For the most part, the second round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee ran like a well-oiled machine, with youngsters rattling off the letters to words like "usufructuary" and "febrifugal" without a hitch.
But Swetha P. Jasti of Olathe and Grant Pace of Parkville stumbled in round three. Swetha, 13, missed "commissar," and Grant, 13, fell victim to "cataclysmic."
Andrea Azah Ambam, 14, of Peculiar correctly spelled "excursus," and Jordan Gabriella Hoffman of Lee's Summit nailed "mukhtar."
The oral rounds of the 84th edition of the bee began Wednesday morning, with 275 spellers ages 8 to 15 from across the United States and around the world competing. The scores were to be combined with Tuesday's written test to determine who advances to the semifinals Thursday morning.
The finals will be held Thursday night, broadcast in prime time for the sixth consecutive year. The winner receives more than $40,000 in cash and prizes.
All but 38 of the competitors to approach the microphone in the second round spelled their word correctly, many of them after asking the usual questions about definition, language of origin and pronunciation. Among the more amusing words: "harrumph" and "ballyhooed."
Nerves compete with aptitude under the bright lights of the stage, and the spellers who have been here before have the advantage of knowing the routine. Two-time participant Antony Joseph of Fairmont, Minn., greeted a fellow contestant with a "Yo" when approaching the microphone and comfortably spelled "deceptious."