The story of this spelling bee champion begins in the car, on the daily commute to kindergarten with father at the wheel.
"He'd ask me words that he saw on the signs, on billboards, and he'd ask me to spell them," Snigdha Nandipati said. "I remember my favorite word to spell was 'design' because it had the silent 'g.'"
It didn't take long for Krishnarao Nandipati to realize his daughter had a special talent. He began entering her in bees in the third grade. Soon she was winning them, and Thursday night the 14-year-old girl from San Diego captured the biggest prize of them all: the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
A coin collector and Sherlock Holmes fan, Snigdha aced the word "guetapens," a French-derived word that means an ambush or a trap, to outlast eight other finalists and claim the trophy along with more than $40,000 in cash and prizes.
"I knew it. I'd seen it before," Snigdha, a semifinalist last year, said of the winning word. "I just wanted to ask everything I could before I started spelling."
There was no jumping for joy, at least not right away. The announcer didn't proclaim Snigdha the champion, so she stood awkwardly near the microphone for a few seconds before confetti started to fly. One person who knew for certain she had won was her 10-year-old brother, Sujan, who ran full-speed onto the stage and enveloped his sister in a hug.
In that respect, it was a familiar bee sight — a Indian-American family celebrating and soaking up the ovation in the 85th edition of the annual contest held in the Washington area. Americans of Indian descent have won the bee five times in a row and in 10 of the last 14 years, a phenomenon that began in 1999 with champion Nupur Lala, who was later featured in the documentary "Spellbound."
Snigdha, like many winners before her, cited Lala as an inspiration. And, like several other recent Indian-American champions, she wants to be a doctor — either a psychiatrist or a neurosurgeon.
"She says this is harder than being a neurosurgeon — maybe," her mother, Madhavi, said.
Snigdha's grandparents traveled from Hyderabad in southeastern India for the competition, but it was the little brother who stole the show as he played with the confetti and then helped his sister hoist the huge trophy. Might he be a future champion?
"He's not that interested," the father said. "He's more into tennis."
Second place went to Stuti Mishra of West Melbourne, Fla., who misspelled "schwarmerei" — which means excessive, unbridled enthusiasm. While many spellers pretend to write words with their fingers, 14-year-old Stuti had an unusual routine — she mimed typing them on a keyboard.
The week began with 278 spellers, including the youngest in the history of the competition — 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison of Lake Ridge, Va. The field was cut to 50 semifinalists after a computer test and two preliminary rounds, and Lori Anne was two misspelled words away from a semifinal berth. The tiny, blue-eyed prodigy said she'd be back next year.
Gifton Wright of Spanish Town, Jamaica, was hoping to be the first winner from outside the United States since 1998, but he couldn't correctly spell "ericeticolous." Twelve-year-old Arvind Mahankali of New York aspired to be the first non-teen to win since 2000, but he couldn't spell "schwannoma" and finished third for the second straight year.
"I got eliminated both times by German words," said Arvind, who has one year of eligibility remaining. "I know what I have to study."
Associated Press writer Ben Nuckols contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.