The initial rounds of the National Spelling Bee became difficult

OXON HILL, MD – A speler escaped from the stage in the middle of her time in front of the microphone, saying she had to pee. Another tried to return to her seat after spelling her first word correctly, only to remind her that a word from the dictionary followed. During a particularly brutal stretch, 10 consecutive spells heard the bell signaling elimination.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee began with a handshake. Now he starts with a slap in the face.

Slimmer and more vicious in its aftermath of the pandemic, the bee returned to its usual spot on Tuesday for the first time in three years, and the orthographers were greeted with a new pre-round format that didn’t give them time to adjust.

“The preliminary team is not a joke. Every stage of the bee is so important, “said Dhruov Bharatia, a 13-year-old from Plano, Texas, who finished fourth last year.

In previous years, the early stages of stage spelling did nothing more than eliminate the weakest or most nervous spellcasters. The real action was a written test that determined who would qualify for the semifinals.


But during last year’s mostly virtual bee, the new executive director of the bee eliminated the test, and this structure continued when 229 enrollrs took the stage for this year’s personal competition. Eighty-eight of those orthographers advanced to the quarterfinals on Wednesday, a 38% success rate.

The orthographers had to go through three words at once on the microphone to continue in the bee. First, they got the word out of the 4,000 list provided – more than twice as many as in previous years. They then had to answer a question with multiple vocabulary choices for a word from the same list. Finally, they had to write a word that could be found everywhere in Webster’s Undensed Dictionary.

Ani-Lois Acheampong, one of the three Ghanaian orthographers, did not go that far on her first attempt. She successfully coped with her first word, “coulrophobia” – fear of clowns – and was then asked to define “edamame”. She smiled at first, but when she crossed her legs and couldn’t stand still, it was clear that something else was happening.


“I think I’m going to pee,” said the 13-year-old eighth-grader. “Can I go and write?” Very sorry.”

She fled the stage before receiving an answer from the stunned judges, who stopped the competition and consulted on how to deal with the situation.

“This was the first time,” Chief Justice Mary Brooks, who has been dealing with bees for 50 years, later said.

In the end, the judges decided to allow Ani-Lois to return after the last scheduled discharge for the day. She understood her replacement vocabulary correctly, but hesitated to spell “apery” to end the day’s action. Although Annie-Lois could be eliminated for exceeding the 30-second deadline for the dictionary’s earlier question, Brooks said the spelling watch was stopped because she was in a legal emergency.

There is a precedent for stopping the clock during what Brooks called “mitigating circumstances”, especially in 2004, when Akshay Buddha fainted on stage but recovered to finish second.


Braden Six from West Blockton, Alabama, may not get that far, but his time in front of the microphone on Tuesday encapsulated the exciting new drama from the early rounds.

The 13-year-old seventh-grader took his first plane trip to compete in this year’s bee. Braden’s first word was “ormolu,” a golden alloy of copper, zinc, and sometimes tin. He said “ORM” and then took a long, painful pause before spitting out the last three letters. He held out his hands after defining the word “trembling” – not a bad description of his behavior in front of the microphone.

“It was really scary,” Braden said, “but I also felt really happy at the same time. It was a strange feeling. “

Then came bromegrass, any herb of a large genus of grass from the temperate regions. Something in that word bothered him.

“Can you say that again?” he asked.

“Can you say it again another time?”


He took a deep breath. “Can you say that one more time?”

Braden then explained his dilemma: “At Bromgrass, I didn’t know if he said ‘m’ or ‘n.’

And yet, through some combination of hard work, luck and perseverance, Braden will swear again on Wednesday.

Akira Harris will not be so lucky. The eighth-grader from the high school of the Ministry of Defense in Stuttgart, Germany, started by spelling “rednigote” correctly, then turned and headed for her seat.

“Akira, we need you for your word, which means circle,” the judge told her.

She stood in silence, looking unhappy after being given three potential definitions of the word bandit. She made a guess – “Ah?” – before being told that she had to read the multiple-choice answer below this letter, which was wrong.

Akira returned to the audience and buried his head in his mother’s shoulder. After her spelling group ended, Akira made another beeline – this time for the exits.



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The initial rounds of the National Spelling Bee became difficult

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