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AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
No pressure.
SPELLBOUND

All the ridiculous words two Indian-American teenagers got right to win the US spelling bee

Devjyot Ghoshal
By Devjyot Ghoshal

India Editor

This post has been updated.

By now, academics are even working on theories to explain why so many children of South Asian origin, particularly Indian, win the United States’ celebrated Scripps National Spelling Bee.

In the last 16 years, spellers with roots in this part of the world have won the competition a staggering 12 times. And the most recent members of this elite list are Vanya Shivashankar and Gokul Venkatachalam—co-champions of the 2015 National Spelling Bee.

But to get here, Vanya and Gokul—aged 13 and 14 years, respectively—had to deal with some ridiculously obscure words. Distractions included 283 other spellers and parents in outfits such as this:

In chronological order, here’s the list of words they conquered, sourced from the Guardian’s liveblog that covered the event. Alongside are their shortened meanings, sourced from Merriam-Webster:

SpellerWordMeaning
VanyacytopoiesisProduction of cells
GokulcocozelleA variety of zucchini
VanyabackfischGerman, literally, fish for baking or frying
GokulpoblaciónA center of a municipality in the Philippines
GokulCanossaA place or occasion of submission, humiliation, or penance
VanyacibarialRelating to food
GokulzygoneureA connecting neuron
VanyabouquetièreGarnished with vegetables
GokulcaudillismoThe doctrine or practice of a caudillo
VanyathamakauA large outrigger canoe used in the Fiji islands
GokulscytaleA method of cipher writing
VanyatantièmeA percentage or proportional share
GokulcypselineOf or relating to the swifts
VanyaurgrundA primal cause or ultimate cosmic principle
GokulfiliciteA fossil fern
VanyamyrmotherineFeeding upon ants
GokulsprachgefühlThe character of a language
VanyazimoccaA rather harsh commercial sponge
GokulnixtamalLimed kernels of corn that is ready to be ground into masa
VanyahippocrepiformShaped like a horseshoe
GokulparoemiologyThe subject of proverbs
VanyascacchiteA mineral consisting of native manganese chloride found in volcanic regions
GokulpipsissewaAny of a genus of evergreen herbs of the wintergreen family
VanyaBruxelloisA native or resident of Brussels, Belgium
GokulpyrrhuloxiaA cardinal-like grosbeak of the southwestern US and Mexico
VanyascherenschnitteThe art of cutting paper into decorative designs
GokulnunatakA hill or mountain completely surrounded by glacial ice

Eventually, the duo exhausted all the words on the championship list and won over $30,000 in cash prizes each. They also got a trophy and lots of confetti in their hair.

The annual contest, which started in 1925 with nine contestants, had more than 11 million spellers starting at the local level this year.

Update: The headline of this post has been updated to reflect the fact that the winners were Indian-American teenagers, not Indian teenagers.