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Cleaning out the spelling bees

All around the nation last weekend, elementary and middle-school children advanced toward the Scripps National Spelling Bee in May by sounding out such words as “persienne,” “solemnity,” “infinitesimal,” “autonomous,” and “obduracy.” But at two bees in the Midwest, the contestants were so good that they literally beat the house — the contest organizers ran out of words.

In Kansas City, 11-year-old Sophia Hoffman and 13-year-old Kush Sharma remained on the stage tied after 66 rounds, slaying words such as “scherzo,” “schadenfreude,” “fantoccini,” “mahout,” “intaglio,” and “barukhzy.” The prior year’s competition lasted 21 rounds. In DeKalb County, Ill., Matthew Rogers, 13, and Keith Mokry, 14, remained upright and tied after 74 rounds, undeterred by words such as “trepak,” “hemerocallis,” “issei,” “zeitgeber,” “weimaraner,” and “tchotchke.” Both competitions will resume in a couple weeks, but the success of each pair in outlasting the supply of words is greater than any individual victory, especially at a time when it’s common to dismiss the attainments of school-age kids.


Kansas City spelling bee co-coordinator Mary Olive Thompson said, “Sophia and Kush’s eyes were just bright and glowing. It was almost magical.” Or, as the kids might put it, p-h-a-n-t-a-s-m-a-g-o-r-i-c-a-l.