Friday, May 27, 2016

THERE ARE NO WORDS:  The kids from What's Happening!! join Rick Dees, Rip Taylor, Fake Jan and the rest of the Brady Bunch Variety Hour Players for a tribute to disco.

This is an open thread for the weekend.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

TEN SPELLERS REMAIN:  Spelling resumes shortly after 8pm. Let's have fun.

11:05pm: Our livechat is archived below the fold. These were two amazing kids -- hell, the final four were all as good as any spellers we've ever seen -- and I'm glad that no one had to lose. Still, three straight ties? It's worth further thought about competition structure and whether there's another set of refinements we need, but at this moment I'm just glad I got to see what Nihar Janga and Jairam Hathwar could do.

A TRADITION LIKE MANY OTHERS:  This year's computerized round, for your amusement:

SUHN-dree: items often found with your various ones
in-SHROWD, en-SHROWD: part of the traditional Jewish burial ritual (tahara)
JEH-muh-nayt: to pair
maa-duh-mwah-ZELL: a defunct women's magazine
uh-LOG-uh-mee: cross-fertilization
kih-ROP-uh-dist, kay-ROP-uh-dist, shuh-ROP-uh-dist: foot doctor
tuh-PEET-uhm: cell layer
POHL-ee-see-mee, puh-LISS-uh-me: this word has many meanings
hee-muh-tow-RUCK-uhs: a spinal heh-muh-rij
fweh-TAY: fancy leg turn
LAHKS-sheen-kuhn: a fancy German ham, "the salmon ham," etymology-wise
NOO-norsk, NEE-norsk: New Norwegian dialect.
Answers here, include the ne plus ultra of vocabulary exams.
LAGNIAPPE: The folks at 538 want you to know, as we long have, that words derived from Hebrew are the hardest in the Bee, though it looks like they didn't sample enough Welsh to compare. Also:
Occasionally, though rarely, the bee’s words are sourced from some of the more obscure of the 7,000-ish languages spoken on Earth: “kathakali” (a form of dance drama, from Malayalam), “uayeb” (part of the Mayan calendar), “takin” (a large bovid, from Mishmi) and “compas” (a type of music, from Haitian Creole) have all made appearances. In 85 cases — including the words bagwyn, larrigan, pandowdy and tatterdemalion — the origin was unknown.
Back in 2011, Nupur Lala and Amy Goldstein both answered "what's the hardest word you've seen in terms of both orthographic trickiness and usage/popularity?", and it covers everything from engysseismology to preux and beyond.
ROUND SIX:  Seventeen spellers remain, and you'd expect this will be the final round of the afternoon. Buzzsaw like round 4, or gentle slope like round 5?  (Nabokovian and ayurveda, really?)  We shall see.

1:45: We'll stay here for round seven, the final round of the afternoon.

1:55: If you want good spee-uh-dee-nee, we have a place in Philadelphia.

Ten spellers remain for tonight. More in a bit.
ROUND 5:  21 spellers remain.  If it's as bloody as round 4, it'll be our last round of the day, but our first three spellers are successful.

12:18pm: 5/6 correct so far; they may have eased off the throttle a little. Ayurveda, in particular, seems easier than everything else in the past round-plus, though that may be one of those gaps between grownup and kid experience.  But no Samoan/Tagalog/unknown in this round.

12:30pm: And the Jamaican goes down!  But, lookie here: a lawyer word -- ipsedixitism, which is spelled exactly as you'd hope.
GREETINGS FROM NATIONAL HARBOR:  Round 4 begins with 45 spellers.

Unlike the past two years, today will proceed with a carefully titrated spell-til-you-drop until a round finishes with 10-or-so spellers, at which point they'll pause until prime time, rather than an artificial cliff governed by a second written test. In other words, by the time tonight is over -- because the new rules severely reduce the possibility of a third straight tie -- forty-four of these kids will have erred, with one remaining triumphant. Let's watch.

10:06am: The first speller goes down on the name of the Phila suburb encompassing Elkins Park where Benjamin Netanyahu and Reggie Jackson attended high school. Also is some art something. Sigh.

10:11am: Ten minutes in, and 3/4 of the spellers down. My goodness, and none of them are Canadian!

10:37am: Our friend Amy Goldstein notes for ESPN of the six (of 13) who are down so far, every one of the fallen is a first-time female speller.

10:46am: Chaunte Blackwood says "thank you, sir" about 15 times to Dr. Bailly, nails nannygai. And now my Bee is back.
THE 2016 SPELLING BEE POOL: Forty-five amazing spellers remain.

Our rules are not too different from years past. There are three returning spellers from last year's primetime finals -- Tejas Muthusamy, Snehaa Ganesh Kumar, and Sylvie Lamontagne. You can only have one of them in your pair.

So: pick two spellers, only one of whom can be from among those three. 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 a second time tomorrow.

You will get one point for each word your spellers correctly spell during today's rounds of the Bee, which resumes at 10am eastern on ESPN2. Most points wins; tiebreaker will be whoever has the individual speller going the furthest. Do not edit your entry after you've made it; if you need to make corrections, reply to your original comment.

It's my blog, so I go first: I came really close to picking Tejas Muthusamy last year, but I couldn't bring myself to pick a sixth-grader. I will not make that mistake again. And as I've done in years past, I will take Chaunté Blackwood, because some day a Jamaican speller will win again, and I don't want to have not chosen her when that happens.

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); Bobby in 2012 (Nandipati/Mahankali); Sara Miller in 2013 (Mahankali/Sivakumar), Bobby again in 2014 (Venkatachalam/Hathwar), and Adam C in 2015 (Venkatachalam/Shafer-Ray).

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

ROUND 3 IS COMPLETE:  And 171/284 spellers remain as we await the announcement of the final up-to-50 for tomorrow.  Both the most experienced and the youngest spellers will not be among them, but we'll update this post (and the comments) with those who remain.

For the pool: expect it to open at 9pm tonight, and given the absence of a large pool of experienced spellers, likely no restrictions whatsoever in constructing your unique pairs.
ERIN HOWARD OF HUNSTVILLE, ALABAMA, COME ON DOWN!  Two rounds today, streaming online on ESPN3, and both are ding-and-you're-out.

There are two preliminary rounds today in which all 284 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, @PeterSokolowski @APBenNuckols, and hashtag #SpellingBee.

Last year, 279/283 of the students survived the morning round, and 214/283 of the students survived the day unscathed altogether, with 49 making the cut for Thursday's semifinals.

8:57 am: 56/63 correct so far, and with both Ponzi and glengarry coming in early, one wonders if David Mamet has joined the staff.

10:02 am:  123/140 correct, with this year's lone four-timer, who did not reach Thursday in any of his efforts, among the fallen. Seems like a sweet kid.

10:46 am: "Can you spell it please?" asks Abigail Pittman on RENT-guhn, RUNT-juhn, you know, that unit of x-rays which is named for a German dude.  And Dr. Bailly won't, and she can't. Sigh.

12:18 pm: 251/284 survive to the afternoon.

1:30pm: We're back. (Sorry: work duties. I'll be intermittently involved this afternoon.)

1:44pm: 14/17 through so far, and the round doesn't seem any harder than round 2.  Calisthenics, encyclical, impeachable, hallowed?  I'd feel guilty even putting up the pronunciations.

5:00pm: About a 70% success rate this round (135/183), on words that may not always seem difficult to us (flagon, consulate, baklava), but it's the difference between a memorized list and a wide-open dictionary. There's nothing in this round that should prove problematic to the prime-timers, but there's a lot of variation in this round.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

TABLE-SETTERS: Ben Nuckols on how former Bee contestants have stayed involved (including frequent ALOTT5MA guest Amy Goldstein), and the Richmond Times-Dispatch profiles two-time prime-timer Tejas Muthusamy, the 7th grader who's much of a favorite as we've got this year:
“This year has been a little bit tough,” he said Friday. “It’s been a lot. But I’ve tried to not just focus on spelling because, obviously, spelling is just one part of my life. I kind of want to, you know, try different things because I’ll never be able to get that opportunity back.”

Along with preparing and competing in spelling bees, Tejas writes for the school’s newspaper, practices classical Indian dancing and is a voracious reader who follows politics closely.

Tejas says two of the biggest lessons he has learned from competing the past few years are how to deal with defeat and how to grow from adversity. In the past, he would cry and leave the room when he missed a word or did not do well.

“Now, even if I don’t do so well, I take it as, ‘OK, I need to do better next time. How can I do better next time?’ ” he said. “That’s something most people get when they become adults. But I think in the spelling bee, kids mature much faster because of all the life lessons that are being thrown at them.”
NUNATUK:  Right now in National Harbor, Maryland, 285 incredibly talented children are sitting down for a four-part spelling and vocabulary test which will help determine their fates at the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee, and for the 14th year* we will be trying to cover all of the joy, agita, and triumph. If you're not a regular here, welcome aboard; if you only come here this one week per-year, welcome back. And if you're in your early twenties or younger, this is called a "blog" (short for "web log") -- it's like Twitter, but longer, and you'll read about it in your History Kindles soon enough.

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

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

Come celebrate with us this week.

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

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

Monday, May 23, 2016

HUNGER FOR TRUTH:  All that farm-to-table stuff your local restaurant is offering? At least in the Tampa area, they're lying. And worse:
Old-timers like Gulfport’s La Cote Basque were dinged for advertising veal schnitzel dishes but having no veal in sight. “No packages commercially labeled veal (and) no veal invoices are present (but a) large volume of frozen pork chops and sliced pork” were observed. Wholesale veal can cost three times as much as pork. For pork-eschewing Muslims and Jews: Surprise.
I SING MY SONG FOR ALL TO HEAR:  Pantheon sketch, no question.

Ever since the day of the merger, more than twelve -- yes, twelve years ago, we've tried to do an annual "stay or go?" for the SNL cast. Here's my quickie take:
Vanessa Bayer: solid utility player. Can stay as long as she wants. Still [heart] Jacob, the Bar Mitzvah Boy. 
Beck Bennett: meh. 
Aidy Bryant: good straight woman. No reason to leave. 
Colin Jost: other than his interactions with Leslie Jones on Update, replaceable in the cast. He's not Seth Meyers.  
Taran Killam: I feel like he took a step back this year. Where did Les Jeunes de Paris go?  I'm still a fan. 
Kate McKinnon: the undisputed star of this cast. Keep her as long as you can. 
Kyle Mooney: I'm a fan of weirdness. He can stay. 
Bobby Moynihan: utility player. I'm fine with his staying. 
Jay Pharoah: needs more to do. Needs to evolve beyond impressions to angles -- yes, he can sound like Obama, but to what ends?  His Dr. Ben Carson, though, is wonderfully odd. 
Cecily Strong: second only to McKinnon in the cast. Can do it all.  
Kenan Thompson: As long as Darrell Hammond keeps the record, he can stay as long as he wants until that point. Disappointed we didn't get a What's Up With That? with Sudeikis and Armisen in the house this week. 
Sasheer Zamata: I want to see more. Underused. 
Michael Che: I like his comic voice. Keep him on Update. 
Pete Davidson: Unbelievable that he's only 22. Possibly the Mike Trout of this cast. Cannot let him leave. 
Leslie Jones: I wrote this post because Watts want to gush about her.  I don't know that she can do more than the one thing she does, but damn she does that brilliantly. 
Jon Rudnitsky: who?