At the 84th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee, Sukanya Roy, a 14-year-old from northeastern Pennsylvania, correctly spelled cymotrichous to win the top prize over 274 other spellers after 20 rounds. Cymotrichous? I had no idea that word existed, let alone what it meant.
Cymotrichous, which means having wavy hair, isn’t even recognized by the spell checker in Microsoft Word. But Sukanya said she was familiar with the word. According to Reuters, Suyanya was awarded a $30,000 cash prize, a trophy, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond, a $5,000 scholarship, and $2,600 in other prizes.
The Scripps spelling bee is hard. Each contestant, ranging in age from 8 to 15, had to take a 25-word written test to qualify for the next round. I consider myself a decent speller and only got 16 of the 25 correct. Can you do better?
The spelling bee got even harder after the first round. Only 41 of the original 274 participants made it to Round Four, 13 to Round Eight, and 5 to Round Twelve. After finishing in the top five the previous year, Laura Newcombe and Joanna Ye made it to the final four contestants in 2011 but both lost in round 17. If you’re still not impressed by Sukanya’s victory, check out the list of words she spelled correctly to win the contest.
With information available about all winners since 1925, there are opportunities for interesting analyses as well. The 87 winners represent 30 States, 48 cities, and 58 Sponsors. Ohio and Texas are tied with 9 for the state with the highest number of wins. But Kansas and Colorado get special mention when the results are normalized by population (~1.40 winners per million inhabitants). Finally, Jody-Anne Maxwell from Jamaica and Hugh Tosteson from Puerto Rico have been the only winners from outside the U.S.
To top it off, there is the puzzle of the term “spelling bee” itself. Like quilting bees and sewing bees, I assumed that the association with insects was based on the similarity to the social organization of a beehive. According to National Spelling Bee, my belief is commonly-held but incorrect:
One possibility is that it comes from the Middle English word bene, which means prayer or favor (and is related to the more familiar word boon). In England, a dialect form of this word, been or bean, referred to “voluntary help given by neighbors toward the accomplishment of a particular task.” Bee may simply be a shortened form of been, but no one is entirely certain.
Whatever the true derivation, bee is one word I probably could have spelled correctly.