Friday, May 29, 2009

SOON TO BE HANGING OUT WITH THE RALLY MONKEY INTERN AND ROBIN FICKER: I know nothing about NBA basketball, except that the Golden State Warriors are very very bad at it. So bad that Paul Wong, the fellow from whom the team lifted their 2006-07 playoff slogan ("We Believe"), has announced he's given up on the team. Apparently, he's unhappy that the team hasn't given him enough recognition for his efforts.

Now, when a fan or low level staffer comes up with something clever, does a team owe them anything? Golden State is terrible with fan relations, but Mr Wong appears to have been more than well-compensated: a trip to Utah for the 2007 second-round games, this level of fame, the love of his fellow fans. Teams aren't going to give these guys a cut of the house's take, of course, but do teams ever get this right?
CHOPSTICKS! F.A.O. Schwarz has been bought by Toys R Us. I try to go to the FAO flagship a couple of times a year, especially in the holiday season--not to buy anything, but for the experience of it (which might be part of the problem for them). FAO has a tricky business model, especially in the current economic climate--it's never going to be able to compete with the big boys on pricing (though the acquisition will help on that point), so has to offer something different and better--things like the "Create Your Own Muppet Toy," "Custom Barbie," "Custom Hot Wheels," and the like are helpful, but they don't get there. I hope TRU is able to help FAO find a substainable business model as well as preserve the magic the brand has.
FROM BEAUTIFUL BURBANK: Tonight marks the end of the run of The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, with lead guest Conan O'Brien. It's interesting, because when Carson left the show, there was huge hype for it, while this time, I've seen almost nothing for "Jay's Final Show" and tons of ads for "Try Conan!" In part, this is, of course, a function of that unlike Carson, Jay (unfortunately) won't be fading from view after this, with his 10 PM show on NBC premiering in the fall. In part, it's also that despite having occupied the most famous and powerful desk in late night for 17 years, there's nothing terribly memorable about the run. The only things I can think of off the top of my head are Hugh Grant's "sorry about that!" appearance after the Divine Brown Incident, and the incredibly hackneyed comedy bits (Jaywalking! Headlines!). Do you have memories (fond or unfond) of Jay? And are you ready for Conan, Andy Richter, and Max Weinberg and the Tonight Show Band to take the seats once occupied by Carson, Ed McMahon, and Doc Severinsen?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

KAVYA SHIVASHANKAR FTW! Thanks to everyone who made our liveblog such an enjoyable experience, but especially to our new friend Cat Cojocaru, who made the quick transition from 2008 primetime Bee finalist (and a beloved one at that) to 2009 primetime commentator with our crew. We're honored to share the following essay, which she wrote following last year's finals:
* * *
The 2008 Scripps National Spelling Bee was the most amazing week of my life. I had participated in the bee in 2007, but I had been eliminated in the fourth round. I took the online preliminary test, and I was nervous. I knew most of the words, but I wasn’t sure if I would pass or not. I guessed it was all up to the word I got on Thursday. Thursday came, and I was the very last speller of the first group in the oral round of the Preliminaries. After waiting for almost two hours, I held my breath and stepped up to the mike. Dr. Bailly greeted me, and then presented me with the word philistine. I knew I had heard of it before, but I was unsure of one letter. After prying for information, he informed me that there were six alternate pronunciations! The very last one helped me spell it. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Soon afterwards, I became nauseous and had a horrible headache. I couldn’t even make it down to the ballroom for the announcement of the quarterfinalists I felt so sick. My dad and brother went there for me to hear the results, and luckily, I passed! Round Three began with a word I knew, heliophobous, and was able to pick it apart by its Greek roots. Now Round Four, my personal hurdle was next. Smalto. Dr. Bailly enunciated. It was a type of Italian glass. I racked my knowledge of Italian. It sounds easy enough, I thought. I gave it a shot, and once Mrs. Brooks nodded, I squealed. I was going to be on ESPN!

The next day I was informed that my whole school system was going to watch the broadcast. I was glad for their support, but now I was even more worried. Round Five began, and the words were obviously much harder than in previous years. My turn came and I was faced with an unknown word sporangiophore. I gave it my best shot by figuring out the pieces of the word, and I was right!

In Round Six, I really had no idea how to spell redoppe. I asked every question I was allowed, and even one they couldn't answer. Are there any alternate words you can give me? That drew chuckles from the audience, but the clock was ticking and I knew I had to hurry. I thought of an embellished French spelling, and I was right!

At the end of Round Seven, there were sixteen of us left. I approached the microphone, shaking and praying under my breath. Anticum. I sighed. With the hot ballroom lights beating down on my face and the knowledge that thousands of people were watching me, I could hear the bell ringing already. It was Latin, and after using all but three seconds of my regular time, I gave the simplest spelling I could think of. After I repronounced the word, I shut my eyes. I didn't want to see the look on the judge's faces as I heard applause? I was floored. I got the word right?!? I walked back to my seat, still in shock. The round ended, and exactly twelve of us remained.

Round Eight was actually pretty easy. Boulangere – a French dish. Almost all the words were from the Consolidated Word List, which I had studied thoroughly. I wasn’t sure on my Round Nine word, Huguenot, but gave it my best guess, based on my study of French, and was right. I felt pretty good. In Round Ten I was faced by the obscure Russian word bogatyr. I had never studied Russian, so I spelled it bogateer. The dreaded ding echoed throughout the whole ballroom. I sighed when I heard the correct spelling, smiled at the thundering applause I got, and went to sit with my parents.

During the commercial break, I ran to the bathroom. As I began to cry, a speller I didn't even know gave me a hug and consoled me. But when I turned around to see who it was, they were gone. That brought me back to my senses. What was I doing here, feeling sorry for myself? I needed to go back in there and cheer on my friends! I wiped off my makeup, let my hair down, mustered up my courage, and went back to the competition.

The words got much harder after I was out. I couldn't believe how good the other spellers were! By the very late rounds, everyone was exhausted. After many standing ovations, tears, and even some laughs, winner Sameer held the trophy high. But the applause was for all of us. Saturday night was banquet night. Everyone was dressed in their best, and I felt great happiness as I sat on the dais, looking down at my loving, supportive family. The twelve of us were swarmed for autographs at the banquet. It was all so surreal; it took a while for me to understand that people actually wanted my autograph!

My experience at the National Spelling Bee has taught me many things. It taught me that winning isn't everything. It showed me that, with hard work, I can do better that I ever imagined. And lastly, that money and ranking aren't the most important things in this competition or in life….your friends and family are what matter most. That was the week I will never forget.
FROM ELEVEN TO ONE: Welcome to the 2009 National Spelling Bee Finals live chat. Click and join!

THE THOUGHT OF SOMEONE KVETCHING ABOUT HER KICHEL GAVE MERYL THE SHPILKES: The WaPo's Dan Steinberg tracks the increased "humor" in the Could You Use That In A Sentence sentences.

Meanwhile, Bee Central has added a page featuring tonight's 11 finalists, including photos of all the spellers in action. Added! And Dan Steinberg spoke with them this afternoon, including:
All day I've been referring to Serena Skye Laine-Lobsinger as Bee Goes Punk, and she sort of was ok with that description.

"I'm kind of adventurous with what I like to wear," the 13-year old from West Palm Beach told me. "I'll wear pretty much anything.

She's particularly fond of bandanas, was sporting some sparkled-out Chuck Taylors, and had four shades of nail polish on (black and white alternating on her right hand, and silver and pink on her left). So, punk?

"You probably could say that," she said. "That's probably how a lot of people look at me."

Just to make sure, I asked her what sort of music she listens to. The answer: alternative rock, techno, electronica, and "screamo," which has some roots in hardcore punk. Score.
Finally, I do hope that some the 282 other finalists took advantage of the rare opportunity presented to them today by seeing Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian at the Smithsonian in IMAX format. From what I've heard, it's a lousy movie, but thumbs-up for the recursive experience. [That said, you can never go wrong with To Fly!.]
I FEEL LIKE I'M HITTING MY STRIDE NOW: We first published this essay from our friend and Bee contributor Rafael Noboa two years ago. He's since gone on to complete his bachelor's degree, and works as a new media specialist for an international labor organization. But first, in 1991, there was the Bee, in which he finished in fourth place:
* * *
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.
ONLY MARGINALLY LESS PRESTIGIOUS THAN WINNING THE SPELLING BEE ITSELF: With only this evening's finals remaining, we have precisely as many finalists in the 2009 Bee Pool as the Bee itself has -- eleven. Still competing for fame and eternal glory are the following Throwers of Things:
Adam (Kavya, Mou)
cagey (Kavya, Pastapur)
Colin (Kavya, Chand)
Deena (Kavya, Veeramani)
Genevieve (Kavya, Laine-Lobsinger)
Heather P (Kavya, Heera)
Sconstant (Kavya, Kennyi)
Maggie (Mou, Kennyi)
ritab (Mou, Pastapur)
StvMg (Mou, Chand)
StrangeLuck (Laine-Lobsinger, Ruiter)
In other words, This Blog Prefers Kavya, with a Distinct Minority Going for Mou. Only StrangeLuck, with his, um, strange luck, has travelled elsewhere for both of his selections.

Other interesting statistics: the most commonly selected speller who did not make the finals was Josephine Kao, the third most popular overall pick, selected by nine ill-fated souls. Zachary Zagorski was the second-most favored also-ran with six picks. A whopping 17 people found some way to pick Kavya Shivashankar, while ten went for Kyle Mou. And of the eleven (Bee) finalists, the only one who wasn't chosen in the pool at least once is Neetu Chandak.

Good luck to all the finalists, spelling and ThingThrowing alike!
ANOTHER SEASON, ANOTHER REASON FOR MAKIN’ WHOOPEE: Lots to root for on last night’s Memphis-Miami edition of SYTYCD. The brothers Kasprzak! Happy Tappy Silky! Quiet sister of blonde curly girl! Sha-wham! Flannel-wearing headbanger! Memphis Jookin! Dead Husband Girl! I Love My Dancing Gay Son Guy!

Anna Dunn (Flannel Girl) and Caitlin Kinney (quiet sister of blonde curly girl) provide a good jumping-off point for discussion of what Isaac last season referred to as Every Successful Female Contemporary SYTYCD Audition, highlights of which include Silent Movie Panic (staggering around the stage pretending you can’t pay the rent although you must pay the rent) and Sexy Fart Walk (walking sexy while waving hands artistically behind your caboose). Although the judges properly called Flannel Girl on the head-flailing (my neck hurts just thinking about it), the rest of her audition was very much in the classic Silent Movie Panic mode. (Which, to be au courant, we could also call “Bella Swan Trying to Run Away from the Vampires Who Don’t Think She Smells Quite as Good as Edward Does” style.) Caitlin, on the other hand, gave a much more restrained contemporary dance, full of small movements and tinier gestures. No flailing (but lots of gymnastics), no manic attempts to escape from Cam Gigandet or the rent collector’s twirly mustache. The judges seem to appreciate both approaches, but if you watched their faces, the awe was reserved for Caitlin, not Flannel Girl.

Once we get down to the final 20, we’ll stop seeing much in the way of solos for a while -- for the Marshas among you, those who America chooses each week as its bottom three girls and bottom three guys based on that week’s partnered dances will have the chance to dance for their lives, doing short solos in their own styles to try and convince the judges to keep them around. So these auditions are really the chance to see what the dancers can do before they start making Marico Flake (Memphis Jookin guy) learn the quickstep or the samba. I suspect the judges are really excited about Silky’s apparent ability to handle both hip hop and tap, on the theory that he’ll be able to segue between genres fairly easily. This obviously isn’t new to the show -- last year’s winner Joshua Allen, despite a lack of training, was a total genre chameleon -- but the judges do like their street dancers and like them to do well in the competition.

And who here was not moved by the clip package on Travis Prokop and his Texas football coach father? I thought the comments about strength-building were really interesting -- and shouldn't pose too much of a problem for Travis, given the resources at his disposal.

Tonight: LA and Seattle. Next week: VEGAS!
KYLE MOU, MELECH. KYLE MOU SPELLS MOLOCH! KYLE MOU, YIMLOCH L'OLAM VA'ED? He who controls the magnesium controls the world. A Round 6 thread.

Update #1: With GRA-nosh, I swear the Scripps folks are using attrition charts to change the difficulty to get to the right number of finalists by the end of the hour. That’s all well and good for pruning big firm associates or filling airline seats, I’m not quite sure it’s reasonable for a spelling competition. (The Pathetic Earthling)

Update #2: Eleven spellers remain for tonight's final rounds. Do join us at 8pm EDT for a CoverItLive-powered live chat/blog extravaganza.
ROUND 5: To avoid requiring fodient behavior of our commentariat, this is a new thread for Round 5.

Update #1 bar-BOT – Ms. Park of Little Rock gets taken out! Ugh. I do like that the Scripps folks don’t remove gambling and alcohol terms from the list to avoid offending anyone’s sensibilities. (The Pathetic Earthling)

Update #2 We tend to regard Yiddish words as a little unfair and foodie terms easier for us than for the kids. So, of course, the first word anyone spells correctly in this round is a Yiddish food, KIHK-uhl. (Adam)

Update #3 For the second straight year, no Canadians survive Round 5. A 3/3 abattoir of Maple Leaf hopes. It's the worst day for ONttN this year, even more so than Steven Page's leaving Barenaked Ladies (Adam)

Update #4 OH THE HUMANITY (Isaac)

Update #5 Amid all the decimation there is hope: favorites Kennyi Aouad, Kavya Shivashankar, Sidharth Chand all move on.

Update #5.1 Kennyi-Kavya-Sidharth all right in a row now has to be like the 2-3-4 spots in a really good baseball lineup. Not 3-4-5, but 2-3-4. (Isaac)
WE ARE FEARLESS SPELLERS WHO LOVE SCARY WORDS: And so the National Spelling Bee semifinals begin with 41 spellers out of the original 293. 23 boys and 18 girls remain, including four 4-time repeaters -- Josephine Kao, Kavya Shivashankar, Vaibhav Vavilala and Keiko Bridwell. As a reminder, the semifinals are live on ESPN from 10 am to 1 pm, and the final rounds will be shown live tonight at 8 pm eastern on ABC,with your favorite host, Tom Bergeron.
Round One of the Semifinals starts... now.

Update #1 Nice work from Ms Park from Little Rock. No fear! (The Pathetic Earthling)

Update #2 MEER-e-ARK, a commander of ten thousand in ancient Greece, for Ms. Kao. Deft. My two in this competition have already passed round one. I find that when I actually know a word in this competition, half the time I learned it from reading Dungeons & Dragons modules. I'm pretty sure that an 8th Level fighter was a MEER-e-ARK. Gary Gygax could apparently stump any abridged English dictionary. (The Pathetic Earthling)

Update #3: Flashback -- after starting easy last year, this was the Canadian Bloodbath round, with all seven of our NttN headed home in a row. We said it was "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" and "like Eric Lindros insisting to the Nordiques that he wanted to play for the Flyers."

Shonda wrote: "The Canadians fall, the Canadians fall, the Canadians fall like trees. It's a Spelling Bee Battle Field -- these poor Canadians rushing to the microphone only to be beaten back with a horrifying ding. Were they not prepared for the rigors of TV? The joy of ESPN? Because these words did not seem particularly hard to me. But just like that, we have lost SIX CANADIANS IN A ROW. ALL THE CANADIANS ARE GONE. It's tragic. Oh, Canada..." (Adam)

Update #4 O Canada! Candians go trois-for-trois. In comments, Undercover Black Man notes the increasing use of "funny" sentences as examples. WIth the earlier BEHK-mes-UHR -- a person who is overly officious in his demonstration of knowledge -- the sentence was "When Kid Rock left the club, he had a BEHK-mes-UHR on each arm, telling him he should practice more." Seems that the use of these sentences has increased quite a bit in the last few years. But by now, they ought to be able to hire a better comedy writer to gin these sentences up. They're mostly dreadful.(The Pathetic Earthling

Update # 5 UHR-gay-see-a – behavior – four-timer Ms. Shivashankar knocks it out of the park.(The Pathetic Earthling)

Update #6 Every year I turn on the Spelling Bee here on the trading desk. Every year people make fun of it for a few minutes, and within 10 minutes everyone is watching intently and cheering. This year is no exception. (Kim)

Update #7 Here comes our nine-year old, Mr. Hathwar. PHO-dee-ent – something fitted for digging or burrowing … and gets nicked! Next year, I trust! (The Pathetic Earthling)

Update #8 These kids are thirteen-ish and of varying height. You think Scripps or ESPN could invest in a telescoping microphone(The Pathetic Earthling)

Update #9 So The Leader once again trails The Jewish World. Isn't it always so? Meanwhile, Shonda favorite Bridwell, a follower of Lost, apparently, helps kill Jacob at Locke's behest. (Isaac)
WHY DO I FEEL SO SLEEPY? Domino's is now delivering pasta in a bread bowl. It comes with a ramen fork and a Wheat Thin knife and a graham cracker napkin. It's served on a quinoa table in a room made entirely of Kellogg's Corn Flakes that you can only reach via the #3 au gratin potato train.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

REBOOT CAMP: Despite conclusively establishing that Terminator doesn't work without James Cameron's involvement last weekend, plans are apparently moving forward for a Buffy The Vampire Slayer reboot movie to be released without any involvement from Joss Whedon, and apparently, there's desire to talk about it here. I'm a bit confused by how the rights all shake out, since Whedon apparently has rights to the newly created characters from the TV show, who will not feature in the movie, and his "Season 8" comic book continues. There are some reboots that can work (Star Trek, Batman Begins, a hypothetical non-Lucas Star Wars), but I'm decidedly unpersuaded this one can work.

‘TV’s 50 Funniest Phrases’: ‘Yada, yada, yada’ is No. 1 |

WHA'CHOO TALKIN' BOUT, LEFT OFF THE LIST? Discuss -- last night's "TV’s 50 Funniest Phrases" list was not legen ...
OUR 2009 NATIONAL SPELLING BEE POOL IS NOW OPEN: The rules are below. Select two spellers from the 41 semifinalists, only one of whom can be a four-timer, and don't repeat someone else's pair. One point per word spelled correctly tomorrow.

Since it's my pool, I choose first: for the third straight year, yes, I'm taking Kavya Shivashankar (Olathe, KS), and I'll pair her with Kyle Mou (Peoria, IL), because he's not afraid to let you know he earned a perfect score in the written round. I like that confidence in my spellers. Also, this reminder for the liveblog -- it'll send you an email notice if you want:

KAO. VAVILALA. SHIVASHANKAR. BRIDWELL: Congratulations to the 41 spellers who will be moving on to tomorrow's National Spelling Bee semifinals.

Included in that list are all 4 returning four-timers, about half the three-timers, 2008 runner-up Sidharth Chand, last year's youngest-ever Sriram Hathwar (now 9), three Canadians, Jamaica's Shari-Jo Miller and Virginia's Andrew Traylor, whose bio explains that he "is quite the advocate for coffee, ramen noodles, and burritos."

Our annual pool will open at 8pm EDT tonight in a separate post. Our rules will remain the same as in previous years -- select two spellers, only one of whom can be from among the four rock stars for whom this is a fourth attempt at glory (i.e., the four in this post's title.) 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 when the kids start spelling tomorrow morning.

Previous pool winners are Elicia Chamberlin (Close/Hooks), Professor Jeff and Amy (O'Dorney & Thomas/Horton), and KJ last year (Mishra & Shivashankar). Will your name be inscribed with theirs?
NO THANKS TO ESPN360.COM: Round Three has begun with the first speller making it through and the next three misspelling giusto, kibbutzim, and Sarsar.

update #1: It's hard to be snarky when you've heard of like five of the first 30 words. Fortunately for me, my husband comes from a big muh-stah-CHOH-lee town. (Kim)

update #2: It's not just those in Brooklyn who can spell Loo-ba-vich-uhr, but even those from Prince Edward Island. (Matt)

update #3: Non-PEI Canadians are having a tough time of it right now, with the last eight misspelled words all coming from our North of the Border neighbors. (Kim)

update #4: Fortunately for Canada, it would seem to be the case that Stamford, Connecticut's geological landscape is a little light on the ai-GWEEL. (Kim)

update #5: A big welcome to all Instapundit readers! Hope you check back throughout the next two days. We'll be having a live chat during tomorrow night's finale. (The Pathetic Earthling)

update #6: This round is totally reminding me of one of those dreams where you show up for class not knowing you had a test that day and having no idea what it was you were being tested on. Except that these kids did know what was coming -- which makes it worse, right? (Kim)

update #7 An early contender for the annual Dominic Errazo Award (given to the entrant who makes it the furthest on the easiest words) is Chicago's Andrew Napora, who amid a bloodbath round with words like "amphisbaena," "pendeloque," and "rouen" drew the word TRUH-kyoo-lehnt instead. See, also, Talmage Nakamoto of Honolulu, drawing a word that's not exactly ihn-EKS-uh-ruh-buhl. (Adam) (Post bumped up.)

update #8 A happy song for Speller No. 116, Imogen Page, who's not quite old enough to appreciate it. (Happiness at the misfortune of others? That IS German!) (Adam)

update #9 Your Balderdash words for round 3, part one: torrefaction, gavelkind, robinsonade, braunschweiger, nyctipelagic ("of or pertaining to one of New York City's four island-based boroughs"), brodequin ("an essay written in a style which presumes one is capable of determining the conventional wisdom"), koinonia ("the state of perpetual buying of Japanese fish.") (Adam)

update #10 Put together one of my favorite Bee names this year -- Django Grootmyers of Lewis Center, Ohio -- and one of my favorite words -- oubliette (where it rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again) -- and we're 5/6 through this round. Foodie words causing trouble include tihm-BAHL, muh-SAL-uh, suh-muhl-YAY and teht-ruh-ZEEN-ee. (Adam)

update #11 Dan Steinberg talks to the spellers. My new theory: this year's Canadians are the Texans. On paper, at least, they're doing well. (Adam)
NO, I WILL NOT GIVE YOU A LANGUAGE OF ORIGIN: Here's the twenty-five words which counted in yesterday's preliminary part of the Bee. One point each:
  • LIH-muh-zeen: What his former friends couldn't believe Billy Ray Valentine was riding around in during Trading Places.
  • PAH-ruh-dee: Like Airplane! and Blazing Saddles.
  • ARR-uh-guns: believing you're smarter than Dr. Jacque Bailly
  • VEHR-bee-uhj: what this week is full of.
  • THUH-row: "Please see him, Jeffrey. He's a good man, and ..."
  • SEH-muh-teh-ree: Where Stephen King's pets go.
  • reh-BUT-uhl: "I'd like to save two minutes for ..."
  • AH-floo-uhnt: again, like Billy Ray Valentine, especially after that FCOJ insider trading deal. If challenged, I can use all of these words in a sentence relating to Trading Places.
  • uh-BISS: The James Cameron movie everyone forgot.
  • WAHR-unt: the lite metal band we'd like to forget ("Heaven", "Down Boys").
  • KYOO-buh-kull: where my red Swingline stapler is.
  • suh-SEED: What you can't do from the Union, constitutionally. Even if you're Texas.
  • IZ-muss: Panama! Pa-na-ma-huh!
  • uh-SIGH-luhm: a place of refuge. What lies in the shadow of the statue?
  • SEh-duhn-teh-ree: lazy.
  • kuhn-JEHN-uh-tuhl: blame your parents.
  • day-CORE: blame the person who picked out that wallpaper.
  • SKAY-leen: blame whoever drew that messed-up triangle.
  • VAH-sihl-uh-tore-ee: what you can't be at the microphone.
  • MOR-ayz: the unwritten rules about how to behave.
  • KEE-wee-tahs: the polis.
  • mih-KAW-buhr: I hope you read David Copperfield.
  • KWO-muh-do: manner
  • KALK: "linguistic borrowing that consists of the imitation in one language of some part of the peculiar range of meaning of a particular word in another language "
  • ah-nuh-kuh-REK-suhs: longitudinal ridging and splitting of the finger and toe nails.
Check your answers here.
THERE WILL BE ABS: During the Bee break, an item of interest from the theatrical world--Hugh Jackman will return to Broadway in the fall, though not in a musical, and will be joined by Daniel Craig in a new two-man show. Sadly, it's not "Wolverine vs. Bond," but I somehow expect that will not deter this selling tickets like hotcakes.
BEWARE FIFTH AVENUE THIS WEEKEND: I am a pretty solid avoider of the American Girl tsunami -- aided in large part by the fact that Cosmo Girl has evinced no interest in the phenomenon, despite having had afternoon tea at the American Girl ├╝ber emporium (to which tea she brought her stuffed Uniqua and rejected all suggestions from the American Girl waitstaff that she borrow a Kaya, or perhaps a Josefina or a Kit, with whom to savor her scone). But this weekend, the newest American Girl doll will hit the market -- nine-year-old Rebecca Rubin, who lives on the Lower East Side circa 1914 with her parents, siblings . . . and her Bubbie. If ever there were a moment in which the Cosmopolitans might join American Girl Nation, this might be it.

(Challah, menorah, and tea samovar each sold separately)
FROM MINNESOTA TO WYOMING: And with her correct spelling, Laura Galbus of Rochester, Minn. was able to ih-NIH-shee-ate the second half of this first oral round.

update 1: Thirty in a row do fine until Jersey City's representative got slammed onto the pahr-kay floor. Last year's Youngest Ever Speller Sriram Hathwar is back and aced pour-KYOO-pine, and Thomas Steele just nailed REZ-uh-vwar, which places him ahead of a certain best-selling author ...

update 2: Via our friend Dan Steinberg of the WaPo, the greatest Bee t-shirt ever (so far today). Only three more errors in the last ~40 words -- PEHN-uh-tehnt, VAL-yuhnt (or VAL-ee-uhnt), and MAN-uh-juh-buhl.

update 3: There are two types of words that we tend to be disproportionately better than the kids on -- legal and foodie terminology. And pah-ruh-LEE-guhl and PROH-miss-ore-ee just resulted in errors. How must it feel to err on one of those words and see a subsequent kid get kuh-ZOO?

update 4: I'll just RT @scrippsbee: " - Speller 221 spells incoherently." There's something amusing about that. (Soon followed by " - Speller 234 spells reluctantly."

update 5: Keystone State FAIL. The home-schooled winner from Lancaster doesn't have any HAL-uh-jen bulbs at home, and the Philadelphia representative's word was not chosen FORE-chun-uht-lee (alt: FORE-chun-iht-lee?). PR, RI, SC, SD, TN all perfect, as well as our ihn-COM-puh-ruh-buhl entrant from South Korea, but a string of twelve straight Texas correct spellings ends after a fifth-grader from San Angelo (having made it to D.C. by spelling "inselberg") got tripped up on a fuhn-duh-MEHN-tuhl word.

update 6: Round two is complete, with 265/293 entrants (90.4%) spelling correctly and getting the first +3 added to their scores from the 25-word written portion yesterday. We'll be back at 1:15p with Round 3, which will be available on for some here, the last round in which all 293 spellers compete.
TEACHING THE THINGTHROWERS ABOUT GEOGRAPHY: One of the nice things about Round 2 of the Bee is that you get to learn some interesting demographic facts about our nation (plus bonus Canada!) that you might not have previously known:
  • Everyone in Fairbanks, Alaska apparently gets their medications on a mail-order basis.
  • The population of Santa Ana, California is extremely focused.
  • Alberta, Canada does not care for pastel colors.
  • Somewhat surprisingly, the people of British Columbia don't go to church.
  • Denver is a simple, understated town.
  • One cannot inflate a helium balloon in Bonita Springs, Florida.
  • Folks in Driggs, Idaho are terse.
  • No butterflies in Bloomington, Illinois!
  • Dixon -- another town in Illinois -- is a pretty mediocre town. Hopefully they have butterflies, though.
  • More from Illinois! Freeport's elderly population is sharp as a tack.
  • Dubuque, Iowa's residents don't get annoyed easily.
  • Laurel, Maryland houses some generous people.
  • The people of Waldorf, Maryland, on the other hand, have a fatalist attitude towards the world.
  • Boston, Massachusetts, is a kind of confusing city -- I think they may not have any airports, but I'm not 100% sure.
  • Woody Allen has never set foot in Martha's Vineyard. Must be the lack of airports.
MORE THAN WORDS IS ALL THEY HAVE TO SPELL: For those of us without ESPN360, it looks like the best coverage is the Bee's Twitter feed, which is giving us word-by-word action. Words thus far in the first oral round include:

  • Dee-FUHRD: What I was from Rice University when I applied there.
  • RAN-sid: What a bachelor's refrigerator smells like.
  • FEZ-ant: Bird for hunting.
  • LAH-vuhn-duhr: Purplish color.
  • HYOO-muhr-us: What we try to be around here.
It's a pretty easy round thus far it seems, but I'm sure the difficulty will ramp up.

e.t.a. You can also follow on the Bee's own website, though things look a bit confused there at the moment. huh-RIFF-ihk, even. (Adam)

9:20a: According to the website (Twitter is now lagging), the dih-SIGH-puhlz of Kayva Shivashankar should be pleased, as well as those with a PREH-fuhr-ehns for Kennyi Aouad. And Nana Adjoa Baiden-Amissah -- Ghana's representative -- should be happy that FLUHK-tyoo-ate was her first word, given that her counterpart last year was asked to spell the name of the Passover ritual meal, and it's hard to find good matzoh in Accra. (Adam)

9:50a: Midway through round one, and 129/145 have spelled correctly so far, an 89% pass rate. We're all curious as to whether this afternoon's round is going to be less of a gimme for the kids, given today's weight in determining who makes it to ESPN tomorrow. Bee Website results now fixed, and we can see how an Idaho speller had great difficulty with a pah-lee-suh-LAB-ik adjective. Group two, per @yesiamawordnerd, starts at 10:30am.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

COULD YOU PLEASE USE THAT IN A SENTENCE: Well, the written (computer, actually) round is over. The spellers, 15 at a time, took the test today and will start spelling onstage tomorrow. I've been following @scrippsbee as well as a number of spellers and their parents on Twitter; it appeared that the parents were much more nervous than the spellers and that sightseeing was on the agenda once the pesky spelling was out of the way.

A list of the written/computer round words will be posted to the Bee site later tonight. I took last year's written round test today, having somehow missed it last time around, even though ALOTT5MA blogged about it, and got 22 out of 25. I think I probably peaked in spelling some time close to my Bee appearance in 1983 and my spelling ability has declined precipitously since.

I recently found the scrapbook that a family friend had made for me post-Bee, and it's interesting to see what my words were: tortellini, plastisol, flammeous, penurious, clowder, chieftain, xerography, and muniment. Somehow, the words these kids are spelling seem exponentially harder than mine were. The scrapbook also contains a copy of my check for $50 (which seemed like so much money in 1983!) and some highly embarrassing photos which pay tribute to the absolutely awesome fashion sense of the early 80s and chronicle our visit to the White House and audience with then-President Reagan.

By this time tomorrow night, we'll know who our semifinalists are. I still have a soft spot for four-timer Kavya Shivashankar, but I have a funny feeling that one of the first-timers is going to take it this year. We'll see.

ETA: It appears that the 2008 Championship Round will be broadcast starting tonight at 8:30 pm Eastern on ESPN2. Check your local listings.
WELL, KISS MY [POLENTA CAKE]! Remember when summer used to be the dumping ground for reruns (and early launches of Bev-Niner and Melrose Place seasons), until the summer of 2000 when Survivor, WWTBAM? and Sex and the City started forcing us all to watch tv in warm weather? For two hours tonight, NBC revives the lazy days of summer programming:
Get ready to laugh your way down memory lane when accomplished actress, dancer, singer and Tony Award-winner Jane Krakowski (NBC's "30 Rock") counts down 50 of television's funniest catch phrases in the NBC special "TV's 50 Funniest Phrases" presented by the Paley Center for Media on May 26 (8-10 p.m. ET).

From "No soup for you" to "We are two wild and crazy guys" to "Hug it out," catch phrases are instantly recognizable and become part of popular culture. Jeremy Piven ("Entourage"), Gabe Kaplan ("Welcome Back Kotter"), Dana Carvey ("Saturday Night Live"), Neil Patrick Harris ("How I Met Your Mother"), Jean Stapleton ("All In The Family"), Andy Griffith ("The Andy Griffith Show"), Keenen Ivory Wayans ("In Living Color"), Jackie Gleason ("The Honeymooners"), Bob Newhart ("The Bob Newhart Show"), Penny Marshall ("Mork & Mindy"), Polly Holliday ("Alice") and Redd Foxx ("Sanford & Son") are among some of the legendary stars featured in this two-hour special. With great scenes from the shows and interviews with the stars who brought the lines to life, this program will celebrate the history and humor of catch phrases.
Tomorrow night, ABC ups the ante when Splat! comes back.
PITY THE FOOL WHO DON'T CLICK THIS LINK: Add Mr. T to the list of Wrigley Field Seventh-Inning-Stretch All-Stars.
CELEBRITY DEATHMATCH! Spurred by the fact that Lee Child has a new book out (and yes, they are highly addictive)--Jack Reacher vs. Chuck Norris. Who ya got?
C-O-M-M-E-N-C-E: This morning, the 293 contestants in the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee will each sit in front of a computer for a 50-question exam, of which 25 will count. One point per word, combined with a possible +3 points for each of the words they'll be called upon to spell on stage tomorrow, and from that maximum possible of 31 points the top ~50 spellers will proceed to ESPN on Thursday. You can try last year's version of the written test here, and only thereafter can you peek at our analysis of last year's version. Tell us how you did.

[Live video of tomorrow's rounds is only available on, though there's also the text-based version on the Bee site. Folks have asked me if there's a way to work around restrictions on access to the ESPN site, but for a number of reasons that's not the type of info we'd discuss here.]

In the meantime, and throughout these days, Twitterfolks to follow include @scrippsbee, blogging spellers Tussah Heera and Hannah Evans (along with her older brother, Five-Timer Matthew Evans, tweeting @yesiamawordnerd), speller-dad Loren Halvorson as well as the all-important #bee09 hastag, and do get to know your Philadelphia-area spellers. We'll have today's written test posted as soon as it's available.

e.t.a. CNBC's Darren Rovell surveys his favorite bio tidbits of the spellers. ("He is the puppet team leader at his church."; "He is quite the advocate for coffee, ramen noodles and burritos"; etc.) Also, see blogs of spellers Santos DeBarros, Anja Beth Swoap, Amy Gormley, Julia Denniss, Rahul Malayappan (who's 8!).
REVERSE FEMMULLET: Can I please add Jon and Kate Plus Eight and all things related to it, including, but not limited to, discussion of Kate's hairstyle, to this list? It can replace Hugh Jackman, because, after all, Hugh Jackman is Wolverine.

Monday, May 25, 2009

ANOTHER TURNING POINT, A FORK STUCK IN THE ROAD: I've never linked to my friend Howie Klein here before -- as most of his blogging these days is political, which is the context in which we know each other -- but I dropped him a line tonight to thank him for his previously-unknown-to-me role in Wilco's album Being There back when he ran Reprise Records, and he pointed me towards his rave review today of Green Day's latest, and it's worth a moment of our time.

He calls 21st Century Breakdown "in some ways it's the band's best ever, their most mature, the fulfillment of all the promise they've always had. It's the best record of the year so far, and possibly the best of the new decade. There are no weak cuts." And then, after much talk about the state of Warner Music as a corporate concern, he reprints this recent quote from lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong regarding the band's ambition:
"Maybe that's the reason most people don't go for it," he says. "You can scare yourself with ambition-- having the audacity to want to be as good as John Lennon or Paul McCartney or Joe Strummer. There has been so much great s--- before me I feel like a student: Who the f--- do I think I am."

"But you have to battle past that," he insists in his rapid fire punk chirp. "It's the people who are overconfident who are the ones putting out the biggest piles of s---. If you're at that place where you're working hard but don't feel like you know what you're doing anymore,then you're on to something."
Part of what has always drawn me towards U2, and made bands like Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins and Public Enemy so attractive in their respective heydays, was that level of ambition and audacity. Each band believed (and U2 always believes) in its obligation to capture and dominate the cultural moment with something bold and big.

And now, for the second straight album, Green Day apparently has attempted the same -- and through punk, of all things. I once called Green Day "the Jim Edmonds of rock and roll" (Kingsley said they were the Curt Schilling of rock) to acknowledge what appeared to be a late-career leap from Pretty Good to HOF-level, but this doesn't feel like late career any more; these guys are all my age, and they're not close to done. I'm excited to download 21st Century Breakdown; we're due for a little Greatness again, aren't we?
THE ASHTRAY SAID YOU WERE UP ALL NIGHT: A few weeks ago brought the sad news that Jay Bennett, formerly the secondary creative force in Wilco, had fallen on times so hard that he was suing his former band. Yesterday, via Adam, came the even grimmer news that Bennett died in his sleep early Sunday.

Bennett joined Wilco as a multi-instrumentalist (replacing Max Johnston, Michelle Shocked's brother). He quickly added a second songwriting sensibility, sugaring Tweedy's acidic tone. Unlike some famous songwriting duos (Lennon/McCartney; Tweedy/Farrar), though, the Bennett-Tweedy partnership was at its best when it was a true collaboration. You can hear Bennett in "Shot in the Arm" and "Nothingsevergonnastandinmyway (Again)," but you can hear Tweedy too, and even a song like "My Darling" (which apparently was Bennett's alone) works mainly because it's so perfect for Tweedy's voice; it sounds strange without him. I loved Summerteeth, the album for whose sound Bennett was most responsible -- heresy of heresies, I like it better than Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It's too bad that Bennett and Tweedy never could bury the hatchet after their messy breakup, and it's too bad that Bennett never seemed to recover.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


[That said, okay, I watched the NBC special, and I largely agree with Alessandra Stanley's critique -- I especially thought it glossed over the health issues presented by all the transatlantic flights. Between the documentary and Elizabeth Edwards' memoir and publicity tour, we're at an interesting cultural moment presenting the question of whether it's possible to question the public choices made by people dying from cancer, or whether it's just rude or inappropriate to do anything other than honor and respect their decisions. I don't have an answer.]