It's the first time Paul Keaton (Speller 92) has competed in the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

But he follows good company. His sister, Emily Keaton, competed for five consecutive years, from 2009 to 2013.

Paul, a Pikeville, Kentucky seventh grader, correctly spelled "curculio" in the round.


Several semifinalist spellers follow their siblings into the Bee.

Using new vocab words

Last year, the Bee added vocabulary to its computerized exam.

This year, the spellers are bringing it on stage.

Lucas Urbanski (Speller 60) had the word "epixylous" -- growing on wood.

But it's the word of the speller two before him -- "cachinnate," which means laugh usually loudly or convulsively -- that became a vocab lesson.

"Can you make me cachinnate with this sentence?" Lucas asked.

"Maybe a little," Dr. Bailly responded. He read:

The tree monster was incredibly insecure about his epixylous fungi.

Better than expected

Jacob Williamson (Speller 38) has been trying to get to the Scripps National Spelling Bee for the past three years.

"I'm so excited because I'm doing so well," he said. "Even better than I thought I would do."

He was thrilled to receive "harlequinade" -- he said "Yesss!" upon hearing the word and bounced up and down when he spelled it correctly in the round.

"I'm feeling pretty confident," Jacob said after the computer semifinals test. "I think if I get my two words, I'm going to the championship."


Ansun Sujoe (Speller 237) stood tapping the microphone. His word was "laulau," and he seemed confused.

"What does this mean?" he asked.

The definition -- meat and fish (as pork and salmon) wrapped in leaves and baked or steamed -- didn't seem to help.

But the sentence did: The Big Island wasn't big enough for the two rival laulau stands.

"Oohh, laulau!," said Ansun, a Fort Worth, Texas seventh grader. He spelled it correctly.


Two-timer out

Benjamin Kulas (Speller 226) misspelled "nitid" -- bright, glossy, lustrous -- to be eliminated from the Bee.

The Nashville, Tennessee eighth grader tied for 42nd place in 2011 and was in his second Bee.


'Heaven for me'

Kate Miller (Speller 232) is notable for how she spells on stage -- she places her fingers on an imaginary keyboard and types her words in the air.

Kate, an Abilene, Texas eighth grader, said she's an auditory, visual and kinesthetic learner -- so it helps bring the words she's spelling to memory to combine as many sentences as she can.

This is the third time Kate's been to the Bee, but the first time she's made it to the Semifinals.

"It's an ineffable feeling," she said. "It's all I wanted for the last three years."

A good luck charm

Sriram Hathwar (Speller 154) is the only five-time competitor at this year's Bee.

His word, "flavus," is a tile or flagstone cut into a hexagonal shape to produce a honeycomb pattern (as in a pavement) -- "or the thing right behind you," Dr. Bailly said. The Bee stage is decorated with a honeycomb pattern.

"Maybe it's a good luck charm," Sriram said.

"I hope so," Dr. Bailly replied.

Sriram spelled it correctly. The Painted Post, New York eighth grader tied for 6th place in 2011 and third place last year.