Meet The Scripps National Spelling Bee Top 10

The spellers who made it into the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee gather on stage in National Harbor, Md., on Thursday.

The spellers who made it into the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee gather on stage in National Harbor, Md., on Thursday. Jacquelyn Martin/AP hide caption

toggle caption Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Out of more than 280 spellers, only 10 remain. They will tackle words tonight beginning at 8 ET with hopes of becoming the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion. You can watch on ESPN or follow the competition’s twitter feed for updates.

Here are some highlights about this promising young group:

They range in age from 11 to 14 — six of them are 13.

It’s the first time four of them have been in the event. Five have competed once before, and one has participated twice before.

They hail from California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York and Texas. (Search for spellers in your state on the bee’s website.)

The grandfather of finalist Cooper Komatsu competed in 1955. The brother of Jairam Jagadeesh Hathwar competed in the National Spelling Bee five times — he was co-champion in 2014.

They love Scrabble and food and math. They’re boy scouts and dancers. They want to be neurosurgeons and learn how to play the ukulele.

Finalist Jairam Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, N.Y., spells a word on Thursday morning.

Finalist Jairam Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, N.Y., spells a word on Thursday morning. Jacquelyn Martin/AP hide caption

toggle caption Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Click on their bios to learn more:

No. 13: Cooper Komatsu

No. 16: Snehaa Ganesh Kumar

No. 20: Rutvik M. Gandhasri

No. 30: Sylvie Lamontagne

No. 38: Sreeniketh A. Vogoti

No. 74: Jashun Paluru

No. 114: Mitchell A. Robson

No. 152: Jairam Jagadeesh Hathwar

No. 229: Smrithi Upadhyayula

No. 232: Nihar Saireddy Janga

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More Than A Dozen Rescued From Kentucky Cave

Nineteen people have been rescued from a cave in south central Kentucky, officials say. Seventeen cavers and two police officers who tried to help them had been trapped by floodwaters in Hidden River Cave, WBKO reports.

All explorers in Horse Cave, KY have been safely rescued…Kudos to local law enforcement and dive teams for their prompt response #WeAreKY

— Governor Matt Bevin (@GovMattBevin) May 26, 2016

The Hart County Emergency Management director told WPSD that 21 people went into the cave around 10 a.m. on Thursday, and four managed to escape before the others.

The Associated Press reports those initially trapped were college students who were exploring when torrential rains struck.

On scene at hidden river cave in horse cave

— Daily News Photo (@bgdnphoto) May 26, 2016

Kentucky Emergency Management tweeted that everyone is accounted for and safe.

David Morgan and David Foster both helped rescue the people trapped in the cave! @wave3news

— Kasey Cunningham (@KaseyNEWS) May 26, 2016

“All you can do is walk through it and keep pushing on through,” one of the rescuers, David Morgan, told WAVE 3 News. “You get back there and go as quick as you can to find them.”

The cave and the adjacent American Cave Museum draw thousands of tourists every year, according to the museum’s website. The cave used to provide the city of Horse Cave with drinking water and hydroelectricity, but the cave became polluted and closed in 1943. The American Cave Conservation Association began the process of restoring Hidden River Cave in the late ’80s and still runs it today.

The cave and museum have tried to attract more visitors with a zipline and rappelling, the Bowling Green Daily News reports. The paper adds:

“The two things have appeared to have been working as visitorship has increased. Cave stewards also have been raising funds to try to expand the length of the cave tour.”

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Politics Podcast: It's For Real Now — Trump Is The Presumptive GOP Nominee

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Wednesday, May 25.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Wednesday, May 25. Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images

The politics team is back with its weekly roundup of political news. They discuss why we can now say officially that Trump is the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party, why we’re still talking about Hillary Clinton’s emails and why everything happening now goes straight back to the 90s.

On the podcast:

  • National Political Correspondent Mara Liasson
  • Campaign Reporter Sam Sanders
  • Congressional Reporter Susan Davis
  • Campaign Reporter Scott Detrow

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Germ Resistant To Antibiotic Of Last Resort Appears In U.S.

A Pennsylvania woman developed a urinary tract infection cased by Escherichia coli bacteria that were found to be resistant to colistin, an antibiotic that is seen as the last line of defense.

A Pennsylvania woman developed a urinary tract infection cased by Escherichia coli bacteria that were found to be resistant to colistin, an antibiotic that is seen as the last line of defense. Nature’s Geometry/Science Source hide caption

toggle caption Nature’s Geometry/Science Source

A germ that can’t be treated with an antibiotic that is often used as the last resort has shown up for the first time in the United States.

Government scientists say the case is cause for serious concern but doesn’t pose any immediate public health threat.

The germ was discovered in a 49-year-old woman in Pennsylvania with a urinary tract infection. The infection was caused by E. coli bacteria that had a gene that made them resistant to an antibiotic known as colistin.

The findings were published online Thursday in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.

Colistin, a medicine that dates to the 1950s, is now used on infections that have become resistant to every other antibiotic. In this case, the woman’s infection could still be treated with another antibiotic. She recovered.

But the case is still causing concern among public health officials. Now that this resistance gene has shown up in the U.S., it could spread to other germs, creating infections that doctors will have no way to treat.

That’s already happened in other parts of the world, including China.

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Cities Consider Privatizing TSA To Speed Up Checkpoints, But Would It?

Lines of travelers at Denver International Airport snake their way through security on Thursday.

Lines of travelers at Denver International Airport snake their way through security on Thursday. RJ Sangosti/Denver Post via Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption RJ Sangosti/Denver Post via Getty Images

The excruciating wait times at Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports the last couple of weeks have travelers fuming and some city officials looking for other options.

Chicago alderman Ed Burke is calling on the city to do airport security the way it’s done in Kansas City, San Francisco and several smaller airports around the country. He wants to hire a private company to staff the screening checkpoints.

“It’s working in San Francisco, isn’t it? And it’s working in 20 other airports around the country. What we do know is it’s not working here with TSA, so maybe it’s an opportunity to give private industry a chance to show whether or not they can do it right,” he says.

Officials in New York, Atlanta and other cities are also taking a hard look at whether privatizing airport security might move travelers through security checkpoints more quickly.

“I look at those lines and just the enormity of that and there has to be a rapid response,” says Joe Schwieterman, transportation professor at Chicago’s DePaul University.

But that didn’t happen. He says TSA staffing levels are down and budget constraints limit how many new officers can be hired. But he also points out that the long lines have been building for months, reaching a crisis point, because the TSA was too slow to respond.

“Private firms can sort of bring something different to the table and respond much quicker. They’re not governed by the same bureaucratic rules that TSA is and that would give us a little more freedom to try new things in the future just to make the system work better,” Schwieterman says.

All of Canada’s airports and most in Europe use private security contractors.

In San Francisco, most travelers don’t even notice that the security officers there are not TSA employees. They have similar uniforms, equipment and procedures.

The head of the TSA, Peter Neffenger, recently told reporters in Chicago that is by design.

“Remember that private contractors contracted to the federal government. It still works for TSA, it’s still TSA management staff that runs it,” he says. “The contractor doesn’t work for the airport. It works for TSA, and it has to work at TSA standards and is trained at TSA standards.”

Neffenger says any airport in the country can apply to privatize their security, and he’s open to allowing more to do so. But some experts say there’s very little evidence to suggest private airport security is any better.

“Privatization doesn’t actually solve any of the problems we have,” says Bruce Schneier, a security expert with Harvard University’s Berkman Center. “The problem with the TSA right now is there aren’t enough people for the demand and that’s a function of budget. It is not a function of who signs the paychecks of agents, it’s how many agents there are.”

And privatization is no quick fix. Ginger Evans, who oversees Chicago’s airports, says getting a private contractor vetted and approved and its staff trained and put in place could take up to two years.

“The benefits are very marginal, and there’s a huge cost and time associated with the transition, Evans says. “We’re not closing the door. We’ll evaluate it along with other things for long term, but there are a lot of technology improvements that deserve more focus than that.”

The TSA is now proving to be a bit more nimble and responsive since the debacle in Chicago last week forced hundreds to miss their flights. A new management team is in place, along with additional staff, so wait times at O’Hare this week average only about 15 minutes.

But with airline travel reaching record levels, the TSA warns this still could be a long summer of waiting in security lines.

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There's No Wonder Left For 'Alice'

Johnny Depp in Alice Through The Looking Glass.

Johnny Depp in Alice Through The Looking Glass. Walt Disney Pictures hide caption

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We’re not in Wonderland anymore, if indeed we ever were. Most likely, we’d already left it far behind with the 2010 Tim Burton reshuffling of Alice in Wonderland. That smash hit repurposed elements from both of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, including sequel Through the Looking-Glass, while setting the action around a 20-year-old Alice (brave soldier Mia Wasikowska) returning to the land of her childhood dreams. So with all the famous bits already checked off, and the “rite of return” storyline over and done with, the logical step would have been to retire this new green-screen Alice like the Cheshire Cat, allowing her to vanish from sight, leaving only the grin of her impressive box office receipts.

But oh, not so: Alice Through The Looking Glass is here. It has left behind Burton, who returns as a producer while handing the director’s chair off to James Bobin (who rebooted The Muppets with such success). And it has left behind Carroll, as well. Characters may still share names with familiar residents, like Johnny Depp’s Mad (in name only) Hatter; Helena Bonham Carter’s shrieking, decapitation-obsessed Red Queen/Queen of Hearts mashup; Anne Hathaway’s White Queen, gliding her arms about like a New Age priestess; and the cadre of talking animals like the White Rabbit, the March Hare and the unamused blue butterfly Absolem (Alan Rickman, in his final performance). Yet they assuredly do not live in the same place we remember from our dreams.

The Wonderland of Looking Glass no longer operates under the pleasing illogic that’s captured children’s minds for generations, where, to quote Carroll, “The Hatter’s remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English.” Instead, impossibly, Disney has morphed this setting into yet another dismal fantasy place, with villages and family structures and traditional coronation ceremonies for royalty. The Red Queen has a traumatic childhood memory with an explanation for that gigantic head and temperament. Even the Mad Hatter has an orange-haired family; not only that, but he has a stuck-up, traditionalist hatter father (Rhys Ifans), who frowned upon his son’s whimsy as a child. A whimsy-free business, in Wonderland, of all places! There could be no more ironic stand-in for today’s franchise-mad movie marketplace, here to lop the heads off any and all creative personnel.

These new, decidedly non-wondrous layers are revealed once Alice, having first escaped the real world through a looking glass so as to technically satisfy the film’s title, uses a “chronosphere” (it’s sort of a steampunk gyroscope trinket) to jump back in time. The time travel comes after returning screenwriter Linda Woolverton, a Disney veteran, expends a great deal of effort acclimating us to 1874 Britain, where Alice, clad in a peacock-colored dress from China, has become the female-empowerment captain of her father’s ship. Then we get another lengthy table-setting to re-introduce the old crew and explain the chronosphere, and why Alice feels compelled to use it. If you’re counting, there are at least three distinct scenes wherein Alice steps gingerly across some threshold and into a new land, all shot from above with swooping wide angles that emphasize the hollow digital environments.

Why did this movie need to nestle time travel inside a world of make-believe, like panic rooms (break in case of board-room boredom)? Has Disney so lost its way since its golden era, when it once made a beloved 1951 animated Alice, that it can no longer find enough magic in one fantastical concept per film? Maybe there’s not much left to fill 113 minutes’ worth of Carroll-lite galumphing once you’ve carefully stripped away any lingering references to hallucinatory substances. Such studious family-friendly tinkering has resulted in a PG-13 rating, though since children shouldn’t be wasting their brains with this anyway, perhaps we should be thanking the Mad Hatter MPAA this time.

Alice Through The Looking Glass isn’t the worst bleached-dry, contractually obligated sequel to a fantasy reboot this year — not when The Huntsman: Winter’s War is sitting right there (and doing little else). Bobin’s film manages some moments of creativity, including an effect that coats all of “Wonderland” in scary rust and Sacha Baron Cohen’s strange performance as Time personified. In all his movies, Cohen exists in his own private Wonderland, and here he seems at home ad-libbing dire proclamations. His character, who seems to have been inspired by a brief aside in the original novel, comes with ticking gears in the back of his head and a full clock face in his stomach — but here, the film can only muster up a series of awful puns and a rulebook for time travel that frequently breaks down.

It’s enough to drive one mad. But in this new Jabberwock’d land of brand deposits, where Alice and her friends can be suckered into temporary sanity for the good of a movie poster, madness has no meaning anymore.

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Competitive Men Are At Sea In 'Chevalier'

Panos Koronis in Chevalier.

Panos Koronis in Chevalier. Strand Releasing hide caption

toggle caption Strand Releasing

In the opening scenes of Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier, six well-heeled Greek men on a fishing trip pose with the massive bream they’ve just caught in a scenic cove off the Aegean sea. We see them help each other out of their wetsuits while amiably joshing about who has the biggest this, that and the other. Affability soon fades, and once the luxury boat weighs anchor and sets out on the return trip to Athens, the men will enter into a bizarre and increasingly hostile competition that will strip them of much more than their rubber gear.

If you’ve seen Tsangari’s 2010 Attenberg, Greece’s entry for Best Foreign Film, you’ll know that in her goofball-noir way, the director loves to keep us guessing. Rapturously photographed by Christos Karamanis, Chevalier‘s idyllic setting is sumptuous and serene and smacks of an earnest psychological drama to come. The sly soundtrack seems to suggest a thriller, then keeps throwing us elsewhere. The tone is slow and stately throughout, complicating what is essentially a jaundiced black comedy, a woman’s-eye vision of male vanity and all manner of impotence.

The guys — among them a handsome narcissist who’s tenderly attentive to every hint of flab in his own heroically built body; a chubby, eager-to-please mama’s boy still living with his mother and his feckless brother; and a bearded wonder whose uncontrolled homoerotic aggression alarms his companions — function more as Humors than as flesh and blood. Vain, portentous and puffed-up yet profoundly insecure and competitive, the men run the gamut of masculine pathology as they dream up a contest in which each scores the other on a battery of ludicrously banal criteria (underpants, cholesterol levels, nouvelle cuisine, that sort of thing). The winner, or “Best in General,” will repossess a signet ring currently worn by the group’s designated elder, a self-serious physician who turns out to be a gifted take-down artist and a windy bag of gravitas ripe for puncture himself.

Chevalier is a one-joke tale, and though it’s fun for a while to watch the shenanigans of a bunch of pre-teens with hairier bodies, the movie starts to sag around the middle as it goes around in circles documenting the endless one-upmanship. Just as it starts to feel like a slow-mo version of Dumb and Dumber, there comes a crucial shift in tone, a progressive souring as old wounds are painfully awakened and new ones are cut open. The stakes remain infantile, the black humor never flags, but the competition takes on a sinister savagery as bro-bonding alliances shift and hero-worship curdles into betrayal and resentment. Also, there’s blood.

Chevalier begins with a mentor and his protégé rowing in perfect sync on the boat’s exercise machines. It ends with the same two men rowing in perfect opposition. Whether that doubles as a political allegory of the recent internecine squabbling among Greece’s political and business elites while the economy tanked, Tsangari’s not saying. From start to finish, there’s not a single true chevalier in this crew, and that includes the servants below, who, far from seeing the light, become infected with the same disease that afflicts their masters. For all the serenity of the ending as the men’s fancy cars pull out of their spots among a fleet of expensive yachts, I wouldn’t bet the house on a better tomorrow for their country.

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'X-Men' Issues: Hiding Oscar Isaac Is Only The Beginning

They promise us that's Oscar Isaac under there playing Apocalypse in X-Men: Apocalypse.

They promise us that’s Oscar Isaac under there playing Apocalypse in X-Men: Apocalypse. Twentieth Century Fox hide caption

toggle caption Twentieth Century Fox

X-Men: Apocalypse, the sixth X-movie in 16 years (give or take a couple of Wolverine solo flicks and the breakout spinoff Deadpool) begins and ends with wearying campaigns of computer-animated mayhem. Pyramids, then skyscrapers dissolve. The body count must be high, but the stakes feel low.

Bummer. Because the 85 minutes in between those dreary poles? Amusing enough, and true to the clunky, hyperbolic spirit of The Uncanny X-Men comics circa 1983, when this entry is set. The signposts are obvious (teleporting X-Man Nightcrawler spends most of the movie in Michael Jackson’s red leather jacket from the “Thriller” video) and less so (a cameo by WarGames star Ally Sheedy). Here is a movie that gets the details right while getting the big stuff — pacing, emotional investment, dialogue — largely wrong. It’s not the first deflating X-Men picture, but it’s the first from director Bryan Singer, who now has four of these under his belt, including the original.

I miss the thrifty midnight-movie quality that initial colon-free X-Men had. Its competitors at the Y2K summer box office were Gladiator, The Patriot, What Lies Beneath, The Perfect Storm — the kinds of splashy star vehicles that superhero films have all but displaced. X-Men was cheaper and weirder (and not for nothing, shorter) than its peers. It couldn’t afford the kind of digital city-stomping that’s become the genre’s least appealing trope. Like the first Men in Black (another comic book adaptation), it was an expensive movie that still felt low-rent, in the best possible way. Even Hugh Jackman, the one player who has X-Men to thank for his film career, was a replacement for an actor who dropped out. That’s how rickety it was.

In 2011’s X-Men: First Class, Marvel’s Strangest Super-Heroes of All! (sic) defused the Cuban Missile Crisis while JFK took the credit, and so the X-flicks were reborn as period films. Ironically, pulling these characters back in time was just the trick to make the aging franchise feel fresh. 2014’s Days of Future Past restored Singer to the helm for a era-straddling, willfully continuity-scrambling romp that mostly took place in 1973.

Apocalypse suggests the DeLorean may at last run out of plutonium, despite the fizz Singer & Co. wring from its Reagan-era setting. That’s when the long-slumbering Egyptian proto-mutant En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac, though his giant blue banana costume makes him tough to pick out) awakens, determined to gather a mutant flock to cleanse the planet of homo sapien vermin. “From the ashes of their world, we’ll build a better one!” he declares, several times. Heckuva campaign slogan, guy. It’s intimated he may have inspired some of the Bible’s gnarlier chapters, so he’s unburdened by the pursuit of “relatability” that confounds so many leaders now.

Like every X-Men adventure, Apocalypse is superficially about how far its moderate, assimilationist heroes — organized by benign telepath Prof. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) — are willing to go to stop their more militant brethren from declaring war on their human oppressors. The series’ grand subject has always been the politics of alienation v. inclusion, though this installment expresses that idea via the clumsiest of its available tools: Words.

A decade of story-time has passed since the X-Men movie of just two summers ago, and Singer & Co. spend nearly the whole film putting the band back together. Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Alexandra Shipp, and Kodi Smit-McPhee make their debuts as the younger versions of Scott “Cyclops” Summers, Jean “Marvel Girl” Grey, Ororo “Storm” Munroe, and Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner. Only McPhee evinces much personality, playing the X-Man who least resembles a person. (Like a lot of characters in this series, Nightcrawler has blue skin. And a tail.) When he meet him, he’s being forced to fight the winged mutant Angel for the amusement of his captors in some unholy German circus.

Meanwhile, Michael Fassbender’s Erik “Magneto” Lensherr has become a family man, living quietly in Poland under an alias after levitating a stadium on global television in the last movie. We know his idyll must be doomed, but the scene where it all goes south on him is still the film’s most affecting one.

Jennifer Lawrence is now much more famous than she was when she signed her multi-picture deal; her screen time as the conflicted shapeshifter Mystique has been beefed up to reflect her increased stature. Mystique has become a folk hero among mutants, and she’s the true believer who whips this lineup of greenhorn X-Men into a fighting unit. Because even casual fans know by now that Magneto and Mystique are destined to rebuff Xavier’s entreaties and become violent separatists, their ethical struggles here should resonate more than they do.

Will it bother you that Fassbender, McAvoy, Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, and Rose Byrne have aged only five years since First Class, which was set more than 20 years before this film? A: Not as much as the fact that Oscar “Poe Llewyn Dameron Davis” Isaac’s face and voice are both buried, though his eyelids remain recognizable, somehow. (Good luck mining anything he does in this movie for a hilarious GIF.) As his evil henchwoman Psylocke, a near-silent Olivia Munn sports a purple dominatrix getup that’s both true to the comics and laughably unsuited to combat, but at least she looks cool.

The cinematography is by Singer’s usual cameraman Newton Thomas Sigel, who also shot the similarly ’80s-fixated thriller Drive. Here, he manages a breathtaking otherworldly tableau just often enough to underline the movie’s stasis. Even at two-and-a-half hours — a serving-size that has become as inflexible for superhero movies as 22 pages once was for single-issue comic books — Apocalypse barely shifts out of setup mode.

That’s peculiar problem for a sixth installment that also seems to be intended as a second trilogy-capper to have. But then deja vu abounds: Apocalypse’s best bit is a reprise of superfast mutant Quicksilver’s (Evan Peters) lightspeed routine from the prior movie. Again, the gag is set to a period-appropriate pop song, but it’s not as canny a selection as before.

This pervasive sense of “more of the same, but less” wouldn’t be nearly so disheartening coming from a filmmaker whose career began with less promise than Singer’s. He made his name with 1995’s The Usual Suspects, a crime picture that was unique enough to spawn a cottage industry of parodies. He’s worked steadily on a variety of material since, but still: Four of these now. There’s nothing cheap or weird or, Heaven forfend, short about an X-Men movie anymore. He’s just going where the work is.

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