By Arvind Dilawar

(Credit: All photographs by Ryan DeShon)

Last night, six members of New York City’s literary community gathered to compete in The Airship’s First Annual Spelling Bee at fabulous Fontana’s in the Lower East Side. They were:

  1. Justin Alvarez of The Paris Review

  2. Julie Buntin of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses

  3. Arvind Dilawar of The Airship (and author of this post in third person!)

  4. Rachel Fershleiser of Tumblr

  5. Ben Greenman of The New Yorker

  6. Gavin McInnes of Rooster and Street Carnage

Together, they were put through the gauntlet of the hardest words to spell in the English language by the evening’s host, Jonny Diamond. The rules were simple, the words were not: two points for each correctly spelled word, one point for every shot of whiskey, vodka or tequila taken. Words to spell included “weissnichtwo,” “prosopopoeia,” “vargueno,” “botryoidal” and “pergameneous.” (Seriously, does anyone even know what those words mean much less how to spell them? Spellcheck doesn't even think that last one is real!)

The crowd (who thought they were sooooo much better at spelling than the contestants)

The night began with two traditional rounds of each contestant attempting to spell a word, followed by a relay round in which contestants provided one letter of an extravagantly long word. There was also a round of words selected by the audience (yes, “diarrhea” was on there) and a lightning round in which contestants had 30 seconds to spell as many words as possible. That all led up to the finale: a face-off between the two contestants with the highests scores.

Rather than going through the night play by play (mostly because I drank enough to have gaps in my memory), here are a few things we all learned last night:

  1. Justin Alvarez is a drinking machine.

  2. Courtesy of Gavin McInnes: The proper spelling of “Spider-Man” must include the hyphen.

  3. Arvind Dilawar is the most combative speller ever, according to Ben Greenman.

  4. Julie Buntin can hold her own against 12-letter words and an assortment of whiskey, tequila and vodka.

  5. Rachel Fershleiser might not be a big drinker, but she’ll down a shot to make it to the finals.

  6. Ben Greenman is so good at spelling that he can misspell “nausea” and still win a spelling bee.

Ben Greenman and Rachel Fershleiser in the final round

After all was said and spelled, Ben Greenman prevailed against Rachel Fershleiser in the final round, for which he won an oddly phallic 3D-printed trophy from 3D NYC Labs and $300 gift certificate to The Breslin. But while Ben was the ostensible winner, perhaps we all won something: good sportsmanship, a closer community, fond (if hazy) memories. Perhaps the only real losers last night were those brain cells that we’ll never get back — ensuring next year’s spelling bee will be even better.