Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hoisting the Cup

The tension, the action, the blathering of the ESPN announcers; there's nothing like this time of year to get me glued to the television set. No I am not talking about the Stanley Cup Finals, which barring a miracle will go to the the L.A. Kings tomorrow night. I am referring to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, of course. It was won this weekend by 14-year-old Snigdha Nandipati of San Deigo. The word that put her over the top? That would be "guetapens". That's right, guetapens, a French-derived word meaning ambush or trap. Sounds more like writing implements made out of cheese to me. Fortunately young Snigdha didn't need to know what it meant, she just had to spell it correctly. And spell it she did, along with all of the other words thrown at her over the course of a week-long competition which eliminated the other 277 contestants. For her mastery, she took home a trophy, $30,000 in cash, a $2,500 savings bond, a $5,000 scholarship, and $2,600 in reference works from the Encyclopedia Britannica. Not bad for a week's work, and it beats the heck out of taking a hockey puck in the kisser.

Of course it is important to remember that these contestants are just children, and they are being put under extraordinary pressure. I tend to forget this myself as the words get harder and contestants are eliminated. I will admit to catching myself yelling at the television in my timeshare this weekend on more than one occasion. It's all well and good for a grown man to be able to spell "vetiver" (I didn't, by the way) from the comforts of home, but it is quite another for a 10-year-old to do it on live TV. Snigdha's parents said that in the run up to event she was studying 6 hours a day (or more) on weekdays, and as many as 12 hours a day on weekends. Are you kidding me?! That $40k or so in prizes isn't looking like such a bargain after all.

And then there are all of the post-championship obligations: interviews, parades, TV appearances, etc. And in what has become a National Spelling Bee tradition, young Snigdha made an appearance on Live With Kelly, joining Ms. Rippa and her co-host Bryant Gumbel. Talk about no place to hide. An over-caffeinated ditz on one side of you, a pompous gasbag on the other, and an obligatory "mock" spelling bee against the two of them. Besides the fact that Rippa can't seem to recite her own name without a tele-prompter, and Gumble is too self-absorbed to be aware of much else, this kid just correctly spelled guetapens for goodness sakes. If you want to improve the ratings of this abysmal TV show, how about having Rippa and Gumble skate a shift or two against the Kings?

But I digress. Miss Nandipati handled the situation with the grace and aplomb befitting a champion. She says she hopes to be a neurosurgeon when she grows up, and if she works as hard at that as she did on winning the spelling bee, I have no doubt that she'll succeed. I am already looking forward to next year and seeing some of the kids that almost made it this year take it to the next level. The competition is held every year in Washington, D.C., and you can find a timeshare rental in nearby Fort Washington, MD, or Alexandria, VA. I would also highly recommend the 2002 documentary Spellbound. It follows eight kids as they work their way toward the finals of the national prize. You see first-hand the tremendous effort they put into even making it to the finals, and meet a few parents you'll probably want to strangle along the way.

Well, I am off to the International Spy Museum where "nothing is what it seems". That's right, there is a museum dedicated to the craft of spookery right here in our nation's capital. It features the largest collection of international espionage artifacts, hands-on activities like code breaking, and even a school for spies. I'd tell you where it is, but then I'd have to kill you. I know, I know. That joke will self-destruct in five minutes, I promise.

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