Friday, May 30, 2014

WELCOME EVERYBODY, TO THE WILD WILD WEST:  Do you like the music of Tupac Shakur, but wish it sounded a more like Glee?  Because, based on the samples posted, it seems like that's what we're getting from the forthcoming Holler If Ya Hear Me--opening on Broadway later this year.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

CO-CHAMPIONS: These two amazing young men, Sriram Hathwar and Ansun Sujoe, truly could have gone all night. Having outlasted 279 of their colleagues, they went toe-to-toe, round after round, demonstrating their facility across every challenge the English language could provide. There was no reason to go past twenty-two rounds and the limits of the Championship Word List, because neither of these boys was better than the other tonight. Both were outstanding. All that would have happened, had this gone further, was one would have gotten lucky and the other, not—but neither would have been "better" in any meaningful sense.

Of course, that's the cruel trick of the Bee, isn't it? Depending on how the words were allotted, so many of them might have been able to pull that off tonight, including a few who didn't even make it to primetime. Their efforts were admirable, their enthusiasm palpable. We did not want to see any of them err.

After all the nonsense—artificial cutdowns imposed by a network that seems unable to adopt a singular tone of respect for the kids—we were left with two spellers not at war with each other, as Hathwar so eloquently stated, but with the dictionary. And the kids won. That's why we keep watching.
THE 2014 NATIONAL SPELLING BEE CHAMPIONSHIPS:  Spelling begins shortly after 8pm eastern. Please join us in the chat room:

THE DOZEN:  Twelve remarkable spellers remain for tonight's primetime finals, out of thirty-one who had survived round six. You can see the computerized test whose results performed the cutdown here, and the twelve spelling words are, generally speaking, reasonably on the same level with what you saw in the two oral rounds today, with some perhaps too easy (Pleistocene, yizkor) but the rest on a reasonably competitive level.  The vocab words were a bit easier, if you know your roots at all: what could pachydermatous mean other than "somehow like an elephant" (thick-skinned), or Volkslied other than a folk-song, or megacephalic other than big+head?

Sriram Hathwar, by far, did the best in this round, with 70 of a total possible 72 points, followed by Neha Konakalla and Mary Horton, with 62 being the minimum score to survive. (Each computerized round being worth 30.)

How you should feel about this depends on how you value fairness versus drama, because it is undeniably more fair to have twenty-four shared words (plus two unique words) decide these cutdowns rather than the randomness of a lawnmower round for which memorization of root-less words matters most. Except that that random stuff is inherent in the Bee: as Samir, Raf, and other Bee vets have long noted here, all the Bee can possibly determine is who was able to spell each of the words he or she was assigned that year. It cannot determine who America's Best Young Speller is by any absolute measure.

But no one wants the "most" fair Bee, because that would just have all the kids do the same timed, written test. We want the drama of a lone speller, on stage, in front of the camera. What attracts us to watching the Bee, and the kids to competing in it, is that thrill: when you have two minutes, and can only rely on yourself, will you remember (or luck onto) the right answer? Could we, if we were up there?

I don't like this cutdown. I'd rather they just spend all afternoon to go down to 15-or-fewer, however long it takes. But at least we know that tonight for those twelve kids remaining, only live spelling remains, and while it will break out hearts to see eleven of them falter, that's the challenge that they, and we, want to see.
ROUND SIX:  As we move into the next round, I still have the odd sense that words seem...dare I say easy?

I want to remind everyone that because of that hotly debated rule change that occurred last year, the spellers now only spell through Round Six (remember the good old days where we went round after round after round?) after their scores from the written test are added in to determine which spellers become Finalists.  It's weird and feels not completely fair to me but I still don't fully understand it or why the Bee chose to make this change but it's happening so we're going with it.

The words are getting a bit crueler.  Losing on siriasis isn't going make anyone feel good.  It means sunstroke.  Poor Faaris Khan. We also lose Mark Kivimaki on Ananke.

Here comes Sriram Hathwar -- this is his 5th time at the Bee.  Last year, he placed 3rd.    He's another child (like Vanya) that we've watched grow up on this Bee stage.  His word quatrefoil doesn't feel like a big deal but I feel for Sai Vishudhi Chandrasekhar who we lose on induciae.  In her interview, Sai is breezy and cheerful and determined to return next year.  I definitely want to see her again.

10:00 am PST:  As this round marches on, I'm mostly sad about the fact that most of these kids are going to make it through.  And I would like to see them battle it out to the finish.  Instead of being eliminated off screen by a computer test they took earlier.  Which suggests that, in some ways, their fates were decided before they even stepped on this stage...

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!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

THE 2014 SPELLING BEE POOL:  Forty-six fantastic young spellers remain.

Our rules are similar to those in years past -- we have one remaining five-timer (Sriram Hathwar), and four spellers returning for their fourth year (Lucas Urbanski, Yasir Hasnain, Vanya Shivashankar, and Shayley Martin). The use of these veterans will be restricted.

So: pick two spellers, only one of whom can be one of the five spellers 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 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 ESPN2. In addition, each speller will receive an additional point for reaching primetime, to account for the computer-based cutoff after tomorrow's three live rounds. 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.

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); and Sara Miller picked the final two of 2013 (Mahankali/Sivakumar).

It's my blog, so I go first: Vanya Shivashankar and Mary Horton—the latter not because she had a perfect score in the computerized test (as did Syamantak Payra, a returning prime-timer), but because you may remember her older brother Jonathan, of whom we were big fans back in the day, and why the heck not go for a younger-sister duo?
STEFON PRESENTS THE 2014 WRITTEN ROUND: The kids had to spell these words -- honestly, an easier list than most years, and one which I'm guessing yielded a decent number of very high scores**:
uh-SID-you-uhs: It's kind of like that thing where you really pay attention to detail.
KLAIR-voy-uns: It's kind of like that thing where you already knew you had spelled this correctly.
ek-oh-TURE-iz-uhm: It's kind of like that thing where you take three planes to fly to Belize, but you let your towels air-dry instead of let the hotel maids replace them daily, and on the way back start looking in the Skymall magazine to see if there's a thing about buying carbon offset credits.
FAHR-suh-kuhl: It's kind of like The Birdcage.
LORE-uhs: It's kind of like a cute monkey.
muh-JELL-uhn: It's like that guy who kept sailing West without having a Garmin GPS.
meh-tuh-TAHR-suhl: It's that thing, where, if you're a football player, it can break.
pro-FUHN-duh-tee: Something you can't find on this blog.
ree-tehn-OO-toe: It's kind of like that thing where the conductor slows down the tempo.
sar-GAH-so: It's kinda of like seaweed, or that book they made into a movie that I didn't read or see.
tam-buh-REE-toe: It's kind of like a Panamanian dance.
vwah-LAH! When they reveal the answer.
The vocab rounds included being able to understand in context the following words: abrogate, beaucoup, calumny, eccentric, inscrutable, manifold, oblique, phlebotomy, rongeur, sybaritic, trenchant, and vicissitude. Each speller also was assigned two unique words (here and here) as part of the vocab quiz, and you can see how they did.

** Yep. 28 was the cutoff -- in other words, no more than two errors, plus the speller had to be perfect on the two unique words.
ROUND THREE:  And we are back.

1:45p: Since when did Foley (as in "Foley artist") become a word?  Beefalo?

2:25p: Nine errors so far; we're still in the "yeah, if you're going to win this competition, these words are in your bailiwick" part of the competition. A little less foodie than normal (just Gouda so far), and these kids are handling it well.

2:32p: Krypton! Gothamite! I detect a theme.

JOSHUA BRYANT KELLEY OF GADSDEN, ALABAMA, COME ON DOWN!  Round 2 of the Scripps National Spelling Bee has begun. Two rounds today, streaming online on ESPN3, and both are ding-and-you're-out.

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.

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 @JGWhiteAP, and hashtag #SpellingBee.

[Last year, 266/281 of the spellers aced this round; success in round three was similarly attainable  (239/266), leaving the computerized test to perform the massive cut-down work before Thursday, as all the words came from a ~1500 word official study list.]

8:19am: And we're off!  15/15 so far, and both Yiddish (CHAHCH-kuh) and Afrikaans (spring-bahk) are already in play.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

SQUUSH:  Our first guest post of Bee Week!
Hi! My name is Amber Born. I competed four times in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, though if you’ve heard of me, you may know me from my fourth attempt in 2013, when I placed 4th (I was the one who said “She seems nice,” which I’m now regretting not copyrighting).  
I belong to The Order of the Squushy Carrots, which is a secret speller organization. It’s so secret, there’s an Associated Press article about it that’s on the ABC News website and a bunch of other places. However, I don’t know how long I can remain in the Order, because my hair has been getting parrot-like lately, and the theme song says “At least we don’t have hair like a parrot,” and I don’t want to be in violation of the rules. The other two rules, as stated in the theme song, are that every day we walk the Earth forever alone, and no one in the Order plays the sousaphone. Also you have to prefer your carrots squushy, not crunchy or squishy, but that’s a given. The other secret speller organization to which I belong is the Ghettopens, which is among the world’s most awesome and geeky puns. It’s from the winning word of the 2012 Bee, “guetapens.”  
My point in telling everyone this is partly to increase the fame of the Order and Ghettopens, but mostly because I think a lot of people are under the impression that the Bee is kind of a cutthroat endeavor full of nerds who have no friends and spell all the time, even when they’re in National Harbor for the actual Bee. Basically, we’re normal people, except for our taste in carrots and the geekiness of our puns. We’re so normal that we can use words like “geekiness,” even if they aren’t in Webster’s Third, the only decent dictionary, as far as the Bee is concerned. At least I think we can. Hopefully the speller mafia won’t come for me*.

*There isn’t an actual speller mafia, as far as I know. 
DON'T EVEN GET THEM STARTED ON JOE-JOE'S:  It's Bee Week, but that doesn't mean we'll shut down our normal coverage of other important matters, like Buzzfeed's attempt to rank every variety of Oreo cookie.
SCHUHPLATTLER:  Right now in National Harbor, Maryland, the first groups from among 281 incredibly talented children are sitting down for a four-part spelling and vocabulary test which will help determine their fates at the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee, and for the twelfth 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.

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. Jacque Bailly 
  • Sardoodledom.
  • When Bee veterans, coaches, and parents come here and share their wisdom and experience. 
Don't Like
  • 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
  • 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 last year: "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.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

HEY, LET'S ALL PROMISE THAT IN TEN YEARS FROM TODAY, WE'LL MEET AGAIN, AND WE'LL SEE WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE WE'VE BLOSSOMED INTO:  Yes, Netflix, I will pay whatever you ask for a ten episode prequel to Wet Hot American Summer featuring the original cast.