Friday, May 29, 2009

2009 National Spelling Bee Finals

(compilation of 7 running emails I kept during the last hour or so of the spelling finals on ABC)

(**to self: add that Ghenghis Khan/Conan quote about crushing enemies here)

Early Rounds
catching up a little late. Started tonight - the finals - with 11.

So far, an Indian girl from Vegas lost on a killer medical word with a hidden double-r in the middle. The color guy called it, said the hidden double-r is just a bitch. THe poor girl walked up terrified, and knew she was done as soon as she heard it. She even paused and thought about it right at the double-r, like the hot chick in a horror movie who comes to the door with the ax killer, grabs the door knob then stops as if she's not going through.... then goes through.
Next girl up bullied through a tough one and threw her hands up. Good sign. Its the ones who enjoy themselves who win.

Hey! It's Erin Andrews! In a tight shirt! I feel like that's just stacking the deck for the girl spellers - you're telling me any 12yo boy on earth is going to remember how to spell the whole periodic table with Erin Andrews in full Sideline Barbie 20 feet away? She's interviewing a kid who apparenlty has 'personality.' Oh, god, he's awful. He grabs her microphone, mugs and smiles. Guarantee you the first thing he does with ever dictionary he has is look up 'vagina'. can't WAIT for him to lose.

ramya auroprem. not a word. that's the next contestants name. from san jose. "geusioleptic" after they 'use it in a sentence'-sentence cracks up the audience (apparently they are trying to be funny this year), she knocks it out.

serena skye laine-lobsinger, from west palm beach. white girl. "conchyliated". she's a palm-scribbler. 3rd of 6 so far are, which used to be endearing but now its like NFL eye-black - just tired of seeing it. she barrels right into it... OUCH!!!!! When she finishes, the audience applauds - usually the sign that somebody nails the word - but she's wrong! THe word was so hard the audience got it wrong even though they can see it!

Asian kid. Kyle. glases. "avoirdupois" - apparenlty this kid, from Peoria, Ill, got a perfect score on the Written Test, whatever that is. apparently a serious sleeper.

Next girl, of Indian descent (grandmother flown in from Indian) is from Springfield Ill. Lord, she's got prescence. clear eyed, and on her game, finishes with a fistpump.

Commercial. Whadya bet we get an erin andrews after the break?

Early Rounds, Con't

kennyi aouad - terre haute ind. this is the cocky kid from before. he actually looks like a 12 year old michael jordan. really. "gyascutus" - a fictitious animal. G Y A S C U - he stops to ask a question - then restarts GYASCU...TUS. Completely playing to the crowd. I HATE this kid.

Now a nice outtake on an indian girl from Olathe, KS, which I think is where In COld Blood was set. She knocks down Blanmange as easily as she kills vivaldi concertos on her violin.

YES! I remember this kid!!! he was a finalist last year, no the RUNNER-UP last year. Major favorite and MAJOR mustache, and the sweatervest. So far the only guy who does hand doodling. - "Apodyterium" - bath house, or something. This kid EASILY shaves more often than me... here he goes. BING! hands on the face, just CRUSHED, compeltely in tears... standing O from the audience as he sits next to his mom. Announcer:"THis was his last chance...."

back to the happy girl "Derriengue...." - OH, the DREAD double-r rolls her up! That's double-r 2, smart kids 0. OUch. BIG smile with the bigger braces. Crowd favorite is out.

Erin is backstage with fellow florida-girl Serena. They discuss that her missed word was based on "conch"- wow, a whole 30 seconds with Erin Andrews having to say the word "conch" - i'm dizzy.

Another indian-descent girl. "simnel" - apparently a soup. nails it.

Tim Ruiter, the only Geeky white kid here (in fact, with Serena swimming with the conches, he's the last geeky white kid). "Passacaglia" - mom is DIRECTLY behind him in the camera shot, her arms out and head down in the 'can't even breathe' worried mom pose. Is the camera guy moving between kids to set that up or is that just luck. What does this kid look and talk like? Chris Cooper in Lone Star. Or that crazy nic cage-double movie about tulips. Or anything, really. Chris Cooper. THat's him, with glasses and geeky at 12.
Ruiter knocks it out, mom gives a thank-you lord Big Clap and we're into commercial with the heart of the Punjab order coming up.

Round 7

here's a ridiculous promo for the Bee showing fruit vendors, a black barbership and a fire department all entranced.

So with 7 left, we have. here's the toothy Ramya Auroprem. Easy to like her. "Axolotl" - a salamandaar.

Here's the calm asian, Kyle Mou. He's so icy, he should be dragging Rick Rossovich around.

"Plaidoyer." The pronunciation on that is like 7 sylables long. "An address by an advocate in court" - second straight french word for Kyle, who doesn't even wait for the origin before knocking it down.

Here comes the 27-year-old Aishwarya Pastapur, who loves Amelia Earhardt. "Goombay" - Caribbean calypso music. just like it sounds. And she knocks it down.

OK, its Ashy and Killer Kyle's to lose. They are money.

Here comes Kennyi the goof. He literally spelled the last word by singing. Let's just say it: he's African-American, so it would be fun to root for him here. But he's awful. I want him out. "Hypalllage" - boom. But didn't seem that confident on that one. no singing at least.

Kavya, the kansan violin player. - "baignoire" apparently, thats easy in french. starts with the handscribble.... boom. OK, Kavya's a contender.

Anamika veeramani gets "arrhostia".... definition given as an evolutionary trait that is pathological, like dinosaurs getting too big or hanging on to Greg Davis. uh oh. she's worried. asks for the definition twice.... and spits it out. dang.

Hey, it's Tim again, from Centreville, VA, just back from an Orchid hunt! (orchids, not tulips - I've been corrected by M) - "byssinosis" - bang.

gotta admit, all three of them look strong, probably Kavya, then Coops then Anamika, whose looked shaky on every word.

Round 8

Here's toothy ramya. iliopsoas. a ligament. she giggles at the funny sentence, which is about ordering iliopsoas

Kyle. too-big kahkis, falling over too-big running shoes. he is Oeillade - third french word. bang. he's like Bob Gibson up there. he hardly stands up before he's done.

Aishwarya -"xebec" - a Turkish sailing ship. that's "Zee-bec". She asks if it might be "zee-buc". struggling. concentrating.... shes in her head. collectively, its 11 straight correct words. 30 second bell. she squints her eyes and starts; "X E B E C" BOOM! 12 in a row.

Kennyi - "Grisaille" - monochrome painting. Hits it. 13 in a row!

Every time Kennyi sits back down, he mugs for the camera, which is inevitably right up in his face, egging him on. And invariably you see Ashy beside him giving him the 7th-grade 'get over yourself' face. If those two end up as the final two, they may have to put up an octogon.

Kavya comes up, gets "huisache" and immediatly gives the 'no problem' grin. knocks it down.

tell ya why i;m going for kavya: she's waring a white polo which is close to the shirts that until this year were the mandatory uniform for this. Thats one of the key things, that every winner, from the screaming "Eounym"-girl in 97 to the Spellbound girl and every goofy or teary highlight ever, they're all waering the same shirt. Gives it a sense of history, like they're not just competiting with each other but with the Greats from the past, like seeing OJ in his USC gear.
Not this year. Kyle and Tim are wearing yellow and Ashy has a blousy pink flowery top on. How many years until this turns into English soccer and kids are spelling arcane portugese verbs in Vodaphone shirts?

To Ashy: "Neufchatel" - that F may get her... "N E U F - yatzee! - C H A T E L"

the Orchid Hunter is back up. He's so gangster, he doesn't say "can i have the definition please." He says, "What does it mean?" Kid is straight Virgini-tucky gangster... - "Cretonne" here he goes: C R E T O N N and....

As we got to commercial, the announcer says it's 21 in a row! Three straight perfect rounds! This is the 2007 Hopkins-Duke of Spelling Bees!

Round 9

Welcome back to the 2009 Spelling Bee, where Stanford is driving against a shell-shoceked Trojan defense, down by 6, before a stunned Coliseum crowd!

OK, it's just 16 in a row, over 2.5 rounds, not 21 like the guy said, but still, if Toothy nails "amarevole", we'll be into the fourth set of a 2008 Federer-Nadal at Wimbledon level event. Sounds like "Ah'm a revilie" as in, "I am the Texas A&M mascot"


she says v - i - l - e. THe wily shwa trips her up. Still, a terrific, deep run by toothy, and we'll see who else gets through this round.

OK, here's Killer Kyle. " Becquerel - a unit of rad... never mind, he's done already. He's like watching Matt Hughes fight in 2003. It's over so fast you feel cheated.

Ashy... "Caerphilly" - a Welsh cheese. If she nails ANYTHING that was originally spelled in Wales, she might be unstoppable..... HAVE SOME! Ashy answers Kyle.

Kennyi.... come on, give him "colour" and don't tell him its british, anything at this point.... "Palatschinkin"... some kind of potato-romanian food thing. truthfully, that S is basicly silent...DING! I GUESSED IT! Tripped up by the silent S!
He gets a standing O as a crowd favorite, then walks over to his 28 year old brother for a big hug. Nice exit for Kennyi. Now, we've got a stage of heavyweights: Killer Kyle and Redneck Tim Vs. The Three Indian chicks. Let's get it on!

Kavya... hand scribbles - ecossaise.... bang....

Wow, Kavya, Ashy and Kyle could be here all night.

Anamika. let's see if she can hang on in what's become Moving Round. "fackeltanz"... sounds like "fock"-whatever. good times.
Missed it by about three letters. First complete flame out-miss. But she'll be back next year.

Orchid Hunter: "jacqueminot" - MONEY!

So here's your Final Four - Kyle, Ashy, Kavya, your basic Florida-SC-OU, and Col. Frank Fitts, United States Marine Corps (Cooper's gay-nazi-dad in American Beauty! YES!)

Round 10 - ps, there's a good chance i'm numbering the rounds wrong, but just know that the order rolls over with Time.

To set up the FInal FOur:

Kavya: white polo, nervous but sort of unaware of the moment. classic bee-assassin.
Kyle: there's a good chance he's just toying with everyone else
Ashy: great prescense, great style, but has gotten lucky at least once and I don't know if she's really Spelling Bee Champ material. Doesn't have that shut-in geek vibe.
Col. Fitts: complete wild card. Could be the George Mason of this group, could be the Lazlo Hollyfield to everybody else's Mitch (go ahead - google it).

Let's GET IT ON!

Kyle: NOOO!!!!! Schizaffin! Puts a P where the Fs, go! that was shocking!
Ashy: "Wisent" - I cannot stress enough that this word is pronounced with a "V". And she nails it.
Kavya: "diacoele"... With Kyle out, I think she just decided to let people know that she's not left handed, so to speak, by TWICE asking one of those killer-smart questions about the word's roots ("does it contain the greek root Ali, meaning to Whatever"). I really get the feeling she just broke from the pack and is challenging somebody to come with her.
Col. Fitts: "reredos".... stone behind an alter. nails it. he's not reacting, just handling business. And to be clear, the Chris Cooper thing is both looks and speech. He really looks and sounds like Cooper, with that trashy drawl.

Round 12

And here we go, down to 3 so its on with the CHAMPIONSHIP WORDS!!!!!! 25 words left. If 2 (or 3) are still standing, co-champs.

Ashy: poised, completely in command of the moment. "Antonomasia" - YES! She answers the Root-Breakaway from Kavya with her own two straight "is it from the greek root XXXX meaning XXX?" questions. THen knocks it down. Your move, Kavya

Kavya: hair pulled back, tall, long nose, terrific energy: "bouquiniste".... hand scribble and nails it.

WHAT??!?!?! Ashy and Kavya were pre-school friends before one moved away?!! This is fantastic.

Up comes Col. Fitts: "oriflamme" - no hesitation, no doubt, rolls right through the double-m, and am I the only one hearing echoes of VY-Bush/Lienart in this Tim-Ashy/Kavya?

Round 13

Ashy: Guayabera - american spanish. a short sleeved shirt meant to be worn untucked... the color guy is concerned she might make it 'harder than it is.' Come on Ashy, G U A Y A B E R A.... phew! First 'can't believe I got that!' smile from her.

Kavya: "Isagoge" - something about, err, school. She asks "does this contain the greek root iso meaning to unite"? when he says no, she clearly has it and rolls it off. I feel like I'm watching Alton on the Inferno in 05, a transcendent competitor in full howl.

The Colonel: "Sophrosyne" - dang, he banged that out like it was the chorus of a Michael Jackson song.

Round 14

Ashy: Menhir - DING! she put some Es in it, and the tears well up before the guy even calls the correction. Terrific run, but she just didn't have the Bee Magic. Kavya and the Colonel are the right finalists.

Kavya: by rule, Ashy isn't TOTALLY out until someone else gets one right in this round. So Kavya can close the door on her pre-school friend with this. TREMENDOUS moment.
"Phoresy" - she starts by smugly asking another greek-root question - she might as well have turned around to wink at Ash's boyfriend - and knocks it down.

The Colonel: Maecenas. generous benefactor. "My-cee-nus" He looks rattled. First one he clearly doesn't know cold.

NO! Throws a Y in there! (I'll just say: based on having watched a few of these, words based on people's names, even ancient names, are pretty much death. Imagine in 1500 years they ask a kid to spell "Kaylee"? How many unhint-able ways can that go?

So with Ashy and Fitts out, up comes Kavya to clinch, the gotta-win-by-2 rule of spelling.

For all the marbles.

"Laodicean" - the guy hasn't even finished pronouncing it before she lets a smile escape. this is over. A few hand scribbles and....


Kavya Chandravarian, touch every base cuz you just hit a home fucking run!!!!!!! WINNER!

THe white polo rules! Olathe, Kansas, GO CRAZY!!!!

and now that you're acutely aware of how dumb you are, ABC instantly cuts to its mental ether to dull the shame: stay tuned for Grey's Anatomy!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lax Championship Index

The NCAA Lacrosse championship is later today, with Cornell taking on Syracuse. And you can never be totally sure about these things, but the odds are it's going to be great game.

Why? Because year in and year out, lacrosse puts on the Championship show of any sport, which we'll prove as we go along (
though at least one non-lacrosse player - Shaq - apparently, already knows).

But since writing about good lacrosse is easy (as we'll see), let's start with a little higher degree of difficulty and discuss, if we can, what bad lacrosse might look like.

The bottomline is, if either Syrcuse or Cornell beats the other by 5 or more goals in today's game, they will have largely locked up the title of Second-Ugliest Lax Championship of All Time. The current holder of that title - Second-Ugliest - is almost certainly Virginia's 2003 title, though UVA's 9-7 win over Johns Hopkins in the final is probably more correctly described as tepid for its low score than particularly awful. It was that year's semifinals that were just brutal: Hopkins beat traditional arch-rival Syrcuse 19-8 and Virginia destroyed Maryland 14-4 - two unwatchable games that combined for 21-points worth of blowouts. By at least a little, those semis were less fun than this year's, which were bloodless dismantling for Syracuse (17-7 over Duke) and Cornell (15-6 over UVA).

That makes the total semifinal point-spread of this year's games - 19 - the third-worst in tourney semis history, just 2 behind 2003's.

Hence, the chance for the Second-Worst title today.

Still, Cuse or Cornell would have to win today even more handily than they did in the semis (an outcome, one would think, made less likely by the ease of which both teams cruised) for 2009 to jump all the way past the just gawd-awful games that made up the 1977 tournament. In that spineless weekend, Hopkins and Cornell both scored 22 in the semifinals, the Big Red winning by 10 over Maryland while Hopkins thrashed Navy 22-6.

How ugly was that? In the 37 lacrosse final fours played other than 1977's, encompassing 111 games, none have come close to the 16-pt drubbing Hopkins put on Navy, and only 13 of those 111 games have been as one-sided as the 10-point Cornell-Maryland game.

In other words: one of the 1977 semifinals was the worst game - by far - in Final Four history, and the other was in the worst 10%.

The 1977 final was almost as dull: 16-8 for Cornell. In fact, I know of only one reason to not expunge the 1977 tourney from the record books - the tourney's MVP was Cornell's Eamon McEneaney, a three-time first-team All-American, widely viewed as the best athlete in Cornell history, and a partner at Cantor Fitzgerald who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. For Eamon, it stays on the books, and also, perhaps, so that Cuse and Cornell - barring an 11-point blowout final - won't go home as all-time ugliest champs.

Why all this talk about "Bad" lacrosse final fours? Two reasons.

One, the NCAA final four is the woodstock, class trip and county boat show of lacrosse, all rolled into one. People who play and follow lacrosse do so with a fury, and the annual final four is the reunion they start planning for on the ride home from the last one. So I'm not really trying to decide which final four was the "worst" (though its clear: it was 1977), as I am trying to make a backdoor illustration that the winner today - or any year - is only part of the story of the lax final four. Really, each year's full three-game event - always on memorial weekend - is its own entity, and the names and face of the semis - usually familiar, sometimes fresh - define it as much as the eventual champ.

And two: I wanted to see if I could do it. Because it turns out that talking bad lacrosee is, really hard, because lacrosse championships are, on average, WAY better than anybody elses.

How good? Let's have a look:

38: NCAA D-1 lacrosse National Championship games played prior to today
17: Decided by 1 goal

20: Decided by 1 or 2 goals
23: Decided by 3 or less (3 is the lacrosse tipping point; a 3 goal lead can evaporate in 5 quick passes; 4 goal leads feel and wear much sturdier)
3: Championship Games decided by more than 8 (a lacrosse blowout)

Put another way, over 60 percent of championships have been competitive to the final minute, while less than 8 percent have been blowouts.

For Comparison, "The" Final Four

3: NCAA Basketball title games decided by 1 point.
10: NCAA Basketball title games decided by 4 or fewer points.
10: Title games with a winning margin of 12 or more.
13: Title games with a winning margin > 10.

So, in simple language, if you watch an NCAA Final in basketball, you are as likely to see a one-sided game won by 12 points or more as to see a decision by 4-points-or-less. And you are considerably more likely to see a double digit final margin (a total of 13 title games have been decided by 10 or more).


2: Overtimes in the NCAA basketball title game since 1971.
8: Overtimes in lacrosse title game.

Of course, what the lax title game brings in competitiveness, it pays for with a stunning and inarguable lack of diversity.

7: NCAA title game winners - Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, UVA, UNC, Cornell, Maryland.

Two stats to illustrate how insulated that is
Since the first NCAA lacrosse championship in 1971...
11: NCAA men's volleyball winners (7 just from California)
8: ACC men's basketball champs.

So that looks bad. But really, its worse than that:

1975: Maryland's most recent title
1977: Cornell's most recent title
1991: UNC's most recent title
1992: Princeton's first title, the last time the winner's circle saw new blood. Put another way, Princeton replaced UNC in a four-team rotation with Cuse, Hopkins and (less often) UVA that has sequested the title in thier ranks for 32 years.

But really, its worse even than that:

31: NCAA title games LOST by the Big Seven schools.
9.2: Percent of NCAA title game slots ever filled by a team outside the Big Seven.
Non-Winners Club title appearances:
2: Duke, Navy
1: UMass, Towson, Loyola

And really, its actually just a bit worse than that:

20: Total teams to ever reach the Lacrosse Final Four
18: Total teams to reach the Final Four since 1975 and who remain competitive today.
Outside of the 12 finalists, Yale, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Penn, Army and Brown have reached the semi. (Washington & Lee and Cortland St (a Baltimore-area school) were in each of the first four Final Fours, but neither today plays at an elite level).

Still, to even mention Penn's only Final Four trip is to invoke one of the sports - most seminal games, the Quakers 11-10 loss to the mighty 1988 Syracuse team. Widely viewed as the greatest team of all time - certainly to that point - the 1988 Syracuse team that Penn faced featured Gary Gait in the midst of what would end up being an NCAA record 70 goal-season, while his twin brother Paul had 47. In all Syracuse outscored its 1988 opponents 261-118 on the way to a 15-0 record.
All of which would make Penn's 11-10 loss in the semis - in Syracuse's hometown Carrier Dome, no less - one of the sports great Desperate Stands.
But with the tie scored 10-10 with 15 seconds left, Gary Gait stood on the left wing of Penn's defense and looked at the clock. Realizing the time left in the game, he sprinted toward the rear of the net, Penn's defender matching him step for step.
None of which was particularly remarkable.
However, as he reached the back of the net, he did something no one had ever done.
From outside the crease circle, he jumped towards net, throwing his stick forward in the air over the goal's crossbar, dunking the ball into the net before crashing into the goal.

(first 20 seconds of video, best I could find)

From behind the goal, he had slam dunked the game winner, a shot instantly legionized as the Air Gait.

Summing it up then, the boundries of the known lacrosse universe look like this:
7: title winners
5: finals losers
6: additional final four qualifiers since 1975.
18: Total currently-competitive Final Four teams.

Those teams break down into five catagories.
5: Ivy League teams
4: ACC teams (only those four conference schools field teams)
4: Baltimore teams (Hopkins, Towson, Loyola, Navy)
2: Upstate NY teams (Army, Syracuse)
3: Georgetown, Notre Dame, UMass

It's not exactly the UN of Sport, but hey, neither is water polo.

Are there signs of loosening? Perhaps. Cornell's appearance today marks the fifth time in the last four years that a non-Big Four school has played for the title, after UMass and Duke (twice) crashed the party from 05 to 07.

So some final stats, including Cuse and Cornell's appearance today, but before the game is played:
9, 19: Titles and Finals appearances, Johns Hopkins
10, 16: Titles and Finals (pending today), Syracuse.

THough Syracuse, with its glamorous history of Jim Brown and the Gait brothers, has the most titles, Hopkins can still claim that the road to the title goes through them. And let's never forget that it was Hopkins who turned back Duke in both 05 and 07 by a single goal in the final, keeping the sordid affairs of that program on Duke's campus out of the sport's top tier.

6,8: Princeton
4,8: UVA
4,5: UNC (best winning pct of the bunch, hope to say)
2,9: Maryland. ouch.

So in all, i'll be pulling for Cornell to break the 4-way lock at least back into 5 pieces, and to keep Cuse within a single game of Hopkins at the top of the leader board.

Have a good memorial day.

UPDATE: 'Cuse won. By 1. In overtime. Told ya so.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Shaq-lax calls his shot on twitter

UPDATE: The Index takes a look at some Lax history ahead of the Syracuse-Cornell final.