Can You Spell 'Nirvana'?

    New online spelling bee uses mathematical models to separate the good
spellers from the bad

    NEW YORK, Oct. 29 /CNW/ -- From the success of movies like Akeelah and
the Bee and Spellbound to the national broadcast of the Scripps National
Spelling Bee, it's clear that people of all ages have a passion for spelling.
And now a challenging new online quiz has shown just how passionate they can
be: the Visual Thesaurus Spelling Bee (
from Thinkmap, launched this past summer, has already attracted 15,000
players, who have tried their hand at spelling a grand total of 500,000 words.

    "English is a notoriously hard language to spell," says Visual Thesaurus
executive producer Ben Zimmer. "But everybody from 9 to 90 loves a good
challenge, and the success of the Visual Thesaurus Spelling Bee proves how
much people enjoy matching their wits against the odd and outrageous rules of
English spelling."

    What makes the Bee so addictive for spellers of all ages and abilities?
It's been designed to be adaptive, so the more words that are spelled
correctly, the more difficult the words become. And conversely, if you're not
a great speller, the words will get easier and easier. That way a player will
always be quizzed at the appropriate skill level -- from the orthographically
challenged to the most expert spellers.

    As more and more players try the Bee, the game has steadily improved
based on data collected on how words are spelled. Words are being continuously
reanalyzed for difficulty based on how spellers fare. Every five minutes,
words are rescored for difficulty taking into account the latest data from the
Bee spellers. That means there's an increasingly better fit to different skill
levels, making it a challenging and educational experience for all.

    The Bee takes advantage of high-quality audio pronunciations of tens of
thousands of words, especially created for the Visual Thesaurus. Each round, a
player hears the recording of the word and see its definition. As the player
continues to spell, the quiz narrows in on his or her score, on a scale from
200 to 800. If you're a 200-level speller, you'll get quizzed on the easiest
words, but 800-level spellers should be prepared for a fiendish challenge.

    Thinkmap has made the Bee into a one-of-a-kind online experience, with a
pleasing interface on the front end and sophisticated data analysis on the
back end. Using intricate algorithms and curve-fitting models, the Bee is able
to determine not just how difficult a word is to spell, but how well a word is
at discriminating good spellers from bad spellers. That way the Bee can
quickly zero in on a player's skill level, in much the same way that
computer-adaptive tests like the GRE and GMAT tailor themselves to
test-takers' abilities.

    Based on the ever-growing data accumulated from participants in the Bee,
it's possible to know precisely which words are easy to spell and which are
difficult. "The toughest words are downright diabolical," says Zimmer. "They
might leave you feeling faineant, as if you're under siege from a mangonel, or
they might just reduce you to palilalia."

    Here are some examples of Bee words, from easiest to most difficult:


    200-250 (Extremely Easy)

    250-350 (Very Easy)

    350-450 (Fairly Easy)

    450-550 (Average)

    550-650 (Fairly Hard)
    badinage (frivolous banter)
    phlox (a North American flowering plant)
    fleabane (a hairy Eurasian herb)
    fossorial (adapted for digging)
    glasnost (Soviet policy allowing freer discussion of social issues)

    650-750 (Very Hard)
    tercentenary (300th anniversary)
    yacca (a West Indian evergreen)
    grissino (a long slender crusty breadstick)
    carioca (a lively ballroom dance that resembles the samba)
    dirndl (a full skirt with a gathered waistband)

    750-800 (Extremely Hard)
    jaconet (a lightweight cotton cloth)
    puerperal (relating to childbirth)
    faineant (disinclined to work or exertion)
    mangonel (medieval artillery used during sieges)
    palilalia (pathological condition in which a word is rapidly and
    involuntarily repeated)

    To play the Bee, click here:


    For more information, contact:
    Ben Zimmer
    212-285-8660 x384


For further information:

For further information: Ben Zimmer, +1-212-285-8660 x384, Web Site:       

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