WASHINGTON – How fast can fortunes change at the spelling bee? Shazam.
When Brady Yoon got that word in the third round, he gave the judges a stunned look – and an incorrect spelling.
So with the dreaded ding of the bell, the 14-year old from Anaheim, Calif., was escorted off stage, done in by a word meaning instantaneous transformation.
Plenty of others avoided having to leave so hastily, including fellow 14-year-old Aaron Ho of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who nailed skedaddle.
The oral competition of the 77th Scripps National Spelling Bee got off to a fast start Wednesday as 191 of the 265 spellers got their first word right. None of the children were eliminated right away. Instead, their results were combined with their scores from a 25-word written test Tuesday, which together cut the field to 94.
And then came the familiar spelling bee format: one mistake and that’s it.
By day’s end, 46 spellers remained for today’s championship, which is expected to reach a live TV audience of hundreds of thousands of homes.
All the participants were in competition for a top package of $17,000 in cash and other prizes, including $12,000 and an engraved cup from the bee itself.
At least nine million children participated in local spelling bees that led to the national finals.
The point of the bee is to help children improve their vocabularies, learn spelling concepts and develop correct English usage. But for these kids and their parents, there are other factors at play – soaking in the Washington scene, taking pride in making it to the finals, enduring the increasingly tense contest.
One boy even practiced words aloud on his escalator ride to the ballroom.
Some of the stumpers Wednesday were phyllotaxy, triboluminescence, ziphioid, dacquoise and tachytely.
The spellers range in age from nine to 15, and from grades four to eight, with most of them at the older end of that spectrum.
They employed different spelling styles in standing before an audience of about 1,000. Some were word detectives, asking for a definition and language of origin. Others knew their word – or thought they did – and barreled right on.
All spellers, no matter what their result, got a quick round of applause.
The bee put the written test first this year after some spellers in earlier competitions said they could have done well on it but were finished after one jittery mistake on stage.
Another change in format: For the first time, spellers face a strict time limit per word of two minutes, followed by a final 30-second period with a countdown clock. Those who don’t comply are disqualified.
The bee has been grappling with how to rein in the time, knowing that each lengthy spelling erodes the concentration of other children and bee officials.
Cornel Andre Grey, 11, (left) of Portmore St. Catherine, Jamaica, rests during the National Spelling Bee on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. John Tamplin, 11, of Louisville, Ky., is at right.