25 Facts About the Scripps National Spelling Bee

Alex Wong, Getty Images
Alex Wong, Getty Images

Call it the Super Bowl of Spelling. This week, a record 516 pint-sized spellers are sweating out their ABCs in the Maryland Ballroom of the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, hoping to be crowned the 2018 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion. You may know how to spell “victory,” but here are 25 things you might not know about the country’s best-known gathering of logophiles.

1. IT WAS ORGANIZED BY A NEWSPAPER.

The National Spelling Bee was inaugurated in 1925 by Kentucky’s Louisville Courier-Journal as a way to consolidate a number of local spelling bees and generate “general interest among pupils in a dull subject.” (Cash prizes have a tendency to do that.) The E.W. Scripps Company didn’t take ownership of the Bee until 1941.

2. FRANK NEUHAUSER WAS THE BEE’S FIRST OFFICIAL CHAMPION.

Neuhauser, an 11-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, beat out eight other finalists to become the National Spelling Bee’s first champion. His word for the win? Gladiolus. Yes, the flower. On March 22, 2011, Neuhauser—a retired lawyer—passed away at his home in Silver Spring, Maryland at the age of 97.

3. IN 1926, PAULINE BELL BECAME THE FIRST FEMALE CHAMPION.

In the Bee’s second year, it declared its first female winner, Pauline Bell, who won by correctly spelling the color cerise. Bell kicked off a trend of female winners: Of the Spelling Bee’s 93 champions, 48 of them have been girls. This year, 45 percent of the competitors are girls.

4. THERE WERE NO WINNERS IN 1943, 1944, OR 1945.

That’s because the Spelling Bee was put on hold during World War II.

5. THERE WERE TWO WINNERS ON SIX OCCASIONS

Alex Wong, Getty Images

Co-champions have long been a possibility at the National Spelling Bee, and were a reality in 1950, 1957, 1962, 2014, 2015, and 2016, when 11-year-old Nihar Janga of Austin, Texas, and 13-year-old Jairam Hathwar of Corning, New York, both walked away winners. To prevent this continuing trend, the Bee changed the rules in 2017 by requiring all of the spellers still standing at 6 p.m. on the Bee's final day to complete a written test to be used to break a tie.

6. THE BEE WAS FIRST TELEVISED IN 1946.

The Bee’s national finals were first broadcast live on NBC in 1946. Portions of the Spelling Bee have since been broadcast on PBS and ABC as well. But since 1994, ESPN has been the Bee’s biggest champion, broadcasting near-constant spelling action throughout the entire competition.

7. NO ONE REALLY KNOWS WHERE THE WORD “BEE” COMES FROM.

According to the folks at Scripps:

"The word ‘bee,’ as used in ‘spelling bee,’ is one of those language puzzles that has never been satisfactorily accounted for. A fairly old and widely-used word, it refers to a community social gathering at which friends and neighbors join together in a single activity (sewing, quilting, barn raising, etc.) usually to help one person or family.

"The earliest known example in print is a spinning bee, in 1769 ... Spelling bee is apparently an American term. It first appeared in print in 1875, but it seems certain that the word was used orally for several years before that."

8. MERRIAM-WEBSTER'S UNABRIDGED DICTIONARY IS THE SPELLING BEE BIBLE.

With more than 472,000 word entries, it’s the official dictionary [PDF] of the Scripps National Spelling Bee—and the only one that counts in terms of spelling.

9. KIDS ARE GIVEN A TOTAL OF TWO MINUTES TO SPELL A WORD.

The countdown begins when the pronouncer first pronounces the word.

10. “KNAIDEL” CAUSED A CONTROVERSY IN 2013.

Alex Wong, Getty Images

In 2013, New Yorker Arvind Mahankali won the competition by spelling the word “knaidel,” another word for matzo ball. While a number of Yiddish speakers claimed that Mahankali's spelling was incorrect, the then-13-year-old's spelling of the word was the same as Merriam-Webster's, leading the event’s organizers to declare that there was no controversy at all.

11. A TRAFFIC LIGHT HELPS SPELLERS KEEP TRACK OF THE TIME.

Spellers have the benefit of viewing a monitor with a traffic light to keep track of time. For the first 75 seconds, the traffic light is green, followed by 15 seconds of yellow. At the 30-second mark, the light turns red and a countdown clock appears. Neither the judges nor the pronouncer can communicate with the speller once the monitor has shifted into “red light mode.”

12. PRONOUNCER DR. JACQUES BAILLY IS A CHAMPION SPELLER, TOO.

For the past 16 years, Dr. Jacques Bailly has served as the Spelling Bee’s official pronouncer, and was an associate pronouncer for 12 years before that. But his history with the Spelling Bee goes back even further—all the way back to 1980, when he won the whole shebang at the age of 14 by correctly spelling elucubrate.

13. DR. BAILLY DOESN’T PLAY FAVORITES.

“I always want them to get all the words right,” Bailly told TIME in 2009 about sympathizing with the entire lineup of spellers. “I think that's a lot of the fun of the spelling bee—you root for everybody. And I try to make it clear to the spellers that I'm there to give them absolutely every possible thing that I can to help them—within some limits.” In fact, it’s part of Bailly’s job to help the speller. If he has some word information that he senses could be helpful to the speller, he can offer it up without the speller requesting it.

14. THEY TAKE “THE GIGGLE FACTOR” INTO ACCOUNT.

In a 2003 interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Bailly admitted that in the days leading up to the final event, Spelling Bee officials review every word for a final time and take into account something they call “the giggle factor,” explaining that “A word like ‘titillation’ might cause a sixth-, seventh- or eighth-grader to giggle.”

15. THE FIRST RULE OF THE SPELLING BEE WORD COMMITTEE IS YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE SPELLING BEE WORD COMMITTEE.

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

Though there is a committee of officials who approve all the words that will be used in any year’s competition, “The first rule of the committee is not admitting that you’re on the committee,” Bee spokesman Chris Kemper told TIME in 2013. “The committee is the secret sauce of the spelling bee and the identity of those on the committee will not be revealed.”

16. BUT DR. BAILLY IS A MEMBER.

“It is true that Jacques is on the word committee,” Kemper admitted to ABC Denver in 2014. “But beyond that, the members of the team and their process is secret.”

17. MISSPELLINGS AREN’T THE ONLY CAUSE FOR DISQUALIFICATION.

In addition to clearly misspelling a word, there are four other reasons a speller can be disqualified. These include not approaching the microphone when it’s the speller’s at-bat ("unless there are extenuating circumstances that, in the judges’ sole discretion, merit holding the speller’s word in reserve and offering it to the speller after all other spellers in the round have spelled and before the close of the round"); engaging in “unsportsmanlike conduct”; altering the letters or sequence of letters in the process of retracing a spelling; or uttering “unintelligible or nonsense sounds” during the spelling process.

18. THE SPELLING BEE REQUIRES MORE THAN JUST SPELLING.

In 2013, vocabulary questions were added to the preliminary rounds, a move that was met with criticism by some, who believe that a spelling bee should be a test of one’s spelling ability only. But the Bee’s executive director, Paige Kimble, says the change in procedure is one that helps reinforce the Bee’s educational purpose. “What we know with the championship-level spellers is that they think of their achievement in terms of spelling and vocabulary being two sides of the same coin,” Kimble told the Associated Press in 2013. “These spellers will be excited at the opportunity to show off their vocabulary knowledge through competition.”

19. PAIGE KIMBLE AND DR. BAILLY GO WAY BACK.

When Dr. Bailly became the Spelling Bee champion back in 1980, it was Kimble (then known as Paige Pipkin) who he defeated. But all was not lost: She won the very next year, and has been working with the organization in a professional capacity since 1984.

20. “SCHWARMEREI” HAS KNOCKED OUT TWO FINALISTS.

Matthew Cavanaugh, Getty Images

This German origin noun, which means excessive sentimentality, has knocked out two finalists in recent years, once in 2004 and again in 2012. The former incident happened to 13-year-old Akshay Buddiga, who famously fainted on stage in the middle of spelling alopecoid earlier in the competition, only to get up and spell the word correctly.

21. "CONNOISSEUR" IS A WORD TO ANTICIPATE.

The French origin noun is the most frequent word on the Scripps National Spelling Bee word lists.

22. GOOD SPELLERS MAKE GREAT SCIENTISTS.

Jeffrey Blitz, who directed the 2002 Oscar-nominated documentary Spellbound about the National Spelling Bee, told TIME how he observed that many Spelling Bee finalists go on to have careers in science and medicine. “Something about the kind of brain that’s not intimidated by the dictionary in childhood seems well-suited to the work of medicine in adulthood,” he noted.

23. MORE THAN ONE-FIFTH OF THIS YEAR’S SPELLERS ARE BEE VETS.

Of 2018's 516 competitors, 113 of them—nearly 22 percent—have competed previously at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

25. SIVASAIPRANEETHREDDY DEVIREDDY IS THIS YEAR’S YOUNGEST SPELLER.

Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

In 2017, 5-year-old Edith Fuller became the Bee's youngest-ever speller. This year, 8-year-old Sivasaipraneethreddy Devireddy (Speller #383), from Mooresville, North Carolina, is the youngest competitor.

An earlier version of this article ran in 2014.

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30 Cold, Hard Facts About Die Hard

Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis in Die Hard (1988).
Alan Rickman and Bruce Willis in Die Hard (1988).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

What do you get when you mix one part action movie with one part holiday flick and add in a dash of sweaty tank top? Die Hard, John McTiernan’s genre-bending (Christmas?) action masterpiece for the ages, which sees a badass NYPD cop take on a skyscraper full of bad guys in the midst of an office holiday party. Here are 30 things you might not know about the movie, which was released on July 15, 1988.

1. Die Hard has a literary background.

Think some action-loving Hollywood scribe came up with the concept for Die Hard? Think again. The movie is based on Roderick Thorp’s 1979 crime novel Nothing Lasts Forever, which is a sequel to his 1966 novel, The Detective. In 2013, Thorp’s long out-of-print book was resurrected to coincide with the film’s 25th anniversary.

2. Die Hard was inspired by The Towering Inferno.

The idea for Nothing Lasts Forever was inspired John Guillermin’s 1974 disaster flick The Towering Inferno. After seeing the film, Thorp had a dream about a man being chased through a skyscraper by a group of men with guns. He eventually turned that snippet of an idea into a sequel to The Detective.

3. Frank Sinatra got first dibs on playing the role of John McClane in Die Hard.

Getty Images

Because he had starred in the big-screen adaptation of The Detective, Frank Sinatra had to be offered the role in its sequel. At the age of 73, he smartly turned it down.

4. Bruce Willis's big-screen debut was with Frank Sinatra.

In 1980, Willis made his film debut (albeit uncredited) in the crime thriller The First Deadly Sin. He has no name and if you blink you’ll miss him, but the role simply required that Willis entered a diner as Sinatra’s character left it. Maybe it was kismet?

5. Clint Eastwood planned to take a stab at playing John McClane.

Originally, it was Clint Eastwood who owned the movie rights to Nothing Lasts Forever, which he had planned to star in in the early 1980s. That obviously never happened.

6. Die Hard was never supposed to be a sequel to Commando.

This is one of the most popular internet stories about Die Hard. But according to Stephen de Souza, the screenwriter of both Die Hard and Commando, while there was a sequel to Commando planned, the only similarity with Die Hard is that they both took place in buildings. According to de Souza, Escape Plan is the closest to his original Commando 2 idea and Die Hard was never supposed to be anything but Die Hard.

7. Bruce Willis was hardly the studio's first choice for the lead in Die Hard. He wasn't even their third choice.

If Die Hard was to be a success, the studio knew they needed a bona fide action star in the part, so they set about offering it to a seemingly never-ending list of A-listers of the time. Rumor has it that Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, Charles Bronson, Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Don Johnson, Burt Reynolds, and Richard Dean Anderson (yes, MacGyver!) were all considered for the role of John McClane. And all declined it.

8. Bruce Willis was considered a comedic actor when Die Hard came around.

Die Hard’s producers had nothing against Bruce Willis, of course. He just wasn’t an immediate choice for the role because, up until that point, he was known solely as a comedic actor, not an action star. Following the success of the film, the action genre really became Willis’s bread and butter, and although he has two Emmys for his comedy work, it has remained as such to this day.

9. Bruce Willis was barely even seen on the posters for Die Hard.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Because the studio’s marketing gurus were unconvinced that audiences would pay to see an action movie starring the funny guy from Moonlighting, the original batch of posters for the film centered on Nakatomi Plaza instead of Willis’s mug. As the film gained steam, the marketing materials were altered, and Willis was more prominent in the promos.

10. Bruce Willis was paid $5 million for Die Hard, which was considered a pretty major payday at the time.

Even with all the uncertainly surrounding whether he could pull the film off, Willis was paid $5 million to make Die Hard, which was considered a rather hefty sum at the time—a figure reserved for only the top tier of Hollywood talents.

11. Bruce Willis suggested Bonnie Bedelia for the part of his wife in Die Hard.

Though we suspect that she wasn’t paid $5 million for the gig.

12. Bruce Willis was able to accept the role in Die Hard thanks to a well-timed pregnancy.

The first few times Bruce Willis was asked to star in the movie, he had to say no because of his commitments to Moonlighting. Then costar Cybill Shepard announced that she was pregnant. Because her pregnancy wouldn’t work within the show, producer Glenn Caron gave everyone 11 weeks off, allowing Willis to say yes.

13. Sam Neill was originally approached to play the role of Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

But Neill ended up turning the film down. Then, in the spring of 1987, the casting director saw Alan Rickman playing the dastardly Valmont in a stage production of Dangerous Liaisons and knew they had found their Hans.

14. Die Hard was Alan Rickman's feature film debut.

Though Rickman may have played the part of Hans as cool as the other side of the pillow, it was actually his first role in a feature film.

15. John McTiernan originally passed on directing Die Hard—more than once, too.

And not just once, but on a few different occasions. His reason was that the material just seemed too dark and cynical for him. “The original screenplay was a grim terrorist movie,” McTiernan told Empire magazine in 2014. “On my second week working on it, I said, 'Guys, there's no part of terrorism that's fun. Robbers are fun bad guys. Let's make this a date movie.’ And they had the courage to do it.”

16. John McTiernan sees Die Hard as a Shakespearean tale.

In the original script, the action in Die Hard takes place over a three-day span, but McTiernan—inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream—insisted that it be condensed into a single evening.

17. Die Hard's Nakatomi Plaza is actually Fox Plaza.

Fox Plaza played the part of Nakatomi Plaza.Tristan Reville, Flickr

Yes, the corporate headquarters of 20th Century Fox—the very studio making the movie—proved to be the perfect location for the movie’s much-needed Nakatomi Plaza. And as it was still under construction, there wasn’t a whole lot they needed to do to the space to make it movie-ready. The studio charged itself rent to use its own space.

18. The room where the hostages are held in Die Hard is supposed to be Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater.

"In this period, Japanese corporations were buying America," production designer Jackson De Govia said in the Die Hard DVD audio commentary. "We posited that ... Nakatami Corporation bought Fallingwater, disassembled it, and reassembled it in the atrium, like a trophy."

19. The panoramic view of the city below in Die Hard? It's not real.

A 380-foot-long background painting provided the illusion of a breathtaking city view in the movie. And it was a state-of-the-art one, too, with animated lights, moving traffic, and the ability to change from night to day. The painting is still the property of the studio and has been used in other productions since.

20. Die Hard's success spawned a bona fide franchise.

In addition to its four sequels, Die Hard has spawned video games and comic books, too.

21. John McClane's tumble down a ventilation shaft in Die Hard was an accident.

Or maybe “error” would be a better word. But in the scene in which McClane jumps into an elevator shaft, his stunt man was supposed to grab onto the first vent. But he missed. By a lot. Which made the footage even more exciting to watch, so editor Frank J. Urioste kept it in the final cut.

22. Alan Rickman's death scene in Die Hard was also pretty scary.

At least it was for Rickman. In order to make it look as if he was falling off a building, Rickman was supposed to drop 20 feet onto an air bag while holding onto a stunt man. But in order to get a genuinely terrified reaction out of him, they dropped him on the count of two—not three, as was planned.

23. Bruce Willis suffered permanent hearing loss from shooting Die Hard.

Twentieth Century Fox

In order to get the hyper-realism that director John McTiernan was looking for, the blanks used in the guns in the movie were modified to be extra loud. In one scene, Willis shoots a terrorist through a table, which put the action star in extremely close proximity to the gun—and caused permanent hearing loss. He referenced the injury in a 2007 interview with The Guardian. When they asked Willis his most unappealing habit, he replied that, “Due to an accident on the first Die Hard, I suffer two-thirds partial hearing loss in my left ear and have a tendency to say, ‘Whaaa?’”

24. Alan Rickman wasn't thrilled with how noisy Die Hard was either.

Whenever he had to shoot a gun in the film, Rickman couldn’t help but flinch. Which forced McTiernan to have to cut away from him so that his reactions were not caught on film.

25. Hans Gruber's American accent in Die Hard caused a lot of problems.

The scene in which Rickman, as Gruber, slips into an American accent and pretends to be yet another hostage who got away was insisted on by screenwriter Steven de Souza, who wanted them in a room together to duke it out. But McTiernan was never happy with Rickman’s American accent, saying, “I still hear Alan Rickman’s English accent. I was never quite happy with the way he opened his mouth [in that scene] ... I shot it three times trying to get him to sound more stridently American ... it’s odd for someone who has such enormous verbal skills; he just had terrible trouble getting an American accent.”

26. The German Hans Gruber speaks in Die Hard is mostly gibberish.

And the bulk of his German cohorts were not German either. Bruce Willis, on the other hand, was actually born in West Germany to an American father and a German mother.

27. Bruce Willis has four feet in Die Hard.

As Willis spends much of the movie in his bare feet running through broken glass, he was given a pair of rubber feet to wear as a safety precaution. Which is great and all, but if you look closely in certain scenes, you can actually see the fake appendages.

28. You can see (but can't touch) John McClane's sweaty tank top.

Getty Images

In 2007, Willis donated the blood-soaked tank top he wore in Die Hard to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian.

29. Die Hard's famous “Yippee-ki-yay" line stole the movie.

It was a simple line: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” But it became the film’s defining moment, and the unofficial catchphrase that has been used in all four Die Hard sequels as well.

30. The credit for Die Hard's famous “Yippee-ki-yay" line belongs to Bruce Willis.

In a 2013 interview with Ryan Seacrest, Bruce Willis admitted that “Yippee-ki-yay, motherf*cker!” was really just a joke. “It was a throwaway,” said Willis. “I was just trying to crack up the crew and I never thought it was going to be allowed to stay in the film."