you'll read about it in your History Kindles soon enough.

For newcomers trying to get their bearings, here's a short list of things we do and don't like about The Bee:

  • Smart kids being awesome. Smart kids being awesome.
  • That part late in the Bee when we get to words of Finnish, Mayan, Welsh, Afrikaans, and Egyptian origins.
  • Jamaican and Canadian spellers, except the 2008 Canadian Bloodbath round which was really unfortunate.**
  • Foodie words, because it's the only time in the competition many grownups feel smart.
  • Dr. Jacques Bailly 
  • Sardoodledom.
  • The rules changes for 2016. Go read up on them.
  • When Bee veterans, coaches, and parents come here and share their wisdom and experience. If you go back to our archives for the last week of May, every year, you'll find some great stuff.
Don't Like
  • The 2014 (and especially 2015) version of the rules, in which computerized tests were employed to impose artificial elimination checkpoints for tv purposes, especially in the cutoff from Thursday afternoon to Thursday night.
  • Interviewing kids in the middle of the competition
  • Interviewing kids right after they've been eliminated
  • Cutesy filler pieces which demean how hard these kids work
  • The fact that the bulk of the first hour of primetime will be dominated by filler, and not spelling.
  • Yiddish words capable of multiple correct spellings (otherwise known as The Marsha Special), and capable of igniting Bee controversy.
  • Amateur psychoanalysis of the kids and their parents. As I've written before, which is as close to a mission statement as we've got:
"What we won't do is mock the kids, or presume we can learn anything meaningful about them or their parents based on the brief slices we see on tv. As my favorite line from Frost/Nixon goes, 'The first and greatest sin or deception of television is that it simplifies, it diminishes. Great, complex ideas, tranches of time. Whole careers become reduced to a single snapshot.' We will try to be modest about what we believe we're seeing; the only thing we can know for sure is whether the word is spelled correctly, and what we learn from former spellers thereafter."
Or, as Shonda explained in 2013: "What I love about the Bee is its celebration of intelligence.  The Bee at its best is a dance party for braininess, a nerdgasm for smarty-pants. The Bee is home for those of us who maybe can not throw a ball or run without our inhalers. The Bee is a place for people who like to read, who enjoy math, who love science and art and geography and words, words, words.  The Bee is for people who have plans that do not include being a Real Housewife of Anything. The Bee is the only way our people will ever be on ESPN. And that makes the Bee awesome. The Bee is a celebration."

Come celebrate with us this week.

* So maybe next year we're finally ready go to all-Twitter. But I'm stubborn.

** Described here as, by various commenters, "The worst Canadian disaster since Glass Tiger broke up," "the worst Canadian disaster since Thicke of the Night," "must be like what it was like when the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets left the country," "like when Neil Young moved to Topanga Canyon," "like when Vince Carter started mailing it in so that he could get traded to New Jersey," "like Eric Lindros insisting to the Nordiques that he wanted to play for the Flyers," and "the worst day for ONttN this year, even more so than Steven Page's leaving Barenaked Ladies."

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