In elementary school and maybe even junior high — that’s middle school for you younger readers, of which I have none — they used to take the class, split it in two and each side would line up with their backs to the wall, facing each other across the classroom.

Hello, spelling bee.

The teacher would then ask a kid on one side of the room to spell a word. If you got it right, you stayed standing. If you spelled it wrong, you sat down and the other team got a chance to spell it right.

This went on until there was only one team standing with anybody left. Great fun, if you could spell and — hey — I was pretty good at it. In my whole professional life in the newspaper business, I always like to say, I got paid to do something I learned in elementary school: read and write. Yes, I was lucky.

Now, I still have a spelling contest with myself every day, with the New York Times Spelling Bee game. You can get it online, but they kick you off after only a few words if you aren’t a subscriber. So I subscribed, and I get the digital NYT daily and unlimited access to all their games, for $1.50 a week. For now.

If you haven’t played it, Spelling Bee works like this: There are six letters in a circle and you need to make a word with them not smaller than four letters, but every word must include the seventh letter in the middle of the circle. You get one point for a four-letter word, five points for a five-letter word, six for six letters, and so on. And you get bonus points for a pangram, a word which uses all seven letters.

To be rated a Genius every day you need to make a set number of points. Some days it’s 90, some days it’s 210 points. I shoot for Genius every day, of course, and I play until I give up. Now get this: On average, I’m a Genius five days a week.

I’m trying to get my wife, who helps me most days, to call me Genius, at least around the house, like, Hey, Genius, get me a gin and tonic, or Hey, Genius, let me have the remote.

I’d even settle for Gene but, unlike my reading-and-writing career, no luck.

Saturday sermon

“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”

— Maya Angelou


“I agree with Doug W. (last week’s feedback), that people who don’t get answers correct are resentful of people who love to read, do crossword puzzles, play all kinds of trivia games and/or have eidetic memories,” writes Kathy H.

And: A pickleball player last week told my teammate before our match, ‘Watch out, you’re playing with a criminal.’ (See last week’s column.)

So you’re so smart …

Last week I bet you couldn’t tell me which state’s three largest cities begin with C. My answer: Ohio, with Columbia, Cleveland and Cincinnati, in that order. Oh, and Canton is the seventh largest.

Getting this apparently easy one right (I said you could use a map) were lots of regulars and newcomers: Bob G., Bert H., PMM (“I did my residency in surgery at the University of Cincinnati. I drove from central New York and passed through Cleveland, Columbus, and finally into Cincinnati!”), Robert H., John D., Joe H. (“Didn’t need the map!”), Kurt W., Doug W., Kathy H., Clarence C., Terence O., Lynne A., Clay N., Karen G. (“Finally decided to actually respond instead of just keeping my guesses to myself. And I didn’t use a map”), Lee A., Al & Mickey F., and Kim O. & Paul C. Wrong guesses included South Carolina, West Virginia and Illinois.

Columns for Kids

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Thanks. See you next week.

ORESTE P. D’ARCONTE is a Sun Chronicle columnist. Reach him at