Karen Luchessa thought it would be a kick to enter the first "Sip and Spell: A Spelling Bee for Adults" last January at Old World Deli.

"I got a beer, chatted with everybody and waited for the events to unfold," Luchessa said. "I had no expectation whatsoever to win."

At the end of the contest, the retired high school science teacher was the last of 85 participants left spelling. She was the queen bee.

"I was so filled with adrenaline I couldn't even remember what the last word was," she said.

As it turned out, it was "springbok," an easy word for her to spell.

Luchessa correctly spelled words like alkali, anaphylaxis, boudoir and diplodocus to win the small trophy, a bee bobblehead trophy.

But she stumbled when she misspelled nescience, an unfamiliar word.

"I spelled it wrong, but luckily I had a mulligan," Luchessa said — one of the legal "cheats" that participants can buy before the bee begins. (Ironically, nescience means lack of knowledge.)

Other cheats that spellers can buy include a chance to spend 30 seconds with a dictionary and the opportunity to ask a friend for help.

Luchessa said she will purchase all of the cheats in Saturday night's spelling bee, a benefit for the Friends of the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library.

She doesn't have any tips or secrets for how new contestants can successfully spell while under pressure or who might have indulged in an adult beverage or two. But she said it helped when she took her time to visualize the word.

"I actually feel confident in spelling. My background was in science, and I know a bit of Latin," Luchessa said.

The humorous back-and-forth banter with other participants, and jokes made by the pronouncers and the event emcee, Gazette-Times editor Mike McInally, as well as a friendly crowd, made it a fun time, she said.

"My husband said, 'Hey you have to defend your title.' I'm doing it again, and I think it's going to be a blast," Luchessa said.

She did offer advice for anyone that might be on the fence about registering for the bee.

"Go spend some money for the library and have a good time doing it with a bunch of other yahoos," she said.

New venue

Bonnie Brzozowski, a reference librarian and "Sip and Spell" organizer said at least 300 people showed up to watch last year's contest.

"Old World Deli got so crowded and people stopped coming in, which is why we moved (this year's bee) to a bigger venue," Brzozowski said.

The Whiteside Theatre will host the event with American Dream Pizza and McWeenie's food truck serving as the beer, wine and food vendors.

The bee will feature four special pronouncers to introduce words, instead of just one person.

Oregon State University faculty members Keith Scribner, Elena Passarello, Karen Holmberg and Jennifer Richter from the MFA creative writing program will read the words, Brzozowski said.

Organizers have also added some extras that will affect how the contest plays out.

A new "rewind" cheat will be available to contestants, allowing them to start over again if they realize they are about to misspell a word.

Brzozowski said it is possible the bee could produce more than one champion this year as a result of needing to get to the championship round sooner.

"We only have the theater booked for so long, and people need to get home and go to sleep. If there's a point where five or six people are left we will advance to a championship round," she said.

Whoever misspells a word in the final round is eliminated. If two people are spelling every championship word right, and the pronouncers run out of words selected for that round, those two people will be named champions. (A similar ending actually occurred in a recent national Scripps Howard Spelling Bee.)

In addition to getting the chance to win the coveted bee trophy, champions can earn other prizes. Gift certificates to American Dream Pizza, Burst's Chocolates, the Darkside Cinema and Grass Roots Books and Music will also be up for grabs.

Even the first speller who's eliminated gets a parting gift.

"I hope it's just as interactive as last year, and people will get into it, cheer and get excited for people," Brzozowski said.


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