Thursday, May 29, 2014

CAN I HAVE THE DEFINITION PLEASE?:  The Scripps National Spelling Bee Semifinals begin this morning.  I'll be live-blogging as fast and as best as I can...

Happy to see Jacques Bailly in his usual position!  Pronouncing words and hitting the bell.

Is the scary light up red wall that happens when the kids are running out of time to spell new?  I don't remember it and I find it terrifying.

We lost Lillian Allingham on "rufosity" -- she's the first one down.  Forty five spellers remain.  You can study them here.

7:12 am PST: The exuberance of young Jacob Williamson is the perfect reminder of why the Bee works.  Jacob has swagger, a fantastic confidence when he approaches the microphone and tells Jacques to give him a word he knows. And when Jacques presents him with "euripus" (a word I have never ever heard of), Jacob gives a little shout of celebration.  He's got this.  I love these kids!

I think Adam already noted this but Mary Horton is a Bee sibling -- her brother Jonathan competed pretty memorably.  She sails through on "coaxation".

Meghana Kamineni has a quiet confidence, strolling up to the podium to spell "periplus".

Alia Abiad loves This American Life.  She has good taste.  She spells concinnate.

I'm liking the brown Spelled It t-shirt Alekhya Ankaraju is wearing but sadly we lose her on miniaceous.

Vanya Shivashankar is the closest thing we have to Bee Royalty this year.  We've watched her grow up on the Bee.  And she gets a really great video.   Her older sister, former champion Kavya, is in the audience watching as Vanya spells elepidote.  I am LOVING the way Vanya takes apart this word before she spells it.

How that RED LIGHT works:  The speller’s time at the microphone has a limit of 2 minutes. Time begins when the pronouncer first pronounces the word.  The red wall happens at the 30-second mark. The judges and pronouncer can not communicate with the speller during those final 30 seconds. The judges will disqualify any speller who does not provide a complete spelling before the expiration of time.  Ugh.

I'm enjoying Jacques Bailly's sentences and it's clear he enjoys them too.  "The witch tended to her toenails as she waited for the potion to reach ebullition."

First time Bee-er Matt Kivimaki (ebullition) lists as his role model Andrew Carnegie.   I love the new kids.  They're all fresh discoveries.   But it's nice to see returnees: Faaris Khan (amontillado) and Jade Samanta go back to back on the mic but we lose Jade on subdolous...

I was a fan of Lydia Loverin on sight.  Her pixie haircut, the fact that she drinks a cup of tea before she competes in a Bee, her role model is Neil Gaiman...I had big plans for her.  She was my pick to win it all based on girl power alone.  But we lose her too quickly on velutinous.  I hope we see her again next year.

8:04 am PST: My coffee is kicking in and I'm now noticing something.  Is it just me or are these words not that difficult?  I'm having none of the usual brain strain or even excitement as I try to dig into these words.  I mean, organzine?

Just read up on Sai Vishudhi Chandrasekhar (phytophilous).  She's a humorist who loves The Onion.  I'm gonna think of her as a tiny spelling Tina Fey from now on.  I'm rooting for her.

I want to back up on the list of spellers and remind everyone that WE HAVE A JAMAICAN IN THE GAME!!!!  (I'm doing a little dance here in my living room.)  If you know me and you know the Bee, you know there's nothing I love more than the unfailingly polite, precise reputation of the Jamaican spellers.   This year, the speller representing Jamaica is Tajaun Gibbison (swidden).  He's going to be a doctor and he likes to play cricket which is so awesome.  Jamaica is in it, people.  Fingers crossed.

I love the look on Benjamin Kulas' face when he is given the word nitid which means "bright, glossy, lustrous" -- here's a word I would have immediately gotten wrong.  And so does poor Benjamin.  Tough loss.

I'm going to pause here to discuss, not the Bee and not the fabulous and brave kids competing in the Bee, but the people COVERING the Bee and bringing the Bee to you on TV.  Now you know I love my Bee.  And I adore ESPN (I work for ABC so hello, shared parent company Disney!).  But I do not like when they mock the children.  They've really moved away from that in recent years -- for which they should be commended.  They don't treat the children as adorable oddities.  They treat them like small scholars, they use the breathless commentary style reserved for athletics and they (so far) have not shoved a camera in the face of an eliminated child and tried to interview them.  This makes me happy.  It does not make me happy to see once again the footage of that poor child fainting as he tries to spell a word.  It's a child.  Fainting.  As he tries to spell.  Someone's baby is fainting.  Be human beings about that, ESPN.  Rise.

8:25 am PST:  Lokesh Nagineni goes down to his last 30 seconds to spell frison.   He's intense and thoughtful and calm.   I remember Ansun Sujoe from last year.  I love that when he hears his word, he wrinkles his nose and asks Jacques Bailly, "what does this mean?!!"  But he gets it right -- laulau.

Oh no, oh no, oh no.  We lose last year's finalist Syamantak Payra on circumforaneous.   He gets a standing ovation from his fellow spellers and from the ballroom.  But his heartbreak is palpable.  Oof.

I've been waiting all morning to see first timer Muriel Cotman spell.  I love everything about her.  My inner kid-nerd recognizes her from my childhood.  She's awesome.   She was my second pick to win but alas, she goes out on ensilage.

More and more I find myself identifying with the parents.  They always sit, trying to keep neutral faces, but gripping their hands -- so nervous they can barely breathe.  And I get it.  Your child is out in the world doing something.  And it's not so much that you want them to win but you want them to succeed, to be happy, to do well in the thing that they want to do.  Especially when they have worked so hard.  You want them not to be crushed.

And just like that, we lose Jae Canetti (parseval)!  This is his third time at the Bee and he gets his an standing ovation on his way out.  Brutal.

The final speller in this round is Tea Freedman-Susskind.  She's sassy and spirited and correctly spells  the word Gehenna to end the round.  After round five, 35 spellers remain.


  1. Adam B.10:12 AM

    Oh, that was adorable from Jacob Williamson. "Please give me a word I know." And he knew it.

  2. BeeFan10:16 AM

    Did Loeffler say only two rounds this afternoon? I thought it was three.

    We'll need a 50% casualty rate in each round to avoid the winnowing-down by test.


  3. Adam C.10:16 AM

    I had him pegged as good to watch after yesterday's rounds - he did not disappoint.

  4. Amber Born10:17 AM

    Jacob Williamson is awesome. I mean, everyone is awesome, but I like the cheerful and funny people in particular.

  5. Adam C.10:17 AM

    Sorry to lose Lillian so early.

  6. Adam B.10:18 AM

    I got it wrong. The rules say two. That's just such an awful concession to ESPN's needs, and round 5 promises to be a lawnmower.

  7. BeeFan10:24 AM

    So Christine Alex advocates the use of Tau (2*Pi) instead of Pi in mathematical equations?

    I'd rather hear them interview her about why that is, rather than listen to interviews of dunderheads on the Mall who aren't sure whether "cat" starts with two k's or three.

  8. I can see both sides of this argument--yes, the idea that format is changing to support the needs/desire of television is annoying, and the written test tests a somewhat different set of skills (the ability to spell on paper/a computer with an opportunity to correct in midstream is different from the oral spelling), but to an extent, the written test (where all spellers get the same words) is fairer because it reduces "word lottery" as an element in who our ultimate winner is. There are always a couple of spellers who get dinged out on words that aren't really gettable unless you happen to have memorized that word, and they're the ones I feel the worst for.

  9. Adam B.10:30 AM

    I absolutely see the other side of this, and that's why a computerized test is fine for getting down to the final 50-or-so. After that point, I'd rather they just let the kids go all day long until there's a winner.

  10. I had forgotten how coyly obnoxious ESPN could be about how spelling is soooo hard and people are generally so dumb.

  11. Adam B.10:33 AM

    Every time a Jamaican speller says "Thank you sir," the ghosts of this blog arise and applaud.

  12. I'm on a Virgin America plane to sfo, headed to Vegas eventually...and I'm pretty sure I'm the only one on this plane watching the Bee. BEE TIME!

  13. I'm wondering if sport books in Vegas offer Bee betting.

  14. BeeFan10:43 AM

    If that sentence for "ardoise" was supposed to be funny, nobody reacted. I think they've gotten old. Drop them.

  15. Adam B.10:45 AM

    Just once, I'd like to see a kid who gets dinged storm off without waiting to hear the correct spelling. Because I think when I was 14, that's what I would have done.

  16. Catherine Cojocaru10:47 AM

    I hate to say this, but the words in this round are not that hard. I wonder if they're going to make round six a lawnmower, or rely on their test scores from last night to narrow it down.

  17. Adam B.10:47 AM

    Amontillado is too easy for this round, especially with the added pronunciation which gives away the Spanish LL. I'm pretty sure I had read that Poe story by this age.

  18. BeeFan10:47 AM

    I think Rebecca Sealfon did that in 1996. More like a sprint than a storm, though.

  19. I have never seen a "sport book" but yes, I will now be investigating, thanks.

  20. Jacob Devine10:50 AM

    George Hornedo did that back in 2005. He gave a letter he knew was wrong and just bolted.

  21. BeeFan10:51 AM

    A couple years ago they took bets on the Bee, though not on individual spellers. I think there were bets on over/under the length of the winning word and things like that.

  22. It wouldn't shock me if that's a somewhat deliberate choice--this is the first round that's televised (rather than just streaming), and there's additional stress as a result. Also, credit to ESPN for offering two different versions--ESPN3 offers a playalong version that doesn't show the word until after it's spelled, while ESPN2 offers the standard version.

  23. I almost wish the powers that be would reconsider the current format where the first two stage rounds are all gimme words. I understand why they do it like that - to reward a certain level of effort- but the way it's going, we'll see easy words on the broadcast and then jump to the lawn mower round with not much in between.

  24. Marsha11:03 AM

    Yay, Shonda's back! Joining late in the game and I've missed a bunch, alas. Catching up a bit now....

  25. Adam B.11:04 AM

    The first morning round can be easier, as tonight's first round surely will be. What's stopping them from doing three rounds today? Let's say round 5 is a lawnmower; at this rate, I think we're still looking at ~20 spellers left thereafter.

  26. Former Spelling Mom11:09 AM

    Most of the words are CWL, but every once in a while they are words that have never been used in a bee before.

  27. BeeFan11:11 AM

    They could easily get in another round if they eliminated the fluff. Bailly in a bee suit?

  28. BeeFan11:13 AM

    And again we see the faint in a "funny" collage. Keep it classy, ESPN.

  29. Amber Born11:14 AM

    These words aren't that difficult, by spelling bee standards. Round 6 will have to be harder, or else they'll cut a lot of people out based on their computer test scores. I hope they don't do that again this year.

  30. Marsha11:18 AM

    Sigh. And what's with the autotuning? 99% of the time ESPN treats these kids like the awesome scholars they are. And the other 1% they act like adolescent neanderthals who want to mock the nerds.

  31. Adam C.11:27 AM

    In all likelihood, we're looking at 30+ moving to the next round, which means the next round could be brutal.

  32. Adam B.11:29 AM

    And we have seen rounds where half the kids (Americans too!) go home. They are not fun.

  33. Catherine Cojocaru11:33 AM

    Oh no is right :(

  34. Rachel11:34 AM

    Oh, but the standing ovation!

  35. Adam B.11:35 AM

    And many pool hopes go down. Wow, I guess the fact that it's this round means it's not just "circumference + aneous", but, still, wow. Circumforaneous.

  36. Super womp.

  37. Marsha11:38 AM

    and Muriel too...

  38. Adam B.11:41 AM

    One you hear that it's pronounced "lanero" or "yanero" and it's from Spanish, is it at all dificult?

  39. Marsha11:44 AM

    No. And then Jae gets the dreaded "from a name" derivation. Ridiculous.

  40. Adam C.11:45 AM

    Ugh, that was a tough break for Jae.

  41. You guys, there is a misguided dude in my Twitter feed stating that "the NSB's time has passed" and that what we need now are STEM related contests. Um. I will make sure he wasn't trying to be funny and then I think I will retweet that and ask the Bee to comment.

  42. I lost my pool entry, but that just means I can root for the PNW. Go Tea! I'll lead the parade downtown.

  43. victoria11:53 AM

    What, do they think the NSB is trying to shiv Mathcounts or something?

  44. I think that round was fairly easy for the most part but a few words (parseval, hi) were just bizarre.

  45. BeeFan11:55 AM

    There are already all kinds of academic contests. Most of them don't (or wouldn't) make good TV. The Math Olympiad (where NSB champ Evan O'Dorney went on to) is great, but it couldn't be telegenic.

  46. Ibidem? What's next? Bluebooking Bee? (I know of U of C would boycott for their own Maroonbooking event.)

  47. Marsha12:00 PM

    Oh, for heaven's sake.

  48. It's Academic and other College Bowl-esque games is still locally televised in some markets, but that's about it. Academic Decathlon is not designed for TV. I suppose you could televise Odyssey of the Mind, but that would create some rights messes.

  49. Genevieve1:56 PM

    The Geography Bee was televised for a while, but I haven't seen it lately.

  50. La Binsk2:38 PM

    I caught a bit of the Geography Bee the other day. Soledad O'Brien was hosting it.