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    Diary of a Spelling Bee Fanatic

    This is Diary of a Spelling Bee Fanatic, a weekly review of the game that drives me out of my hivemind. In a good way. Sometimes.

    Read past Diary entries here, and join the daily discussion in the forum.

    Today’s pangram is PAYCHECK, but I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about the Spelling Bee of Sunday, June 5, and why a game that requires people to accumulate 347 Godforsaken points in a single day is a threat to our national security.

    I mean, far be it from me to tell anyone how to spend their time. All I’m saying is that yesterday’s game went on for so long that any country could have invaded the United States and found a nation of weepy, exhausted people willing to give themselves up in return for the pangram.

    Well, call me a patriot with piercing yet myopic eyes if you will, but as that old Winston Churchill joke says, this is something up with which I will not put. I send an email to Sam Ezersky’s assistant’s assistant to set up a meeting.

    When I log in to my video meeting, Sam is sitting in the lotus position with his eyes closed. He appears to be meditating.


    “Are you OK?” I ask him.

    “Better than I was yesterday,” he says, without even opening his eyes. “We got a lot of mail about the Bee.”

    “I’m not surprised, Sam. That was a monster. But don’t you normally get a lot of mail?”

    “Not from NATO.”

    “Ooh, that’s rough,” I say empathetically. “Did they play the ‘threat to national security’ card?”

    “Yeah! I didn’t even know that NATO issued ‘cease and desist’ orders …”

    “So are you going to cease and desist?” I ask.

    “Nah. I gave them the pangram and they seemed happy with that.”

    CAKEPAY: A method of electronic payment in a cake-based financial system.


    The phone rings before my alarm goes off and it’s a Florida number. That can mean only one thing.

    “You know, I’m a little worried about Will Shortz,” my mother says, already in midconversation.

    “Good morning, Mom,” I mumble, rubbing my eyes.

    “Why is he calling me ‘DRAMATIC’? That’s a little much for a nice young man from Indiana.”

    “He called you dramatic? I don’t understand. You two have never even met.”

    “Well, it’s in the puzzle.”

    “The crossword puzzle?” I ask, not sure whether I’m still dreaming.

    “No, the other one, with the weird shape,” my mother says.

    “You mean Spelling Bee? Will doesn’t edit that puzzle.”

    “Who can keep track?” she says. “Anyway, I don’t think that’s very nice. And DAMMIT? Who knew he had such a potty mouth?”

    “It’s not Will’s puzzle, Mom,” I repeat, as patiently as I can. “Sam Ezersky is the Spelling Bee editor. And I haven’t done the puzzle yet. Please don’t tell me the answers.”

    “What do you mean you haven’t done it yet?” my mother asks, shocked. “It’s almost midday!”

    “It’s not even 8 a.m.,” I say, as I pad to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

    “I know! There I was, doing the puzzle while I ate my lunch, and boom! Here comes DRAMATIC, like it’s nothing. It’s enough to make me start doing the Jumble instead. At least the Jumble doesn’t call me names.”


    I know an opportunity when I see one. “Well, we hate to lose you as a solver, Mom,” I say with my mouth full of toothpaste, trying to sound disappointed, “but if you insist. …”

    CARDIMATIC: A cardigan vending machine for when the temperature drops suddenly and you’ve left yours at home.

    The letter Y in the center of the hive severely limits my possibilities, but I throw in as many words ending in that letter as I can: DIDDLY, DILLY, DODGY, DOLLY, EDDY, GIDDY, GIGGLY, GOGGLY, GOOGLY, GODLY, GOLLY and GOODLY.


    I know there are more, but I’ll have to come back to the game later. Tomorrow is my husband’s birthday, and I need to pick up a cake from our local bakery.

    “Would you like me to write anything on the cake?” asks the woman behind the counter.

    “Yes. Would you please write ‘Happy Birthday, Genius!’ on it?”

    The woman stops and looks at me carefully.

    “Are you sure you want to say ‘Genius’?” she asks. “Because the last time someone came in here asking for an inscription like that, she was being snarky, and now she and her husband are getting divorced.”


    “No, this is a compliment. We play this game called Spelling Bee together, and Genius is pretty much the top ranking.”

    “Wait a minute. Is that the game where you make words out of seven letters?”

    “That’s the one,” I reply, smiling.

    “My husband plays that game, too. He started one on Sunday, and I haven’t heard from him since.”

    EYEGOD: A deity who protects the myopic and hyperopic.


    It’s another long one today. I need 248 points to get to Genius. Thank goodness for the blessed -TION suffix, as well as the IN- and ON- prefixes.

    I wonder to myself whether other players find it frustrating to type long words galore but still feel as though they are not making any progress.

    Slow and steady wins the race. I work diligently on the Bee throughout the morning and eventually land on Genius with 252 points. So does my Spelling Bee-obsessed husband.

    That night, we celebrate his birthday with his favorite Oreo cake. When I put the cake down in front of him, he throws his head back and laughs, just as I predicted. We’ve been together for a long time, and he knows that I’m not being snarky. At least not about this.

    Credit…Deb Amlen/The New York Times

    OVATION: This was accepted, but under a different definition. I think the dictionaries missed the boat. If English made any sense, ovation would mean “release of an egg for the purpose of fertilization.”


    Ah, much better! A simple, 58-point puzzle with two vowels, and before I know it, I’m a Genius. No real prefixes or suffixes, but this seems almost like a vacation after the longer puzzles this week. I feel as if there might be a reason we suddenly have such a reasonable score today, so I check in with Sam.

    The first thing I notice is that his Slack chat is set to “Away,” even though he just got back from vacation. I know he’s working, so I text him: “You OK? Kind of a short Bee today.”

    “Yeah,’ he said, “After the NATO cease-and-desist request, I thought I’d lie low for a while.”

    “Oh, come on. They couldn’t have taken it that seriously.”

    “The gist of the letter was ‘Nice game. Be a shame if something happened to it.’”

    “On second thought, maybe it’s better to keep the games short for a while.”

    “But I do have a new way to make words up my sleeve. …”

    “Ooh! What is it?”


    “Runes? You mean like symbols?”

    “Sure! Who could possibly have a problem with that?”

    (Note: Today’s word has been redacted because it does not meet our standards. It’s highly immature, and even if it is a pangram, Deb should know better.)


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