OXON HILL, Md. — After years of heartbreakingly close calls, Arvind Mahankali triumphed Thursday night in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
The 13-year-old from Bayside Hills, N.Y., correctly spelled ‘‘knaidel,’’ a German-derived Yiddish word for a small mass of leavened dough, to win the 86th version of the competition. The bee tested brain power, composure and, for the first time, knowledge of vocabulary.
Mahankali finished in third place in both 2011 and 2012, and both times, he was eliminated on German-
derived words. This time, he got two such words in the finals, including the winning word, eliciting groans and laughter from the crowd. He spelled both with ease.
This time, competitors had to know the definitions of some words they spelled. The 11 finalists, including Amber Born, 14, of Marblehead, Mass., advanced from 281 contenders based on performance onstage and on computerized spelling and vocabulary tests.
The show-stealer was Born, an aspiring comedy writer. She finished fourth, bowing out on ‘‘hallali,’’ a huntsman’s bugle call. Born said, ‘‘I know, I know,’’ when the clock told her time was running out, and she knew she had missed it, saying ‘‘that’s not right’’ as she finished her effort.
The bee’s growing popularity is reflected in an ESPN broadcast that gets more sophisticated each year. In the semifinals, Born got to watch herself featured on a televised promo that also aired on the jumbo screen inside the auditorium.
She then approached the microphone and, referring to herself, deadpanned: ‘‘She seemed nice.’’