Saturday, June 1, 2013

A NONEXCLUSIVE LIST:Of things with which Vin Diesel has more chemistry during Fast & Furious Six than Michelle Rodriguez, his ostensible "true love:"
  • Paul Walker
  • The Rock
  • Luke Evans (who plays the villain, a mercenary named Hobbs)
  • A bullet he removes from his body by himself without aid of anesthesia.
  • The white T-shirt and tank top that serve as his costume for much of the movie.
  • Each and every car he drives during the course of the movie.
  • The toy car he gives to his infant nephew early in the movie.
(Despite this flaw and that the plot makes little or no sense--there's at least one point where a sniper has a bead on the villain and decides not to shoot for no apparent reason--I still had quite an enjoyable time.)

Edited due to grammar correction from one of our readers.
GERONIMO!  Matt Smith will be leaving the role of The Doctor with this year's Doctor Who Christmas Special, though head writer Steven Moffat and Jenna-Louise Coleman's Clara will apparently be staying on. Are we equipped to speculate on who'll be replacing him? How about one of the kids from Harry Potter?  There'd been speculation for years of a female Doctor incarnation, and Emma Watson could be an interesting choice to lend star power to get over the hump of making that sort of radical change.

Friday, May 31, 2013

I WAS JUST THINKING OF WHEN MY FATHER DIED:  Does anyone have a viable Bob Benson theory for Mad Men which takes into account the fact that he's totally lying to someone about whether his father is alive and his ubiquitous Anthora coffee cups, which are starting to give me a water-glasses-in-Signs vibe?
PIKE'S PIQUE: A WSJ A-hed on the anti-apostrophe policy of The Domestic Names Committee of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. Wait until they hear about this in King's Kings Landing.
SMELFUNGUS TIME: There's something that's always going to be satisfying about a National Spelling Bee when the winner is someone for whom we've rooted over the years, where the victory feels not just like one night's triumph but the culmination of years of hard work and frustration paying off. When you get the added narrative satisfaction of overcoming a personal demon (Germanic roots) and an array of joyous championship finalists who are fun to watch, it's even better.

The Bee, however, is also the process of eliminating 280 other fine spellers, so your enjoyment of this week's competition is directly tied to how that was accomplished as well. Actually, wait a second: the Bee doesn't exist for our enjoyment: it exists for the kids who are competing in it, so as I've said before the question of whether these computer-based cutoffs are appropriate is really one for them as competitors more than for us as observers. From this outsider's perspective, it does seem more fair to have evaluations based on 24 (and 24 more) common words rather than the luck of the draw at the microphone, and more compassionate to not have every eliminated speller have to suffer that fate in front of a camera—but that also renders the Bee a test of slightly different skills than the traditional oral-only evaluation.

Still, what might be fair for the first cutoff (from 281 minus two oral rounds to the sub-50 for Thursday) does seem more painful when it comes to artificially cutting down from 18 to 11 for primetime. Assuming for sake of television that there will be a separate primetime competition, would it have been that difficult to calibrate the word list to have an additional round or two to winnow the field from 18 down to 9-12? Would it have been impossible to go into primetime with 12-15 spellers and just make it more difficult from the get-go? (The first primetime round always seems easier than the afternoon rounds which preceded it.) And if they started with 6-9 kids in primetime once every few years, is that the worst thing in the world?

I'm still ambivalent about this. When you look at the individual vocabulary words on which errors helped eliminate four of the seven kids from the finals (ebullient, parsimonious, fractography, and filiferous), yes, those are words which the Bee champion should be able to define in a multiple-choice quiz, and those are kids who accordingly probably wouldn't, and shouldn't, have won this competition. The kids who made it to primetime last night, earned it, and the duration of the final rounds is a testament to the uniform quality of the spellers who made it. From that perspective, it's a fair evaluation, even more fair than a random selection from a list of know-it-or-you-don't words (origin: Basque, proper name, literary character, etc.) ... except that the ability to pull those rabbits out of hats which most amazes and impresses us.

So I don't have an answer to how to better structure the Bee. I'd prefer that it be done with the consideration of putting the spellers' needs first, and the fairest evaluation of and reward for their hard work, and not based on what's best for ESPN's scheduling needs ... but I'm afraid that's not the world in which we live.

added: The NYT on the many ways area Jews spell the championship word.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

ELEVEN FANTASTIC SPELLERS REMAIN: Join us for our liveblog of the 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee championship:
LAGNIAPPE: A few of my favorite pieces from Bees past:

See you at 8pm EDT.
SPELLING BEE, ROUND 6:  32 Spellers remain.  Here we go....

3:52 pm  Isabel Cholbi steps up to the microphone.  Looks at Jacques Bailly.  And says "We meet again."

Man, these kids are great.

Isabel Cholbi's word is ecphonesis.  She gets it wrong!  Oh no!  Isabel is gone!

And then we lose Audrey Bantug too.  Eva Kitlen seems to be having a sort of panic attack about the word cabotinage.  And she's gone too.  First three spellers gone quickly.

Himanvi Kopuri in working on pancratiast and she goes down too!

The Bee is a bloodbath.  The words in this round feel exponentially harder than they did in the last round.  The spellers seated look worried.

Anuk Dayaprema gets dolabriform.  And he spells it right.  Whew.  I was starting to think dark thoughts...
THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE:   It is happening.  And honestly people?  I am so excited that it’s almost sad.  This is my SuperBowl.  This is my Day.  Welcome to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.  The Semifinals are about to begin at 2 pm EST (on ESPN2 if you want to watch and who doesn’t want to watch?) and I’ll be live-blogging old-school style as best I can from my office here at Scandal on the Sunset-Gower lot where I’m totally supposed to be breaking stories for Season 3 but I can’t because children are spelling.


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.

Sadly, it is also a competition.   There are 42 semifinalists spelling today.  Only one will win (yeah, there’s a teeny possibility of co-champions but let's not even think about that).  ONLY ONE WILL WIN.

Let's find out who it's going to be, shall we?
MORNING AT THE BEE: This is very strange, having no spelling going on this morning. Why are the semifinal rounds in the afternoon, giving the kids minimal break time before the finals, rather than now?

Regardless, they've posted the semifinal computer test administered last night, with the following twelve hardcore spelling words:

  • uh-PAH-fuh-gee: It's like that thing of where there's a small hollow curvature at the top or bottom of the shaft of a column.
  • BOOM-slahng, BOOM-slang: Snake from Southern Africa.
  • krip-tahm-NEE-zhuh: It's like that thing of where you remember something only you don't realize you're remembering it and think you're being conscious of it for the first time.
  • dih-jehr-AH-tee: nerds
  • YOU-tuh-lee: It's like that thing of where your body is made up of a constant number of cells.
  • ji-ro-KAH-tuh-lid: worm (ji rhyming with eye, to be clear)
  • kah-fee-KLOTCH, koh-fee-KLUTCH: It's like that thing of where someone else takes the last cinnamon roll and you have to sit around and listen to other people talking too much.
  • mehr-tench-EE-uh, mehr-ten(t)-SEE-uh: also known as the Virginia cowslip, which I'm sure is a euphemism for something.
  • ah-no-mah-SEE-oh-luh-gee: study of grouped words
  • puh-hoo-tuh-KA-wuh: a curvaceous New Zealand tree.
  • te-KWIST-lah-TAY-kuhn: a particular language family deriving from Mexico.
The twelve vocab words were slightly less onerous -- I'll assume you can use dilettante, enigmatic, lionize, and sangroid in a sentence, but what about anacouluthon, gossalgia, hyalescent, keratectomy, sedulous, telluria, vitrine, and xylophagous?

Below the fold, Cliff has some thoughts on the semis field:
TIME FLIES:  Has it really been five years since we first met speller Catherine Cojocaru? She hit primetime in 2008, and since then has been a regular member of our community during Bee season. She'll be back for the live coverage tonight, and in the meantime files this update on how she's doing:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I WISH THERE WAS NO BLACK AND WHITE I WISH THERE WERE NO RULES:  Controversy at the Bee, as the alternative spelling viruscide (for viricide/virucide) was deemed acceptable enough in the written round to allow a 42nd speller to qualify for tomorrow.
THE 2013 SPELLING BEE POOL:  Forty-two spellers remain. Our rules are similar to last year's -- with two five-timers (Cundey, Keeton) and five four-timers (Remmer, Born, Hathwar, Mahankali, and Reddy) returning among the semifinalists, as well as two returning prime-timers, I'm going to restrict the use of veterans again.

So: pick two spellers, only one of whom can be one of the four- or five-timers listed above. 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 afternoon. You will get one point for each word your spellers correctly spell during tomorrow's rounds of the Bee, which resumes at 2pm eastern on ESPN2. In addition, each speller will receive an additional point for reaching primetime, to account for the computer-based cutoff after tomorrow afternoon's two live rounds. 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); 2011's winner was Nupur Lala (the Roy/Ye Keystone combo); and in 2012 our winner was Bobby (Snigdha Nandipati and Arvind Mahankali).

It's my pool; I go first: I will take Arvind Mahankali again, because that's quite a streak of performances under the lights, and Gokul Venkatachalam. Your turn.

added: In order to protect the integrity of the first-come, first-served nature of the pool, please don't edit your entry. If you need to make a change, reply to your original comment.
I-O-Q-R-Z-QUATRO: Welcome back to the microphone, Meghana Giri, as Round 3 begins with 266 spellers remaining.

2:07 pm: Seven kids down so far out of the first 60 spellers. It's a slightly harder round, but not impossibly so. Still, 200+ kids will spell both words correctly today, and only ~50 of them get to move on to tomorrow.

2:47 pm: Sometimes you get "reconcilable," "discrete," or "dowager"; sometimes you get "mussitation" or "piloncillo." Life ain't fair.

MEGHANA GIRI OF ALABAMA, COME ON DOWN!  You are the first speller up to the microphone in today's Round 2, and your word is glahz-nost.  (And you are correct!)

There are two preliminary rounds today in which all 281 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. Get dinged today, and you're out.

You can follow along in a few places (in addition to here): the Bee website, and a few places on Twitter worth noting: @ScrippsBee, @JGWhiteAP, and hashtag #SpellingBee.

8:15 am First two misspelled words are sih-no-SHOOR and KAH-mih-sahr.

9:12 am 91/96 so far, including of the Yiddish and Afrikaans words you've come to know and have ambiguous feelings about over the years.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

VIRAL AND ANTIVIRAL:  Two NBC videos worth seeing, for equal and opposite reasons:
  • Jimmy Fallon's Game of Desks. Rockefell rises!
  • "Under Pressure," the number from Smash which opened the show's series finale. Should people on the streets in future generations ask you "what went wrong?", focus on Debra Messing's line readings to understand the gaps between what this show could have been, thought it was, and ultimately was.
PROMISING TO BE BETTER THAN THE LONG-AWAITED 2 SHARKTOPUS 2 FURIOUS: While the Bee is quiet, I must alert you to the upcoming film Sharknado, which is sure to deliver high quality entertainment on the level of Mansquito.
WHO'S UP FOR SOME BOUILLABAISSE WITH ROUILLE? Early afternoon bullet points:

WELCOME TO NATIONAL HARBOR:  This morning, two hundred eighty-one of the brightest English-speaking kids in the world 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, for the first time in Bee history they will be tested in both vocabulary and spelling -- twenty-five words in each section -- with the results having a heavy weight on who will advance after tomorrow's two live rounds. (added: Picture!)

This is now the eleventh 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 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 over the years. (Y'all are welcome back.) Shonda will be returning again, as well.

I feel terribly old-school in still doing this on the blog -- there's an argument that the world has shifted, and we ought to just go to Twitter full-time for the Bee. But I appreciate the Bee-loving community that we create here for one week every May, and if that remains sustainable I'm going to do it.

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

Monday, May 27, 2013

I AM FROM HOLLAND. ISN'T THAT VIERD:  Following ground we explored three years ago, Vulture attempts a taxonomy of comedic threequels.

(Minor gripe: Oceans Thirteen is better than meh.)