WASHINGTON - Spellers began to be eliminated Wednesday in onstage rounds of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
At noon, 266 of 281 spellers advanced to the afternoon round, which is being streamed live on ESPN3.
Brian Reinhart, 13, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., survived with apparent ease and with a charm that's endearing him to colleagues whose autographs he's collecting.
"There were a couple of words I didn't know, but I got 'zucchini,' and I'm like, 'Yes, I know this. I know what zucchini is. I've eaten zucchini.'"
Elizabeth Dang of Cordova, Tenn., made it to the third round with the correct spelling of "boudoir," a bedroom.
"I was happy, but I was outside pacing," said Elizabeth's father, Paul Dang. "I paced when she was born, and I pace when she's in the Spelling Bee. I'm going to pace again when she gets married."
Elizabeth said she asked for the definition and other available information because, "I didn't want to go too fast and slip up." She acknowledged another reason: it gave her more face time with the ESPN3 cameras.
Others weren't so lucky, falling on "prerogative," "apparatchik," and "witloof."
Speller Iram Kingson, 14, of Williamstown, Ohio, got a real surprise when she was offered "realschule," a European commercial secondary school not used to prepare students for university, because she'd gotten the same word two years ago. The Bee's executive director, Paige Kimble, said the 1,100 word list used in the preliminaries has been used in previous bees and said the repeated word was "completely coincidental." In any case, Iram nailed it.
Some of the spellers sought as much time before the ESPN3 cameras as possible, asking for languages of origin, parts of speech, and to have the word used in a sentence. Others jumped right in, spelling without prompts of any kind. Spellers knew "facetious," "commensurate," "fuselage" and "Fahrenheit" without aid, while others learned that a "croesus" is a word of Lydian origin for a very rich man and "fantoccini" are puppets on strings.
The first 20 spellers made no mistakes, and only 15 had been removed after the first round of 281 spellers. This year, those who miss a word in the preliminaries don't get another chance and are shepherded off stage to waiting parents.
As in past years, some of the spellers play to viewers, greeting the official pronouncer, Jacques A. Bailly, and the judges. Others, like Charlie Francis Donahue, 14, of Traverse City, Mich., added a greeting to his mother from the stage, while 13-year-old Abirami Ratnakumar of Seneca Falls, N.Y., asked Bailly, "Can you draw me a picture?" when given the word "repertoire." He declined, but she aced the spelling.
Those who have attended the Scripps National Spelling Bee over the years noted that some normally obscure words are now familiar. Words for several varieties of dogs (Rottweiler, Borzoi, Barukhzy and Schipperke), a Russian draft horse (beetewk), folkdances (trepak, Schottische) appeared in Wednesday's rounds as memories of words past.
And some words appeared to refer in some way to the process underway in the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center's huge ballroom: repertoire (a well-rehearsed performance), ingenue (a young actress), but also beleaguer, poignant, narcissistic and hierarchy, crescendo and juggernaut.
There were moments of real poignance and understated drama, as when Kuvam Nirad, a 13-year-old from Rochester Hills, Mich., correctly spelled "protege," then slapped hands in victory with the next speller, Hannah Jackson, 13, of Midland, Mich., who correctly spelled "ameliorate."