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The Interview: Kristen Romanowski, Fourth Annual Chipp Inn Spelling Bee Champion

By Rachelle Bowden in Miscellaneous on Mar 2, 2006 12:16PM


On Sunday, Feb. 19, several Chicagoans unleashed their inner Spellbound and entered The Fourth Annual Chipp Inn Spelling Bee. The bee, which is sponsored by Goose Island, is an adult version of one of everyone’s favorite elementary school contests, meaning the contestants must coordinate their spelling with hard liquor.

After Kristen Romanowski was crowned winner and awarded with a coveted tour of the Goose Island brewery, Chicagoist sat down with the young linguist to probe her about her preparation tactics and general love of the alphabet.

After speaking with Ms. Romanowski, we at Chicagoist began to wonder why we must wait another year for the next Chipp Inn spelling bee. Where can a few good wordsmiths get together and awkwardly verbalize SAT words into a microphone on a regular basis?

Chicagoist: What did you do to prepare for the spelling bee?
KR: Every night for two weeks, my mother sat me down at the kitchen table, where I spelled for my dinner. One word wrong out of 300 meant no dessert; two missed words, no food at all. Three misspelled words, and I was forced to vomit whatever I’d had for lunch that day. It was a hard, hungry month, but I lost six pounds and claimed first place! Take that, Special K Challenge.

But seriously, I did nothing special to prepare. I’d read about the bee in the Reader not two days before, and I didn’t even really plan on doing much more than watch until I arrived at the Chipp Inn and was confronted with a sign-in sheet. I don’t know if it was my two friends egging me on or if I really wanted to start doing Jell-O shots at 3 in the afternoon, but I decided that I was game. In preparation, I told myself that I didn’t have to win, but I had to at least make it to the fourth round, or else I’d be too sober and, therefore, ashamed at how much my public spelling abilities had actually eroded.

Chicagoist: What were some of the words you were asked to spell?
KR: Most of them were as easy as “pie.” I’m not kidding; that was actually a word I spelled. Others included “alive,” “throat,” “sympathectomy,” “indicative,” and “Forty-Seventh,” as in the street in Hyde Park. That round involved spelling the names of city streets like Ainslie and Devon and Wabansia and was named the “3-1-2” round. This was the round in which much of my competition dropped.

Chicagoist: What word did the second-place winner miss?
KR: "Onomatopoeia." I admit I got cocky and yelled at him to just spell it how it sounds.

Chicagoist: What do you think was your advantage against the other spellers?
KR: I can handle my liquor! Those drunks were going down on words like “fellatio.” No, but really, I applaud my fellow contenders for their abilities to correctly spell words more difficult than “pie.” So, honestly, I really got lucky. But what can you do? It’s like my mother always told me, life is 40 percent hard work and 50 percent straight-up luck. Obviously, I’ve learned from the best.

Chicagoist: Earlier you paid mention to Jell-O shots, and we know that you had to do a shot after each round of spelling. Do you often drink and spell?
KR: Yes. But I am usually alone in my apartment.

Chicagoist: I hear you won your class spelling bee in second grade. How does your victory in Chicago compare?
KR: Much like in first grade, I couldn’t drive myself home afterwards. Other than that, I have to say I think my first-grade self might have done just as well with the words I was given. My classmates (i.e., jealous spelling-bee losers) didn’t call me “Mrs. Dictionary” back then for nothing.

Chicagoist: Were your fellow competitors gracious about losing to the freshman on the scene?
KR: Most were wonderful and fun and incredibly gracious. Several offered to buy me even more beers and shots. In those cases, I think they might have known I had just won a tour of the Goose Island brewery for myself and six companions. Actually, one woman who had made it quite far herself came up to me afterward and confessed that she had bet on me to win. I felt as proud as a greyhound.

Chicagoist: Now that you're back in the spelling game, where can Chicagoist readers catch you spelling next? Is there perhaps an intramural spelling team in the works?
KR: I spell every day at my job with The University of Chicago Press, but there I am allowed and actually encouraged to look up words in the dictionary. As for an intramural team, I would certainly be supportive and more than happy to lend my name and likeness for fundraising purposes, say, for team t-shirts.

Chicagoist: Chicagoist knows how you enjoy a good pun. How did you feel about the bee taking place at the Chipp Inn? Did this in any way add to your ability to go for the gold on Sunday?
KR: Well, Chicagoist, do I have to spell it out for you?

Thanks, Sarah!