Games & Humor

Spelling Bee Heads to Last Word

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The Scripps National Spelling Bee concludes Friday. The 81st edition of the competition began Thursday with a record 288 contestants.


Anxiety, A-N-X-I-E-T-Y. Anxiety - the word is too easy for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, but anxiety the emotion sure may be affecting students who have made it to tonight's finals. Last Sunday, 288 students began this years contest and 12 compete for the championship. NPR's Korva Coleman went to the spelling Bee today, as the semi-final round got underway.

Ms. KORVA COLEMAN: Sixth grader So-Young Chung was the first competitor of the day.

Unidentified Man: Your word is chrysoprase.

Ms. CHUNG: Chrysoprase, may I have the definition?

Unidentified Man: Chrysoprase is an apple-green variety of chalcedony, valued as a gem.

Ms. COLEMAN: So-Young, Scottsdale, Arizona, traced an invisible word into her right hand, but it wasn't to be.

Mr. CHUNG: Chrysoprase, C-R-Y-S-O-P-R-A-S-E

(Soundbite of bell)

Unidentified Man: Chrysoprase is spelled, C-H-R-Y-S-O-P-R-A-S-E.

(Soundbite of clapping)

Ms. COLEMAN: Competitors like So-Young who misspell words shake hands with an adult organizer and head off-stage toward the comfort room; that's a private area where they go to compose themselves. When they emerge, they've got a ready group of supporters, other competitors who've already been eliminated, such as Hannah Gerdes of Youngstown, Ohio.

Ms. HANNAH GERDES: I still know a few people who are in the - in the semi-finals. So of course I wanna be here rooting for them, and it's a once in a lifetime experience to be here. So I wouldn't want to just be up in my hotel room when I could be coming here.

COLEMAN: The spellers also get support from the organizers and volunteers, such as Sameer Soleja. Sameer is a former participant and he hasn't lost his spelling prowess.

Mr. SAMEER SOLEJA (Former Contestant): O-T-O-R-H-I-N-O-L-A-R-Y-N-G-O-L-L-O-G-Y, otorhinolaryngollogy.

Ms. COLEMAN: Like several contestants, Sameer made it to the finals more than once. He says watching the spellers is like watching reality television.

Mr. SOLEJA: I don't think the average American would expect a kid to be able to spell otorhinolaryngollogy. And being impressed that a 10-year-old can spell better than you is, is certainly something amazing, it's something that, you know, I would imagine people would call other people to the TV to come and check out: hey look, this kid can spell a word that I didn't even know existed.

Ms. COLEMAN: Some students have competed as many as five times. But for most kids it's a big first, especially when the judge gives you a word you've never heard before.

Unidentified Man: Benzophenone or benzophenone.


Ms. COLEMAN: But seventh grader Easun Arunachalam, made it look easy.

Mr. ARUNACHALAM: Benzophenone, B-E-N-Z-O-P-H-E-N-O-N-E. Benzophenone?

(Soundbite of applause)

Ms. COLEMAN: Finalists compete tonight at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington D.C. Korva Coleman, NPR News, Washington.

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