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NY Times Spelling Bee

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

I recently wrote that Kath and I have a one-year streak going in the NYT Crossword Puzzle. While that is still ongoing, we’ve also recently discovered a little gem called Spelling Bee (New York Times). The concept is elegant and simple:

  • You get seven letters arranged in a honeycomb.
  • You have to combine these letters to come up with as many words with four letters or more as you can.
  • The middle letter is required.
  • You can repeat letters as much as you like.
  • Answers can overlap one another. (E.g. “glad” and “gladly” are two separate answers).
  • The longer the word, the more points you get.
  • You can an extra bonus for pangrams (words that use all of the letters at least once)[1]
  • The puzzle rates your performance with “good”, “nice”, “great”, “awesome”, and, finally, “genius”[2] (You can click your progress indicator to see how many points are required for each level.)
  • There is always a pangram (a word that uses all of the letters)

You can check your word list against the master word list only on the next day, which is kind of nice and zen.

Spelling Bee Solver

Update: January 2021

You can get some hints about the kinds of answers in the puzzle from the Spelling Bee Solver. It shows how many words there are that start with each letter, tells you how many pangrams there are, and how many total words and points. There’s even a matrix with starting letters in the rows and number of letters in the columns.

This is super-helpful and makes it a bit more fun when you’re just spinning your wheels and not seeing any words anymore. A lot of times, it just helps to know that there are two more four-letter words starting with “C”—and then they just pop out when you’d just spent ten minutes, scouring the puzzle and not seeing anything at all.

Queen Bee

There is a level beyond genius called “Queen Bee”—and we finally got one.

 Pangram = Adjourn

We’ve since gotten Queen Bee quite a few times—a handful of times with no help whatsoever, but a lot more when consulting the matrix in the solver mentioned above.

Samples

Here are a couple of games that we’ve completed, just to show off.

Now, the bad news

Would I be reporting on this fun little game if it was all sunshine and roses? No, no, I probably wouldn’t.

You see, there are some words I’ve learned over the years, for which I’ve borne more than my share of ridicule for knowing, that the puzzle refused to acknowledge as being “in its word list”.

I was shocked and disappointed[3] to see that certain words that I’ve kept in my back pocket, as it were, for just such a rainy day as this, were not recognized.

Proof? Of course I have proof.

The following are definitions from the Free Dictionary. While not exactly common, these are all non-archaic words that are not proper nouns. Those that are chiefly British (e.g. demobbed) might be understandable as “too rare” were the puzzle not to regularly include incredibly obscure references to fish and fruit species. There isn’t really much consistency on what is considered a proper noun or what is considered “rare”.


adit: An almost horizontal entrance to a mine.


alee: Away from the wind


alembic: An apparatus consisting of two vessels connected by a tube, formerly used for distilling liquids.


amah: A housemaid or children’s nurse, especially in East Asia and Southeast Asia.


anil: An indigo plant or the blue dye obtained from it.


appel: A quick stamp of the foot used in fencing as a feint to produce an opening.


arity: The number of arguments or operands taken by a function or operator


badonkadonk: buttocks; booty; an extremely curvaceous female behind


becalm: To render motionless for lack of wind; to make calm or still; soothe


bedamn: To curse thoroughly


betel: A vine or nut


betitle: To bestow a name upon something


biddy: A hen; A fowl; A woman, especially an older one who is extremely talkative.


bimbo: A person, esp a foolish one


bint: A derogatory term for girl, woman


bokeh: The effect of blurriness in the areas of an image that fall outside a photograph’s depth of field


boolean: Of or relating to a logical combinatorial system treating variables, such as propositions and computer logic elements, through the operators AND, OR, NOT, and XOR


bole: Tree trunk


bytecode: A form of instruction set designed for efficient execution by a software interpreter


cahoot: A business partnership.


calcite: A common crystalline form of natural calcium carbonate, CaCO3, that is the basic constituent of limestone, marble, and chalk.


calif: A leader of an Islamic polity, regarded as a successor of Muhammad and by tradition always male. (Also: califf or caliph)


camelia: Any of several shrubs or small evergreen trees having solitary white or pink or reddish flowers


celtic: Of, relating to, or characteristic of the Celts or the Celtic languages


chink: A narrow opening, such as a crack or fissure. (presumably not recognized because the snowflakes think it could only be a slur for Chinese person.)


cloacal: Related to the common cavity that serves as the opening for the intestinal, genital, and urinary tracts in many vertebrates, including amphibians, reptiles, birds, monotremes, and some fishes


cope: To contend with difficulties and act to overcome them


craic: Irish vernacular for “fun”, e.g. “when I’m at the pub with the lads, we always have a good craic.”


cunt: Used as a disparaging term for a person one dislikes or finds extremely disagreeable.


dado: A rectangular groove cut into a board so that a like piece may be fitted into it.


decile: Any of the groups that result when a frequency distribution is divided into ten groups of equal size.


demobbed: Demobilization of armed forces


donator: A person who gives to a charity or cause


donator: A person who gives to a charity or cause


edaphic: Of or relating to soil, especially as it affects living organisms.


egyptology: The study of the culture and artifacts of the ancient Egyptian civilization.


enceinte: Pregnant.


enzian: A plant from the gentian family


faff: A thing that is awkward or time-consuming to do; to dither or fuss (also, faffing about


fain: ready; willing; happy


fairing: An auxiliary structure or the external surface of a vehicle, such as an aircraft, that serves to reduce drag.


flatulate: To expel intestinal gasses through the anus; to fart


geegaw: a showy trifle : bauble, trinket.


gaff: A metal hook fastened to a pole; to cheat; fleece; harsh treatment or criticism (also, gaffing)


gigged: to have done a job, esp a single booking for a musician


gilet: A vest or bodice


gnomon: The piece jutting from the center of a sundial


gonif: A thief, scoundrel, or rascal. (also ganef)


gorily: In a gory manner


gypped: Defrauded or swindled


hemophage: A cell that destroys red blood cells by phagocytosis.


huck: To throw or toss.


ichor: The blood of the Gods (As of February 2021, this word is now accepted.)


immanent: innate, inborn, intrinsic


inline: Incorporated into a body of text rather than placed as a separate section


italian: Of or relating to Italy or its people, language, or culture.


ladyboy: The Indo-European language of the ancient Latins and Romans and the most important cultural language of western Europe until the end of the 17th century.


lamplit: Lit by a lamp.


latin: The Indo-European language of the ancient Latins and Romans and the most important cultural language of western Europe until the end of the 17th century.


latina: A woman or girl who is a member of one of the Spanish-speaking peoples of the Americas.


lede: The introductory portion of a news story, especially the first sentence.


liana: Any of various climbing, woody, usually tropical vines.


luff: To flap while losing wind. Used of a sail.


molal: Of or designating a solution that contains one mole of solute in 1 kilogram of solvent.


nacelle: A streamlined housing or tank for something on the outside of an aircraft or motor vehicle.


nappy: Having a nap; fuzzy: a nappy carpet.


nictitation: The process of winking or blinking rapidly,


nonplanar: not lying or able to be confined within a single plane : having a three-dimensional quality.


olla: A rounded earthenware pot or jar, used especially for cooking or for carrying water


panamanian: A native or inhabitant of Panama (which was accepted as a word, although it’s a proper noun)


pion: Any of the three least massive mesons, having a positive, neutral, or negative electric charge


pood: A Russian unit of weight equivalent to about 16.4 kilograms (36.1 pounds) avoirdupois. (Used for kettle bells.)


telic: Directed or tending toward a goal or purpose; purposeful.


thew: Muscular power or strength.


tufa: A soft, friable, and porous sedimentary rock consisting of calcium carbonate and formed by the evaporation of water, especially at the mouth of a hot spring or on a drying lakebed.


tuple: A generalization of ordered elements in any dimension.


vair: A fur, probably squirrel, much used in medieval times to line and trim robes.


villi: A minute projection arising from a mucous membrane, especially one of the numerous vascular projections of the small intestine. (singular, villus)


wadi: A valley, gully, or streambed in northern Africa and southwest Asia that remains dry except during the rainy season; an oasis


wain: The Big Dipper; A large open farm wagon


welch: To fail to fulfill an obligation (alternate spelling of welsh)


zoonotic: Of or relating to a disease of animals that can be transmitted to humans.[4]


[1] I made up a thing called a “natural pangram”, which uses each of the letters exactly once (e.g. laundry), in order to prove to Kath that my pangram was better than hers.
[2] At which point we usually stop, although we’ve never gotten every last one of the possible words.[5] Being called “genius” once a day by our soon-to-be robot masters is rewarding enough.
[3] The German word bodigt, as in “defeated to the ground”, seems to do the feeling the bare minimum of justice.
[4] Omitting zoonotic as “obscure” is just unconscionable and unsupportable when the word must have appeared a million times in the news over the last year, when describing the primary reason we’re all sitting at home all the time doing the frickin’ Spelling Bee.
[5]

In the meantime, we’ve “cheated” with two open windows to be able to find out that there is, indeed, a final status for having found all of the words: “Queen Bee”.

We haven’t managed it for real—sometimes because we miss a word or two that should have known, but sometimes because there’s a word we didn’t know was a word, e.g. “footwall”—but we’ve gotten within one word one time. We had “knick”. We had “knack”. We forgot “knickknack”.