Thursday, August 03, 2006

"Mind Games"

We're in the Village Voice (July 25th, 2006 issue!)

Here's the text:
The Latin root word for supercilious is supercilium, which means eyebrow. What, you might ask, does that have to do with arrogance and haughtiness? When next you look down your nose, suggests Jennifer Dziura, try raising an eyebrow just to drive the point home. Now consider the Latin root word of eminence: eminere, meaning to stand out. This is probably what Eminem was thinking when he chose the name, don't you think? "After all, Eminem is a pretty smart guy," concludes Dziura, comedienne, writer, teacher, sarcastic sex-toy blogger, and co-host of the ever edifying Williamsburg Spelling Bee held at Pete's Candy Store.

Offering less spectacle and spume than Monday night bingo but more opportunity for individual disgrace and grammatical tirades (last week, it was the flagrant misuse of the subjunctive), the Williamsburg Spelling Bee was created by Brooklyn singer-songwriter bobbyblue soon after he watched the orthographic thriller Spellbound. Since then, the Williamsburg Spelling Bee has been syndicated (fans are rumored to have started similar bees in Seattle and London), sponsored by a major Broadway musical (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), and featured in The New York Times and on NPR, making it the bar game of choice for self-proclaimed geeks and well-groomed lovers of logorrhea. However, in the cozy Pullman-car atmosphere of Pete's back room, intellectual acumen does not trump kindness.

Unlike traditional spelling bees, contestants are permitted three misspelled words before they are knocked out of the game, and during the opening interview round, when they are asked personal questions like "If you suddenly found yourself pregnant with devil spawn, what would you do," no competitor is eliminated, even if they should misspell frittata. And after the competition heats up with words like toponymy, somnifacient, hesperidium, commissariat, and thalassocracy, the casualties of cacography are still excused with great sympathy and loud applause.

"You know, I'm up here telling jokes about words," says Dziura after a particularly funny riff about the reconstitution of chicken meat and Scarlatina, a Latino drag queen named after a disease. "At a spelling bee. For adults. In a bar. In Williamsburg. Just so we keep it all in perspective."

"The paper plates help," says Felix Aronoff, a 24-year-old bio major, chuckling at the contestant's number hanging around his best friend's neck. "A great ego leveler."
Here's the link.