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Spelling bee champ breaks German curse

To the rest of us, it’s a small, leavened dumpling. To 13-year-old Arvind Mahankali it’s a knaidel. And it tastes like victory. Arvind, from Bayside Hills in Queens, New York, won the 84th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling the German-Yiddish word on live TV.


Arvind Mahankali holds up the trophy after winning. His final word was knaidel. Pic/AFP

He came in third place in the last two years after being knocked out by German words. This year, he was tasked with spelling two German words in the finals and nailed them both, including the winning word. “The words were extremely hard,” said Arvind. “The German curse has turned into a German blessing.”

“I had begun to be a little wary of German words, but this year I prepared German words and I studied them, so when I got German words this year, I wasn’t worried,” Arvind said. He appeared to have more trouble with galere, the word for a group of people having a marked common quality or relationship. He asked for the etymology twice French and old Catalan shifted his body back and forth and stroked his chin before getting it right with seconds to spare.

Arvind will take home $30,000 in cash and prizes along with a huge, cup-shaped trophy. He is the first boy to win the competition since 2008. The skinny teen, clad in a white polo shirt and wire-rimmed glasses pushed down his nose, was joined on stage at the Washington-area hall by his parents and his beaming younger brother.

An aspiring physicist who admires Albert Einstein, Arvind said he would spend more time studying physics this summer now that he’s ‘retired’ from the spelling bee. Arvind becomes the sixth consecutive Indian-American winner and the 11th in the past 15 years, a run that began in 1999 when Nupur Lala captured the title in 1999.

Arvind’s family is from Hyderabad in southern India, and relatives who live there were watching live on television. “At home, my dad used to chant Telegu poems from forward to backward and backward to forward, that kind of thing,” said Arvind’s father, Srinivas. “So language affinity, we value language a lot. And I love language, I love English.”

Pranav Sivakumar, who like Arvind rarely appeared flustered onstage, finished second. The 13-year-old was tripped up by cyanophycean, the word for a blue-green alga. Sriram Hathwar and Amber Born came fourth.

Word up!
The toughest words at the spelling bee:
>> MELOCOTON>> A peach grafted on a quince root stalk.
>> GALERE >> A group of people having a marked common quality or relationship.
>> DORYLINE >> A type of migratory tropical ant that is blind except for the functional males

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