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Thursday, November 1, 2018

Dare to Spell

You can tell it’s October because eventually I start focusing on words and their spelling. Not the usual focusing, but FOCUSING. It’s the BizBee, the annual adult spelling bee to benefit the Alaska Literacy Program, and I’ve been doing it for 28 years.

This is one tradition that enriches and delights my Third Third. I will never get tired of it.

This is the fun of the evening: spelling teams wait for me to give them “their” word. They confer for 20 seconds and then one of them has to stand up and spell the word before the buzzer sounds. If the word stumps them, they can pass that word to the rival team of their choice … if they donate $100 to the Literacy Program.

All the teams made it through the first round. But then things went haywire: the ALP Board of “Direcktors” lost the rhythm of synchronous, and the MENSA “ComMENSAlists” (Yes, I had to look it up.) failed the Olympic pentathlon. What?!? The 2016 champions were out in Round 2? No worries: they produced their TeamSaver, the secret, one-of-a-kind, Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card for having sold the most raffle tickets.
The ACLU team of Lady Liberty and her bodyguards passed isinglass to the Arctic Entries team, and they burst into song. Apparently, in Oklahoma!, the “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” has “isinglass curtains y’ can roll right down/In case there’s a change in the weather.”

Do you see why I love this event?

From there, the rookie team from Ravens’ Roost Cohousing was uprooted by poinsettia, which unleashed a cacophony of caws and wildly flapping ravens around the room. Quoth the raven: Nevermore. (So relentless were the ravens, they went home with the Outstanding Spirit Award.)

And then it was the United Way’s turn to don the lederhosen. Except that shock must have overtaken the speller because she rose to spell and … didn’t. The buzzer went off; confusion reigned. Other teams shouted, “Let her spell!” Even some of the Killer Bee judges joined in. Soon the whole audience was stamping and shouting, “Let her spell!” In the interest of quelling an insurrection, the Pronouncer agreed to let her spell.

This had never happened before! There are rules! But like spelling itself, rules are broken.

But who could spell after that whole uproar? The lederhosen were doffed … just in time for the babka wars. First National Bank Alaska sent the sweet bread to MENSA, whose speller did not like babka but could spell it. The definition referred to babka’s raisins, but – as pointed out to the Pronouncer – good babka is chocolate. Seinfeld knows that.

Round 2 ended with the deflation of Providence’s Health Literacy Heroes’ pneumatic tire. Not with a whimper, but a bang.

Round 3 promised improvement with ameliorate going to DOWL, but it was tough getting through the pronunciation: alemiorate? armiliolate? lemirorate? It was all up for grabs. I don’t think I’ll ever hear the word again without laughing. Next, the kovsh ladle was passed from team to team, leaving 1st National Bank Alaska to go out in a very non-blasé way. Right after that, Alaska Airlines and their ALP volunteers heard the music of the spinet and ConocoPhillips died quietly, in a very innocuous way.

Three rounds and eight teams out! Spelled-out teams littered the risers.

The ACLU couldn’t persuade themselves to hold out past hoomalimali, but then the Dutch man – mynheer – visited the Arctic Entries team. BizBee fans will remember the hilarity of last year’s event when the Rosie the Riveters spelled the German schnecke and elaborated in German. I retold this story as Arctic Entries sent mynheer on his way, and one of their team answered in Dutch. (Who are these spellers?!?)

The ServiceMaster SpellMASTERS couldn’t float on the nenuphar, and meanwhile someone let the dogs out on the Anchorage Daily News team. It started with the schipperke, then the keeshond, and they were still standing. It was the barukhzy that finally bit.

The Arctic Entries wizards (“exSPELLiarmus”) took great pleasure in schadenfreude. It isn’t just Oklahoma! They said there’s a song called “Schadenfreude” in Avenue Q: “And when I see how sad you are/ it sort of makes me...happy!” Broadway musicals for spelling lessons!


The herb of gilia was passed from team to team, ultimately landing in oblivion as there were no more teams left to pass it. And then the cataclysm began: The Unitarian Universalists went belly up with the scalare, MENSA played out on the clavecin, Arctic Entries couldn’t see through their hyaloid word, and Holistic Hands’ Rosie the Riveters sat the vigil at the agrypnia. But when everyone dies, everyone comes back in the game.

Alas, even the chocolate babka lovers of the MENSA team couldn’t protect them from forastero, and the Rosie the Riveters – last year’s champions – drowned in the epilimnion.

It was down to two: the Unitarians and Arctic Entries. The Unitarians smelled out on propiophenone, and Arctic Entries danced out to allemande. But again, when everyone dies, everyone comes back in the game.

The jury went out for the Unitarians with venire, but the singing Arctic Entries team sang a cappella and faced their championship word: could they survive on pignolias? Yes, new champions for 2018!




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