Fartlek: The word that won journalists a spelling bee against politicians
“Fartlek?” Wang asked as the word was given to her, wondering what category of words they were in now.
“We’ve moved to NSFB,” one of the judges said.
“Like NSFW,” another added. “The words sound kind of dirty — not safe for spelling bees.”
It’s a Swedish word, and meant, as the first judge said: “Endurance training in which a runner alternates periods of sprinting with periods of jogging.”
Wang had stiff competition. Behind Pappas, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) was expected to be a tough competitor Wednesday. He won the bee in 2015 — “and even received a congratulatory note from President Obama,” National Press Club President Jen Judson said in her introduction, noting that Beyer was the most experienced politician-speller competing in the bee. And after round one, Beyer was riding high.
“Yes, I did spell ‘FUBAR’ correctly and no I did not not have to ask for a definition,” he tweeted.
But, for the second time in his spelling bee career, Beyer ultimately went down on a Mexican food word. In 2016, it was “jicama” that got him. This time it was “asadero” — “and I’ll never spell it wrong again!” he vowed.
Four Democrats and one Republican competed, including Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), against journalists from the Associated Press, Politico, CQ Roll Call, NPR and The Post’s Martine Powers. The proceeds went to the club’s press freedom initiative, which includes efforts to free Austin Tice, the journalist who has been detained in Syria for a decade.
The National Press Club revived the spelling bee in 2013 on its 100th anniversary. (President Woodrow Wilson attended the first-ever bee in 1913.) In the six years that it’s been held since — excluding 2020 and 2021 — the politicians and journalists have each won three times, meaning the journalists’ tiebreaking win on Wednesday night officially makes them better spellers than the politicians.
Wang and Pappas went head-to-head through several rounds, with each managing to survive spelling multiple extremely challenging dog breeds.
Pappas: “Bichon Frise.”
Wang got “milquetoast,” and Pappas got “haboob.”
But after a long stretch of perfection, both stumbled on other NSFB words — Wang on “shittah,” Pappas on “whangdoodle.” It was Pappas’s second mistake of the night, leaving Wang the last speller standing, and “fartlek” as, technically, the championship word.