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Back-to-back co-champions for Scripps National Spelling Bee

For the second year in the row, there was a tie at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, held on May 28 at National Harbor, Md. This year Vanya Shivashankar, age 13 from California Trail Middle School, Olathe, Kan., and Gokul Venkatachalam, age 14 from Parkway West Middle School, Chesterfield, Mo., were the winners. The winning words were scherenschnitte, the art of cutting paper into decorative designs, and nunatak, a hill or mountain completely surrounded by glacial ice.

There have only been five ties in the history of the spelling bee and this is the first time there have been back-to-back ties. Shivashankar and Venkatachalam tied because the judges ran out of words. Once there are three contestants, the judges use a 25-word championship list of words; if one speller misspells, the next speller must spell two words correctly in a row. When there were only two words left on the list – not enough to declare a single winner, the two spellers officially tied.

This was Shivashankar’s fifth year in the spelling bee, and her sister Kavya was the champion in 2009. Venkatachalam made his fourth appearance in the spelling bee this year.

Shivashankar and Venkatachalam won a $30,000 cash prize from Scripps, a $2,500 bond and complete reference library from Merriam-Webster, and $1,200 worth of reference works from Encyclopedia Britannica. Their schools and sponsors each won a one-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365 Home. The finalists and semifinalists each won a medal and cash prize; all spellers received Merriam-Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, and a one-year membership to Britannica Online Premium, among other prizes.

The spelling bee was well covered on Twitter; Scripps live-tweeted the event at their official handle, @ScrippsBee, and lexicographers Ben Zimmer of and Peter Sokolowski of Merriam-Webster provided behind-the-scenes commentary as well.