OXON HILL, Md. May 28 Twelve-year-old Nathan Manaker had not been hopeful about his chances when the Scripps National Spelling Bee got under way on Wednesday, and he turned out to be right.
Manaker, a seventh-grader from Orono, Maine, was among the first spellers ejected as winnowing of the 281 contestants, ages 8 to 15, began ahead of the finals on Thursday night.
Spellers from across the United States and a raft of foreign countries looked to the ceiling for help, traced words on their hands and forearms and breathed deeply when faced with such challenges as "kuchen," "braggadocio," and "witloof."
One of the first round of spellers, Manaker advanced to the microphone at a hotel ballroom outside Washington. When pronouncer Jacques Bailly gave him "paradigm," Manaker later said he thought, "I don't know how to spell it. I'll just give it my best guess."
He guessed wrong, spelling the word "peridyme." The fourth speller out, Manaker left the stage with his head down to be greeted by his mother, Jessica.
A first-time contestant with an interest in theater, Manaker said he had not come to win: "I'm kind of glad I got out because I really can't sit still that long, and I really need a bathroom break."
He was among 24 spellers eliminated in the first of two preliminary rounds on Wednesday. Words in the first round leaned toward foods, with "tahini," "kielbasa," "masala," "mozzarella" and "maraschino" all nailed by contestants.
Spellers looked for any help they could get. When Mitchell Robson, 12, of Marblehead, Massachusetts, was given "poignant," he asked Bailly, "Could I have that in a funny sentence?" before getting it right.
Contestants, who emerged from an original pool estimated at more than 11 million students, went through a computerized test of spelling and vocabulary on Tuesday. A computerized test for semifinalists will follow the preliminary rounds on Wednesday.
The spelling bee finals on Thursday will be broadcast on ESPN. The winner will take home a $30,000 scholarship and other prizes.
Indian-Americans have dominated the venerable spelling contest in recent years, winning the last six in a row. Almost a quarter of spellers at this year's contest have names pointing to South Asian origin.
Microsoft Corp, named the contest's technology champion, handed out Microsoft Surface RT tablet equipped with the company's Microsoft's Spelling Bees application on Tuesday. (Reporting by Ian Simpson, editing by G Crosse)