"The ability of those spellers was simply greater in aggregate than we prepared for," said Peter Sokolowski, an editor-at-large at Merriam-Webster who consults with Scripps but has no formal role in word selection or bee planning.
"Elite spellers aren't truly guessing very often. They can usually make up the constituent parts of the word," Sokolowski said. "When they take a long time, you can tell when a kid really knows and you can tell when a kid is guessing. ... It's rare, and it's kind of exciting."