OXON HILL, Md. -- After years of heartbreakingly close calls, Arvind Mahankali conquered his nemesis, German, to become the champion speller in the English language.

The 13-year-old from Bayside Hills, N.Y., correctly spelled "knaidel," a word for a small mass of leavened dough, to win the 86th Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night. The bee tested brain power, composure and, for the first time, knowledge of vocabulary.

Arvind finished in third place in both 2011 and 2012, and both times, he was eliminated on German-derived words. This time, he got one German word in the finals, and the winning word was from German-derived Yiddish, eliciting groans and laughter from the crowd. He spelled both with ease.

"The German curse has turned into a German blessing," he said.

Arvind outlasted 11 other finalists, all but one of whom had been to the National Spelling Bee before, in nearly 2 1/2 hours of tense, grueling competition that was televised nationally. In one round, all nine participants spelled their words correctly.

When he was announced as the winner, Arvind looked upward at the confetti falling upon him and cracked his knuckles, his signature gesture during his bee appearances. He'll take home $30,000 in cash and prizes along with a huge cup-shaped trophy. The skinny teen, clad in a white polo shirt and wire-rimmed glasses pushed down his nose, was joined on stage at the Washington-area hall by his parents and his beaming younger brother.

An aspiring physicist who admires Albert Einstein, Arvind said he would spend more time studying physics this summer now that he's "retired" from the spelling bee.

STORY CONTINUES BELOW

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  • Arvind Mahankali

    Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y., watches as confetti falls after he won the National Spelling Bee by spelling the word "knaidel" correctly on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Champion Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y., waits to spell his winning words during the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Arvind Mahankali

    Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y., holds the championship trophy after he won the National Spelling Bee by spelling the word "knaidel" correctly on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Scripps National Spelling Bee champion Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y. extends his hand to second place finisher Pranav Sivakumar, 13, Tower Lakes, Ill., after Sivakumar incorrectly spelled his final word during the finals in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Arvind Mahankali

    Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y., lifts the championship trophy after he won the National Spelling Bee by spelling the word "knaidel" correctly on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Scripps National Spelling Bee champion Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y. pats second place finisher Pranav Sivakumar, 13, Tower Lakes, Ill., on the shoulder after Sivakumar incorrectly spelled his final word during the finals in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Arvind Mahankali

    Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y., is congratulated by his family as confetti falls after he won the National Spelling Bee by spelling the word "knaidel" correctly on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Arvind Mahankali

    Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y., lifts the championship trophy after he won the National Spelling Bee by spelling the word "knaidel" correctly on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y. watches confetti fall after winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Arvind Mahankali

    Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y., watches as confetti falls after he won the National Spelling Bee after spelling the word "knaidel" correctly on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y. hoists the championship trophy after winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y. spells his word during the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Pranav Sivakumar, 13, of Tower Lakes, Ill., reacts to correctly spelling his word during the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah, holds her face while spelling her word during the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah, covers her face while spelling her word during the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Vismaya Kharkar

    Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah, reacts as she takes her seat after spelling her word "temenos" during the final round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Vanya Shivashankar

    Vanya Shivashankar, 11 of Olathe, Kan., smiles after spelling the word "shillibeer" correctly during the final round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Vismaya Kharkar

    Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah, covers her face as she concentrates on her word "temenos" during the final round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Vismaya Kharkar

    Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah, covers her face as she concentrates on her word "temenos" during the final round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Amber Born

    Amber Born, 14 of Marblehead, Mass., spells the word "lethean" correctly during the final round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Arvid Mahankali

    Arvind Mahankali, 13, of Bayside Hills, N.Y., concentrates on his word "galere" before spelling it correctly during the final round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Syamantak Payra, 12, of Friendswood, Texas, left, Vanya Shivashankar, 11 of Olathe, Kan., center, and Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah wait for their turn to spell a word during the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah, reacts to correctly spelling "sciomancy" during the final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Grace Remmer, 14, of St. Augustine, Fla., reacts to correctly spelling "greffier' during the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Vanya Shivashankar

    Vanya Shivashankar, 11 of Olathe, Kan., adjusts the microphone before spelling the word "minauderies" during the final round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Grace Remmer

    Grace Remmer, 14, of St. Augustine, Fla., reacts after spelling the word "greffier" correctly during the final round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Vismaya Kharkar

    Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah, reacts after spelling the word "agelicism" correctly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Shobha Dasari

    Shobha Dasari, 12, of Pearland, Texas, holds her hand before spelling the word "spasmolytic " incorrectly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Vismaya Kharkar

    Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah, celebrates after learning that she made the finals of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Jonathan Caldwell

    Jonathan Caldwell, 13, of Hendersonville, Tenn., shrugs his shoulders after getting the word "pergameneous" incorrect during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Amber Born

    Amber Born, 14 of Marblehead, Mass., covers her face while spelling "malacophilous" during the semifinal round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Caleb Miller

    Caleb Miller, 13, of Calhoun, La., cast his head back after incorrectly spelling "cyanope'" during the semifinal round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Vismaya Kharkar

    Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah works on the word "stultiloquence" before spelling it correctly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Amber Born

    Amber Born, 14 of Marblehead, Mass. falls into her seat after spelling the word "malacophilous" correctly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Amber Born

    Amber Born, 14 of Marblehead, Mass. reacts after spelling the word "malacophilous" correctly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Amber Born

    Amber Born, 14 of Marblehead, Mass. reacts after spelling the word "malacophilous" correctly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Vismaya Kharkar

    Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah blows a kiss to her family during a break in the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Eva Kitlen

    Eva Kitlen, 14, of Niwot, Colo., pauses before spelling the word "cabotinage" incorrectly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Nadar Chandran, Sumita Chandran

    Nadar Chandran reacts after his daughter Nikitha Chandran, 13, of Valrico, Fla., spells the word "peristalith" correctly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. At left is Sumita Chandran, Nikitha's mother. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Neha Seshadri, Kuvam Shahane, Anuk Dayaprema

    Neha Seshadri, 12, of Imlay City, Mich., left, Kuvam Shahane, 13, of Rochester Hills, Mich., center, and Ryan Devanandan, 13, of Albany, N.Y., right, listen as Anuk Dayaprema, 14, of Vincenza, Italy spells during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Vanya Shivashankar

    Vanya Shivashankar, 11 of Olathe, Kansas, spells the word "Michelangelesque" correctly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Rachael Cundey

    Rachael Cundey, 14, of Evans, Georgia, spells "recusancy" during the semifinal round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Anuk Dayaprema

    Anuk Dayaprema, 14, of Vincenza, Italy, spells "bavardage" during the semifinal round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Katharine Wang

    Katharine Wang, 11, of Beijing, China incorrectly spells "hyetomete" during the semi-final round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • Katharine Wang, Eva Kitlen, Audrey Bantug

    Katharine Wang, 11, of Beijing, China, center, gathers herself before the start of the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. From left are, Eva Kitlen of Niwot, Colo., Wang, and Audrey Bantug, 13, of San Ramon, Calif. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Eva Kitlen

    Eva Kitlen, 14, of Niwot, Colo., writes out the word "kleptocrat" in her hand before spelling it correctly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Christopher O'Connor

    Christopher O'Connor, of Tucson, Ariz., spells the word "pultaceous" incorrectly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Isabel Cholbi

    Isabel Cholbi of San Bernardino, Calif., reacts after spelling the word "telergy" correctly during the semifinal round of the National Spelling Bee, Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Oxon Hill, Md. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

  • Katharine Wang, Amber Born, Matthew Donohue

    Katharine Wang, 11, of Beijing, China, second from left, hugs Amber Born, 14 of Marblehead, Massachusetts at the start of the semifinal round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Oxon Hill, Md., Thursday, May 30, 2013. Matthew Donohue of Kingston, Mass. is at right. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

  • US-LIFESTYLE-EDUCATION-SPELLING

    Anuk Dayaprema, from Vincenza, Italy, representing Europe, competes during the semifinal round at the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 30, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US-LIFESTYLE-EDUCATION-SPELLING

    Joseph Kirkpatrick, representing Indiana, reacts after misspelling a word during the semifinal round at the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 30, 2013 in National Harbor, Maryland. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Arvind becomes the sixth consecutive Indian-American winner and the 11th in the past 15 years, a run that began in 1999 when Nupur Lala captured the title in 1999 and was later featured in the documentary "Spellbound."

Arvind's family is originally from Hyderabad in southern India, and relatives who live there were watching live on television.

"At home, my dad used to chant Telegu poems from forward to backward and backward to forward, that kind of thing," said Arvind's father, Srinivas. "So language affinity, we value language a lot. And I love language, I love English."

Pranav Sivakumar, who like Arvind rarely appeared flustered onstage, finished second. The 13-year-old from Tower Lakes, Ill., was tripped up by "cyanophycean," a word for a blue-green alga. Sriram Hathwar, 13, of Painted Post, N.Y., finished third, and Amber Born, 14, of Marblehead, Mass., was fourth.

The field was whittled down from 42 semifinalists Thursday afternoon, with spellers advancing based on a formula that combined their scores from a computerized spelling and vocabulary test with their performance in two onstage rounds.

The vocabulary test was new. Some of the spellers liked it, some didn't, and many were in-between, praising the concept but wondering why it wasn't announced at the beginning of the school year instead of seven weeks before the national bee.

"It was kind of a different challenge," said Vismaya Kharkar, 14, of Bountiful, Utah, who finished tied for 5th place. "I've been focusing my studying on the spelling for years and years."

There were two multiple-choice vocabulary tests - one in the preliminaries and one in the semifinals - and they were administered in a quiet room away from the glare of the onstage parts of the bee. The finals were the same as always: no vocabulary, just spellers trying to avoid the doomsday bell.

There was a huge groan from the crowd when Arvind got his first German-derived word, "dehnstufe," an Indo-European long-grade vowel.

Milking the moment, he asked, "Can I have the language of origin?" before throwing his hands in the air with a wry smile.

"I had begun to be a little wary of German words, but this year I prepared German words and I studied them, so when I got German words this year, I wasn't worried," Arvind said.

He appeared to have more trouble with "galere," a word for a group of people having a marked common quality or relationship. He asked for the etymology twice - French and old Catalan - shifted his body back and forth and stroked his chin before getting it right with seconds to spare.

Amber, an aspiring comedy writer and crowd favorite, bowed out on "hallali," a huntsman's bugle call. She said, "I know, I know," when the clock told her time was running out, and she knew she had missed it, saying "That's not right" as she finished her effort.

The bee's growing popularity is reflected in an ESPN broadcast that gets more sophisticated each year. In the semifinals, Amber got to watch herself featured on a televised promo that also aired on the jumbo screen inside the auditorium.

She then approached the microphone and, referring to herself, deadpanned: "She seemed nice."

Vanya Shivashankar, at 11 the youngest of the finalists, fell short in her bid to become the first sibling of a previous winner to triumph. Her sister, Kavya, won in 2009. Vanya finished tied for 5th after misspelling "zenaida," which means a type of pigeon.

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