Look, it’s no secret that we here at The New York Times like words, games and, yes, word games. Not only have we covered spelling bees for nearly 150 years, we’ve also expanded our Games section beyond crossword puzzles to anagram honeycombs and five-letter word hunts.
Tonight is the 94th Scripps National Spelling Bee, and we’ll be covering it live here as 12 students face a menagerie of dictionary monsters: colossal nouns with diphthong hearts, adjectives of unknown origin and words dotted with treacherous schwas.
The finalists have made it farther than hundreds of others — spellers defeated by words like sirtaki, wirrah and palombino, among others. And like last year, when Zaila Avant-garde cruised her way to history as the Bee’s first Black American champion, the finalists also face an on-camera vocabulary quiz that will test their knowledge of word meaning.
For the first time since 2019, when eight students shared the championship in a tie, the Bee is back fully in person, just outside Washington in National Harbor, Md.
The contenders for the $50,000 prize range from 11 to 14 years old, and include students from Texas, Colorado, Florida, Washington State, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Arizona.
What are the rules?
To actually participate in the National Spelling Bee, you’d need to meet Scripps’s requirements — namely that you are, in fact, a regular kid.
The rules stipulate, among other conditions, that contestants must not have reached the age of 15 on or before Aug. 31, 2021; that they can’t have passed beyond the eighth grade and that they must attend a school that is enrolled with the Bee program.
But if you’re just trying to spell along and pick definitions, things are more straightforward. During the finals, contestants will face rounds of spelling and vocabulary until a champion or co-champions are declared. A speller is eliminated with just one misplaced letter or incorrect answer.
During the spelling rounds, each speller has two minutes per turn. The person reading the words, called the pronouncer, can answer requests to repeat a word and give its definition, part of speech, language of origin and alternate pronunciation, if it has any. He can also use it in an example sentence.
If there’s still no champion late in the broadcast, we reach a “spell-off.” In this scenario, each speller has 90 seconds, separated from competitors, to spell words off a list.
The speller who gets the most words correct in those 90 seconds wins — unless there’s a tie, in which case the top scorers win together.
Hang on, what about watching it like the headline says?
OK, OK, you’ve scrolled down far enough. The final round begins at 8 p.m. Eastern time. It will be broadcast — but not on ESPN, the competition’s home for years.
Instead it will air on ION and Bounce, two Scripps networks, with LeVar Burton hosting. Those networks are widely available with an antenna, a smart TV or a variety of providers like Spectrum or Verizon FiOS. With a ZIP Code and a provider, Scripps can direct you to the ION specific channel in your area.
What if you’re bored and also like word games?
If you’d like to try your hand at some other spelling games, you can play a Times version of the classic quiz, the anagram challenge called Spelling Bee or the five-letter word hunt known as Wordle.