Sugary Peeps and hotel escalators

The Gaylord -- where the Bee is held -- is a huge hotel and conference center. In addition to the hundreds of spellers, there's a big lobby, a giant atrium and plenty of restaurants and shops.

So it's not hard to have fun.

Manav Thadani (Speller 253), wearing a D.C. Peeps jacket, mentioned that he is especially fond of the Peeps store. The U.S. Virgin Islands seventh grader bought 25 marshmallow Peeps to bring home to his friends.

They may not all make it.

Peter Sokolowski's signature

Jessie Ditton (Speller 261) is on a mission.

She sees Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster's editor-at-large, in the conference center. He is talking to Dr. Jacques Bailly, the Bee's pronouncer,

Jessie got Dr. Bailly's signature at Monday's picnic. She also snagged that of Scott Isaacs, the 1989 champion from Denver.

"Congratulations, Jessie. Have a great time and come back," Scott Isaacs wrote in the Virginia sixth grader's Bee Keeper.

"Run, quick," Jessie's mother, Karen, tells her as Peter Sokolowski starts to walk away. "You've got to be assertive."

Study, study, study -- and pray

As much as the spellers study the dictionary and prepare for the competition, it's impossible for them to know every word out there.

The whole process is like a roller coaster, said Amna Raza (Speller 145). The Las Vegas seventh grader said the competition is more fun if she's not stressed out.

"I take a few deep breaths, relax and pray a lot," she said. "I want to win."

Her mother, Nureen Raza, is praying, too.

So was Oyin Kokoricha, whose daughter Ariel Kokoricha is a fifth grader representing Albuquerque, N.M.

Rehearsal time

There's a lot of practice that goes into making the spelling bee you see on TV. For the spellers, sure, but behind the scenes, as well.

This afternoon, we're sitting in the ballroom where spellers will take the stage tomorrow. The lights have just come on, the microphones are being tested, and behind the rows of Bee personnel, the lines of seats are empty.

Airplanes and ESPN

It was a big week for Damien John Handy (Speller 96) before he even arrived for the Bee.

He rode an airplane for the first time, said his mom, Trinity Handy. And they saw a WNBA player at the Atlanta airport, though Damien didn't realize who he'd spotted until later.

And tomorrow, when he takes the stage for Round 2 of the competition, one of the Lafayette, La. seventh-grader's dreams will come true.

"He always dreamed about being on ESPN," Trinity said. "He never knew it would be because of a spelling bee."

The preliminary test: A few words

Before Neha Konakalla (Speller 20) took the preliminary test, the San Francisco seventh grader was "really, really excited."

"I can't wait to see what words they're going to ask," she said.

It's Neha's first time at the Spelling Bee, though she's been trying to get here for three years. Already, she said, she feels good about herself for making it.

Carson Monks (Speller 151) is here for the second  time, from Montague, N.J. Last year, he missed the semifinals cut. This year, he said the words were easier.

And so it begins

At the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center, where the Scripps National Spelling Bee is held, parents are waiting.

Since 8 a.m., spellers have been filing into the testing room to complete the preliminary test of the national competition. Inside, they will spell 24 words and answer 26 multiple-choice vocabulary questions.

Outside, their parents sit and read. They play on phones. They try not to act nervous.

"I didn't really come prepared for what I was going to do," said Amy Miller. Her daughter, Katrina Miller (Speller 3) is competing from Fairbanks, Alaska.