Friday, June 2, 2017

EBULLIENT:  All in all, that's the kind of Bee I am thrilled to watch. Because while the central joy of "watching amazing kids do amazing things" remained constant, there's several particularly positive things about this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee I want to highlight, and a few to flag:

The Good:

  • I applaud the decision to go into primetime with fifteen spellers, rather than risk having an extra afternoon round calibrated too wrong in either direction. When in doubt, give more kids the lifetime thrill of having that level of coverage.  This proved to be a much better decision than a second written test as a cutoff, especially when knowledge of said results made live rounds futile for too many, or forcing a halt mid-round.
  • Zero interviews with spellers after elimination. The kiss-and-cry area, while front stage, was treated with dignity and restraint.
  • A minimum of cutesy packages.
  • A broadcast which focused on the spellers and gave real insight on what made particular words difficult. 
  • Shourav. Mogollon. His mom's reaction
Don't Do This Again
  • Never, ever, ever consider the possibility of a written test settling a tiebreaker for the final outcome.  That was a bad idea.  Let it never come to fruition.
  • I am still not sure how long the Bee should go before declaring a tie (25 rounds between the final two seems like a lot), but I do know that a competition featuring kids and hopefully watched by hundreds of thousands of other kids should not come close to overlapping with The Late Show. Yes, eliminating 14 kids (see above) takes more time than eliminating 10, but this event should never start at 8:30pm in the first place.  Why not 7pm? 
  • Related: did the kids have water up there? That's a lot of time under bright lights, and the fatigue was evident -- especially for Rohan.
  • Siddur. Siddur should not be a primetime word.  I feel fairly confident about this. [Nor should clafouti(s), even though the speller erred on this.]
Not Quite Right, But I Don't Know What To Do
Floor is open.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

ROUND 12:  Six spellers remain at 10:12 pm.

10:21: And just like that, we are down to four.

10:24pm: We will be seeing that Shourov mic drop on Mogollon for the next decade of Bee coverage.  Thank goodness. That took some serious confidence.

10:30pm: These kids actually deserve a commercial break now.  Hope it's not the last -- part of the torture of the past few years is that after a certain point it became unrelenting endurance. This is more humane.  Four spellers still for Round 14.

10:45pm:  Ouch, Shourov.  The VSO and I are having a discussion over the fairness of employing words derived from literature (and trademarks, for that matter).  My argument remains as it's long been: the Bee can't be completely fair as long as each kid's facing different words, so whether a word can be reasoned out from roots, or not, is irrelevant at this stage.  All we can know is who does best in a particular night with his or her words -- that's not the same as who's the Best Speller in the abstract.

10:51pm:  Siddur at this hour seems bizarrely easy.  How did that get into the CWL?

11:03pm: Ananya's getting harder words consistently. Chittarino for Rohan? I'd have had that just via chittara, in pasta.

11:20pm: Tchefuncte and cheiropompholyx are as hard a pair as I've ever seen in a tournament. Wow.

GREETINGS FROM NATIONAL HARBOR:  We are kicking it old school tonight -- for the first time since the GWB Administration, I will not be employing the Cover It Live platform to host our finals chat -- and will instead just write it live on the blog, like we did in caveman (i.e., "Netscape") times.  (Long story. Involves new and extremely high fees even for a one-time use.)

Let's have some fun.

8:41 pm: This is not a lawnmower round. These are hard words, but one which a Bee winner would know.  Strisciando requires knowing that middle consonant pairing, but that's it.  Each of these words seems to have one trick like that. For purana, it's that it's actually spelled phonetically.

8:50 pm: Foodie time! Clafouti is a word grownups should get pretty handily. Speller, unfortunately, adds a gratuitous e to the end. Sigh.

9:03:  Yes, they started a half-hour late, but there's no need to run filler (even with the Shivashankar sisters) in the middle of a round.  I can't imagine how painful it is for the kids to wait.

9:14:  And then there were eleven.  Round nine continues here.

9:20p:  I guess "comes from a trademark" is the new Nahuatl/Welsh/Finnish of "oh, crap" when it comes to having a backdoor into a word. (HT: The Very Significant Other.)

9:50pm:  Sorry, tech issues here.  But a gradual drip-drip-drip to leave us with six kids.

9:59pm: Hard to think of a word with more potential traps than pterygoideus. That was damn nice, Shourav.

10:11pm: Round 11 concludes with our second straight perfect round.  Time to bring out the imitative words, and let's move to a new thread.
FIFTEEN SPELLERS REMAIN:  I am thrilled that the Bee has ended the false, wrong, stupid era of having a second computerized test cut down today's finalists to a manageable group for prime time.

We'll instead have a rather large group of 15 finalists at the microphone starting at 8:30pm on ESPN -- a late start for some young kids (a 10-year-old, three 11s, and two 12s by my count), and I do wonder if that, too, might impact how things end up. If nothing else, we probably will have an early lawnmower round, perhaps in the first round, and I think few things suck more than not giving the spellers at least one round on prime time to shine before fourteen of them (or maybe thirteen) ultimately err.

Over the years I've compiled and revised a list of what I like and don't like about the Bee, and I will repeat it again here, with a few changes:


  • Smart kids being awesome. Smart kids being awesome.
  • Settling it in front of the microphone, as late as it goes.  I am anti-tie, but even more anti-tiebreaker test.
  • That part late in the Bee when we get to words of Finnish, Mayan, Welsh, Afrikaans, proper names, 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. Jacque Bailly 
  • Sardoodledom.
  • When Bee veterans, coaches, and parents come here and share their wisdom and experience. 

Don't Like

  • Showing the clip of the kid who fainted. He's a kid.  It wasn't cute. It was scary. It still is.
  • Use of computerized competition 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
  • 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."
See you tonight.
WELCOME TO ROUND FOUR:  Forty spellers remain; we are live on ESPN2 at 10am with results online here.

The rules don't seem to say when they'll stop today; presumably, it'll be when a round finishes with 8-12 spellers remaining, but ... it doesn't say, does it?

(Unfortunately, I have a variety of work obligations for much of the day, but I will be popping in whenever I can. Let's hope for some great performances by these kids.)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

THE 2017 SPELLING BEE POOL: Forty amazing spellers remain.

Our rules are not too different from years past. It looks like there's a few spellers back this year who were in past prime time rounds -- Tejas Muthusamy (2014-15), Sreeniketh Vogoti (2016), Rutvik Gandhasri (2016). Siyona Mishra (2015), and Jashun Paluru (2016).

So: pick two spellers, only one of whom can be from among those five. 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: Based on absolutely no prep whatsoever, I'll take Rutvik Gandhasri and Shourav Dasari, who placed just short of prime time last year.

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), Adam C in 2015 (Venkatachalam/Shafer-Ray), and Victoria last year (Hathwar/Kumar).  Good luck.
ROUND THREE:  259 spellers remain.  I'll update as events/work warrant and allow.

1:30pn.  Only 2/5 survive so far.  Bloodbath in progress?
NAOMI ZARIN OF GRAY, MAINE, COME ON DOWN!  The first of 291 spellers is on ESPN3.  Two rounds today, both ding-and-out, and at least last year the first one was easy (251/284) and the second only slightly less so.

8:20 am: Live results here; 21/23 correct so far. The words have been suhr-MOUN-tuh-buhl and haven't led anyone into a-po-PLEKS-ee.

1pm: 259/291 advance.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

REJOIN THE WARNER BROTHERS (AND THE WARNER SISTER, DOT)?  Don't call it a comeback, yet.  But it might be.

P.S. Gratuitous Slappy the Squirrel at Woodstock,
WELCOME TO BEE WEEK 2017:  And here's what's different about this year's Bee:

  • Today's prelim test is handwritten, not computerized multiple-choice. 
  • There is a tiebreaker test in case the finalists exhaust the Championship Words list, which sounds so stupid that I will not repeat its components.  I will instead say, as I have always said: either let them keep spelling all night long, or live with a tie -- whatever spellers of this level would prefer.
  • It also looks like, for the first time I can remember, the kids are in random order, not sorted by state.
Today's the written spelling/vocab test.  Live spelling starts tomorrow AM.

P.S. to Shonda: one Jamaican, seven Canadians. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

VERY WELL. IF THAT IS THE WAY THE WINDS ARE BLOWING, LET NO ONE SAY THAT I ALSO DO NOT BLOW:  Okay, we'll try to blog the Bee here (at least) one more time. Let's have the AP's Ben Nuckols set the table for what the modern Bee is:
To the fans watching on ESPN, Nihar Janga’s win last year in the Scripps National Spelling Bee was a shock: He was only 11 years old, a fifth-grader appearing in the bee for the first time, competing against 8th-graders with deep voices and facial hair. 
To the tightknit community of spellers and ex-spellers who track performances leading up to the bee, Nihar was something else: a seasoned competitor with an impressive resume and a threat to win it all.

As the bee has become increasingly difficult, spellers are less likely to come out of nowhere and hoist the trophy. There’s more information available about kids in the bee, and champion spellers have increasingly fit a familiar profile. For them, the bee is an all-consuming, year-round pursuit.... 
For this year’s bee, which starts Tuesday, three spellers are consensus favorites: Shourav Dasari, a past North South Foundation and South Asian Spelling Bee champion whose older sister came close several times; Siyona Mishra, who won last year’s South Asian bee and finished 9th in her only National Spelling Bee appearance; and Tejas Muthusamy, who’s making his fourth appearance, with two previous top-10 finishes.