National News

When a Spelling Ace Shuts the Dictionary

Posted May 26, 2018 7:49 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — In basketball, even LeBron James gets to miss a shot once in a while, but in the cutthroat world of middle-school spelling bees, one mistake can mean you’re out. Rheology? Flittern? Good luck, gentle reader. Neel Iyer, an eighth-grader at East Side Middle School in Manhattan, aced these words to grab all-city honors in this year’s Daily News tournament and will move on to the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington this month. It is not a challenge he is taking lightly. “I study 60 pages in the dictionary per day,” Neel, 13, said recently. “I already read through the abridged for the New York City” competition. Eleven million spellers began the competition at the beginning of the school year. Now they are down to 519. For Speller No. 314, Sundays often include attending his younger sister Mira’s soccer games or chorus recitals, about which he complained only a little, really.

FOOTLOOSE: I wake up about 7 o’clock — on my own — because I don’t have to do anything. I usually get to do whatever I want, so my parents don’t have to make me wake up.

ALTERNATIVE WORLDS: I like to watch TV or go on my computer. I watch “Doctor Who,” usually. It’s on Amazon Video. I like sci-fi things. Or “Star Wars.” Or I play “Minecraft.” You can basically do whatever you want for however long you want. There’s no real end to it. The world is saved from where you left off, but you can have any number of worlds. I have 10-ish.

HOLD THE CHIPS: And I eat breakfast — pancakes. Chocolate-chip pancakes on Saturday, but usually just normal pancakes on Sunday.

JUST FOR KICKS: I play defensive positions in soccer. Sometimes I have to go to my sister’s game. I basically just sit there trying not to be bored the whole time. One time I ended up doing my Spanish project at her soccer game.

TOUGH LOSSES: I like soccer, but let’s not go over how we’re doing. We’ve had some annoying losses.

BRUSHING UP: I come home, do my homework and study spelling. Yippee. On a typical Sunday, I don’t have to go to my sister’s chorus recital. If I still have free time, I do aforementioned things from the morning.

GET BACH: I like playing piano; I don’t like practicing it. I’m playing “Flight of the Bumblebee” and then some new things like “Invention No. 1,” by Bach. I’ve been playing since kindergarten or first grade. I don’t get up and voluntarily decide I want to practice piano. They say, “Practice piano, Neel,” and I have to.

GET OUT: Sometimes I go to a park and run around and play infection tag or do soccer practice. Infection tag is like tag, but if you tag someone else you stay “it,” and they become “it,” and the last person not “it” wins. We get together by text message.

GET FAR OUT: I’m reading books about astrophysics: “Death by Black Hole,” “Hyperspace,” “Physics of the Future,” “Physics of the Impossible.” I like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Michio Kaku. They’re New Yorkers.

KINGS AND QUEENS: After dinner I do the same things until I have to get ready for bed. There’s a lot of free time. I like chess, but no one ever plays it with me because it takes like five minutes. Compared to some other people in my school I’m not actually that good, but compared to most people I am. Five years ago in elementary school I used to go to chess tournaments. But I’m not that serious. I only know one opening. I try to do the four-move checkmate, with your bishop and your queen. It’s a good starting point.

BEDTIME: I read in bed for half an hour and go to bed at 9:30.

THAT ‘H’ IN ‘RHEOLOGY’: It’s Greek. That’s all I have to say about that.