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National Spelling Bee Is Too Easy, Sponsors Say in Changing the Rules

Because the last two National Spelling Bees ended in ties, organizers changed the rules to allow a list of particularly tough words for the finals.
Vanya Shivashankar, left, 13, of Olathe, Kan., and Gokul Venkatachalam, 14, of St. Louis, hold up the championship trophy as co-champions after winning the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 28, 2015, in Oxon Hill, Md.Andrew Harnik / AP

Feuilleton, stichomythia, scherenschnitte and nunatak just don't cut it anymore.

As difficult as it might be to imagine, the Scripps National Spelling Bee will get even more operose (harder) this year, E.W. Scripps Co., the 91-year-old competition's sponsor, said Thursday.

That's because the last two bees ended in ties, when the finalists — Ansun Sujoe (feuilleton) and Sriram Hathwar (stichomythia) in 2014 and Vanya Shivashankar (scherenschnitte) and Gokul Venkatachalam (nunatak) in 2015 — simply kept going until they exhausted the list of final-round words.

Previously, spelling bee officials maintained a special list of 25 tough words to deploy when the finals got down to the last two or three spellers.

Beginning with this year's finals, scheduled for May 25 and 26 in National Harbor, Maryland, "we recognize the advanced skill of our competitors and have changed our rules to raise the bar even higher," the organizers said.

They'll do that by reserving the option to switch to a list of as many as 75 even harder words if the last two or three spellers are sailing along without trouble.

In an internal document explaining the new rules, organizers said this year's bee "could be longer than recent bees, or it could be shorter."

"The longer element would come into play if our 2016 Finalists go more than 12 rounds in head-to-head competition," according to the document. "The shorter element could come into play if our 2016 Finalists go fewer than 12 rounds in head-to-head competition."

"That's the nature of any spelling bee," they said.