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  #1  
Old 05-31-2019, 11:49 PM
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Spelling Bee has 8 winners: any way to get down to 1?


Been arguing with “Off My Lawn” guys (most of whom were making fun of the foreign surnames of most of the finalists ) all night lamenting that giving out eight “first place” trophies to the final 8 Spelling bee finalists is an example of too many “participation trophies”.

The fact is from what I can gather is they were running out of words and the competition basically broke down into a stalemate. This is not the first time there have been co-champions and it seems a trend.

I’m not anti-Participation trophy Guy but is there a way to break stalemates like this in the future? There are 171,000+ words in Websters. Are the organizers truly using all the possible words? How about a tie breaker? What about adding the 47,000 + obsolete words as a tiebreaker?

Open for ideas: how do we get to ONE spelling bee champ next year? Or is it impossible?


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Old 06-01-2019, 08:34 AM
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Having 8 winners seems to m to be the natural evolution of the contest in that competitors just generally get better at stuff (as a whole). You may not see 8 next year but I’d wager on 2 or 3. I dont have a problem with it inherently, but it is less fun as a viewer, at least for me.

As far as getting it down to 1 winner, I think you need kind of a drastic change. If this were Canada I’d say adding French words as it’s our other national language, but the US doesn’t have one yet, does it?

A few quick thoughts:

-drastically decrease time to answer
-I wouldn’t say limiting questions as someone with hearing issues
-don’t decrease time, but once you run out of words the winner is determined by total time taken to answer (determined by when you start your final spelling) and a tally is kept throughout to make it interesting. You would need to give a prize to those who finished all their words, just a bigger one to the overall winner.

Last edited by drm; 06-01-2019 at 08:37 AM.
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Old 06-01-2019, 08:42 AM
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I think it's the result of the binary nature of the event. You either spell the word correctly or you don't. And if you spell it correctly, you can't spell it better than somebody else.

Competitors at this level can reach the point of perfection; they're going to be able to spell word after word without a mistake.
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Old 06-01-2019, 09:54 AM
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Have them post here for a while and see what happens!
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Old 06-01-2019, 10:10 AM
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Time limits for sure. Start from 30 seconds, almost like a shot clock. After one round, drop to 25 seconds. Then 20. Eventually minimum would be 15 seconds.
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Old 06-01-2019, 10:29 AM
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From my understanding of it these kids are given massive lists of these words ahead of time to study. So while it is impressive that they can commit so much information to memory and recall it on demand there is still the fact that they have had an opportunity to see these words beforehand.
It would be interesting in the late rounds to allow the competition to stray from the pre-produced lists and see if the kids can use their knowledge of word origin, sentence use, etc. to spell a word they have never seen before.
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Old 06-01-2019, 11:50 AM
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You can absolutely get down to one winner, but it is increasingly going to need to be through some process other than "Can you spell a word on the official list?"

That is, you can see which of two contestants can say the letters more quickly, or see whether the contestants can define the word in addition to spelling it, or make them spell it while riding a unicycle (getting points for style), or show them the letters of a scrambled word and see if they can unscramble them to form an accepted word...but none of these are really testing the ability to spell a word.

In a sense, the game "Spelling Bee" has been solved. It's now possible for kids to memorize so many spellings (and to be fair, so many spelling patterns) that the odds of the very best encountering a word they can't spell in 20 rounds, or 40 rounds, or 100 rounds have become quite small. No, it's not like a tic-tac-toe tournament, or even a Connect Four tournament, but it's moving in that direction.

The "Get Off My Lawn" folks might be asked to spell any of the words used in the last several rounds this year, and then compare with some of the winning words from earlier bees--a list which includes initials, therapy, catamaran, and brethren, among others. It won't help, of course, but it does make the point.
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Old 06-01-2019, 12:26 PM
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Well, on any sensible metric of spelling words in normal usage, all these participants are perfect. In fact, it's gone beyond that - they are perfect at memorizing huge lists of obscure words with a tenuous claim to be part of the English language.

So if we want to anoint a champion, it must be on the basis that this person will not really be the sole champion of just spelling real English words - they will be the champion of some other intellectual feat that we choose.

If we want to make this about something important to language rather than just a party trick like speed-spelling, how about the contestant states the etymology of the word - Latin and Greek roots, etc.? It would require a bit more effort to judge the quality of the answers fairly, I guess.

Last edited by Riemann; 06-01-2019 at 12:28 PM.
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Old 06-01-2019, 12:32 PM
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Old 06-01-2019, 03:15 PM
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From my understanding of it these kids are given massive lists of these words ahead of time to study. So while it is impressive that they can commit so much information to memory and recall it on demand there is still the fact that they have had an opportunity to see these words beforehand.
It would be interesting in the late rounds to allow the competition to stray from the pre-produced lists and see if the kids can use their knowledge of word origin, sentence use, etc. to spell a word they have never seen before.
I don't know if they've seen it, and I can't imagine how you would KEEP them from seeing words, since dictionaries are around.
But a lot of those kids seemed to be using their knowledge of word origin etc. to spell words they were clearly not entirely sure of.
I would agree with the time thing. Once you hit a certain round, tally up how long it's taken, per letter (because obviously it's gonna be quicker to spell "psoas" than it is to spell "bougainvillea") and the winner is the one with the shortest average time per letter.

ETA: I would start throwing celebrity names at them. For starters, Katharine Hepburn, Dyan Cannon, and Barbra Streisand.

Last edited by Hilarity N. Suze; 06-01-2019 at 03:16 PM.
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Old 06-01-2019, 04:01 PM
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One news story I listened to pointed out that all of these contestants had personal trainers that grilled them continuously up until the competition. I don’t think the kids are getting better, I think that the preparation is just getting more sophisticated.

Either disallow that kind of preparation or make it difficult/impossible. Don’t give a full list ahead of time, perhaps.
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Old 06-02-2019, 08:44 AM
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decrease the time to answer
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Old 06-02-2019, 09:32 AM
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One news story I listened to pointed out that all of these contestants had personal trainers that grilled them continuously up until the competition. I don’t think the kids are getting better, I think that the preparation is just getting more sophisticated.

Either disallow that kind of preparation or make it difficult/impossible. Don’t give a full list ahead of time, perhaps.
"Do away with the prize money" sounds like it would solve that kind of problem
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Old 06-02-2019, 09:42 AM
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We've previously discussed this in this thread:

https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...d.php?t=876423

As I said there, the top eight people today are far better than the top one person when the contest began. In the 1920's, the winning words were gladiolus, cerise, abrogate, knack, and luxuriance. This year the eight winning words were auslaut, erysipelas, bougainvillea, aiguillette, pendeloque, palama, cernuous, and odylic. This has nothing to do with participation trophies. The problem is that the participants today are so much better than they were in the early years that it already requires using incredibly obscure words to distinguish them.
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Old 06-02-2019, 10:22 AM
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I think it's the result of the binary nature of the event. You either spell the word correctly or you don't. And if you spell it correctly, you can't spell it better than somebody else.

Competitors at this level can reach the point of perfection; they're going to be able to spell word after word without a mistake.
Litttle Nemo basically sank this is one. The structure of the competition, as it currently stands, is flawed, and was inevitably going to result in this.

Several posters have already mentioned a severe time limit; that would certainly allow for a single winner to be crowned, and would significantly change the nature of the competition.
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Old 06-02-2019, 12:26 PM
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It seems to me that the solution is to run things in parallel, in some fashion or other. Run multiple stages at once, or have several kids at once spelling each word on paper, or give each kid their word while the kid before them is still up at the microphone. Using the same word for multiple contestants makes it less likely that the list will run out (and seems more fair), and reducing the time per word means that you can ask each contestant more words total.
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Old 06-02-2019, 12:36 PM
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From my understanding of it these kids are given massive lists of these words ahead of time to study. So while it is impressive that they can commit so much information to memory and recall it on demand there is still the fact that they have had an opportunity to see these words beforehand.
It would be interesting in the late rounds to allow the competition to stray from the pre-produced lists and see if the kids can use their knowledge of word origin, sentence use, etc. to spell a word they have never seen before.
This is exactly what I think should be done.
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Old 06-02-2019, 12:52 PM
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The words used in the National Spelling Bee are all taken from Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. There are 472,000 words in this dictionary. Where are they going to get more words? Any word not in that dictionary is so rare that it's very dicey to even say that it's in the English language.

Running multiple stages in parallel changes the basic structure of a spelling bee. The point is that any viewer can see live everything going on in the bee. I don't think that they would want to change the structure in that way.

Last edited by Wendell Wagner; 06-02-2019 at 12:52 PM.
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Old 06-02-2019, 12:54 PM
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From my understanding of it these kids are given massive lists of these words ahead of time to study. So while it is impressive that they can commit so much information to memory and recall it on demand there is still the fact that they have had an opportunity to see these words beforehand.
It would be interesting in the late rounds to allow the competition to stray from the pre-produced lists and see if the kids can use their knowledge of word origin, sentence use, etc. to spell a word they have never seen before.
I thought the only list that the competitors saw in advance was for only the first round.

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It seems to me that the solution is to run things in parallel, in some fashion or other. Run multiple stages at once, or have several kids at once spelling each word on paper, or give each kid their word while the kid before them is still up at the microphone. Using the same word for multiple contestants makes it less likely that the list will run out (and seems more fair), and reducing the time per word means that you can ask each contestant more words total.
My thought as well - at some point, read out the word, alternate pronunciations, definition, origin, and usage in a sentence, and have all of the competitors write down the answer. The National Geographic Bee doesn't seem to have a problem with a "same questions for everybody" method.

Another change they need to consider; get rid of the live broadcast. I have a feeling the real problem was, whoever (ABC? ESPN?) was airing it wanted to be able to show "the winner" on the broadcast without extending it or continuing the next night (and another night also may not have been an option for some of the competitors).
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Old 06-02-2019, 01:53 PM
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Do you have some evidence that the limitation to the 472,000 words in the dictionary (whose name I gave above) only applies to the first round? I've checked a lot of online references and none of them say that. Where do you get the idea that later rounds can use other words? What words are those? Are you claiming that the judges can pick one word used in one English-language book in 1937 and declare that to be an English-language word?
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Old 06-02-2019, 02:44 PM
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A literate high-schooler should be able to spell Göbekli Tepe; Ipomoea batatas; 1,3,7-Trimethylxantine; and Württemberg. A few words like this should separate the wheat from the chaff.
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Old 06-02-2019, 05:48 PM
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I thought the only list that the competitors saw in advance was for only the first round.


My thought as well - at some point, read out the word, alternate pronunciations, definition, origin, and usage in a sentence, and have all of the competitors write down the answer. The National Geographic Bee doesn't seem to have a problem with a "same questions for everybody" method.

Another change they need to consider; get rid of the live broadcast. I have a feeling the real problem was, whoever (ABC? ESPN?) was airing it wanted to be able to show "the winner" on the broadcast without extending it or continuing the next night (and another night also may not have been an option for some of the competitors).
The first round includes a written test, and also a list of words where children have to pick the best definition. The results are weighted, and that's how they narrow the broadcasted (online or on TV) rounds down to 50 at first.

For a couple years, the finals were broadcasted on network TV, but the ratings didn't justify continuing it, so they went back to ESPN.
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Old 06-02-2019, 07:04 PM
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Do you have some evidence that the limitation to the 472,000 words in the dictionary (whose name I gave above) only applies to the first round?
No, I don't, and for a good reason - because they never have, except in the first round, where, in the past, they were given a list of words (I can't remember how many) that would be used. After the first round, all words in the dictionary are in play.

The post I replied to said, "These kids are given massive lists of these words ahead of time to study." I do not consider an entire dictionary "a list."

However, the rules don't mention a "required list" of words in any round, although it does mention something called the "Spelling Bee word list," but that may just be the list of words they have compiled for use in the competition.
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Old 06-02-2019, 07:38 PM
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The dictionary is the only thing that the participants know about before they come to the National Spelling Bee. That must be what Hampshire was talking about in using the phrase "massive lists". You might not consider a dictionary a list, but it appear to me that Hampshire does. I presume that in the rules the phrase "Spelling Bee word list" is the secret list that no one but the judges know about which tells them which words to use in the bee and in which order.
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Old 06-02-2019, 10:05 PM
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Agree with no more lists, and use the OED after a set number of rounds. Right now you have multiple kids with the ability to memorize every word on the list or in the dictionary used, the only way they can miss is a slip of the tongue or nerve related gaffe.

Last edited by Helmut Doork; 06-02-2019 at 10:05 PM.
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Old 06-03-2019, 01:35 AM
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Once you get down to the final 8 (or maybe even 16) contestants, randomly pair them off, then wheel out a couple of soundproof booths onto the stage for knockout rounds. They get the same word, and whoever spells it correctly the fastest advances. I think it would be good television to see little Johnny and little Jane separately wondering if they can afford to ask for the language of origin and all that other stuff not knowing what the other is doing.
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Old 06-03-2019, 02:14 AM
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Snooooopy, I think that your idea would have the same problem that the idea which borschevsky proposed of having multiple stages. I think that the people running the National Spelling Bee would consider this to be too different from how a spelling bee traditionally works. Even if you could persuade the people running it that it would make the bee go faster and get down to a single winner more easily, they wouldn't want to do it.
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Old 06-03-2019, 02:45 AM
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A literate high-schooler should be able to spell Göbekli Tepe; Ipomoea batatas; 1,3,7-Trimethylxantine; and Württemberg. A few words like this should separate the wheat from the chaff.
I believe it's "1,3,7-trimethylxanthine".

Do I win?

Last edited by Ronald Raygun; 06-03-2019 at 02:45 AM.
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Old 06-03-2019, 05:22 PM
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Few ideas:
1. Lower the max age for the participants.
2. Cumulative timer for all answers. After a certain number of rounds start disqualifying the player with the highest time, rinse, lather repeat.
3. Stop providing the list ahead of time.
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Old 06-03-2019, 09:13 PM
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Never mind

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Old 06-03-2019, 11:21 PM
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Snooooopy, I think that your idea would have the same problem that the idea which borschevsky proposed of having multiple stages. I think that the people running the National Spelling Bee would consider this to be too different from how a spelling bee traditionally works. Even if you could persuade the people running it that it would make the bee go faster and get down to a single winner more easily, they wouldn't want to do it.
Well, I don't care what those clowns at the National Spelling Bee think. I have found some deep-pocketed nerds who want to help me launch a scrappy rival organization. It's going to be called the United Spelling Federation League. It'll be so popular. Why? Because the format involves brackets, and it is common knowledge that people in this country love putting things in brackets. We are going to steal all of the National Spelling Bee's best spellers and make them kneel before Zod. When people look back on the USFL, they are going to remember how completely successful it was in tearing down an established and powerful organization.
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Old 06-04-2019, 08:46 AM
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What about spelling the words backwards? Seems like that would be more difficult.
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Old 06-04-2019, 10:34 AM
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Old 06-04-2019, 10:34 AM
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Count me in as someone who doesn't see why this is still a thing.

There was a time when knowing how to spell obscure words was a useful tool in one's belt, particularly if one intended to go into journalism or some other word-based career. Nowadays the ability to spell obscure words is naught but a pointless exercise in academia for its own sake.

If these kids' parents are going to push them so hard to succeed (and let's face it, how many of them are there because their parents pushed them?), push them into a competition that matters.
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Old 06-04-2019, 03:14 PM
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What about spelling the words backwards? Seems like that would be more difficult.
You must have missed NBC's Genius Junior series last year.
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Old 06-04-2019, 04:20 PM
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Trial by combat.
"That wraps up our last round of words...."
*Throw a bunch of swords onstage*
"There can be only ONEEEEEE!!!"
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Old 06-04-2019, 04:40 PM
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"That wraps up our last round of words...."
*Throw a bunch of swords onstage*
"There can be only ONEEEEEE!!!"
How ironic that this came about from a typo in the rules talking about “challenge swords” instead of “challenge words”.
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Old 06-04-2019, 06:58 PM
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You must have missed NBC's Genius Junior series last year.
Yes, yes I did. Did they do backward spelling? How did it go?
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Old 06-06-2019, 04:22 AM
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We've previously discussed this in this thread:

https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...d.php?t=876423

As I said there, the top eight people today are far better than the top one person when the contest began. In the 1920's, the winning words were gladiolus, cerise, abrogate, knack, and luxuriance. This year the eight winning words were auslaut, erysipelas, bougainvillea, aiguillette, pendeloque, palama, cernuous, and odylic. This has nothing to do with participation trophies. The problem is that the participants today are so much better than they were in the early years that it already requires using incredibly obscure words to distinguish them.
Now get the kids to define those. The definition provided must be non-circular, understandable within normal vocabulary and complete for normal use: "a flower" or "a bush" for bougainvillea doesn't tell you how is a bougainvillea different from other flowers or bushes, but it's something most people would understand and the level of detail is enough in most cases; in a conversation that's not about gardening/flowers, it's fine. "Any member of the Bougainvillea genus" is circular, so not acceptable. "Related to odyl" is inadequate because most people's reaction would be "so WTF is odyl?"
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Old 06-06-2019, 07:47 AM
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Spell a word, do a shot. Seperate the wheat from the chaff PDQ.
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Old 06-06-2019, 08:05 AM
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When the participants are asked to spell a word, they can ask for the definition of a word, for the language it came from, for its part of speech, for any alternate pronunciations of it, and for a sentence that it is used in. In having the participants define the word, you would be changing the rules of the spelling bee. Again, the organizers of the National Spelling Bee have a fixed idea of how a spelling bee works. I doubt that they would want to change that. The problem is that when the concept of a spelling bee was created, it was rigorous enough that the participants in even a national event could be distinguished with difficult but not hopelessly obscure words. People have now figured out ways to study for the bee that anyone with enough time to do such studying can become so good there will be a number of participants at a national event that are good even on hopelessly obscure words. You would have to change the point of a spelling bee to make it possible to distinguish between the best contestants.
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Old 06-06-2019, 08:07 AM
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Now get the kids to define those. The definition provided must be non-circular, understandable within normal vocabulary and complete for normal use: "a flower" or "a bush" for bougainvillea doesn't tell you how is a bougainvillea different from other flowers or bushes, but it's something most people would understand and the level of detail is enough in most cases; in a conversation that's not about gardening/flowers, it's fine. "Any member of the Bougainvillea genus" is circular, so not acceptable. "Related to odyl" is inadequate because most people's reaction would be "so WTF is odyl?"
Now you’re taking an objective contest and making it completely subjective. I believe the goal is to improve the spelling bee, not eliminate it.
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Old 06-06-2019, 12:14 PM
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Yes, yes I did. Did they do backward spelling? How did it go?
The competition had three rounds (i.e. quarterfinal, semifinal, and final).
In the quarterfinal rounds, each team of three, one contestant at a time (or, if they wanted, they would have one person do all of the spelling) had 90 seconds to spell as many words as the host could read off, but had to spell them backwards. For example, "spell 'forwards' backwards."
In the semifinals, only the word's consonants would be shown, along with the number of letters in the full word; the contestant had to say the word, then spell it backwards. For example, "FRWRDS, eight letters."
The finals were played like the quarterfinals, except that the third word (and every fifth word after that) had the contestant spell just the consonants in the word, backwards, and the fifth word (and every fifth word after that) had them spell just the vowels in the word.
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Old 06-06-2019, 11:45 PM
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There is no way to make a "definition bee" work. Spelling bees work because the judges can quickly say whether the spelling that the participant gives is correct. I suppose they can complain that the participant is mumbling when they spell, but the judges can insist that they spell it again and not mumble. In a definition bee, they would have to judge whether the definition that the participant gave was close enough to the one in the dictionary. Any definition can be expressed in a number of ways that are close enough and some ways that aren't close enough to the dictionary definition, and there's no clear line between them. There's no way to make sure in a few seconds that the participant understands the definition or not.
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Old 06-07-2019, 12:34 AM
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What the others said: a game of elimination based off of "provide the definition" would quickly turn into a judging nightmare. Sure, some definitions are obviously wrong - "circumference" is not "a chocolate biscuit baked with cinnamon" but what if someone gives a definition that is truly on the margin/borderline? Eliminating the contestant would lead to a flurry of appeals or criticisms.
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Old 06-07-2019, 01:12 AM
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Honestly, these national bees start with what? Two or three hundred thousand participants? More? And by the end there are eight left?

If that's a "participation trophy," then the concept has pretty much lost all meaning. This whole thing seems like a bunch of solutions in search of an actual problem. Even if there were 50, so what? They're still the cream of some complicated word that means "crop." I mean, we give SuperBowl rings to the WHOLE TEAM, right? Where's the outrage?
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Old 06-07-2019, 10:04 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TimeWinder View Post
I mean, we give SuperBowl rings to the WHOLE TEAM, right? Where's the outrage?
This is different. A team is a team. Whereas this would be like giving the Lombardi Trophy to 8 different NFL teams simultaneously.
  #48  
Old 06-07-2019, 11:31 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wendell Wagner View Post
When the participants are asked to spell a word, they can ask for the definition of a word, for the language it came from, for its part of speech, for any alternate pronunciations of it, and for a sentence that it is used in.
I'd do a challenge round to crown a champion if the normal process leaves us with a tie.

Each contestant gets a buzzer. There will be 10 words to spell in the challenge round. The moderator will read the word, wait 10 seconds then the definition, 10sec, then use it in a sentence, etc. The first contestant to buzz in and provide the correct spelling gets a point, misspell... lose a point, most points win. In a tie, you get a second challenge round. Second tie.... sudden death!
  #49  
Old 06-09-2019, 12:25 PM
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When you’re down to 16 participants, eliminate origin, definition, use in a sentence.
When down to 8, start introducing homonyms.
  #50  
Old 06-09-2019, 12:54 PM
Wendell Wagner is offline
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What do you mean by introducing homonyms? Do you mean that the judge would give a word for the participant to spell for which there are several homonyms? The participant would be expected to guess which one the judge meant? Then the participant would have to guess at random which one the judge meant? If not that, what do you mean?
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