Charitable cheaters bring in the gold at 826 Valencia Spelling Bee
Your literary correspondent is always looking for new word-related adventures, and last week I found one well worth recounting: 826 Valencia's Spelling Bee for Cheaters. What is a spelling bee for cheaters? Say it to yourself one more time; try spelling it, and try sounding it out because it's exactly what it sounds like. To raise money for the writing center's programs, participants asked people to contribute towards spelling bee cheat cards, including the ability to buy letters, ask the audience for help, and sneak peaks at dictionaries. Cheaters of note included Michael Chabon, Daniel Handler, Lisa Brown, Adam Savage, Tracy Chapman, and Thao Nguyen. Participants were on teams, including the team "Adam Savage", which Adam Savage was a proud member of. The team "The Unscrupulous Lardmongerz" made a point of issuing pirate related threats, "We're going to win this thing even if we have to poison someone. Michael Chabon? We're going to poison him. Unless you donate!" It may not sound like a positive message for the little ones, but it was.
The night began with an introduction to the so-called Vice Principal Panch, a character played by Jay Reiss, and his fellow judges, Rebecca and Liz Feldman. We were also introduced to the “Comfort Counselor,” whose job it was to make the gloomy mispellers feel like life would indeed go on. We were then asked to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance.
This was not the most politically correct of evenings. Almost all of the sentences given to explain the words involved race – except when they involved sex, drugs, or poop.
The word: koolak.
The sentence: “The Russian farmer said, ‘I'm glad I'm a koolak. I'm not a poor Russian farmer.’”
The word: kraal, which means a rural African village.
The sentence: “Oppressive regimes and rampant malaria helped keep the kraal prices low.”
A comment from the judge, “I have a kraal myself, over in the Congo.”
The word: apoop.
The sentence: “Guido the seasick Italian sailor said, ‘Excuse me boys, but I have to go apoop.’” To this, the audience of adults laughed wildly. 826 Valencia sure is growing up into a strapping young lad.
The word: evaginate.
The sentence: “evaginate.com is not the website you think it is.”
Why, 826 Valencia, I never!
The word: indigent, meaning poor.
The sentence: “Most indigent people are lazy.”
A well-informed class commentary indeed.
Throughout the spellings, the audience let contestants know they were alive and kicking. One team chanted, “A-B-C...What? A-B-C...What?” and then finally, “A-B-C-D!” Many people were dressed as bees. One contestant used the “Ask the Audience” cheat, but the audience remained silent after the judges reminded us we could not use our cell phones to look up answers. “Anyone there?” the judge called out. Was anyone?
When Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, reached the microphone, he used the free strategy of reading his words in a seductive voice in an attempt to gain hints from the judges. You can imagine how dreamy the word “xeropthalmiology” might sound if whispered just right.
Two hours in, just two contestants remained: librarian Sunil Patel and high school counselor Kelly Sortino, who was, like her students, dressed as a bee. Sortino won by spelling the drug lysergic acid diethylamide. The moral: spell drugs, don't do them.
At the end of the bee, 826 Valencia founder Dave Eggers came on stage and said, “So far we've raised 97,000. I was told to say we should raise $200,000, so if someone finds a block of gold on their way out... you know what to do with it.” This prompted someone from the audience to yell, “I'll donate 1,000!” In the end, the center 826 Valencia raised over $100,000, proving that spelling bees can include cheating AND jokes about race, drugs, and sex, and still benefit the children at the same time.