National Spelling Bee has comic moments in early rounds

For those of you who think it is just too old-fashioned to spell words in an electron-driven age where incomprehensible acronyms fly through the ether at the speed of light: Welcome to the 87th edition of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The rite of passage for logophiles from 8 to 15 years of age kicked off this week in Oxon Hill, Md., with a televised preliminary round on Wednesday. Among the fun-filled brain teasers were protege and gesundheit.


Most of the contestants had no trouble with their early words, so the real television appeal was in the snappy one-liners. For example, Homer (and probably Jimmy Kimmel) would have been so proud if they had heard Lillian Allingham of Hockessin, Del., ask for a sentence using "odyssey." Pronouncer Jacques Bailly sparked chuckles from the audience by comparing it to someone who "got lost in Costco for 35 minutes."

"You should give sentences more often," Isabel Cholbi of San Bernardino told Bailly to further laughs.

The finals take place Thursday night. The winner gets more than $33,000 in cash and prizes.

Since the spelling bee is like a sporting event with contestants performing under high-stakes pressure, it has a variety of interesting records. For example, the last six champions and 11 of the last 15 have been Indian American, including 2013 winner Arvind Mahankali of New York, who correctly spelled “knaidel.” He was then was invited to a Manhattan deli a few days later to sample the food that had made him famous.

The Indian American success began when Nupur Lala won in 1999. Lala was featured in the documentary "Spellbound."

Many aficionados will watch to see if 12-year-old Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kan., a top-five finisher a year ago, trying to become part of the first sibling tandem of champions in Bee history; sister Kavya won in 2009.

But there is another familial victory possible. Ashwin Veeramani, 14, of Cleveland is competing this year and sister Anamika won in 2010.