Boy wins National Spelling Bee with “Matzo Ball”

Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y., holds the championship trophy after he won the National Spelling Bee by spelling the word "knaidel" correctly. – AP photos
Boy wins National Spelling Bee with “Matzo Ball”
As red and yellow confetti floated into his hair, the champ just stood there and cracked his knuckles, hardly the type of celebration expected from a 13-year-old. His smiles had come earlier, when he conquered "the German curse" on his way to spelling's top prize.

New York City has its first Scripps National Spelling Bee winner in 16 years. Arvind Mahankali has never had a "knaidel," but he was able to spell the German-derived Yiddish word for a matzo ball Thursday night to earn the huge trophy and more than $30,000 in cash and prizes. A knaidel is a kind of dumpling used in chicken soup.

Arvind finished third the two previous years, eliminated both times on German words. He had everyone laughing two years ago when he pronounced "Jugendstil" as "You could steal" and saluted the crowd when he got it wrong. Last year he flubbed "schwannoma" and quickly proclaimed: "I know what I have to study."

"I had begun to be a little wary of German words," Arvind said Thursday night. "But this year I prepared German words and I studied them, so when I got German words this year, I wasn't worried."

When Arvind got the word "dehnstufe" earlier in the finals, the audience groaned. Milking the moment, he asked, "Can I have the language of origin?" before throwing his hands in the air with a wry smile when the answer came back "German." He then spelled the word — which means an Indo-European long-grade vowel — without a hitch.

But after showing all that personality onstage, why didn't he have a reaction when he finally won — beyond his familiar knuckle-cracking habit?

Arvind admires Albert Einstein and hopes to become a physicist. He's the first boy to win the bee since 2008, and the first champion from the Big Apple since Rebecca Sealfon in 1997. He's also the bee's sixth consecutive Indian-American winner and the 11th in the past 15 years, a run that began when Nupur Lala captured the title in 1999 and was later featured in the documentary "Spellbound."

Arvind's father is an IT consultant and his mother is a doctor. The family is originally from Hyderabad in southern India, where relatives were watching live on television as the event was broadcast from a suburban Washington hotel. His father cited a premium on education and language as reasons for the spate of Indian-American winners.

The week began with 281 spellers and was whittled down to 42 for the semifinals Thursday afternoon and 11 for the prime-time finals, with spellers advancing based on a formula that combined their scores from computerized spelling and vocabulary tests with their performance in onstage rounds.

Vanya Shivashankar, at 11 the youngest of the finalists, fell short in her bid to become the second half of the first pair of sibling champions. Her sister, Kavya, won in 2009. Vanya finished tied for 5th after misspelling "zenaida," a type of pigeon.

Critical thinking challenge: How do you pronounce “knaidel?” (Ask someone who is Jewish, if you don't know.)

- Posted on May 31, 2013
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This is a news story because the word he won with is unusual and difficult for most people to spell. I find it amazing that a kid could win a spelling comp with knaidel.

Wow these words are hard! I'm impressed that after those German words took him out twice before, he studied to get them right so they would not get to take him out again.

K-neigh-dle, I found it online. I also wondered while reading this how many hours they practice spelling for the spelling bee? It was nice that he finally won the bee after the first 2 times where he lost because of German words.

I did not ask anyone Jewish, but I found out how you would pronounce the word "knaidel." The pronunciation is k (kuh) nai (nay) del (dull). I think Arvind is clearly very talented if he could spell this word that is obviously hard to spell!

Wow. I can't even make it past county, let alone nationals. How this kid does it, I don't know... And I think "knaidel" is pronounced NAY-dull.

Education: This boy named Arvind Mahankali was the boy who won the spelling bee this year. He lost last year to a german word and after that he said he knew what to study now.
He came back ready to go and won the national spelling bee and he was very proud of himself and he always had a smile on his face. Critical thinking challenge: How do you pronounce “knaidel?” (Ask someone who is Jewish, if you don't know.)

How could this kid win that easily. That's the easiest word ever anyone could of go that correct. I mean really matzo ball what kind of word is that.

I think that the word "Matzo Ball" is a dumb word to win a spelling bee with. I just cant believe that someone could win with that word, I think that the word "Matzo Ball" it super easy. I cant believe it what's so ever!

I saw him on T.V. when the Nationals first started and he got a really hard word. I was surprised he got it. Even though I only made it to the regional competition, (and I got out on the first word), making it to the nationals is a huge achievement.

That kids is brilliant , that make him career more easier , that kid could have thousands of opportunities in life . His extremely amazing ,.