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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Word Wars 2019

When it’s autumn, you know I’m spelling and pronouncing words and Werd Nerd-ing for the annual BizBee, the Alaska Literacy Program’s annual adult spelling bee. Now it’s time for the less-than-instant replay.

Setting the stage for BizBee skill were our highly-qualified judges, three retired kindergarten teachers – the “Killer Bees.” Taking up her usual position of more than ten years was the “Human Dictionary.” Patricia provides precise pronunciations when teams either (1) distrust my New York accent or (2) are stalling for time. She received more requests for re-pronunciations this year than in all her previous years combined! And teams started a new thing: asking for “word origins.” Just playing for time….
All teams made it through the first round, even with a ridiculous word like mizzle (a cross between mist and drizzle). A climatologist in the audience pointed out that it’s an archaic word, never used anymore. What kind of words does he think spelling bees are made of?

But alas, our Distinguished Leaders in Literacy, the “Elemenopees” of First National Bank Alaska, gave way under pressure to yieldable and picked up the Red Lantern Prize. What can you say about a round that gives the Anchorage School Board team the word curriculum? (It’s just luck.)

What distinguished this year’s BizBee? Full bladders. To maintain the fairness of the competition – just in case a team has hidden dictionaries in the restrooms – if one person has to use the restroom, everyone has to take a bathroom break. This year’s BizBee included a record number of restroom breaks! How’s that for a wild night!

But it wasn’t until Round 3 that the carnage started building. The only thing worse than looking at kohlrabi is spelling it, and ServiceMaster suffered that fate. And because the BizBee came in September, the “Phrequent Phliers” of the Alaska Airlines-sponsored ALP volunteers, weren’t prepared for Oktoberfest and lost their pants on lederhosen. But wait! They pulled out the TeamSaver, the secret, one-of-a-kind, Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card for having sold the most raffle tickets. They were back in the game!

No such luck for ConocoPhillips. They may be a Distinguished Leader in Literacy, but their back went out on notochord.

In Round 4, “Pun with Words,” the ALP Board of Directors team, marooned themselves on the archipelago. Alyse for Alaska (featuring candidate Alyse Galvin) wasn’t going to go down easy: they cringed and flattered their way out of gnathonic by passing it to the Anchorage School Board team (who didn’t want it either). Then they mailed off philately, too. Every passed word means more donations to the Literacy Program, but the danger is the replacement word: what if it’s harder than the one you gave away? The heat was on, but they could handle Fahrenheit (with the same cheer that eventually won them the Outstanding Spirit Award).

Only one miraculous rescue is possible, so Round 4 ended with the Phrequent Phliers stopped at the gate by durwan.

Round 5 and Summit Spice and Tea were too explicit for euphemism; Alyse for Alaska lost blossoms on Hemerocallis; the “ALPabets” were carried off to Africa by roodebok; and the “Health Literacy Heroes” of Providence choked on kielbasa. It was an all-out team train wreck.

Round 6 knocked out the biological clocks of MSI Communications with zeitgeber, and witloof poisoned the salad of the DOWL team.

There’s always a moment in the BizBee when the judges and the Werd Nerd have to figure out how to avoid a midnight contest. How do we spell teams out so we’re not there all night? We have to advance on the word list. “Oh, no!” shout the MENSA cheerleaders. “Not #715!”

But it was word #716 that would have drowned the whole crowd: liman (especially hard if you consider it’s pronounced lē män) was passed by five teams. With no more teams left to receive it, it went into oblivion, sunk into the lagoon of its name.

Ravens’ Roost moved too slowly for tardigrade, and the School Board (the last rookie team standing) had no divine connection for afflatus.

So now it was down to the Big Three: 2018 champions Arctic Entries; 2017 champions Holistic Hands (the Rosie the Riveters); and runner-up both years the Anchorage Unitarian Universalists “In Fred’s Name” (for longtime literacy volunteer Fred Hillman).

Arctic Entries lost in the upheaval of geanticline, and the Rosies drowned in the chresard, but could the wildly-colored Unitarians escape their runner-up fate? After years as #2, could they finally claim victory? They successfully launched their Siamese fighting fish betta, and now one word stood between them and victory. With a sharp gravette ... they took the championship!

7 comments:

  1. What a delightful story! I smiled the whole time I was reading it!

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    Replies
    1. Next year, come out and watch and smile in person!

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  2. Thanks for sharing the fun. Reading about it was almost as good as being there.

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    1. Next year, I'll make sure you know the date!

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  3. As to a certain "climatologist in the audience pointed out that it’s [mizzle] an archaic word, never used anymore", he's not quite correct.

    In the UK, I was not only introduced to the word, but the weather condition dozens of times. We experience 'mizzle' quite often and it's delightful (as far as rain goes).

    Your climatologist needs to update his wordbox.

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