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The Cruciverbalist


February 12, 2005

Spelling Bee

The local spelling bee occurred here in Roseau (MN) a couple nights ago.  I almost stayed home.  I had no daughters competing in it this year, and even though they were going to go to watch friends compete, I thought I would just stay home and relax.  But the attraction was too great.  Like an OED-sized magnet it pulled until I could resist no longer.  Faith, of course, agreed to come along – she had nudged me a little earlier, to no avail.

We arrived a few minutes late missing a few words in the first round.  No one was eliminated yet.  As is my habit, I took out my pen and began writing every word as the bee proceeded – this is a sort of audience participation sport…  If I would’ve been one of those competing I, perhaps, would’ve been the first one eliminated: I missed my first word before anyone was eliminated.  It was muskrat that nailed me.  For some reason when I wrote it out a “c” looked just fine in place of the “k”.

The competition went on for another twelve rounds with words like joyous, baste, winnable, and simile taking their victims.  Meanwhile, I was missing words like falter, abdomen and ballerina.  (I told Faith I was sure I would’ve gotten ballerina right if I would’ve had more time.)

Down To Two

We were now down to two contestants, Robin Nelson and the defending champion, Heather Zinda.  The two girls breezed through the next five rounds: energetic, reproach, hesitant, corral… until Robin stumbled on the word firmament.   At this point Heather would have to reply with the correct spelling and then correctly spell a word of her own.  As it turned out, Heather also misspelled firmament so they continued for a couple more rounds.

Finally, Robin stumbled once again – this time on the word grievous.  Heather smiled, replied with the correct spelling, and finished off the competition with the correct spelling of benign

Both Heather and Robin will now continue on to regional competition in Thief River Falls.  Heather did well enough to go on to the state level last year.  This year, her parents tell me, her goal is to compete in Washington DC.  We wish her the best of luck.


Speaking of the national spelling bee have you seen the movie, “Spellbound”?  It’s a documentary that follows the lives of eight expert spellers as they prepare to participate in local spelling bees and then the national spelling bee in Washington DC.  Director/Producer Jeff Blitz shows us eight very different people.  The spelling bee is no discriminator of race, religion, gender, or economic background and eight young people and their families featured here prove this to be true.

Ashley is a poor black girl who lives with her mother in Washington DC.  Neil, from Southern California and Nupur, from Tampa, Florida are children of parents from India.  Emily is from a well-to-do family in New England.  What they all have in common is a drive to excel in spelling.  These are kids with work ethics akin to that of Olympic athletes.  They study words for hours every day.  At least one even hired a spelling tutor.

Blitz does a superb job of helping the viewer get to know each of these kids and their families – so much so that you find yourself pulling for each of them.  Towards the end, when they’re competing in the finals, you find yourself heart-broken when one of them stumbles on a word and is, therefore, eliminated. 

If you’ve this much of this article, you will enjoy this movie.

Fiendish Clue

Last time I wrote about the “The Times” of London and their 75th anniversary of providing crossword puzzles.  Along with that they had a little contest with an impossible clue: One describing a vampire crossing short stretch of water - he apologised (8).   

The correct answer was BLOUGRAM.

Richard explains: "One describing a vampire" BRAM (Stoker), author of Dracula, around (crossing) LOUG(H) ("short" stretch of water); whole is reference to Bishop Blougram's Apology, poem by Robert Browning.

Congratulations to the 20 or so contestants who successfully pitted their wits against Richard. The winner plucked out of the virtual hat is Alastair Sutherland, Newton Mearns, Glasgow, who will soon be the recipient of a case of fine wine.

After seeing that answer, I feel like a tyro (an upcoming word of the day).  I never had a chance!  I’m amazed 20 contestants were correct.

Paul Stynsberg, © 2004