If spelling is hard to get right in a term paper, try it while standing on stage after having a few beers.
The second “Grown-Up Spelling Bee,” took place Friday night, with 43 contestants being picked off one by one by words in the Scripps National Spelling Bee repertoire – and by their blood alcohol content.
The last speller standing was 62-year-old Marc Burgett, a retired special education teacher who won with the word “numismatist.”
The event was put together by the Minneapolis Word Nerds, a small group of girlfriends who like to spell.
Jess Colon, a member of the group and former University student, said she came up with the idea after a trip to Philadelphia to visit her sister.
“They had a drunken spelling bee at one of the bars we went to,” she said. “And I made it my mission to bring it to Minneapolis.”
Hosted by the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis, the event is now scheduled once a month, with a grand finale competition pegged for July.
Club manager Jared Oulman said he approached Colon to make the event monthly after the first bee in February was so popular.
“I was surprised by the turnout because the thought of a spelling bee in a bar is a little abstract,” Oulman said. “But I thought it was a good idea and it was ridiculously well-received.”
Upon registration for the bee, contestants paid $7 and got one free beer before each round that they stayed in for, though some contestants chose to consume more between rounds.
“If you’re good enough, your beers end up paying for themselves,” Colon said. “It could be $7 for one beer or $7 for five or six.”
Contestants were also required to sign a waiver saying they wouldn’t drive, and 331 Club and Minneapolis Word Nerds weren’t liable for harm.
Kerrie Sendall, a plant biology graduate student at the University, participated in the bee and said she heard about it through a friend who frequents the bar for trivia nights.
“I just hope I make it through round two,” she said.
Sendall wound up making it to the fifth round. Her first word as contestant number 39 was “autoerotic,” followed by “verbatim,” “eugenics,” and “viscous.”
During the fifth round, she crinkled her face, trying to spell “manducatory.”
“M-A-N,” she said, pausing to find the next letter. “G?”
The judges beeped her out.
Sendall had an 8-ounce Pabst Blue Ribbon beer between each round, plus an extra drink during an intermission, for a final total of six drinks by the time she was eliminated.
Originally titled the “Drunken Spelling Bee,” the event changed to the “Grown-Up Spelling Bee,” after Colon received flak from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association.
“They say we’re glorifying binge drinking, but we give them one beer for each round,” Colon said. “The first round, by itself, takes 45 minutes. That’s not binge drinking.”
Oulman said that although over-serving is a big issue with college students, he wasn’t concerned.
“We play by the same rules as Dinkytown and downtown,” Oulman said. “We just have to pay attention, and that’s fine.”
Joe Paton, a University journalism student, came out to 331 with some co-workers without knowing about the bee.
Although Paton admitted he’d already had quite a few drinks, he signed up anyway, hoping to make it to the second round.
After spelling “wiener” and “pantomime” correctly, Paton disappeared during the intermission, failing to return for the third round.
While the judges followed the Scripps National Spelling Bee rules, they also added their own.
“For example, if you’re in the bathroom when your number is called, you’re out,” Colon said. “No puking. And if you’re in a fight and get a fist to the face, you still have to spell.”