OXON HILL, MD - Here are five things to know about the 87th edition of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which began Tuesday and concludes Thursday with the finals broadcast in prime time.
1. NO MICROPHONES NEEDED
No one ventured onstage for the first day of competition, and the dreaded elimination bell did not ring. Instead, the spellers were ushered into a quiet room to take a spelling and vocabulary test on a computer, while parents sat anxiously in a waiting room or in the hallway outside. There were 24 words to spell and 26 words to define, and the scores will be combined with Wednesday's oral rounds to determine the semifinalists. The vocabulary portion was introduced last year and is proving a challenge for some, but at least it's multiple choice.
"Vocab is not my strong suit," said 14-year-old Madhav Gampala of Bradley, Illinois. "But there were ones that I did know. There were a few where I was kind of stumped because I'd never heard of them."
2. JUST LIKE OTHER KIDS
The Bee's poll of the 281 spellers shows they're a lot like kids everywhere. Sixty-eight percent attend public schools. Taylor Swift came out on top as favorite musician. "Divergent" and "Harry Potter" are the favorite movies and books. Soccer and basketball are the favorite sports. Then again, some differences start to surface when it came to favorite TV shows: "The Big Bang Theory" and "Doctor Who" ranked first and second. Also, when asked which college they hope to attend, the top answers were Harvard, Stanford, MIT and Yale.
3. IT'S IN THE BLOOD
Many eyes will be on 12-year-old Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, a top-five finisher a year ago who once again will attempt to become the back-half of the first sibling tandem of champions in Bee history, following the path blazed by sister Kavya in 2009. But there's another speller with a chance to accomplish that feat: 14-year-old Ashwin Veeramani of Cleveland watched his older sister, Anamika, win in 2010. Ashwin is back for a second time, having finished tied for 33rd last year.
4. ENGLISH AROUND THE WORLD
The Bee attracts English spellers from all over. This year, there are competitors from American Samoa, the Bahamas, Canada, China, Italy, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan, Puerto Rico, South Korea and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There have been two winners from outside the 50 U.S. states: Hugh Tosteson from Puerto Rico in 1975 and Jody-Anne Maxwell from Jamaica in 1998.
5. WILL THE STREAK CONTINUE?
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" and then was invited to a Manhattan deli a few days later to sample the food that had just made him famous. The Indian-American success began when Nupur Lala won in 1999. Lala was featured in the documentary "Spellbound."