No one failed to notice that Arvind encountered not one, but two German words during the finals (well, "knaidel" was Yiddish by way of German). (As a point of reference, on Arvind's first trip to DC, he missed the word "Jugendstil," and last year, "schwannoma" was his downfall...both German.) On his first German word, "dehnstufe," the crowd vociferously groaned in sympathy and dread. But Arvind looked unflappable. He asked the right questions, then nailed the word. Much like Kavya Shivashankar won the 2009 bee for me by working through "diacoele" a few words before her actual winning word, in my mind, Arvind had won the bee with "dehnstufe."
But simply because Arvind won doesn't mean he didn't have tough competition. Pranav Sivakumar, the runner-up, was just as unflappable and supremely confident. Only "cyanophycean" stymied him in the end and opened the door for Arvind to clinch the win. Sriram Hathwar, one of only three finalists eligible to return next year, was a very welcome sight this year in the finals after being conspicuously missing in action last year. Keep your eyes on him...he was excellent in 2011, and 2014 may be his year.
Two sentimental favorites among the finalists captured our hearts - and our funny bones. Amber Born, who spelled her way to fourth place, made it well-known that she had ambitions to become a comic writer. With her spelling, she served notice that she is brilliant. With her impeccable comic sense, she served notice that she's well on her way to a successful career in comedy. I absolutely loved her and can't wait to learn more about her success. Then, of course, Vanya Shivashankar, Kavya's younger sister and the youngest finalist, showed her trademark charm on stage and utter ease with dissecting words. Her favorite word is "simpatico," which she says describes her...and I don't know a person in the audience who would have disagreed.
Two other finalists wowed us with their knowledge. In particular, Vismaya Kharkar displayed a stunning knowledge of roots and etymology, asking root question after root question with consistent success. Her navigation of "paryphodrome" was this close to being correct...and she actually nailed the peri- vs. para- conundrum that I've written about before. (The "y" was her downfall.) And finally, Grace Remmer, a stunning yet understated talent and a favorite to win, soared through the first three final rounds, only to be caught by the treacherous "melocoton." She knew her place as a fourth-timer and a favorite, and graciously announced, "Thank you, everyone," upon exiting the stage to a standing ovation and much respect.
Obviously, the big news of the bee was the new vocabulary component to the bee (and for that matter, the second written test added at the beginning of the semifinals). The first written test actually ran quite smoothly, particularly where vocabulary was concerned. The two "random" vocabulary words given were taken directly from Spell It and a 400-word list given to spellers after their qualifying bee, making this part of the test pretty equitable. The sole controversy here related to two words given in the spelling portion that had variants: aurochs/aurox, and viricide/virucide/viruscide. This would not have been much of a controversy, except that the variants slipped past the word panelists. I assume they were caught by spellers and their families. Paige Kimble, the Bee director, had to make an announcement prior to announcing the semifinalists to address this gaffe, but in the end, all was fine, and at least one semifinalist stated that the presence of variants worked to his advantage; otherwise, he would not have qualified.
Incidentally, given the new development this past year of adding words with variants in the school word lists, I think it's fine to include words with variants in the written test. If everyone has to spell a word with a variant, everyone has an equal two (or three) chances to spell it correctly. Oral rounds can be more problematic; it's possible to cry foul if one speller gets a word and two possible correct ways to spell it, and the next gets a word with only one correct spelling.
As far as difficulty goes, the first written test was commensurate with written tests in the past, if not even a bit easier. The second written test, on the other hand, dispensed immediately with any idea that semifinalists might be eased into a difficult test. Scripps wanted to make well and sure the finalists earned their way to the top. As such, the vocabulary was significantly tougher, and the spelling words approached near-impossibility. These are the words that people love to protest because, well, when else in your lifetime will you ever use "pohutukawa," unless you decide to move to New Zealand and work with trees?
When else, indeed? In this year's Bee Week Guide, Scripps responds, "Maybe never. And that's fine by us. Why? Because the spellers you see onstage are the crème de la crème -- the best from a field of more than 11 million students. Of course we have to give these brilliant kids such difficult words! What really matters are the hundreds of important, useful words that they and the 11 million others learned and spelled prior to this competition -- words they will definitely see and use again such as philanthropy, imperative, amenable and serendipity. As for those incredibly difficult words, they're out there -- in great works of literature, guide books, high school and college textbooks and other great places -- and we're proud to put the spotlight on these rare and important gems of the English language."
Looking forward to 2014, it's safe to assume that anyone with their sights set on Washington will need to know the definitions of all the words in Spell It. It's anyone's guess how Spell It will change -- if at all -- after three years of being virtually unchanged. We can also expect that words with variants will continue to be used -- at least on the school level. But 2014 is still a long way off. I wish all spellers a great summer, and at least some restful, relaxing time off away from spelling!