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Field Narrows As Spelling Bee Finals Approach

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OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — The eighth grader from Maryland was quite the scene-stealer at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Fourteen-year-old Surjo Bandyopadhyay of Lusby, Md., was riveting to watch at the semifinals Thursday morning. Presented with the medical term “lysozyme,” he blurted out: “May I please have all the information on this word?”

Surjo then shifted his eyes, wrinkled his brow and nodded his head as he listened to the definition, origin and a sentence — then spelled the word correctly. In the next round, he puffed his cheeks, thrust his arms forward and spelled “phyllomancy” so fast that the judges paused for what seemed like forever before nodding their approval, a tension that had him doing a double-take before returning to his seat.

Surjo was one of 41 semifinalists remaining from the 275 spellers who began the 84th edition of the bee Tuesday. Six more were eliminated in the first semifinal round. The finals were scheduled for Thursday night, with the winner receiving more than $40,000 in cash and prizes.

One of the interesting new twists at this year’s bee: The semifinalists got to see ESPN’s feature profiles on a big screen while they were airing on television. It might have seemed like a distraction, but it actually served to ease the tension. Grace Remmer of St. Augustine, Fla., giggled as she watched herself enjoying Disneyworld — then calmed down and approached the microphone, where she correctly spelled “anaphylaxis.”

Among those still in contention were two finalists from last year, Joanna Ye of Carlisle, Pa., and Laura Newcombe of Toronto.

The first semifinalist to hear the dreaded elimination bell was 12-year-old Emily Keaton of Pikeville, Ky., who left the “c” out of “sciamachy,” a noun that means fighting with a shadow. She was escorted to the bee’s comfort sofa, where she was greeted with cookies, water and soothing words from bee staff and her family.

A rare spelling bee exit was made by Hanif Brown Jr. of St. Thomas, Jamaica. Hanif spelled the word “nataka” correctly, but after his alloted 2½ minutes had expired.

The semifinalists reflected an array eclectic interests. Anna-Marie Sprenger of Provo, Utah, has a passion for ballroom dancing. Samuel Estep of Berryville, Va., designs games on his calculator. Mashad Arora of Brownsville, Texas, has built and raced a hydrogen fuel cell car. David Krak of Lititz, Pa., plays Gershwin on the piano. Nicholas Rushlow of Pickerington, Ohio, is a competitive swimmer and violinist. Parker Strubhar of Piedmont, Okla., has been to 29 states and wants to make it to all 50 before he graduates from high school. Anja Beth Swoap is known as the “scarf queen” in her hometown of Edina, Minn., because she has such of large collection of the fashionable neckwear.

The bee continued to exhibit a sense of humor in the sentences used by pronouncer Jacques Bailly. He referenced a “set of prison bars for the name Bernie Madoff” in his example for “brachygraphy” and later made a reference to the “The Jeffersons,” a sitcom that went off the air some 10 years before the oldest of the spellers was born.

On Wednesday, all of the 275 spellers ages 8 to 15 from across the United States and around the world took turns in the spotlight, getting to spell two words without the fear of being dinged off stage by the bell. Their scores were combined with a 25-word written test to determine the semifinalists.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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