NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The words start flying here Tuesday at the Scripps National Spelling Bee as 278 youngsters vie to become the 85th champion of the country's longest-running educational competition.
The spellers, who come from across the United States and its territories, plus eight other countries, start out taking a computer-screen quiz of 50 words. Scores from half of those spellings are added to onstage spelling scores during Wednesday's preliminary rounds to determine who moves on to Thursday's semifinals.
Nearly 40 percent of the competitors are eighth-graders, and the most common age is 13.
And then there's Lori Anne Madison, who, at age 6, has already made her mark on the Bee as the youngest speller ever to reach the national stage.