Spelling Bees - Not Just For Grade School

It seems the only time Bill Long uses his kitchen is to prepare foods he can't spell.

"Let me eat it and then I'll be okay," he tells CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman.

Long is a finalist of the AARP National Senior Spelling Bee just about every year. But it seems every time he's about to claim the top prize, he's thrown one of those dreaded culinary terms.

And then he punishes himself, by literally eating his words.

"What I do when I get a tough word now or I run into one is I go eat the thing," he says.

After misspelling "cappelletti" in 2005, he ate the hat-shaped pasta for a week. When he missed "caiparina" - a Brazilian cocktail - it drove him to drink.

"I got a caiparina, I got the taste," remembers Long. "I didn't like it that much, but at least I know the word now."

Long hoped all the eating and drinking would be good practice for this year's finals in Cheyenne, Wyoming. It was his fifth attempt at the title and he once again competed against more than 50 of America's best senior spellers, a group that has the same passion for winning as their kid counterparts - and the same junior high sense of humor.

"Steatopygia - it means excessively fat buttocks," says one female contestant. "Isn't that a good word?"

As usual, Long made it to the finals this year, nailing every word as though he were a human spellchecker while his competition fell by the wayside.

The contest went on for quite a while, before finally coming down to the final five, and the word "ipecacuanha" - a plant that produces ipecac, a vomit inducer.

"May I have [the] origin of the word please?" Long asked before making his attempt.

"I-P-E-C-A-C-U-W-A-N-A"

Nope.

In the end, Larry Grossman of North Dakota took first place. But Long didn't leave empty-handed, as Hartman handed him a bottle of ipecac oral solution as a consolation prize.

Long offered to split the bottle with Hartman, who declined with wishes that next year Long misspells the word chocolate.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.

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