Saturday, May 31, 2008

SEX AND THE SLAYER: After a rather lengthy hiatus (due to actual new TV and work-related program activities), it's time to return to the promised "Blogging Buffy," with episodes 5 and 6 of the first season--"Never Kill A Boy On The First Date" and "The Pack." Interestingly, Alan noted, in reviewing the finale of Reaper, that there are a number of interesting parallels between Reaper and Buffy's first seasons, one of which is that the monster of the week episodes are generally far less interesting than those which develop the story arc. That's very true here, where "Never Kill..." is designed mostly to set up the "Master" plot arc, while "The Pack" is almost purely Monster of the Week, and "Never Kill..." winds up being a considerably more interesting episode. A few other notes:
  • The "Never Kill..." teaser with Giles critiquing Buffy's slaying technique is really funny, and (along with Giles' fighting training later on), really adds to his cahracter.
  • The scene with Xander and Willow attempting to persuade Buffy to go to the funeral home in "Never Kill..." is effective and funny, if just for Xander's obliviousness that Willow isn't pretending.
  • The end of "The Pack" is particularly anti-climactic--the zookeeper transfers the hyena spirit into himself and then he's tossed to the hyenas? Nothing else?
  • One of the joys of "The Pack" is that it gives Nicholas Brendon a nice chance to play against his ordinary character of the dorky guy pining silently, and he actually does pretty darn well with it.
  • SMG's outfit in the final scene of "The Pack" is almost unspeakably awful.
  • Both have mild twists in the endings (that Buffy didn't slay the "Anointed One" and that Xander does remember his time possessed), but neither feels tacked on or added for pure shock value, unlike in other episodes.
Next--the arc and flashback-heavy "Angel," and the monster of the week "I Robot...You Jane."

Tyra Banks - Banksable -

YOU THINK I'M JUST A MODEL? WELL, THEN, LET ME SHOW YOU: It is nigh impossible to make a transition from Bee Week to normal blogging on this site, and before we turn the frozen donkey wheel I want to again thank Shonda, Heather and Raf for lending their expertise and exuberance to the past two days on this site. We try our best to treat the kids with respect and to honor their efforts, to treat the competition seriously but not solemnly, and I hope we succeed this year. What we saw last night in the finals was a dodecamerous embodiment of the American dream (and I don't just say that because all the Canadians were eliminated in Round 5), and there are so many competitors whom we hope to see again and/or read about their post-Bee exploits in the years to come.

[As always, Bee veterans are invited to contact us if they ever want to share their stories with a wider audience.]

So. Speaking of the American dream and hard work [transition alert!], I approached this weekend's NYT Magazine piece on Tyra Banks with some trepidation, but as it turns out Lynn Hirschberg takes Banks and her work ethic quite seriously, and it's a great, admiring profile:
Lasting, mainstream success has always been her biggest priority. “I could do the job, but I never truly identified with the fashion world,” Banks said. “It’s so fabulous, and it’s so speaking in European accents when you’re from Oklahoma. I’d have on a $30,000 gown, but it felt like Halloween to me. I saw that the mass girls with cosmetic and swimsuit calendars made more money than the high-fashion girls. I started looking at Cindy Crawford. She had been a high-fashion girl, and then she segued into being this Americana girl. No black girl ever attempted to be Cindy Crawford. Supermodels like Iman were intimidating divas — they weren’t like: ‘Hi! Here’s a Pepsi!’ I wanted Cindy’s career — I wanted to be the black girl next door.” ...

When she was 20, she wrote in one of her notebooks: “If Michael Jordan can sell tennis shoes and Magic Johnson can sell cars, I can sell cornflakes. I can and I will. So just sit back and relax because here I come. . . . I’m going to hurt and abuse.” Banks looked pleased when she read that passage aloud. “It was a moment,” she said now. “When I showed that to my mom the other day, she said, ‘You didn’t just happen overnight.’ ”
To learn more about her growing tv empire, Tyra's foodie ways and a condition occasionally referred to as "I.B.S.", keep reading.
WHO'S AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF? I have to say, last night's Doctor Who was pretty mediocre up until that last scene (despite moments of goodness, including the Doctor trying to communicate with Donna without giving anything away to the Sontarrans, and the genuinely affecting Donna/Grandfather stuff), and, as Alan pointed out when the first part of the two-parter aired a couple of weeks ago, the basic plot had been done, better, just a few weeks earlier in the season premiere, but that final scene, especially when seen in conjunction with the "on the next...," says we're headed somewhere very interesting next week.

ETA: Interestingly, much the same could be said about BSG, at least if the promo is not excessively sliced and diced--a mediocre episode, but if the promo's accurate....
IN DEFENSE OF TRACY FLICK: Some time ago, when Aaron Gleeman was still a college student posting about 10,000 words a day about the Twins, Elisha Cuthbert, and the embarrassment of having your parents move you into your dorm, he wrote of some baseball player or another that he was playing like the second coming of Roy Hobbs. A day later, he printed a portion of my email to him, reminding him that some people might not find it a compliment to be called a reincarnation of a surly ass who took money with the intention of fixing a game and then promptly killed (accidentally, but callously, with a foul ball) the woman carrying his child (er, spoiler alert). Part of my point was that there was a side to the Hobbs character that baseball people sometimes forget (caveat: I haven't seen much of the Redford movie, so I kind of doubt he comes across the same way as in the Malamud book).

There's been a lot of talk here the last day or two about Tracy Flick, the name representing some kind of mild villainess, a fireball of brusque ambition, and I think that's unfair to the character. Flick was a child of a single mother with a modest income surrounded by the children of wealthy two-parent families, and she refused to let any of them condescend to her, to think that she was entitled to any less than they had or would have. She did this by developing a hard exterior, smooth and rounded and brittle as an eggshell. As I read it, the tragedy of Tracy Flick is that she didn't get the protection (even, in part, from herself) that she needed -- and that everybody else in that school would have gotten -- because nobody thought that she, with her smooth hard shell, needed protection. Least of all herself, which, in my reading, is why she fools herself into believing that she was not the victim of the affair. In any event, if you allow her that context, you can see where the sharp elbows are coming from.

I have no idea whether our putative Tracy Flick (and I'm not using her name because I don't want to make it easier for her to find this by googling herself) needs the same kind of context. It's easy to say that she's a home-schooled kid living in a house halfway up and flush against the side of a mountain, surrounded by forest, subsisting upon the companionship only of two parents, a pair of much-younger siblings, and a regular Friday night IM session with a fellow speller, and that somebody should have expanded her habitat and prevented her from building her entire life around the dictionary. It seems plausible, and understood that way, a spelling group easily could be an awkward way of making other social connections, rather than just another manifestation of an esoteric compulsion. If that were true, I would hope that we would cut our putative Tracy Flick the kind of slack that I want to give the other Tracy Flick. But we don't know that that's necessary -- for all we know, her family has friendly neighbors and the kind of church life that makes up for the lack of school interaction.

What I really hope is true is something else. Maybe our putative Tracy Flick, like few other kids, found that she had both a rare talent and a singular joy in competition -- the kind of joy that appears as satisfaction in the mastery of a word (the cockiness at the microphone) and bubbles over into the thrill of victory (the touchdown signal after a correct spelling). There is an element of chance in the Bee -- a point at which an elite speller still has to guess whether to lead schwa-pificer with an "o" or an "e" -- and I just have to marvel at a speller so good that she beat back that randomness through five regional bees to sit on the prime-time stage two or three times and still had enough enthusiasm that a light went on in her eyes at the exact moment that she found the key to each new word.

Last year's winner openly admitted he didn't like the Bee. He spelled as much out of chemical imperative as anything else. Given the choice between him and our putative Tracy Flick, I'll take pick Flick every time.

Edited because Adam reminded me of the slogan.

Friday, May 30, 2008

ON FIRST GLANCE: Well, that was worth waiting for! I had a chance to catch the last few minutes of the Bee, with Tia, Sameer, and Sidarth on stage. What follows are some random thoughts, from my perspective as a former contestant.

My man Sidarth!: Of the three, I identified the most with Sidarth. Like him, I was a first-time speller; like him, I suddenly found myself with a chance to win it; like him, I spelled out on a word (plutogoguery) that, had I spent just a *tiny* bit more time pondering it, I might have spelled correctly (or not -- one never knows these things).

I once had the chance to spend some time with a noted basketball player. I asked him what it was like when he got "in the zone". His reply was that the hoop and the ball became gigantic and time slowed to a crawl. I knew what he was talking about, because the same thing has happened to me on occasion -- and it happened that spring when I was spelling.

Sidarth was in the same zone that I inhabited, even after he spelled out. I could tell; he seemed slightly dazed and unsure of what he should do next. I'm sure he'll knock himself a bit once the reality of it all sinks in -- I did the same thing. He strikes me, though, as someone who'll be quite all right.

Tia, Tia, Tia: I hear where people are coming from with Tia. You know what, though? If I had to pick someone other than Sidarth to win, Tia was the one. So what if she struck some of us as rather Tracy Flick-like? To win in something like this (especially now that it's becoming more of a world championship), you need to exert maximum effort -- even if you're in the zone. With Tia in the competition, I felt that was made certain. You could see it in her eyes -- this title was hers, and the only way anyone was going to win it was to take it away from her.

That's the kind of drive and self-possession you see in a champion. Shonda compared her to Kobe, and I totally agree. I've seen that look in his eyes, I've seen it in Tiger's eyes, I've seen it in Barack Obama's eyes; really, I've seen it in anyone who's truly excellent at what they do.

Mark it: we'll hear from Tia Thomas yet.

World Spelling Bee: Look, let's be frank. At this point, it's not a national spelling championship; it's increasingly becoming a world championship. That's a good thing!

Spirit and letter of the rules: Earlier, Adam (I think it was him) mentioned Jake Smith of Colorado, and how his dad had moved with him to Boulder in order to compete again at the Bee in his final year.

Now, I like Jake. I had a chance to meet him last year, and I chatted with him. Nice kid. Here's the thing: rules for the Rocky Mountain News bee say that there can't be repeat representatives. I'm not sure if it's a policy or an actual rule, but it's a prohibition of some weight.

Jake's folks thought that was silly, so they moved Jake to Boulder in order to be able to compete again. As fate has it, Jake's brother won the Rocky bee, so they became the first brothers to compete in the same Bee.

Again, nothing against Jake or his brother (who's also a sweet kid). I'm sure they wanted to compete as well. But even in my brief time knowing them, I got the feeling that if they didn't win, they'd be cool. The parents, not so much. Jake asked me about the stuff they got to do; the parents asked me about how to win the Bee. I told them to relax and enjoy the ride. Somehow, I don't know that they did.

In the end, these are kids we're talking about. One of the few changes that I disagree with the Bee staff about (not that my opinion matters a whit more than others) is the decision to let family members on stage during the championship rounds.

The stage belongs to the kids. Not the parents -- the kids. This is their time to shine on stage, and it should stay that way. I'd much prefer it if the families were seated off-stage; maybe in a different section, if you want, but off-stage.

Okay, that's it. Thanks to the vicissitudes of our political nominating process, I spent most of the week traveling from one end of the country to the other. Unfortunately, that meant I wasn't able to contribute as much as I wanted to. I look forward -- with the permission of our kind friends here -- to doing more next year.

I want to thank all of you here for having me, however briefly. Mazeltov to all the spellers this year.

And with that, it's time for me to go.
Championship Round:  It's coming...

We are back live.  THREE SPELLERS REMAIN.  Tia, Sidharth and Sameer...

"Oxylophytic" -- okay, some commenters have called her Tracy Flick and yeah, there is a bit of Tracy Flick in her.  Okay, a lot.  A LOT.  I'm trying so hard to like her.  I've never NOT loved a Bee winner before.  Please, gods of spelling, help me to love her...

"Sinicize" - which means modify by Chinese influence.  It's Sameer's word.  He's not sure.  He's spelling on the back of his number placard...

He says the word over and over.  Hoping that will help.  It doesn't.  He asks for BBC Jacques Bailly to say the word again.  AND THEN HE SPELLS IT RIGHT!!!


(note that I do not know a single thing about Tiger Woods except that he plays golf but everyone says that anyone amazing is Tiger Woods-like so I am jumping on the bandwagon...)

Sidharth with "aptyalism":  he was all, whatever, bring it on, you think that is a WORD, I'm a badass...he walked away before he even HEARD whether the judges thought he was right.  HE IS A ROCK STAR.  I officially luurve him. 

10:00 pm:   "Opificer"--  a skilled or artistic worker.  I do not know if Tia is gonna get this.  She actually seems worried... It's origins are Latin but still she's not sure.  She mouthes the word over and over.  She glances to her Mom and Dad.  She's worried...AND TRACY FLICK GOES DOWN!!!!

(I apologize for calling her Tracy Flick.  She's a lovely girl.  She's a Yang.  But still...)

10:02 pm:  Sameer gets  "hyphaeresis" - the omission of a sound, letter or syllable of a word.  He spells it like it's no thang but a chicken wing...Dude, he's smooth and amazing.

Sidharth -- I am telling you, he OWNS THIS BEE.   He's amazing.  "Kulturkampf".

Next round:  Sameer gets "taleggio"...


They are both so calm.  And so confident!

Sidharth is all, "introuvable?  Is it French?"  Like he hears it all the time!  He is so calm!  I like him more than Sameer who gets "esclandre".  Sameer is the more popular and stylish of the two.  He needs it less.  But I do so admire Sameer and the moment where he gently mocked Sidharth's perfect French accent...

DEAR GOD!!! prosopopia!!!  (am not sure I got this right because I was coming out of my chair...)

Sidharth is OUT!!  OUT!!! If Sameer can't spell this word!!!!  "Guerdon"...


He is posing with a huge statue that is half the size of his body!!! He IS THE WINNER!!! HE WON!!

HE WON!!!!!!

Oh, my gosh, we were doing a bit of a dance here at the office.  I can barely breathe.  It's been fun.  Sameer has won.  Another Bee is over.  

Thank you for inviting me...

See you next year...

A CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED HOPE: Note: I wrote this on my flight tonight to DC. Thanks to a crazy day at my other, non-corporate gig, it's getting posted now. I'll have more thoughts on the Bee shortly, now that I'm at my other home in DC.

I'm writing this at 37,000 feet. It's a bumpy ride from Denver to Baltimore, and it's one of the few chances I've had this week to take some time, think, and write.

Heather and I have been asked to talk about our personal experiences at the Bee. I think many of you have read my account from last year about how I became a speller. For those of you who haven't, you can read it earlier in the blog.

The Bee back then, in 1991, wasn't the spectacular festival that you see now, but the seeds for that were in motion. We had a total of around 230 spellers (I was wrong in my memory), and the publicity was limited to newspapers, cable news networks, and, for the winner, the late night shows and the morning shows the morning after winning.

That's not to say that it wasn't as fiercely competitive. It was. You had competitors who had been to the Bee three, four, five times, you had professional coaches, you had stage parents.

The competition, however, was shorter, and more unforgiving -- to borrow a collegiate sports analogy, less college basketball, more college football. It was two days of spelling on a stage -- no more, no less. Silence meant victory, and the bell tolled for those who were vanquished.

I don't recall a written test, or a bonus round. What I recall is that I took the stage the morning of Day 1 thinking, 'well, I've come this far...', feeling breezily confident the first three rounds...and then...

And then, came Round 4, which turned into the spelling equivalent of one of those World War One battles where you go to the microphone not knowing if you're going to have a seat on stage when you're done.

Once *that* was done, we broke for the day. That night, my anticipation was *intense*. I've mentioned before that I'm a very competitive man; I'm not a sore loser, but losing tears me up. It's why I joined the military, why I went into politics, and why I worked for one of the most competitive technology companies in the world; I want to *win*, and if I don't, I at least want to know that I left everything on the field, and gave it my best shot.

I've said earlier that, like one of this year's spellers, I didn't agonize over the Bee. I didn't go so far as he did -- I did study every night, after all.

That night, though, I chose not to study. I looked at the stage after Day 1, and I realized, 'Holy crap, I can *win* this...I can be the national champion!'. I chose, that night, not to study. I earned my rest.

I didn't win the championship the next day. It turns out I won something far greater: the knowledge that, no matter the odds, I had a shot. In the unlikely story that is my life (and it *is* an unlikely story), the only thing that had rung false for a kid who was largely raised by a single mother (my 'dad' is actually my stepfather) is a sense of hope that things would turn out okay.

I haven't lacked it since.

Right off the bat, Samia is down.   She's gone.  And her mom does not look happy.   I contemplate calling Social Services until I remember that I make this same face when my FIVE year old does not do well in figure skating.

We are down to three boys and three girls...

9:32 pm -- Is there anyone in the world more adorable than Rose?  She's...OH MY GOD!!! I'm crying.  She's gone.  She's gone on "sheitel".  I'm crying because Rose is gone and she was my hope. Rose is not crying because she is AWESOME and understands that this is just a competition that does not define her but...I am crying.   Dude, i'm worried about me.

9:35 pm -- I do not want Sameer to win.  I don't know why.  I think it is just grief over Rose.  He's a great kid.  And funny and smart.  But still..ROSE!!!

COMMERCIAL BREAK NOTES:  (in answer to the comments) I just wanna say, Tia might be KOBE. She also might be Cristina Yang.  That does not mean I have to like her.  I respect her.  But I don't have to like her.  But I do wish her well.  Tia IS the Yang of this tournament.  But still...I want the Izzies of the world to win.

"ecrase" --  I leave out the accent aigus because I can't figure out how to type them in here.  But Kavya's gotta get this right...It means "crushed, flattened"...STOP TALKING ABOUT HER SISTER!  I know she is adorable but this is KAVYA'S MOMENT!  Stop stealing her thunder with little sisters!!!!!  She's going to need therapy if you don't leave her be!!!!

And now Kavya is gone.  And she is sad.  She's heart-broken and sad and so so, sooooo sad....SCREW YOU THUNDER STEALERS!!!!

Sidharth is good.  Now we are at Scott...anybody ever hear the word "thymele" EVER before?  AND HE IS GONE!!!!


ROUND 10!!!!!:  All stays the same.  No one has been eliminated in Round 9!

Behind the Speller has made me enchanted with Samia.  She's so...Devil Wears Prada.  She's all fashion-y and into design. She's PROJECT RUNWAY SAMIA!!!  And she spells like a dream...

9:04 pm:  I want to like Tia Thomas.  I want to.  But I can't.  My friend Elizabeth just told me she started a spelling group.  I can't like her. But I wish her well.

9:06 pm:  Surfer Boy was just given a Sanskrit word that I am not even going to try to spell here (oh, okay:  satyagraha) and I'm so worried...NO!  NO!!!!  NO!!!!!!!!!!  He's gone.  Bossy But Cute couldn't even pronounce the word!!  NO!!!!!

Kyle Mou who is tiny and adorable goes out on "lapies".  I'm getting nervous...  

Rose gets "fumagillin" and looks worried.  Dear God, no...

She's mouth-breathing harder than ever...



Bogatyr: from Turkish to Russian.  It worries me.  For Cat's sake. She looks scared and nervous and like she needs help.  She, in fact, asks for help!  Hmmm....

Cat is gone!

(I admit at this point to pausing to eat chicken.  Because of the wine.   I needed the chicken.)

Cat is devastated.  I'm so sad for her....  But I am back!

9:23 pm:  "Parfleche" which is rawhide as of buffalo soaked in lye and removed the hair and dried...  WHO CAN SPELL THESE WORDS?

Jahnavi irritably suggests that the clock is "very pretty" before she sheds a tear (a real live tear) and is eliminated.  I adore her and believe she is the next powerful woman on the planet...

ROUND NINE!!!!:  Samia is up!  She sails through her word.

While they do a Behind the Speller on Tia Thomas, can I just take a moment to point out how much I hate INTERVIEWING A SPELLER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROUND?!!  It is a travesty.  Interview their moms.  Interview their dads.  Interview their friends.  DO NOT BOTHER THE SPELLERS WITH PRESS WHILE THEY ARE SPELLING!!!!

I am calling the head of the network about this in the morning.

Or maybe not.  Because he scares me.  And he hires me.  So...yay, Steve!!!

8:42 pm:  Rorschach is ALSO NOT A SPELLING BEE WORD!  NO!  IT is not!  If I can spell it myself, it is not a word!

Rose spells "alcarraza" with joy and aplomb!

BEST MOMENT SO FAR:  Sameer is given a word. He stares at BBC Jacques Bailly and says, "NUMB NUT?"  BBC says "numnah" and Sameer basically says, "oh thank GOD."  Because he couldn't believe that Jacques is asking him to spell Numb Nut on national TV...  hee...  Literally the best most awesome moment so far...He actually says (and I know this because of instant replay since I am covertly watching my east coast feed in my office): "oh, that's a relief."



(a lot of wine)

8:52 pm:  Kavya is supposed to spell "epideictic" -- her bio says she wants to be a neurosurgeon, her very own Dr. McDreamy (how could I not go there?), so I love her!

Ommateal: of or relating having compound eyes.  WHAT THE EF DOES THAT MEAN?  What are compound eyes?  And how come Sidharth can spell it correctly when I don't even know what the MEANING means?

8:55 pm:  Our girl Cat easily spells her word (boulangere).  And now Scott Remer is having his chance with a word I will not even try to type.  They make it through.  Jahnavi is given "Nietzschean" which as we all know is of or relating to the German philospher Nietzsche.  But she has been studying WORDS not proper names and is a bit flummoxed.  I pray for her.  I pray to the gods of adulthood and confidence that she will make it through.   She's doing it!!!  SHE DID IT!!!!!


8:05 pm:  They use the Dancing With the Stars guy to introduce the finalists.  I'm immediately confused.  Dancing and spelling are two very different sports.  Will there be spins and lifts?

What makes me feel better is that they show me the very first speller and she has not had the full network treatment.  She's not had hair and makeup.  She's in the same outfit she was in this afternoon.  She's pure.  Hollywood has not gotten her.  And there's Tia and she's just as regular as she was this afternoon.  Hollywood hasn't gotten her either!!!  For those of you who don't know, Tia is a FIVE TIME Bee speller.  She spells old school.

Austin Pineda is here.  Twirling his hair!  HAIR TWIRLING!!!!!!!  He gently chastises Bossy But Cute Jacques Bailly for failing to give the language of origin on demand.  I adore this boy.  The announcers remind us that Austin is a first time speller.  HE'S TWIRLING HIS HAIR!!!  TWIRLING!!  TWIRLING!!!!  AND HE IS OUT!!!!  HE IS OUT!!!  "Tralatitious" took him down!

Note to self: hair twirling is not a good technique for excellent spelling.  Talking to a tiny man inside your hand IS a good technique.

Justin Song (aka Surfer Boy) is AWESOME!  He spells, he slacks, he spells, he slacks.  I LOVE HIM!

Wanna track the words?  The results?  Do that here.

8:19 pm:  As they have done every year, families sit on stage waiting to comfort the kids as they are eliminated.  Yay families!

8:20 pm: The cutest boy in the WORLD, Kyle Mou, just spelled "cryptarithm" which is an arithmetic problem in which letters have been substituted for numbers and is solved by finding all possible pairings of digits with letters that produce a numerically correct answer.  Dude.  That is hard.

8:22 pm:  I ADORE ROSE SLOAN!  I can't help it!  Every year I find someone who is me.  The me I still am in my head.  And this year, that me is ROSE!  She is awkward and eager and like me, she is a theatre geek AND a band geek!  I am ROOTING FOR ROSE!!!

(also drinking a lot of wine)

8:24 pm:  Sameer (no relation to legendary Samir) is sweet and calm and a four time speller.   He moves me not at all.  Which means he might do something spectacular later and win.

8:29 pm:  Commercial is over.  There was a singing version of the rules.  Is that from the Putnam County Spelling Bee musical?

Sidharth is up.  With his mustache and glasses...he's FIFTY is he's a day.  But I adore him.  My friend Elizabeth has decided he is a chess player.  That accounts for his Bobby Fischer stare into space.  WAIT!  He is a chess player!  She's right!  The bio says it!

Huguenot is not a spelling bee word.  It is not Bee-worthy.  There will be a scandal.  An inquiry.  A congressional hearing.  You heard it here first.  I love Cat.  But is she being given a pass?

5:31 pm:  Jahnavi Iyer sounds like I'd imagine Toni Morrison would sound if she were in the Bee.  Regal.  Bossy.  Brilliant.  Her bio says she saved an entire ACRE of rain forest by raising funds.  She's a badass.  She's a future Nobel Prize Winner. Don't mess with her.

With the hair twirler down, I wonder if I'll ever find happiness again.  I contemplate the nature of life.  Hair twirler, WE MISS YOU!!!

AND CAT COJOCARU WANTS TO DIRECT: The Scripps-Howard site profiles your twelve finalists, a group including three 1st-timers, five 2nd-timers, two 3rd-timers (Shivashankar & Song), one 4th (Mishra) and one 5th (Thomas). Just how hardcore is Chicagoland finalist Rose Sloan?

Rose plays trumpet in her school’s concert and jazz bands, sings in both her school’s chorus and honors chorus, and plays jazz piano. Her performances extend to acting as well, and she has had roles in school productions of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, Annie and Twelfth Night. Spelling isn't Rose's only competitive outlet: This year she competed on teams in the Illinois State Mathcounts Competition, the state robotics competition, and the National Middle School Science Bowl.
Dan Steinberg caught up with some of our favorites outside the kiss-and-cry suite, catching Z-Square hoarding juice boxes from the room ("They said feel free to take the snacks from the trays," he explained, "so I felt free to take the snacks from the trays") and trying to goad Matthew Evans into joining him for a trip to Air & Space this afternoon where, yes, To Fly! is still playing thirty years later.

ABC's coverage, as does ours, resumes at 8pm eastern.
THANK HEAVEN FOR ...: I gather that they are the khakis-and-button-down-shirt of the industry, but the SYTYCD audition rounds this year seem to prove at least one thing: The way to Nigel Lythgoe's heart is through the ass-pants section of your local Danskin outlet. It also doesn't hurt to have a learner's permit.

Three other observations: (1) Utah, unsurprisingly, isn't the greatest place to look for poppers and breakdancers, though it weirdly continues to have exceedingly well-trained formal dancers; (2) There are strip clubs in Utah? Who knew?; and (3) Vegas week is going to be crowded.
ONLY ONE FEATURES ELIZA DUSHKU: So, do you want to be a rock star, might you even be a rock star, or do you want to play with Rockstar?
FINALLY MARTY MCFLY'S CONTRIBUTION TO ROCK HISTORY IS QUANTIFIED: As we take a well-deserved Bee break, let me point you to Rolling Stone's list of The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time. Hard to argue with "Johnny B. Goode" and "Purple Haze" ranking 1-2, but I think I would have gotten the Led out over Clapton at 3.
ROUND SEVEN BEGINS: 16 spellers...

2:05 pm -- We begin with "pyrrhotism" which means red-hairedness. And Samia becomes the first person to make it in Round 7.

2:08 pm -- Tia Thomas' mom just jumped up and down screaming with excitement as her daughter spelled "canicular" successfully. I kind love her for that. She couldn't contain it. And dove her face into her husband's shoulder, totally embarrassed after. It was hilarious and so perfect.

2:16 pm -- I'm now officially rooting for Rose Sloan. Her happiness is infectious. LOVE her.

Can I state that I'm not a fan of people who make witty bon mots while they are supposed to be spelling? Like "Can you give me the California pronunciation?" Stop working at the cute. You are cute by virtue of your appearance at the Bee, your embrace of the purely geeky, the bizarre choice to spend time spelling. You need not say witty remarks. And this year's witty remarks are not the same as the awesome kid who quoted Napoleon Dynamite a few years ago. That was true geek thundering mightily to be heard. It was magic. What I wouldn't give for a little geek magic this year...

And...the Jamaican is down...

Wow, picry = poison ivy? Good to know.

2:26 pm - So, with the loss of Sade Dunbar, we are now looking at an all-American final. Which is fine. I'll just miss the accents. But we do have an excellent group heading into prime time. 13 people. An equal range of boys and girls, a multi-ethnic mix...

Okay Cherry Mathis just went down. So now...12 people. MAN! I wanted her in prime time! The last accent is gone...

That's it, folks. Now the press is going to spend a couple of hours abusing Matthew Evans and then we'll all gather up our wine glasses, our dictionaries and our petty shallow thoughts and meet again in prime time!
YOU HAVEN'T HEARD THE LAST OF ME: The Mattsassin reacts to the Round 5 horror. So long, Matthew Koh. Until next year.
ROUND SIX: It took me twenty minutes to drive from home to work. And in that time, we lost Matthew Koh?!!! 24 spellers. Will they have enough spellers left to make primetime worth it?

1:09 pm: I dig the way Austin Pineda twirls his hair around his finger as he considers how to spell his word. He's got glasses and a mustache and long, long 70s-boy hair that he twirls and twirls. His mother is so stressed out that she cries waiting for him to spell. I'd hate that about her, that kind of pressure she puts on her kid, except she lets her kid have long long 70s-boy hair which is AWESOME and not at all uptight.

Can I pause for one second to wonder aloud whether or not Kaitlyn Johnston would be a good match for Octagon Global Recruiting as her next venture? She went out on "soutache".

1:29 pm: Rose Sloan continues to spell with bouncing joy. Miliary! Yay! I gotta love her. She's having more fun at the Bee than anyone I've ever seen. She's a bubble of happy.

1:34 pm: Sade Dunbar is still in it with "galbulus" -- a word I have never heard before and despite its definition, sounds like some sort of mucus so it's a word I never wanna hear again.

1:41 pm: "Suggillation" is a bruise, especially one that develops post-mortem. Try finding a casual way to use that in a sentence this week.

"Ophthalmoplegia" -- a paralysis of the eye. We're into the medical words. Sidharth Chand has a deep dark mustache that makes him look closer to 40 years old than 12. Poor thing. He spells and spells to make his little lambs stop screaming-

MATTHEW EVANS IS DOWN!!!!!! He's DOWN! It's over for him. The ballroom gives him a standing ovation, Tia Thomas covers her face in either glee or misery and Matthew just stands there. His dream dead. So much spelling behind him.

1:54 pm: I have a new love. Scott Remer. He's from Ohio. And while I still turn my nose up at the Behind the Speller segments, I did enjoy his. I also like he danced all over the word "pyelonephritis."

More medical words. "Phrenicectomy" is a surgical procedure by which we remove super cute spelling hottie Keiko Bridwell. She have Cover Girl written all over her.

And round 6 ends with "floraison" (spelled by new spelling hottie the Southern-twanged, whipsmart Cherry Mathis) and they have 16 spellers coming back right now for Round 7...

WELL, I'VE SEEN THE SUNRISE FROM THE CLIFFS OF POINT REYES, AND I'VE SEEN IT SET ON THUNDER BAY: Our friend Dan Steinberg of the WaPo talks to the eliminated Canadian spellers, "a septet of softspoken sadness" as he puts it. Indeed, Dan's blogging up a storm today, including some nice video pieces, as is the MediaGeneral team.
24 : Round 5 took 21 spellers, and we're down to 24 to start Round 6. I giggled at Dr. Bailly's "hi!" to Cherry Mathis, and I felt sorry for Matthew Koh, the last kid in Round 4; I don't know that he ever really understood the word that he was supposed to be spelling.

It's a festschrift in honor of the Bee over here at ALOTT5MA!
I SAY IT EVERY YEAR BUT HERE IT IS AGAIN: The Jamaican is-  WAIT!  She's not down!  Sade Dunbar is NOT DOWN!  She lives to spell another round!

Here come the supercute ESPN montaged Behind the Speller segments.  Make it stop.  Make it stop.  I mean, I agree that 5 year old Vanya Shivashankar is freaking adorable.  We all do.  But she is not in the Bee.  She is stealing her big sister Kavya's thunder!  Thunder Stealer!  

Back to the spelling...

12:11 am: "sporangiophore", "tholobate", "illative"...the hard words show up to fight and the spellers stomp all over them, kicking hard word booty with grace and ease.   

Here comes a Behind the Speller on Matthew Evans.  He carries around 30,000 words in a suitcase whenever he travels!  He's special!  He's a spelling demi-god!  Grr...get to the spelling.

By popular demand, a word on Cat Cojorcaru:  She's lanky and tense.  Folds her forehead into pieces as she thinks.  She bites her lip, looks disturbed by the whole process as she repeats the words over and over.  She twirls her fingers around one another, working them, writing with them, picking at them.  Her hair is shiny like she eats all the right foods and knows a good conditioner when she sees one.   And she breathes a great sigh of relief each time her turn is done.  She's delightful and geeky and just one or two years away from morphing from freak to great beauty.

12:32 pm:  "Schnecke" used in a sentence by Jacques Bailly:  "A fight nearly broke out between two customers over the last schnecke in the bakery."    It got a laugh from the audience and from Zachary Zagorski who had to spell it.  And he did.  What is a schnecke?  A cinnamon bun made of yeast leavened dough that is rolled up like a jelly roll, cut into crosswise slices and baked cut side down.    I want one.  I want one now.  It sounds so good...

We're now down to 28 spellers if I'm doing my math correctly.  

THE MAILSACK THUD OF ANOTHER BOY GOING HOME . . .: six Nine down in a row? Ouch.

I am, however, committed to using the words "hooley" and "tonneau" in conversation this week.

Also, I had the occasion to reread Stephen King's "The Long Walk" the other day. A story that's really hard to visualize, since who can imagine 14-year old boys operating under extreme stress. But here it is, in high-def. Minus the rifle fire.
THE MATSASSIN: I may be getting a little invested in Matthew Koh's performance.
ROUND FIVE: It begins with #5 So-Young Chung shyly approaching the microphone as if it were a guillotine, with BBC Bailly saying "howdy, So-Young!" to her like they are at a Texas BBQ instead of the greatest spelling competition EVER, with So-Young thinking and pronouncing and pronouncing and thinking and asking for the definition over and over again. It's painful. It's polite. It's so very elegant. And it ends with So-Young spelling "chrysoprase" (an apple green variety of something valued as a gem) all wrong. So-Young's whispered thanks upon hearing the dreaded ding...heartbreaking.


11:14 am EST: Tia Thomas is over confident with her five-time competitive self. She's smug and tall and spells "mcleod" like the champ she already believes herself to be. Her parents cheer and cheer for her but I secretly do not wish her well. She has the confidence of a Samir. And we all know what happened to him. By the way, "mcleod" is a combination of a hoe and a rake used to fight forest fires.

11:20 am: It's hard for Justin Song to say "crenitic" with his teenaged slacker voice and have Jacques Bailly be confident that Justin understands. Justin Song won't bend, however, and not only gets Bailly to accept his pronunciation, he spells the word correctly!

11:27 am: EARLY STATS (as noted by me) 10 spellers have stepped up to the microphone. 3 went down. All the Californians remain. The first two Canadians are wiped out but there's an army of Canadians still waiting to spell it out. What does this mean? It means we are going to be here a long time trying to get down to the 15 finalists who move on to primetime. It also means that CALIFORNIA ROCKS.

One thing ESPN is doing well -- giving me stats. In this semifinal round, here are how the ages break down. One 10 year old, 3 eleven year olds, 10 twelve year olds, 18 thirteen year olds, 10 fourteen year olds and 1 (if you ask me WAY too old to be an 8th grader) fifteen year old.

11:36 am: The Canadians fall, the Canadians fall, the Canadians fall like trees. It's a Spelling Bee Battle Field -- these poor Canadians rushing to the microphone only to be beaten back with a horrifying ding. Were they not prepared for the rigors of TV? The joy of ESPN? Because these words did not seem particularly hard to me. But just like that, we have lost SIX CANADIANS IN A ROW. ALL THE CANADIANS ARE GONE. It's tragic. Oh, Canada...

Shallow note: the woman escorting the dinged spellers to the Crying Room wears an inappropriately flirty party skirt. It has ruffles. It's short. It appears to be made of taffeta. She's CELEBRATING their misery. Hmm...

11:54 am: I see a speller. I start to fall for them. They have a weird mole or they mush their face in their hands or they seem to have a secret friend in their head. I fall in mama-love, wanting to protect them and see them do well. I begin to root for them. I imagine their futures. AND THEN THEY GET DINGED! It's a bloodbath, a carnage of kids. Oh, I may not have the stomach for this...

11:58 am: Rose Sloan is a spelling badass. A mouth breather, a mole-haver, a glasses-wearer. She's attractive in a different way that makes me want to protect her from ever seeing images in fashion magazines. And she's gleeful. GLEEFUL every single time she spells a word correctly. This time? It was "ansu".
COULD I HAVE THE LANGUAGE OF ORIGIN, PLEASE? If you've ever wondered what the spellers do with this information, Merriam-Webster's "Spell It!" Guide (PDF) is a helpful read. For example, they suggest:
  • Don’t shy away from consonant clusters! German words often have combinations of three or more consonants that don’t occur in thoroughly English words. Examples include gst in angst, schn in schnauzer, and nschl in anschluss.
  • The letter o is the vowel most often used to connect two Greek word elements. If the connecting vowel sound is a schwa (ə) as in xylophone, notochord, and ergonomic and you must guess at the spelling of this sound, the letter o is a very good guess.
  • The letter k rarely appears in words from Latin, and its sound is nearly always represented by c as in canary, prosaic, canine, mediocre, Capricorn, aquatic, cognition, precocious, and many other words.
ANTICIPATION: Day 2. Hopefully the kids were able to get at least a little bit of sleep last night, but the nerves remain, obviously. After Day 1 for me, my dad, who had arrived in time for spelling on Day 1 with some family friends in tow to support me, insisted that we take a walk and go out for dinner. It was probably the best thing he could have done. I was able to forget about words and microphones and bright lights shining on the stage for at least a little while, eating and laughing and regaling my father with tales of the events that had already transpired.

We headed back to the hotel, where many of the kids who had already been eliminated were congregating, eating ice cream and playing games and generally blowing off some of the steam that had been gathering for the weeks and months heading into the Bee. I hung around for a bit, talking with them and some of the other kids who would be joining me in another day of spelling, and then headed off to bed.

The morning of Day 2 started with a fight with my mom about what I wanted to wear (these were the days before those nifty Bee polo shirts came about). I had brought two dresses, one a striped minidress but still appropriate, especially seeing as it was the early 80s, and a much more traditional one (think puffed-sleeve prairie blouse) that I had been planning to wear for the gala banquet on Friday night. Mom wanted me to wear the traditional dress in case there was TV coverage, but I stubbornly insisted on wearing the minidress, which I thought was just so much cuter. I won that battle, and giggled when I ended up on ABC's World News in Dick Schaap's annual piece about the Bee. Of course, these were the days before cell phones, so we didn't know that I was going to be part of the segment until we actually saw it on TV, so I sadly don't have a copy of it for posterity.

Anyway, I had the minidress and my good luck charm, a little clippy koala bear that I clutched throughout the spelling, until the bell rang for me on "muniments." I was sad and mad at myself, naturally, until I was (much later) able to get some 13-year-old perspective on my 18th-place finish.

After a little time in the Crying Room, I rejoined my family and friends and watched the rest of the Bee. I was so happy when Blake won -- the person who placed second was someone I was not particularly fond of, mostly because he had signed my autograph book early in the week with "Future Bee Winner," and I admit to giggling a bit to myself when he misspelled a word that is now part of the American lexicon thanks to an animated cooking mouse. He was much nicer at the final banquet, too, because I think he realized how bad he felt about missing a relatively easy word when he had been so cocky all week.

I wish all the remaining spellers the best of luck today. Your accomplishments and your poise and grace under pressure are amazing. Take a deep breath and go to it!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

THE GREATEST HAPPINESS OF THE GREATEST NUMBER: OK, so maybe tonight's Lost finale wasn't quite the size of a game-changer as last year's was, though a number of burning questions were answered (including how the Oceanic Six escaped, how Ben left the Island, and who is in the coffin) and the return of numerous past characters was welcome. We have a whole island full of new questions, though, and even though we have till at least next winter to figure them out, we can certainly get started now. (I have a feeling this will be riddled with clues, though it's apparently overwhelmed with traffic right now--our So. Cal. contingent may need to investigate.)
THEY WON'T BE SHEDDING ANY TEARS TONIGHT IN ROCK RIDGE: Hate to interrupt the Bee blogging, but it's worth noting that Harvey Korman, best known for his work on the Carol Burnett Show and his role as the crooked Attorney General Hedley (not Hedy) Lamarr has died. He was 81.

Also, Trekkies are mourning the dual deaths of director Joseph Pevney, who among other credits helmed 14 episodes during the sci-fi series' original run including the legendary "The Trouble With Tribbles," and composer Alexander "Sandy" Courage, who wrote the classic Trek theme song. Penvey was 96; Courage 88.
ALOTT5MA BEE POOL 3.0: With Round 4 now complete and 45 spellers remaining, it's time to open up our pool for this year's Bee. As with last year, the rules are simple: Select two spellers, only one of whom can be from among the five rock stars for whom this is at least a fourth attempt at glory -- Tia Thomas (13), Anqi Dong (39), Sameer Mishra (97), Akhsat Shekhar (126) and Matthew Evans (162).

You will get one point for each word your spellers correctly spell during tomorrow's rounds of the Bee, which resumes at 11am on ESPN. Most points wins; tiebreaker will be whoever has the individual speller going the furthest. 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 the pool will close when the kids start spelling tomorrow morning. Google wisely, and do abide Sean Daly's advice in today's New York Post.

As always, your sole prizes are Internet fame and glory forever (or at least as long as this site’s archives remain available), joining 2006 pool winner Elicia Chamberlin, who admittedly had some inside knowledge, and 2007 co-winners Professor Jeff and Amy (which sounds like a messed-up MIT lounge act).

Since it's my blog, I go first: Kayva Shivashankar -- the pride of Olathe, KS, and the only entrant to have made it to prime time the last two years -- and second-timer Curtis Bogetti of Kamloops, BC, because "Kamloops" is a cool name for a town and Curtis says "schuhplattler" is his favorite word. I am concerned that he also claims to be a Lost fan, and I don't want him distracted tonight, but I'm sensing some serious Maple Leaf Mojo this year.

That said, I will not be surprised at all to see Matthew Evans and Tia Thomas among the final competitors Friday night -- one does not come back for a fifth Bee just because one can, but because one believes that the effort will be worth it. Good luck, everyone.
ON TO THE GLORY OF TV:  Matthew Koh is the final speller of the day with "topepo" -- which is some kind of hybrid between a tomato and a sweet pepper.  He spells with a bit or boredom as if to say, "is that all you got?"

45 spellers remain.  45 spellers make it over to cable TV where they will drown us with quirky tidbits and video montages and moving video pieces on children who spell on the spirits of their ancestors.   Let's ignore that stuff.  Let's all ignore the attempt to make the Bee cute and love it for the bloodbath of spelling that it really is!
GHOSTS APPEAR AND FADE AWAY: Nothing, I'll bet, is as haunting as the feeling that you overthought a word that you could have spelled. In Round 2, it was turning "onomasticon" into the prettier but less correct "aunimosticaun." In Round 3, it was the ornamental "i" that turned "quaquaversal" into "quaiquaversal." Here in Round 4, the siren call of the medical words, with their irresistable Italianate hard "ch"-es, beckoned Keertan Kini overboard by twisting "Deuterocanonical" ("of books and passages of the Christian Bible not extant in Hebrew") into "Deuterochinonical" (presumably, "of an organism in the cytoplasm of cells in which the second statement of Mosaic law is encoded").

It gets ugly at the end, 6 out of the last 10 falling to the likes of "polytrichous" ("like monotrichous, except more"), "anticyclolysis" ("the process of removing unibrow"), and "cordonnet" ("a military trdummpet"). Yet there is Matthew Koh, still the last man standing, still staring you down, the cold-blooded assassin.
DISAPPOINTMENT (n): to spell one's ass off for an entire year and then see your dreams destroyed by "alastrim":  Emily Temple-Wood, upon hearing that evil ding, just shook her head and said, "yeah, I knew that was NOT gonna happen."  Head bowed, she strode to the Crying Room.  Keertan Kini knew the moment he heard his word "deuterocanonical" that he didn't have a chance.  He laughed and said, "wow."  Then he gave it his best shot.  When the ding sounded, he headed for home.  

Oh!  Jamaicans!  The Jamaicans are spelling! Okay, really just one Jamaican -- Sade Dunbar.  Which is a great name.  She is so polite and her accent is so freaking adorable that I would try to affect it if I could do so without making a fool of myself.  Sade, Sade...
AUTOCYTOLYSIS:  I am a true believer in the truth that these early rounds of the Bee serve to weed out the cutest, most attractive, most obviously future popular kids from our midst so that we might be left with those who need to be here.  The geeks.  The deep thinkers.  Those who shall run the world.  Their awkward tics and finger-print stained glasses are signs of their inner spelling badass.   I make exceptions.  Kaitlyn Johnson is absolutely America's Next Top Model gorgeous but her too-short bangs and her resolute quirky manner make her not one of THEM but one of US and so I cheer her on.  Her word?  Iconodule.  Which means "one who serves images."
SPELLING IS HARD:  "Hierurgical" caused Canadian Cody Wang to suffer the first of what I fear will be many nervous breakdowns in his life.  He grabbed his head, made several gasping shocked noises, a single pained whimper and then disappeared from Bee world forever.

I don't know what "xylary" is or what "xylary" does but I hope I never find it on delicate bits of my body.  I'm guessing that overly attractive (also Canadian) Emma Brownlie never wants to hear the word again.
63 SPELLERS REMAIN: Dr. Jacques Bailly is as bossy but cute as ever.  He sternly tells the competitors to LISTEN to him pronounce the word.  LISTEN, he says.  He's very bossy but cute which comforts me because it means that life is unchanging, the world is still a good place.  

The Californians are spelling right now.   Has anyone ever actually found a reason to describe anything as riant (pleasingly mirthful)?  I found Justin Song riant what with his slacker vibe and his slightly bored tone.  He was all, dude, I'm bee-ing! 
PAJAMA TIME: You know what's uncomfortable? Having a meeting with your writers while wearing flannel jama pants. It sort of undercuts the authority thing. Round 4 is getting underway (but they are still showing tennis on ESPN360 -- unless my moronic tendencies mean I'm doing it wrong) and so I will be your host...

edited to add: Ooh! I was doing it wrong! It's on! THE BEE IS ON!
PHILIATER (n) a rarely used term for one interested in the study of medicine:  Hey!  That's me!  And it's Matthew Evans who got it right.  Matthew's a favorite  of the Bee and now he's my favorite for this round since baby-faced Sriram didn't make it into the Quarterfinal round.  There's always next year...
DAMN YOU, COMCAST: For some reason you won't allow me to use ESPN 360 so I can't view Round 3, a.k.a. the Canadian bloodbath.
CHEYENNE PLASTER IS NOW MY FAVORITE NAME EVER: What is it? Is it a spackle? A J. Crew catalog color? A brand of illicit drug?

Round 3 is on. Meanwhile, according to the R3 results so far, Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, and the Bahamas are out; everybody in R3 so far is right on (including Tia Thomas -- this could be her year); and I am refusing to pun the name of our first speller, So-Young Chung.

And just like that, three Canadians are down. But not superstar Anqi Dong, who tames the hardest word of the round so far.

Missed "use it in a song" opportunity: "Appreciate your courtesy/your well-worn politesse/but you got yourself into your own mess" (OK Go, "Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time"). And Jordan Lay, all the way from a base in Germany, is down on "wainscot."

Most spellers come from newspapers, or at least "newspapers" (like the Washington Informer, which is less a newspaper than something that meets you in the bowels of a parking garage to tell you to follow the money). Rose Sloan (and, really, every Rose has a Sloan, am I right?) comes to us from a utility company, and she correctly spells kwuh-TUR-nee-uhn, which everybody knows means "an expression of the form a + bi + cj + dk, where a, b, c, and d are real numbers; i2 = j2 = k2 = −1; and ij = −ji = k, jk = −kj = i, and ki = −ik = j."

High drama: high-seed and four-timer Sameer Mishra's pops up at 97, meaning that his computer test overcame his first-round blunder. With the relatively easy dem-i-tas, he lives to spell again. Mishra is like the Boston Celtics of the Bee -- he's making it a lot more interesting than he should.

Evans is through. So we still have Thomas, Mishra, Evans, Dong, and Shekhar. The heavy hitters are still hitting heavy.

I love the picture of Matthew Koh, Round 3's last indefatigably successful speller. "Your human emotions intrigue me. Shall I now spell you into submission?" So sorry, though, to end the round by losing Wheeling, West Virginia's Karen Laska, who got us this post over at USS Mariner.

On to Round 4!
THE NOT-SO-DREADED (THIS TIME) WRITTEN ROUND: Prior to today's first oral round, the spellers were given fifty words to spell in a computerized test, with twenty-five of them being used to help determine who would advance to remainder of the competition. Here's a selection:
  • ahl-tuh-GETH-uhr -- A, B, C, D, can I bring my friend to tea?
  • MUHS-tuhrd, suh-RINJ, MIHD-rif, EH-puh-lehp-see -- um, yeah. For real, these words counted. Okay, let's skip to the harder stuff.
  • BAYN-YAY-- because we love foodie words here. A Nawlins fritter.
  • PIHHR-ic -- how it'd feel to spell this word right but not advance in the competition
  • SIHG-nuht -- a young swan
  • GEHRN-zee -- relating to that Channel Island
  • PIHN-yihn -- how one translates Chinese into a Roman alphabet
  • treh-muh-LO -- from the second Tsunami album (thank you, Jenny Toomey!), it's the rapid reiteration of a musical tone
  • NAHN-puh-reel -- unparalleled, or a candy your grandmother might offer you.
  • kahr-uh-BEEN/kuh-RIH-bee-uhn -- Billy Ocean's queen.
  • kah-kuh-WEE-theez -- an uncontrollable desire
  • AYE-deh-dihk -- relating to images or essences
  • ah-puh-LOO-suh -- a type of horse
  • gall-uh-MAY-shee-uhs -- like most of what we blog, it's "gibberish".
Answers, and the remaining words, here.
ROUND TWO: And so we begin today with Alabama's James Bailey acing muh-JEN-tuh, and you can track the kids right here.

So far, notes Josh Dawsey of the MG Bee Blog, it's a touch harder round than last year's first oral round, with a decent number more wrong answers. Then again, I don't know how fair it is to have someone fly here all the way from Ghana and ask her to spell the name of the Passover ritual meal as her first challenge.

Other words wrong so far:
  • skuh-DAD-uhl -- as in, "scram!"
  • mehr-uh-TOK-ruh-see -- which the Bee pretty much is.
  • ahn-tuh-LAHJ-uh-kuhl -- of or relating to the science or study of being.
  • ehv-uh-DEN-chee-ehr-ee, one of two law-related words to confound folks so far. (Lieu being the other.)
Kudos, by the way, to Priyanka Damarla of Elgin, IL, who just nailed kudos.

updates: 1. Remember Indiana's Austin Hoke, the four-timer who said "I am just kind of laying off it. It's really hard to (prepare), so I just figure I won't try"? He just got Soo, as in the Plains tribe. And spelled it S-O-O. Fellow four-timer Sameer Mishra, also of Indiana, whiffed on soo-DAY-shuhn, i.e., "sweat".

Meanwhile, Our Spellers to the North went 19/22 this round.

2. Suppose you're Charles Smith, representing Hagerstown, MD. The four spellers before you receive "quandary," "ethanol," "brigadier" and "chary". Then you're asked to spell ahn-uh-MASS-tuh-kon, "a collection or listing of words especially in a specialized field." Yeah, life's not fair sometimes.

3. Among the favorites who nailed their first words are five-timers Tia Thomas and Matthew Evans, four-timer Anqi Dong of Saskatchewan, third-timer Kayva Shivashankar, youngest-ever Sriram Hathwar, and Catherine "Cat" Cojocaru of Rochester, MN, who gets props (a) for insisting on a nickname, (b) for representing a North Dakota paper while living in Minnesota, and (c) for her mythical, and for all we know actual relationship to Uncle Steven. We'll see if they make the cut in about an hour.

4. We've been telling 'meniscus' stories here today, and here's another: Thomas North flew here all the way from New Zealand and spelled it wrong. I guess this is a good time to let him know that the Air & Space Museum's IMAX Theater has two showings of "To Fly!" remaining today.

5. Another bugaboo for spellers today? Short words starting with 's' and ending with f-sounds: both suhrf (as in lackey or minion, not as in -board) and sihlf (an imaginary or elemental being inhabiting the air and being mortal but soulless, or "a slender woman or girl of light and graceful carriage") have confused competitors today.

6. It could have been pointed out to me in advance that Philadelphia's representative, Hannah Schill, is a University City hipster-in-training with blue-streaked hair. She correctly spelled vuh-LOOT (alt: vuhl-YOOT), a spiral- or scroll-shaped form.

This round is now over, and congratulations to Bill James, because say-buhr-MEH-trix now counts as a Bee word (though the etymology gives its spelling away), and WV's Karen Laska spelled it correctly. Also, via Amy Dominello, we had our first “Can you use it in a song?” request of Dr. Jacque Bailly in this round. It was denied, and the word (uh-SPOWZ-uhl) was incorrectly spelled. We'll see who made the ~100 cut in an hour or so.
THE HIVE IS OPEN: And we're off! Here's how the Spelling Bee works today:
  • From 8am to noonish, all 288 spellers will have the chance to spell one preliminary word in front of Dr. Jacque Bailly and the audience. If it's like last year, it'll be easy.
  • Spellers receive three points for spelling that word correctly. Add that to the results of the computer round (up to 25 points), and at around noon they'll learn which spellers are part of the group of 100+ spellers which advances to the rest of the competition.
  • From 2pm until 4:45p, those spellers will begin competition in the one-and-done elimination format you know and love, the rules of which are available here. will cover it live, but nothing on broadcast tv until tomorrow.
Once today's round are complete, we'll open the annual ALOTT5MA Bee Pool, and its rules are the same as always -- pick two spellers, only one of whom can be from among the six 4+ repeaters, and you get one point for every word successfully spelled tomorrow. You'll have until the start of Friday's competition to register your choices, with this caveat: first-come, first-served on each pairing, as no two entrants can select the same pair of spellers.

"Friendly rivals" and five-timers Tia Thomas and Matthew Evans are ready; are you?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

WORD UP -- IT'S THE CODE WORD/SOMEBODY LEARNED SOMETHING AT BAYSIDE: In the next few days, if I can peel myself away from work for a few minutes every hour, then like Shonda I’m going to get irrationally excited about a bunch of kids mentally dissecting and verbally reassembling a series of words, only a random few of which I’ll ever use. The appeal is not just that there are easy parallels to sporting events like the NCAA basketball tournament, where there are favorites and underdogs, preternaturally talented contestants and hard-working heroes who succeed through sheer will and brute effort, steamrolling streaks and upsets and agonizing mistakes, pressure and heartbreak and joy – though those are certainly some of the things I like. It’s not just that there are those things plus the fact that these are engaging kids who make funny kid decisions, like ordering the official polo shirt five sizes too big or confounding Dr. Bailly with impromptu Napoleon Dynamite impressions. In a way, I think it’s that these kids are not just good – they are so much better than I am at something that I have done almost every day since I learned to write. Part of my job – a vanishingly small but nonetheless nonzero part – is spelling things correctly. I do it boringly, perfunctorily, and once a year it’s fun to see people do it daringly, with panache and joy and wispy mustaches. I'll be rooting for the young kid, the girl from Ghana, and the guy from the base in Germany, I think.

While I’m on the subject of things that inspire me, let me mention the story of the euphoniously-named Isaac Lidsky, “Weasel” Wyzell from Saved By the Bell: The New Class, who will be clerking next term for retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. It’s exceedingly hard for a person to go from TNBC to SCOTUS, especially a socially-awkward kid with a hidden heart of gold who never managed to steal a kiss from Sarah Lancaster, Natalia Cigliuti, or Ashley Cafagna. Lidsky is breaking the “plywood painted to look like high-school lockers ceiling” that keeps people like RJ “Hollywood” Collins, Mary-Beth Pepperton, and Teddy Brodis out of the exclusive clerks’ fraternity. I say bravo, Weasel, you are an inspiration to us all.
THE WEIRD SAGA OF KIMMEL’S WHIPPING-GIRL: I won’t get into the after-story to the article to which I’m about to link except to say that it involves betrayal, sex, pettiness, the unsarcastic use of the word “literati,” a Capulet-Montague plot, and very pretty people. I did, however, want to refer you to this somewhat old but really remarkable article about the history of Gawker and the idea that, as the author writes, it grew more influential than the institutions and people it mocked and therefore “outlived the conditions for its existence.” I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that Choire Sicha and Jessica Coen (and their former LA colleague, Mark Lisanti), for better or for worse, strongly influenced both the attitude I have toward blogging and the voice I use when doing it, so it’s a bit uncomfortable for me to see how badly they, and particularly Coen, come off in this piece.
I PLAN TO HONOR HIM BY TRIPPING OVER MY OTTOMAN TONIGHT: Prolific and self-deprecating composer Earle H. Hagen has passed away. Hagen, whose autobiography was entitled "Memoirs of a Famous Composer -- Nobody Ever Heard Of" was responsible for two of the most enduring instrumental TV themes of all time, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "The Andy Griffith Show," as well as countless other compositions for movies and TV, including "The Mod Squad," "That Girl" and "I Spy." He was 88.
"SOMEWHERE AFTER HIS FIFTEEN MINUTES BUT PRE-MANHOOD": ESPN's Elizabeth Merrill checks in with Samir Patel, beloved by Shonda and pretty much everyone else around here, enjoying his first May since 2002 away from the Bee. (In 2006, Shonda wrote of him: "If spelling were Hollywood, Samir would be Will Smith -- young, charismatic, just self-deprecating enough to make it okay that he knows his own greatness and exceedinlgy adorable to the public mainly because his ears are too big.")

A professor at the community college where Samir is studying this semester has this to say about his future:
He told me he wanted to get into the [technical] field, but I'm hoping to change his mind. I think a really bright kid like that should be steered into the humanities. If you look around the country, you'll notice our planes are well maintained and fly and don't normally crash, our doctors are competent and we've made big strides in computer technology. But my view is when you have an extremely talented person, the last thing we need is one more computer programmer. The fact that I am thinking this way about him is an indication of how much promise I see in him.
ESPN is also offering a video tribute and slideshow of Samir through the years, plus a 25-question spelling quiz as a challenge (18/25 for me -- the sports names were brutal).

Finally, greetings to the Washington Post and Dan Shanoff readers who have joined us. We welcome your comments, and do stick around.
OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BABES: I get a little bit giddy at this same time every year.  Because we are Bee-ing, people!   Like I do every year, I use this time as a vacation from being a grown up.  I wear my pajamas (sadly, this year, I will be working but I am determined to continue the tradition and wear my flannel pajama pants to work.  Awkward for everyone who works with me but I will not be swayed by fashion or rules or decorum) and I keep one eye on the Scripps web site and one on the TV.  And I get my Bee on.   This year, I'm enchanted by Sriram Hathwar, who at barely 8 years old, is the youngest speller in Bee history.  He's a tiny tot in glasses who, according to the Corning NY papers, was completely nonchalant during his one on one battle against last year's regional champion, Devin Li -- whom I imagine must be bitterly aghast at losing the title to a baby.  Here's hoping Sriram makes it through the first rounds and lives to spell on ESPN!
THESE ARE THE PEOPLE AT YOUR STARBUCKS...THEY'RE THE PEOPLE THAT YOU MEET EACH DAY: Holy Taco takes a look at the Eight Types of Annoying People You'll Find Inside Starbucks, including the Manager Who Refuses to Recognize the Words Small, Medium, and Large, The Guy Who Hates Starbucks But Goes There Every Day, and The Person Who Peruses the DVD Section As If They Might Purchase.

Via Starbucks Gossip (where else?)
HE'S WEARING HIS BAD IDEA JEANS: Maybe when your effort to fly 25 miles up in a balloon, jump out of the gondola, and fall at over 600 mph down to earth (with a parachute) fails for the third time due to technical problems, there's someone trying to tell you that this might not be the best idea? (The long New Yorker article on the attempt, sadly not available online, was quite excellent.)
BECAUSE WE DON'T WATCH ENOUGH TV ALREADY: As part of ALOTT5MA's World Domination Task Force, we note with pleasure that soon, you will be able to turn over control of your TiVo to our friend Mo Ryan, and have it automatically record her viewing picks. We continue to work on ALOTT5MA "2.0," with its direct neural interface and holographic technology, which is slated for beta testing in early 2011, provided we raise sufficient venture capital.
COOL AS A CUCUMBER IN A BOWL OF HOT SAUCE: Today is the last day — the day before the real, honest-to-goodness hardcore spelling starts. Sure, the preliminaries have been going on, but the guts of what the Bee is all about start tomorrow morning.

The schedule is different now than it was 25 years ago, when I competed. The kids still attend a welcome barbecue. I remember mine being great fun, despite an abrupt ending when a freak storm blew through and the staff herded us onto buses for the trip back to DC. We also had a day of sightseeing, where I visited the Vietnam Memorial for the first time and we had a short Rose Garden audience with then-President Reagan; our parents were annoyed that they had to wait in the buses while we hobnobbed with him. I also remember a bunch of fun at the hotel in the evenings hanging out with the other contestants, eating, playing cards, and signing the ever-present autograph books.

The schedule for this year's kids doesn't specify any activities for today. I'm guessing some kids will stay in their rooms studying, and some will take advantage of the beautiful weather to get out and see some of the myriad of sights that DC has to offer.

I don't remember a lot of angst or last-minute cramming, but the Bee has become much bigger and much more competitive over the last two and a half decades. Fewer than 140 spellers competed in 1983, and there was a genuine spirit of excitement and support for the other spellers among us. Sure, we all wanted to win, and sure, we all experienced disappointment, sadness and shock when the bell finally rang (well, all except for current judge Blake Giddens, who won on "Purim"), but I made many friends with whom I kept in touch for years afterward.

It's hard to know how much of that is still happening. I hope that it is. I also hope that the kids take today, and the rest of the time left in Bee Week, to really soak in the atmosphere and the experience. It should be something that they remember fondly for the rest of their lives.

I'm sure we'll see some last-minute butterflies tomorrow as the kids spell to a full ballroom on national TV. I was a wreck when I got up to spell my practice word, "ghost." After that, though, the lights and cameras faded away and it was just about us kids. Just a bunch of kids who happen to be really, really good at spelling.
LIKE PETER USTINOV, BUT 60 YEARS YOUNGER: Never say we don't have a public impact here at ALOTT5MA.

My earlier post about the wretched mass that is Crystal City has merited a rebuttal from Mr. Rob Mandle, operations director of the Crystal City Business Improvement District. In all fairness, his comment should get a hearing, so I've brought it up top:

Though there's still some distance to travel, there are a lot of SOUL-ful changes happening in Crystal City. We hosted Artomatic last year, brought Arena Stage across the river, are almost finished with a new Mosaic at the Metro, have Monday night Bond Outdoor Movie nights, and much more on the way. Part of soul is the people - and with Conservation International, NCB, BNA, PBS and others coming in, it's only going to get better. We're green, art-y, and active. Just be sure to check our website - we'll point you in the right direction.

I really should have noted the 21 weeks of James Bond outdoor film festival. That's pretty cool.

But since we have an audience, anyone who cares to point out needed improvements to Crystal City should feel free to take the opportunity.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

SPEAK & SPELL: They have changed the Bee process for 2008. Gone is the first-day written round of which we were big fans. Instead, at some point during the past three days (of their choosing), our spellers had this to deal with:
In the Round One test, spellers will spell 50 words using a computer keyboard. Only 25 of the 50 spellings will count toward each speller’s Preliminaries score. The 25 words that count toward a speller’s Preliminaries score were labeled “score words” by Bee officials prior to May 25, but score word status will not be apparent to a speller taking the Round One test. Bee officials will publicly identify score words following the conclusion of the Preliminaries on Thursday, May 29. A sample test was available to all spellers through a secure Web site prior to Bee Week.

The test will be proctored by a member of the Bee’s staff. Dr. Bailly will not appear in person at the test; instead, spellers will hear a recording of Dr. Bailly delivering the word information (just as in the sample test available to spellers prior to Bee Week). The test has no time limit, and spellers are given multiple opportunities to review their answers and word information prior to submitting their final answers. Access to the testing room during open testing hours will be restricted to spellers who are taking the test, Bee officials, staff, and crew.
Other items today:
  1. There are lots of neat strategies for the Bee, but I can't say I'm a fan of moving to another school district primary for the purpose of preserving your son's eligibility for a second trip to D.C., even if it does mean he's now competing against his younger brother this week.

  2. Not only is New Zealand represented this year, but so too are spellers from South Korea and Ghana.

  3. New Mexico's Matthew Evans is back for a fifth straight year after his third straight battle against Rajat Singh. This time, "The clock struck noon when Singh was given trichinosis."

  4. Tia Thomas of the Fresno area is your other five-timer. She'll be wearing #13 this year, but is no triskaidekaphobe. Thomas read the complete Book of Mormon between the ages of 5 and 6, and has now read the entire Webster's unabridged cover-to-cover seven times.

  5. If you haven't read it already, or haven't committed it to memory, do take a few minutes to review guest blogger Rafael Noboa's account of his 1991 Bee experience. It's one of my favorite things we've ever published here.
A TELECAST THAT WILL BE SEEN BY LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF VIEWERS: Former Daily Show head writer David Javerbaum is Tony-nominated for his lyrics for Cry-Baby, and whether you're a Tony voter or not, his plea to the voters is well worth your time.
I WAS HARDLY THINKING. I WAS JUST SPELLING WORDS: 2007 National Spelling Bee Champion Evan O'Dorney gives a valedictory interview to USA Today:

Q: What advice would you give this year's spellers?
A: I'd tell them that the last round is never the hardest round. Each year, there has been one killer round. In '05 it was round 8, in '06 it was round 7, and in '07 it was round 6. So they should be prepared for one killer round. And they should know what makes the hard round so hard is that they use words that you can't spell based on language patterns. You might call them easier because they look more like they sound, but they're still harder to spell. There's a lot of luck.

Q: It's the first year in three years you haven't competed in the bee. What are you doing instead this spring?
A: I'm doing math competitions. Math is what I enjoy most.

Q: What about math do you like so much?
A: I like everything that has to do with math. I'm in a linear algebra class at (the University of California at) Berkeley right now. ...

Q: What are your summer plans?
A: It seems like so long since I've had a summer because last summer was so busy with interviews. I'm looking forward to a break to have some fun.

edited to add: Welcome to all our visitors from the Grey's Writers blog and TVTattle, and we look forward to your joining us all week long, including our live Bee coverage on Thursday and Friday. To get a sense of what it'll be like, click here for the 2007 coverage and keep scrolling upwards; the "by Writers" posts are all Shonda's, and we are thrilled she's back for a fourth straight year.
TUTUS ARE APPARENTLY STILL IN: While walking by a movie theater on the Upper East Side last night, I noticed that they already had big signs on the box office informing potential purchasers that both of their night shows on Friday of Sex And The City were already sold out, and Fandango and Movietickets both confirm that almost every Manhattan showing for the movie on Friday night is already sold out. (They also confirm that somehow, they've managed to make the movie nearly 2 and a half hours long.) Now, I generally liked SATC, but this seems a little crazy. Obviously, Friday night, our eyes will be elsewhere, but, dear readers, are you that interested in the movie, and is this going to be as big elsewhere as it apparently is in Manhattan?
I HOPE ONE OF THE BACHELORS CALLED HER "MILADY": I'm not watching The Bachelorette, although I hope to remember to tune in for the sex dates fantasy dates episode to see if the Bachelorette, Mike Fleiss, and America are as ready for a woman sleeping with three guys in one episode as they are for a man sleeping with three women in an episode. Spacewoman just informed me, though, that Bachelorette Deanna said tonight that the men took her to an "exclusive club" -- wait for it ... wait ... almost there:

The Magic Castle.

Nothing says storybook romance like a septuagenarian with a toothbrush mustache and yellow teeth and an ill-fitting shiny tuxedo pulling silver dollars out of your ear.
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, BUT THIS WILL SUFFICE: Check this out: a picture of the Mars Phoenix Lander, mid-descent, captured from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
CAROUSEL: The Earthlings spent the weekend in Washington, DC (along with many of our fine commenters) for a friend's ordination as a Dominican Priest. That's probably too inside baseball for the general population, but we stayed at the Crystal City Crowne Plaza and I must say, Crystal City is about as soulless a place as I've ever been. Miles of pedestrian unfriendly and unpopulated mezzanine that would stand in well for any remake of Logan's Run. Ugh. Who though that place was a good idea?

Monday, May 26, 2008

WHEN THE BAND STRIKES UP 'NEARER MY GOD TO THEE' YOU'LL WANT TO CRACK OPEN A NIUGINI ICE: The ruffians over at USS, a bunch of really smart baseball fanatics so devoted to the Seattle Mariners that they run the smartest and most well-respected team-centric fan site in the game at a loss, are pretty depressed that their forecast for a lousy season is coming true in spades. The season is so bad that the team's star and quote machine, Ichiro!, said after a recent loss,
[I]f ... I was objectively watching what just happened this week, I would probably be drinking a lot of beers and booing. Usually I enjoy Japanese beer, but given the situation, if I was objectively watching the game, I wouldn’t care if it was Japanese beer, American beer or beer from Papua New Guinea.
USS Mariner interpreted that as a call to arms, and accordingly enlisted their readers in a quest to acquire beer from Papua New Guinea.

The problem is that there is only one brewery in Papua New Guinea: South Pacific, which makes SP Export, SP Lager, and Niugini Ice (ugh). SP doesn't have a North American distributor, and nobody has been able to get his or her hands on (a) an SP beer; or, failing that, (b) a picture of him or herself drinking an SP beer.

My request to you: if you happen to be in Papua New Guinea, or at least P-NG-adjacent, please get me some SP. I will pay for it and its transportation. If you can't get me the beer itself, please take a picture of yourself drinking it (perhaps with some kind of sign that says "USS Mariner"). When you're looking at another 110 games of .300 baseball and a GM who thinks the problem is clubhouse chemistry instead of bad players who we acquired because they were great in the clubhouse (not so much on the field), the slavish service to Ichiro!'s demand for Papua-New Guinean beer becomes pretty important.
I WAS NEVER WHAT I WOULD CALL A GREAT SHOOTER OR VISUAL STYLIST: Director and sometimes-actor Sydney Pollack has died of cancer at 73. What's most striking about Pollack's filmography is how eclectic it is on both sides of the camera--directing prestige products (Out of Africa), silly comedies (Tootsie), classy thrillers (Three Days of the Condor, The Firm), and even schmaltzy romance (The Way We Were), and acting in roles on Will and Grace (as Will's dad), Michael Clayton, and current Patrick Dempsey romcom Made of Honor. Of course, not everything he touched turned to gold--the less said about Random Hearts, and Sabrina, the better. Perhaps the most significant thing is how many folks he's influenced and helped with producing, including Anthony Minghella, George Clooney, and Steven Zaillian--the world of film will be a poorer place without him. (Also, if I recall, he was originally supposed to direct Recount until he pulled out for health reasons.)

The header line comes from Pollack himself, and is referenced in the NYT obit.