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Spelling bee winner conquers the German ‘knaidel’

Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y., shows off his trophy after winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
(Mark Bowen / Scripps National Spelling Bee)

As far as Arvind Mahankali is concerned the fourth time was indeed a charm as the 13-year-old New Yorker overcame his unease with German-derived words to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

“I had begun to be a little wary of German words,” Arvind said Thursday night, according to media reports of the final. “But this year I prepared German words and I studied them, so when I got German words this year, I wasn’t worried.”

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Arvind earned his trophy and more than $30,000 in cash and prizes by correctly spelling “knaidel,” which as any Jewish mother will tell you is a type of dumpling, usually a matzo ball, often swimming in a bowl of chicken soup.

“The words were extremely hard,” he said amid swirling multicolored confetti after his win. He then promptly announced his retirement from competitive spelling and said he will concentrate on studying physics.

“The German curse,” he said, hoisting the trophy, “has turned into a German blessing.”

It was Arvind’s fourth trip to the big show. He finished ninth in his rookie season and in third place in each of the last two years.

Arvind, who attends school in Queens, is the first champion from New York City since 1997. He is the first boy to win the competition since 2008 and the sixth consecutive Indian American winner and the 11th in the last 15 years.

Following Arvind in the final standings were 13-year-old Pranav Sivakumar of Tower Lakes, Ill., who was tripped up by “cyanophycean” and finished second. Sriram Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, N.Y., placed third.

The week began with 281 spellers. Contestants advanced through the rounds based on a formula that combined their scores on computerized spelling and vocabulary tests with their performances under pressure in onstage rounds.

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