WASHINGTON (Reuters) - About four dozen young spellers will face off on Thursday in the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee under tougher rules aimed at preventing a third consecutive tie in the long-running contest.
The winner emerging from spelling rounds through the day and a championship final televised by ESPN at 8 p.m. EDT will take home a $40,000 cash purse, along with other prizes.
The finalists in the contest at National Harbor, Maryland, a Washington suburb, were winnowed from 285 spelling whizzes after two days of written and oral tests.
The Bee, which has been a U.S. institution since it started in 1925, has toughened rules to bar ties for winners. Of the five ties in its history, one was in 2014 and another was last year, when eighth-graders Gokul Venkatachalam of Chesterfield, Missouri, and Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, were co-winners.
The new rules call for the last three contestants to spell up to 25 words correctly. Judges can turn to tougher words if they think the spellers are getting through the first few too easily.
Under previous rules, the final contestants faced a championship list of 25 words. A winner, or co-winners, emerged after spelling only about 10 words at most from the list.
Thursday's spellers are the cream of 11 million students who took part in Bee contests in the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, Defense Department schools in Europe and six foreign countries, including Jamaica and Japan.
Contestants at National Harbor range in age from 6 to 15, with two-thirds of the 285 students who made it to the preliminary rounds from public schools, the Bee said.
The most-experienced Bee speller is Zander Reed, an eighth-grader from Ames, Iowa, who is in his fourth contest.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Alan Crosby)