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OXON HILL Md. (Reuters) - With a $30,000 scholarship and other prizes at stake, 12 young spellers advanced to the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday, including one who can visualize words on a dictionary page.
The finals begin at 8 p.m. EDT and will be broadcast live on ESPN.
The announcement that he had made the finals sent Jacob Williamson, a home-schooled eighth grader from Cape Coral, Florida, dropping to his knees and pumping his fists.
Williamson, at 15 the oldest contestant, had shouted "I know it!" after being given "eripus" by pronouncer Jacques Bailly. He screamed with joy after nailing the word and did the same after spelling "harlequinade."
Another finalist, Sriram Hathwar, 14, of Painted Post, New York, was the only one with a perfect score from written tests. Hathwar, who aced "quatrefoil" and "favus" in the semis, told reporters: "Everything is just fun."
The third-place finisher in 2013, the eighth grader is among the few contestants who do not write out words on a hand or arm before spelling. He said he had pored over dictionaries until he had entire pages cold.
"It's almost like GPS, like, see the word in my head. I just envision it," he said.
Hathwar said he had also gotten ready for the pressure this year by studying with his bedroom door open, allowing in noise and disruption from his 11-year-old brother.
Tejas Muthusamay, 11, had expected to watch the finals from the audience. He was stunned to be among the last dozen standing, including "the big names" of the spelling world, he said.
"To think I'm in the finals is astounding and mind-blowing," said Muthusamay, a fifth grader from Glen Allen, Virginia.
During the semifinal rounds, more and more spellers were baffled by obscure words.
Given "serictery," Christine Alex, a Chicago seventh grader, asked for a definition, use in a sentence, word origin, part of speech and pronunciation after pronunciation.
"Is there anything else I can ask you?" she asked Bailly. Alex then took the plunge to spell the word for a silk gland "serictory."
The finalists are from eight states - California, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas and Virginia - and one foreign country, Jamaica. They emerged from an estimated 11-million-plus students.