Saturday, September 25, 2021

Still Life with Robin: I Have a (Spelling) Bee in My Bonnet!

Beeatrice, Queen Bee
of the New York Times
Spelling Bee
by Peggy Robin

You will need to indulge me today. I usually write about things connected  in some way or another with the Cleveland Park neighborhood, or fitting under the broader rubric of life in Washington, DC. The theme of this column today can be rationalized as on-topic simply because there are plenty of people in this neighborhood, and even more around the DMV, who are as addicted as I am to the New York Times Spelling Bee. Not familiar with this daily word game? Learn all about its strange allure here. Novelist Laura Lipman speaks for all of us Spelling Bee obsessives when she describes the appeal of the puzzle in this essay in 

With that introduction, let me use the rest of this space to complain about the puzzle and specifically, about all the words that its daily constructor, Sam Ezersky (also known by his Twitter handle, @thegridkid), excludes from play. He is the sole arbiter of what words are accepted and will earn you points toward the crown.

However, before getting to these words, let me preface my complaint by saying I have no beef with him whenever he includes words that I never knew till I started doing the puzzle every day. I'm always happy to expand my vocabulary -- and  was perfectly content to add all of the following to it: agita, aril, arum, attar, blat, bola, botnet, caul, cirri, delt, ecotone, eidetic, epode, heptane, horal, jugging, laten, lateen, llano, minim, motet, nepenthe, nonagon, nonillion, ollie, opah, palapa, palp, parador, pawl, pillion, pipit, puli, raita, tali, tamari, tilth, toonie, tubule, unhat, unroof, and wight.

Now for what puts that bee in my bonnet: It's the utter failure to acknowledge words that I use and consider not the least bit obscure. Sam appears disinclined to listen to the devotees of this daily game whenever they tell him he's left out words that occur in our everyday speech. And to prove it, let's show how, without these words, Sam can't do any of the following RANDO things:

If he's out sailing, he can't turn his sail ALEE.
He can’t toss a BEACHBALL.
He can’t put down a BATHMAT (guess, he'll just slip and fall.)
He can't play hangman because there isn't a GIBBET
He can’t read the GNOMEN on a sundial.
He can’t catch and grill a GRUNION – though there’s plenty of other fish on his menu (opah, for one)
He’s must be confused about iodine because he doesn’t understand that it’s made up of IODIDE ions. You can’t have one without the other.
If he becomes an archaeologist, he can’t find the MIDDEN.
He can’t discuss the elementary particles that make up the universe without MUONs.
He can’t clean anything with MURIATIC acid. His concrete walls must be pretty grimy.
He may eat some sushi but without any NORI wrappers.
He can’t access an ATM because he doesn’t recognize know what a PINPAD is.
He can’t write to a PENPAL.
He can’t play a PANPIPE
He can’t dress up like a WWI soldier in PUTTEES
He may become a samurai but never a RONIN.
He can’t have a TUILE on top of his dessert.
He can still have an outbreak of UTICARIA– as long as he calls it hives. 

Does all of this make him sound like a BIMBO?

We really need to convene a CURIA to adjudicate these words.

OK, I'm done least for today!


Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.


  1. I agree. Often normal words are discounted while obscure make the cut.

  2. Wonderful!!! doubt if he uses the obscure puzzle words himself, just pulls them from dictionary. Pedantry of puzzle makers puts me off puzzles.
    Thanks for yr amusing rant.

  3. Hey Peggy
    I can surely empathize with your outrage exclusion-wise (for some different dissed words — TATTILY, GIGGING, and for some mutually supported PANPIPES and ALEE) but also for the included reptilian anus, CLOACA, silly words like ANYHOO or GIMME, and stupid tech words....