Saturday, June 2, 2012

GOD, JED, I DON'T EVEN WANT TO KNOW YOU: Kathryn Joosten didn't start acting until she was 42, and didn't get her big break until she was 60, when she was cast as Delores Landingham in The West Wing.  After getting killed off, in setting in motion much of the plot of Two Cathedrals, she continued to work, recurring on Joan of Arcadia, as an incarnation of God respectfully known to fans as "Mrs. Landing-God," on Scrubs as a patient who gives John Dorian his first brush with death as a doctor, and, finally on Desperate Housewives, as the all-seeing Mrs. McCluskey, for which she won two Emmys.  She did all this while suffering from lung cancer. She finally succumbed to that cancer yesterday, and I hope her passing was as peaceful as her last character's was.

ETA:  As Adam pointed out, Mrs. Landingham actually dies (off-screen) in the final moments of 18th & Potomac, the episode before Two Cathedrals.
I WENT TO COLLEGE IN BOSTON. WELL, NOT IN BOSTON, NEAR BOSTON. NO, NOT TUFTS: (A Guest Post from commenter J. Bowman) A while back, an assignment appeared in my inbox (stemming from this post, I believe), in which I was asked the following question:

“How hard is Math 55?”

Math 55, for those unwilling to click on the links, is the highest first-year class offered by the second-best math department in Cambridge, MA. The class is touted as being four years' worth of undergraduate mathematics (and fairly advanced undergraduate mathematics at that) in a single year, which leaves future mathematicians (and the occasional physicist or economist) free to pursue more specialized interests. Each year, 50-100 hopefuls sign up for the class; usually, about 20 make it to the end (most simply drop back to the somewhat less work-intensive Math 25).

Why was I asked to answer this question? For starters, I'm an actual mathematician; at least, that's what my business card says (though I am beginning to suspect that mathematician is an ancient Greek word for “C programmer”). My undergraduate degree comes from the other school in Cambridge, I am addressed as “Doctor” at work, and I do still occasionally fool around with some of the nastier bits of algebra and graph theory, both at Veridian and in my spare time (though my performance in ALOTT5MAball is an indication I should probably be focusing more on probability and statistics). So, in between weaponizing pumpkins and reading old XKCD strips, I took a gander at this year's version of Math 55. So, how hard is it?

The short answer: pretty darn hard. The long answer is the same, but I get to type more.
HOLY TOLEDO, IT'S PREMORSE: I haven't had a bout of premorse for a while but Dick Beals, the voice of Gumby and Speedy the Alka-Seltzer boy, has died.

Friday, June 1, 2012

YOUR MOUTH'S PUNCHING BAG:  The uvula. What's up with that?
I KNOW IT HURTS TO LOSE. I'VE BEEN THERE:  On his new blog, Samir Patel recaps this week's Bee, and has a message for the runners-up:
To be honest, there are very few instances where I buy into the "everyone's a champion" approach to kids' competitions. In athletic events, ninety nine percent of the time, the winning team is the one that played better on that day. It's a level playing field. However, it's important to keep in mind that the NSB is not [big capital N-O-T] a level playing field, and it never will be or can be. No matter how much analysis is put into the wordlist in an attempt to keep words at an equal difficulty level, the truth is that the difficulty is subjective. Every round has "knockout words" and "easy words." Consequently, placing in position [N minus 1] doesn't necessarily make you a lesser speller than the person who placed in position [N], and conversely, placing in position [N] doesn't necessarily make you a better speller than the person who placed in position [N minus 1]
That's an important thought to keep in mind both when lauding the winner and the other spellers. Rankings shouldn't be blown out of proportion, because when it comes to the National Spelling Bee, everyone really is a champion. Spellers stand head and shoulder above most of their classmates in terms of dedication, persistence, and work ethic, and those qualities will undoubtedly allow them to achieve even greater success in the future.
This summer, Samir will roll out "a Carolyn's Corner style National Spelling Bee preparation advice column for aspiring spellers, 100% absolutely free." Awesome.

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.

LAGNIAPPE:  A few tidbits to tide you over:
Primetime starts at 8pm eastern.  The nine championship finalists are profiled here.

added: Samir talks to Texas Monthly, plugs us, and predicts:
All the spellers remaining have proven to be very competent. They all have different things going for them. For example, Nicholas Rushlow, he’s a five-time repeater, right? So he has lots of experience. Arvind Mahankali, number 162, I believe he came in third last year. You can expect him to put in a good showing as well. Then there’s Frank Cahill, number 30. He is a first timer but has a coach who has won nationals and he looks impressive. For someone who is there his first time, he’s asking all the right questions. So, you know, I think there are a lot of impressive spellers. We’ll just see what happens tonight.
ROUND SIX:  Am I counting correctly?  Are we down to 21 spellers in this round?  Wow.

Wait.  We just lost Sumaita Mulk (#5) on quatuor.  So we're down to 20.  Speller #25 Jennifer Mong goes down on vellon.  She was the Canadian National Champ.  19 remain.  Speller #42 Vaidya Govindarajan is gone on polynee which is some kind of Swedish baked good.  18 remain.  Are we going to have enough spellers for the finals?

#44 Stuti Mishra has been rocking her words and continues to do so with capharnaum.

#49 Rachael Cundey is brought down by cheyney.  And #50 Simola Nayak goes out! And #79 Gina Solomito goes out!  Come on, Jamaica...

#89 Gifton Wright correctly spells Gleichschaltung!  What the heck is a Gleichschaltung?  In short, it is forced standardization or assimilation.

ROUND FIVE:  41 Spellers.  We begin with Kevin Lazenby (#1)... who we immediately lose on hortulan.

Samaita Mulk (#5) has the cutest kid voice I have heard in a long time.  It makes her adorable -- like a tiny spelling fluffy bunny.  Every heard of a plant suited to arc it or alpine conditions?  Psychrophyte.

(Apparently Samaita has bees painted on her fingernails.  Making her even more adorable).

Snigdha Nandipati (#19) has a Haitian Creole word compas which is a popular music of Haiti that combines Cuban and African rhythms.  She gets it right but it takes her a while.

We lose Siddharth Kulkarni (#20) on Liederkranz, a German word and we lose Mignon Tsai (#27) on macropodid.  Spellers are going down right and left!

The bloodbath continues with Rahul Malayappan (#31).

SHOCKER!  We have lost Grace Remmer (#40)!  She is felled by athanor!  I am stunned.  STUNNED. Grace is, as always, a wonderful competitor who, after being eliminated, calls out cheerily "Thank you, everyone!"  Athanor is a self-feeding digesting furnace.  And it ate Grace.

ROUND FOUR:  It's Bee time!  Except we seem to be delayed by a tennis match at Roland Garros.  You can get to know the nervous and delightful spelling genius Tiny Humans here.  You can follow round results here.

10:05 am:  They've begun without ESPN!  Good for them.  Spelling waits for no network.  Two spellers have gone.  The words are already impressive: cephalalgia and hinoki.  Meanings, anyone?

I'm a idiot.  Is it just me?  The Bee is not on ESPN 2 as promised by DVR.  It's on regular ESPN.  Turn your channel.

10:11 am: We lost Apolonia Gardner!  She's the first one down.  Her word?  Phalarope.

I'd like to take a moment to remind you all of the magic and pageantry that is BBC (Bossy But Cute) Jacques Bailly who is as bossy and cute as ever.  For those who are new-Bees (yes, I just did that) BBC Jacques is the person you hear announcing the words, giving the definition and origins.  He's a former Bee Champ (1980) and he's been the official Bee Pronouncer since 2003.  Learn more about him here.

WELCOME TO THE PUSZTA:  The Bee resumes at about 10 am eastern; we are delighted to have Shonda Rhimes again anchoring our coverage during the day, and I'll run the night shift via Cover-It-Live.

This is a great day to celebrate some of the brightest, most well-rounded kids in America (and Canada and Jamaica), but there's also sadness at the heart of it: for one speller to win tonight, forty-nine others will have to make an error along the way, and in front of a national television audience to boot. It's not fun, and usually, it's just bad luck. So when we're talking about the spellers today -- and I promise this should be the last time I say this -- imagine that each of them, and their parents, knows how to use Google, and will find this website as soon as tonight.

Uncle Spike, himself a former national champion, dug up a poem earlier this week written in honor of the former voice of the Bee, Alex Cameron. Here's part:
Bless all the children learning to spell,
most of all when they are told
they must always go from left to right
and when they discover that every rule
at the worst possible time,
turns out to have an exception.

Bless most of all the children who stand alone,
moving a hidden finger along an invisible pad,
on a stage where the judges are armed with sentences
prepared in advance, and it is nearly impossible to be cool.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

THE DREADED WRITTEN ROUND:  So, what words were so difficult that a score of 17/25 (plus both oral words) were sufficient to move on to Thursday's semifinals?  In addition to some easy ones (statuesque, alacrity, demolition, etc), these:
  • tuh MAL ee, tah MAL ee: Part of the lobster most folks don't eat.
  • KON shuhn uh buhl: According to Richard Epstein, all contracts.
  • ehr buh CARE ee uhn: City folk.
  • po guh NAHD uh mee: shaving
  • doo buh TAHN tay: The attitude of the Montana Supreme Court towards Citizens United.
  • MYOOS lee: That Swiss cereal.
  • eh KEE tho, eh HEE tho: Mexican co-op
  • SEHM ehl puh ruhs:  A once-in-a-lifetime gig.
  • uh nee muh KOR, uh nee muh KO uhr: Plants spreading spores via the wind.
  • thoo sih duh dee uhn, thyoo sih duh dee uhn: Of, or pertaining to, that guy that former Amherst College President Peter Pouncey always talked about.
  • nee uh MEE nee uh: Of, or pertaining to, the first book in the Twilight series.
  • keed uh RO nay: A bass lute.
  • ood uhr KWEE duhn(t)s: An unclass dude.
  • kwee LEE uh: A caged bird which may, or may not, sing.
Answers here.  Samir Patel's thoughts, below the fold:
THE 2012 SPELLING BEE POOL: Our rules are a little different than last year's -- with two five-timers returning among the fifty semifinalists, as well as two returning prime-timers, I'm going back to restricting the use of veterans a bit.

So: pick two spellers, only one of whom can be a five-timer (Rahul Malayyapan and Nicholas Rushlow) or prime-timer (Nabeel Rahman and Arvind Mahankali). 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/K Shivashankar), Cagey (K Shivashankar/Pastapur) in 2009, Bob Loblaw/Jenn tied in 2010 (Veeramani and Chemudupaty/Denniss); and Nupur Lala won last year with her Roy/Ye Keystone combo.

Since it's my pool, I go first, and I'll take Arvind Mahankali and ... yeah, okay, Vanya Shivashankar.
COULD YOU USE THAT IN A SENTENCE, PLEASE?  Welcome to Round 3, each speller's second guaranteed chance before the microphones. Last year it was at the same level of difficulty as Round 2, so we'll see.

After this round, we'll find out who the up-to-fifty spellers are who'll proceed to tomorrow morning's semifinals.  (Up to 25 points from yesterday's computerized round, +3 for each of today's words.)

1:53 pm: 37/41 correct so far; one of the errors was on a word I've used in Words With Friends, and which a member of this community doubted was real. Heh. And, Marsha? They just used lahk-shuhn.

1:58 pm: Happy birthday, Philemon from Ghana! Now spell dynamogenesis!  (He did.)

2:07 pm: Early nominee for the annual Dominic Errazo Award for the easiest path to Thursday: Simon Ricci has had fuh-SEE-shuss and mo-TEEF thus far.

2:21 pm: If it's Wednesday, it means some kid's getting pehr-uh-STROY-kuh.  Apartheid is sure to follow.

INTERMEZZO:  The seventy-one words from the remarkable 2011 National Spelling Bee primetime championship finals.
KEVIN LAZENBY OF OPELIKA, ALABAMA, COME ON DOWN! For the second straight year, this remarkably talented young man leads off Round Two of the Scripps National Spelling Bee any moment now.

There are two preliminary rounds today in which all 278 spellers will face the microphone, Dr. Jacques Bailly, and the cameras of ESPN3 online (in both "play along" and more aggressively chyroned versions). 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, @APBenNuckols and hashtag #SpellingBee.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

SCHUHPLATTLER- OR ZORTZICO-WORTHY NEWS? Scripps will host a press conference tomorrow to discuss its plans to create an international Spelling Bee, in which countries would enter teams of three "to compete on an international stage before a worldwide broadcast audience. Each speller would compete individually, but with the opportunity to call on teammates for assistance one time during the competition." Scripps further suggests "awards could be given for the highest achievements by spellers whose first language is not English, the best humanitarian uses of the English language and, of course, the highest overall ranked competitors."
THIS INNOCENT WHO BEARS MY FACE:  Hugh Jackman is Bearded Jean Valjean; more pictures from the Les Misérables shoot here.

  added! First trailer, with Ms. Hathaway dreaming a dream.
WELCOME TO NATIONAL HARBOR:  This morning, two hundred seventy-eight of the brightest kids in America will begin the fulfillment of months and years of preparation for the National Spelling Bee, not in front of a microphone but in front of a computer. There, Dr. Jacques Bailly's voice will be heard over headphones, as he reads them fifty words, with their definitions, languages of origin, and the like displayed on the screen, and they can take their time to spell each correctly. (This is unlike last year, where Dr. Bailly did it live in a room in front of all of them in a timed written competition.) Of those fifty words, twenty-five will count, and their results on today's words, plus the two they'll get on the microphones on Wednesday, will determine who will be among the up-to-fifty kids competing for the championship on Thursday.

This is now the tenth year I've been live-blogging the Bee, and as in years past, we're here to celebrate these great kids, to be amazed by what they can do, and to occasionally mock the Bee when the kid from Ghana has to spell the name of the Passover ritual meal, or seven Canadians go down in a row, or when there's a run of words derived from Afrikaans that we just can't believe.

What we won't do -- and we have learned this lesson, believe me -- 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.

Indeed, we've been blessed to have so many great former competitors join us during Bee Week to share their experiences, as well as the exuberant prose of our friend Shonda Rhimes, who will be returning again this year. We will gladly republish more submissions from new friends, and old ones, as this week proceeds.

Good luck to all the competitors, and let's hope for a fun week.

Monday, May 28, 2012

SONG OVERANALYSIS DESK:  Some questions for Miss Carly Rae Jepsen:
  • You request "don't ask me, I'll never tell" the content of your wish, but isn't your entire song telling us the contents of your wish?  Doesn't that completely defeat your promise?
  • You claim "I wasn't looking for this," with "this" apparently being a romantic relationship with the object of the song, yet it seems to have been the content of your wish.  Why did you wish for something you weren't looking for?
  • Given that you ask someone who you, by your own admission, just met "where you think you're goin', baby?," have you considered that you might be coming on too strong?
  • While you acknowledge that your behavior is "crazy," have you considered that saying so might well be a turnoff?
  • What if I'd prefer to text, tweet, or e-mail you?  Are those acceptable?
  • You say "it's hard to look right at you."  Is this because I'm deformed or otherwise repugnant?  If not, this is an odd choice of words.
  • How were you able to miss me so bad (so, so bad) before I came into your life?  Are you a time traveler?  Otherwise living your life in a nonsequential fashion?
TODAY, THE BARBECUE; TOMORROW, THE WORDS:  A few more articles on this year's competitors in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which starts with the written round tomorrow:
THE PRICE YOU PAY:  Whether you found last night's Mad Men brilliant or maddening depends on whether you really believe that vote would have gone 4-0, with one abstained.

I HAVE ONLY ONE ITCHING DESIRE: The night is dark and full of spoilers for Game of Thrones:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

WHO WANTS TO BE IN BUSINESS WITH PEOPLE LIKE THAT?  We'll get to episode-specific recaps tomorrow, I'm sure, so I'll beg you to be as spoiler-free as possible in these comments so I can just make one assertion: I think that was the best two consecutive hours of television I've seen since Lost's season-three ender "Through the Looking Glass," a/k/a "Not Penny's Boat." Wow.
I HEREBY ALSO VETO ... THE RICE CAKES THAT MICHELLE SAID WERE HEALTHIER ... THAN THE HOAGIE:  Splitsider reviews SNL Season 37, with awards handed out for best commercial parody, best cold open, best episode, etc., with many Hulu links as refreshers.