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May 31, 2013

'German curse' no more for NYC Spelling Bee champ

OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — As red and yellow confetti floated into his hair, the champ just stood there and cracked his knuckles, hardly the type of celebration expected from a 13-year-old. His smiles had come earlier, when he conquered "the German curse" on his way to spelling's top prize.

New York City has its first Scripps National Spelling Bee winner in 16 years. Arvind Mahankali has never had a "knaidel," but he was able to spell the German-derived Yiddish word for a matzo ball Thursday night to earn the huge trophy and more than $30,000 in cash and prizes.

"The German curse," Arvind said, "has turned into a German blessing."

Arvind finished third the two previous years, eliminated both times on German words. He had everyone laughing two years ago when he pronounced "Jugendstil" as "You could steal" and saluted the crowd when he got it wrong. Last year he flubbed "schwannoma" and quickly proclaimed: "I know what I have to study."

"I had begun to be a little wary of German words," Arvind said Thursday night. "But this year I prepared German words and I studied them, so when I got German words this year, I wasn't worried."

When Arvind got the word "dehnstufe" earlier in the finals, the audience groaned. Milking the moment, he asked, "Can I have the language of origin?" before throwing his hands in the air with a wry smile when the answer came back "German." He then spelled the word — which means an Indo-European long-grade vowel — without a hitch.

But after showing all that personality onstage, why didn't he have a reaction when he finally won — beyond his familiar knuckle-cracking habit?

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