Skip to main content

Spelling bee shakeup creates buzz at nerve-wracking contest

By Ed Payne and Casey Wian, CNN
updated 12:51 PM EDT, Wed May 29, 2013
Arvind Mahankali, a 13-year-old from Bayside Hills, New York, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee, spelling "knaidel," a dumpling, on May 30. Definitions for the words spelled were taken from Merriam-Webster. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/29/living/gallery/spelling-bee-champions/index.html' target='_blank'>Take a look back at previous winners</a>. Arvind Mahankali, a 13-year-old from Bayside Hills, New York, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee, spelling "knaidel," a dumpling, on May 30. Definitions for the words spelled were taken from Merriam-Webster. Take a look back at previous winners.
HIDE CAPTION
Photos: Scripps National Spelling Bee
Photos: Scripps National Spelling Bee
Photos: Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Photos: Scripps National Spelling Bee
Photos: Scripps National Spelling Bee
Photos: Scripps National Spelling Bee
Photos: Scripps National Spelling Bee
Photos: Scripps National Spelling Bee
Photos: Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
Scripps National Spelling Bee
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Contestants will have to define words as well as spelling them
  • The announcement was made just seven weeks before competition
  • Math is most frequently cited as contestants' favorite subject

(CNN) -- Talk about defining moments.

In addition to unleashing gems like weissnichtwo and humuhumunukunukuapuaa on us, the 281 contestants in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which begins Tuesday, will have to know what the words mean too.

This is the first time in its 86 years that the competition has introduced a vocabulary component.

It will count for 50% of a speller's overall score and will help determine which competitors take part in the semifinal and championship rounds.

Spelling tests, both computer-based and onstage, will make up the other half of their scores.

"It doesn't make sense," said Sanat Mishra, who last year made it to the finals of the South Asian Spelling Bee, but is not competing at the National Spelling Bee. "I don't get the rule."

Spelling Bee Director Paige Kimble said the rule change is a natural extension of the contest.

"The reason for the change is all about extending the bee's commitment to its purpose, which long has been not only to help students improve their spelling, but also to increase the vocabulary, learn concepts and develop correct English usage," she said.

What to know about the National Spelling Bee

Favorite subject? Math

This year's whiz kids aren't just good at putting vowels and consonants in the right order; 116 of them speak more than one language, and math is most frequently cited as their favorite subject, not spelling.

They range in age from 8 to 14, but nearly 90% of them are between 12 and 14 years old. The kids come from all 50 U.S. states and several American territories, plus the Bahamas, Canada, China, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.

Winning the bee has its perks. It's not just about the $30,000 cash prize from Scripps and engraved trophy -- past winners have returned home to a hero's welcome and met with the president.

This year's spelling competition begins Tuesday at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland. ESPN will broadcast the preliminary rounds starting Wednesday, with the finals slated for Thursday night.

The agony and ecstasy of the National Spelling Bee

Timing 'absolutely fair'

Both ESPN and Scripps have said the rule change wasn't driven by a desire to raise ratings. But it has generated controversy, because the announcement was made just seven weeks before the competition.

"The timing of our announcement ... is absolutely fair," Kimble said. "April is the first opportunity to engage all of the participants who have qualified for the national finals."

But Sanat said that has meant a lot of extra preparation hours for competitors.

"There's going to be a lot of last-minute studying," he said.

And for some, the change could spell big trouble.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:03 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
For years, Morten Storm moved between two worlds. A radical Islamist turned double agent is lifting the lid on some of the world's best-kept secrets.
updated 11:34 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
What will happen to Scotland's business (not to mention its currency) if they vote to leave?
updated 8:53 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
The Ebola virus, very deadly and currently without a cure, is fast-spreading throughout the small West African country.
updated 9:24 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Go to any provincial city in China and you'd be forgiven for thinking the national youth pastimes are online gaming and flirting.
updated 8:53 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
ISIS has captured the minds of a new generation of global jihadists. What does it mean for al Qaeda?
updated 6:32 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
ISIS has slaughtered hundreds. Now nearly 40 nations have agreed to take the fight to the militants. But what can they do?
updated 4:51 AM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
North Korea calls its human rights a "superior system."
updated 5:29 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
In Wenzhou, called the "Jerusalem of China," authorities have demolished churches.
Are you Muslim? What do you want the world to know about your religion?
updated 10:29 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
A number of Paralympic athletes in Ghana are hoping to use sport to change negative public perceptions.
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT