The National Spelling Bee adjusts its rules to prevent ties
For the past three years, the Scripps National Spelling Bee has ended in a tie. Two whiz kids each claimed a $40,000 prize. They were able to correctly spell a dizzying array of winning words. Those included Feldenkrais and gesellschaft; nunatak and scherenschnitte; feuilleton and stichomythia.
As Ian Simpson reports for Reuters, officials have amended the rules of the Bee. The officials are hoping to ensure that only one speller will emerge as champion.
According to the new rules, the handful of contestants who make it to the final evening of the competition will be required to take a written tiebreaking test. The test consists of 12 spelling words and "12 multiple choice vocabulary items." This is according to the Bee's website. If it becomes "mathematically impossible" for a single winner to emerge by 25 rounds, officials will reveal the test scores of the remaining competitors.
"The speller with the highest Tiebreaker Test score will be declared champion," the site explains. "If, however, there is a tie on the Tiebreaker Test for the highest score, the spellers tying for the highest score will be declared co-champions."
There's still a possibility for a tie. But it makes that scenario less likely. The organization revamped its rules in response to a rather pleasant problem. The young competitors are getting too good. Prior to 2014, there was only one Spelling Bee tie. It occurred in 1962. This is according to Ben Nuckols of The Associated Press.
But in recent years, kid spellers have been expanding their knowledge of vocabulary and word origins. This has forced officials to plumb the dictionary. They are seeking ever-longer and more difficult words. (The Bee's list of winning words reflects the extent to which the competition has evolved since its inception in 1925. In 1936, for instance, Jean Trowbridge won for correctly spelling the word "interning." However, the word wouldn't have been as common at the time as it is today.)
Last year, the Bee decided to switch from 25 "championship words" to 25 "championship rounds." That means judges could hurl as many as 75 words at finalists. Officials were also granted permission to adjust the difficulty of those words during the competition. But 13-year-old Jairam Hathwar and 11-year-old Nihar Janga still tied for the championship prize.
Paige Kimble is executive director of the Spelling Bee. She told Nuckols that there "is certainly a point of view that the level of competition has risen to a place where we are likely to see more co-championships." That is, "unless we further raise the bar."
This year's Spelling Bee is May 30-June 1. It will be held at a convention center outside Washington. The new test will introduce an additional challenge to the already stressful event. But such is the rigorous world of children's spelling championships, where - theoretically at least - only one speller can rule them all.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why do the Bee’s organizers want to eliminate ties?
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