Word whiz kids tap memory tricks at Spelling Bee

OXON HILL, Md. (Reuters) - Spelling savants traced letters onto their palms or gazed at the ceiling on Wednesday while racking their brains in hopes of advancing to the next level of the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

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The field shrunk considerably throughout the day, from 490 down to 50 finalists who are competing for the $50,000 cash jackpot. Some competitors wiped away tears after leaving the stage, while others took their defeat in stride.

“I bid you adieu,” said Eleanor Tallman, 14, from Flower Mound, Texas, with a smile, after misspelling “impermissible.”

Most of the starting field of 562 challengers aged 7 to 15 easily aced common words such as “ambition” and “fatality” on the second of three days of competition to stay in the running But some tripped over “telenovela,” “junket” and “gracility.”

Joshua Brown, 13, was too upset to speak after failing to spell the word “equitable” on Wednesday afternoon.

“He is just accustomed to winning everything,” said his mother, Camille Brown, 44, of Bennettsville, South Carolina, “but he has to learn defeat also.”

The final round of the tournament in Maryland is on Thursday night and will be televised live on ESPN.

Jackie Meador, 13, of Marbelton, Wyoming, was among those who made it to the second day of competition on Wednesday after correctly spelling “duomo,” an Italian-originated word for cathedral, late on Tuesday.

“It’s kind of nerve-wracking,” said Meador, who won his first spelling bee in third grade.

Spellers had to ace everyday words, such as “intolerable” and “detrimental,” with more obscure ones, such as “annus mirabilis” and “hibernaculum.”

This year’s bee drew spelling aces from all 50 U.S. states, U.S. territories and six other countries: the Bahamas, Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Japan and South Korea.

Standing 4 feet 4 inches (1.32 m) tall, Akash Vukoti, 9, sparked smiles from fans on Tuesday afternoon when he commented on the microphone stand as it automatically lowered to his height.

“I like this mic!” he exclaimed, before successfully spelling “ranunculus,” a flowering plant, with seconds to spare.

Vukoti, of San Angelo, Texas, tied for 323rd place last year. He is competing this year alongside his sister, Amrita Vukoti, 11.

“Even before kids come to this bee, they are already winners because they have acquired a lot of knowledge,” said their father, Krishna Vukoti, who enrolled his son in his first spelling bee at age 2.

“It’s a lot of dedication from our side, combined with his talents,” he said.

Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell