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NY Teen Breaks "German Curse" to Win Spelling Bee

Spelling words of German origin proved difficult for the aspiring physicist in the past.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    After finishing third each of the last two years, Arvind Mahankali, a 13-year-old from Queens, New York, won the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee by finally conquering a word of German origin.

    He took the spelling bee's top prize on Thursday by correctly spelling the word “knaidel,” the German-derived Yiddish word for a matzo ball.

    "I thought a German curse has turned into a German blessing," Mahankali said after winning.

    Spelling words of German origin proved difficult for the aspiring physicist in the past. Two years ago, Mahankali pronounced "Jugendstil" as "You could steal" and saluted the crowd when he got it wrong, according to The Associated Press. Last year he misspelled "schwannoma" and proclaimed, "I know what I have to study."

    He told NBC’s “Today” show Friday that he prepared for this year’s contest by making a list of German-origin words and had his mother quiz him.

    "This year I decied that no matter what I wouldn't be eliminated on a German word," Mahankali said on "Today." "So I decided to improve my skills with German."

    He was ready. He spelled "dehnstufe" correctly earlier in the finals and broke “the German curse” Thursday night with the correct spelling of "knaidel."

    "I had begun to be a little wary of German words," Mahankali, who admires Albert Einstein, told the AP. "But this year I prepared German words and I studied them, so when I got German words this year, I wasn't worried."

    Eleven contestants -- out of the original group of 281-- vied for the top prize demonstrating their spelling ability with words such as "auncel," "greffier," "envoutement," "mamaliga" and "transrhenane."

    Mahankali took home $30,000 in cash and prizes and a large cup-shaped trophy. His victory continues Indian-Americans' domination of the contest – though he is the first boy to win since 2008. He is also the first champion from New York since Rebecca Sealfon in 1997.

    "It hasn't completely registered yet that I won," Mahankali told "Today." I didn't really appreciate the magnitude of what had just happened."