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Spelling Bee Nears Conclusion, "Capilliculture" Stumps Barrington Sixth-Grader

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is well underway in Washington, D.C., as dozens of adolescents who are far smarter than I'll ever be battle for supremacy at spelling words I've never heard.

Among the contestants from the Chicago area, Barrington Middle School sixth grader Pranav Sivakumar was eliminated in the fifth round when he missed one of the l's in "capilliculture," which means a treatment to prevent or cure baldness. Sivakumar correctly spelled "pointillage," "pityriasis" and "excrescential" in earlier rounds before he was eliminated.

More than 275 contestants qualified for the national Spelling Bee, which began on Tuesday, but less than 20 remain now. The Bee will come to a conclusion Thursday night, live on ESPN.

Thursday morning's bee wasn't without controversy. Hanif Brown Jr. of St. Thomas, Jamaica, was eliminated despite spelling the word "nataka" correctly because he allowed his full allotted time of 150 seconds to expire before he started spelling.

I always enjoy the spelling bee, although I also always feel a little uncomfortable with it: So many of these home-schooled kids look like they could stand to have a little more social exposure with kids their own age, and so many kids look devastated when they get a word wrong that I wonder whether it's really fair to 12-year-olds to put them through this.

But the truth is, on a slow sports day in June, with ESPN nationally televising the Bee, this is one of the most significant competitions of the day in the United States. And the competition is incredibly compelling.