The Winning Words In The 2015 National Spelling Bee Were As Difficult As They Were Exotic

It's spelling bee time! The 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee promises to deliver the sting of silent letters, forsaken phonetics, and vicious vocab to the 285 winners of local competitions from participating schools from around the United States, the U.S. territories, and a handful of other countries. Preliminary tests kick off on Tuesday and Wednesday, with finals taking place on Thursday. Eager observers can refresh themselves on previous years' bees to whet their appetites for what's to come. A fine place to start: What were 2015's winning spelling bee words?

There were two winning words, and two corresponding winners, in 2015. Interestingly, this was only the second time since 1962 that there were two champions; the first time since then was in 2014. And the 2015 words were: "scherenschnitte" and "nunatak." (Ironically, spellcheck is not recognizing these words.) Merriam-Webster can give us a hand with these obscure words. Scherenschnitte means "the art of cutting paper into decorative designs." Nunatak is "a hill or mountain completely surrounded by glacial ice."

Watching the 2015 champions ace these words is a true experience. Vanya Shivashankar, a 13-year-old student from Olathe, Kansas, pretended to write out "scherenschnitte" on her hand, announcing each correct letter with measured pace and confident tone. As she looked up from her hand after that final "e," you could tell she knew that she nailed it.

Fellow 2015 champion Gokul Venkatachalam, a 14-year-old student from Chesterfield, Missouri, offered a very different delivery. In a soft but sure tone, his "n-u-n-a-t-a-k" rolled out of him at top speed as he looked at the ground. He looked up after his success, and amid wild cheers, remained cool as a cucumber.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is organized annually by the E.W. Scripps Company and local spelling bee sponsors around the world. Participating schools implement spelling bee programs in the fall and winter, selecting champions to proceed to higher levels of competition. 2016's 285 spelling bee competitors were chosen from the estimated 11 million students who participated in the process.

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It's hard to imagine what words await us in 2016, but based on a long line of Scripps National Spelling Bees, we can expect an onslaught of words bigger than their young spellers, nearly 300 of whom will be ready to take them on. Catch the most rigorous verbal sports event of the year on ESPN, WatchESPN online (requires login), or on Sling TV, Roku, or PlayStation Vue.