Snigdha Nandipati, 14, could not be trapped when presented with the word “guetapens” (geh-tah-pohn)—meaning ambush, snare or trap—at the 85th Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 31. She had seen the word before. Confident and calm, the eighth-grader from San Diego, California, correctly spelled it out for the big win. She had been up against eight other finalists during the final round of the televised competition. As confetti fell around her, Snigdha’s 10-year-old brother, Sujan, raced to the stage to give her a hug. “It’s a miracle,” Snigdha said a few moments later, clutching her trophy.
It’s a win that is well earned. Snigdha has been spelling since she was 4 years old. After reaching the semifinals last year, she spent at least six hours on weekdays and 10 hours on weekends studying words for the bee. She is the fifth Indian-American in a row—and the 10th in the last 14 years—to win the National Spelling Bee. Along with the trophy, Snigdha will receive more than $40,000 in cash and prizes. When she’s not spelling, the teen plays the violin, collects coins and enjoys reading Sherlock Holmes novels. She wants to be a doctor someday. "She says [studying for the bee] is harder than being a neurosurgeon—maybe," said her mother, Madhavi Nandipati.
Florida teen Stuti Mishra finished in second place. She misspelled “schwarmerei.” The word means excessive, unbridled enthusiasm. The 14-year-old also stood out for her unusual spelling methods. While many spellers will write out words on their arms and hands using their fingers, Stuti pretends to type them on an invisible keyboard.
The 2012 National Spelling Bee, held over two days in National Harbor, Maryland, began with 278 spellers. The early buzz of the bee was all about its youngest-ever contestant, 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison, of Lake Ridge, Virginia. After a computer test and two preliminary rounds, the field was cut to 50 semifinalists. Lori Anne was eliminated. But the young speller says she’ll be back next year.
So will 12-year-old Arvind Mahankali, of Bayside Hills, New York. He placed third for the second-straight year after misspelling the medical term “schwannoma.” “I got eliminated both times by German words,” said the seventh-grader, who has one year of eligibility remaining. “I know what I have to study.” The sweet spell of success may have escaped him so far, but there’s always next year!