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The Spelling Bee is broken. Here are 5 easy steps to fix it.

We’ll never see another tie if officials follow my plan.

On Thursday night the Scripps National Spelling Bee was forced to make the unprecedented decision of crowning eight co-champions after it was decided that 17 rounds of furious spelling proved futile at felling the teenage champions. Jacques Bailly, longtime announcer of the bee, explained that there was no mountain left to climb for the spellers.

“We do have plenty of words remaining in our list, but we’ll soon run out of words that will challenge you. We’re throwing the dictionary at you. And so far, you are showing this dictionary who is boss.”

With the night growing long and Friday fast approaching the decision was made to halt the bee and crown the remaining spellers. In a way it’s a beautiful acknowledgement that humanity has peaked when it comes to spelling words, but it’s also deeply unsatisfying. Those of us watching the bee lost out on the grand drama and suspense that comes with the conclusion of the bee, and after appreciating the astounding spellers we went to bed with no amazing story to tell in the morning.

Now, I’m no astounding speller (just ask my editors), but I am good at working out ways to improve games. In 2020 we deserve spelling bee reform to ensure there is just one champion remaining at the end, and I think I have a way to do it.


The core issue with the spelling bee right now is that everything can be planned and studied for. It’s excellent at determining which spellers studied the most and have the most knowledge of dictionary words, but I think we need another layer.

There’s a reason intelligence and wisdom are separate stats in Dungeons and Dragons, so I want to up the wisdom and force the kids to use a little improvisation and street smarts to make it through the last rounds.

Step 1: Everything remains the same until 11 p.m.

There’s no reason to mess with a good thing. Keep the bee as it is and then let everything go wild from there.

Step 2: We start stripping away hints.

Spellers live and die by following their playbook or breaking down a word. Lets take that away piece by piece to throw them off their game.

11:01 - 11:29 p.m. — Spellers no longer get a definition of the word.
11:30 - 11:59 p.m. — Spellers no longer get the part of speech or get to hear it in a sentence.
12:00 a.m. - 12:29 a.m. — No language of origin. No alternate pronunciations.

Step 3: We ratchet up the difficulty.

Assuming any spellers are left at 12:30 a.m. we remove their ability to hear the word back. They get one chance to hear the word and spell it. This tests their awareness and resolve.

Step 4: Welsh towns.

The entire dictionary is replaced with a guidebook to Wales. Spellers are then forced to know the names of obscure welsh towns. I don’t think there is any way any of them will survive this stipulation.

Step 5: Finnish recipes.

If anyone has survived 30 minutes of spelling towns in Wales we then move on to the world of recipes from Finland. Native dishes are selected, and spellers then need to spell each ingredient that makes up the dish. Like this one I found for cabbage rolls.

Haters will say this is unfair and subverts the entire point of the spelling bee by asking kids to spell words that aren’t even English, but honestly this kind of isolationist attitude will only hold us back. Not only do we fix the spelling bee, but this drastically improves our international relations with Wales and Finland.

If a winner is finally crowned under these conditions they not only get the standard prize, but also a flight for them and their family to meet with international diplomats in the town of Llanybydder, where they’ll enjoy a nice meal of Kainuun Juustoleipä.

This plan is published as an instructional guide and is free to be used by Scripps, The National Spelling Bee and educational institutions. If used, please credit “James Dator” and say something nice about me like “These new rules come from James Dator, a certifiably above-average person.”