A New Queen Bee
Fourteen-year-old Snigdha Nandipati of California wins the top prize at the Scripps National Spelling Bee
Snigdha and her brother hold up the trophy she won.
(AP Photo / Jacquelyn Martin)
For Snigdha Nandipati, winning the 85th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee last Thursday came down to spelling guetapens correctly. Guetapens (pronounced GET-ah-pawn) comes from French and means ambush or trap. That’s fitting: The Bee is famous for using tricky words to ambush and trap student spellers.
But guetapens was no obstacle for Snigdha, a 14-year-old from San Diego, California. She pantomimed writing it on her hand as she spelled it out loud into the microphone. When she finished, there was a stunned silence. For a tense moment, no one was sure if the eighth-grader had won. But suddenly confetti began to fly and the crowd stood and cheered. Snigdha’s 10-year-old brother ran onstage to give her a huge hug.
The other spellers joined in the applause. “She’s so sweet,” says fellow contestant Lena Greenberg of Snigdha. “She really deserves it.”
This year’s winner had prepared well for the monster challenges she would have to face—including spelling words like ajimez (which is a type of window) and saccharolytic (which means able to break down sugar). In the months before the Bee, Snigdha studied for 6 to 10 hours every weekday and 10 to 12 hours on weekends. “I knew it,” she says of the winning word. “I’d seen it before.”
Over the past school year, more than 11 million students across the country participated in spelling bees at one level or another. The national contest in National Harbor, Maryland, started off with 278 spellers. Six-year-old Lori Anne Madison of Lake Ridge, Virginia, made her debut as the youngest speller in the history of the competition.
A computer test and two preliminary rounds weeded out many of the competitors—including Lori Anne. “A huge number of spellers went down in the sixth round,” says a spokeswoman for the event. “It was brutal.”
By the championship finals on the last day, the national competition was down to nine spellers. In all, this year’s contest went 13 rounds.
Second-place finisher Stuti Mishra of West Melbourne, Florida, was tripped up by schwarmerei, a word that means excessive enthusiasm. She won $12,500 in cash from E.W. Scripps, the company that sponsors the Bee.
But the winner really cleaned up, taking home more than $40,000 in cash and scholarships. Snigdha, who likes Sherlock Holmes stories and science, and reading random facts in encyclopedias, plans to become a neurosurgeon or other type of physician one day. So how does she plan to spend all that money? “I don’t know,” she replies, “maybe save it for college.”