By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

It's that time of year again and spelling has never been hotter. The 2002 documentary "Spellbound" garnered so much attention that there's another spelling documentary being released called "Akeelah and the Bee." And one of Broadway's hottest musicals is "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" in which one of the characters spells out words with his magic foot.

So for educational purposes only, of course, here's your guide to picking the winner of this year's spelling bee.

1. Look for family history.
I like speller No. 225, Sonny Bandigas, whose brother Ray participated in three finals, and it's hard to avoid speller No. 84, Stacia Christine Firebaugh, whose father participated in 1967 and her brother took the stage in 1996. According to the bios of the spellers, 23 have at least one relative who has competed in previous national bees.

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2. Don't pick kids with long names.
I know, you think it helps them become a better speller. But according to my data, the average number of letters of the last name of the winners in the past 10 years has been 6.3. So don't go with speller No. 264, Andrew Lokomaikai'keakua Kaleohano, or speller No. 239, Nidharshan S. Anandasivam.

3. Stay away from kids with braces.
This will rule out approximately 40 percent of the spellers. Mouth metal can only lead to a faulty slip. Don't go with speller No. 140, Megan Elaine Courtney, or speller No. 166, Alyssa Nicole Tomaskovic. Watch out for the clear braces on speller No. 199, Mallory Irwinsky.

4. Don't pick a kid that wears glasses.
This will also cross out many of the spellers on the list. According to my research, the last four winners haven't worn glasses. The last champions to sport eyewear were George Abraham Thampy in 2000 and Nupur Lala in 1999.

5. When in doubt, go with a Texan.
Texas has had more winning spellers (nine) than from any other state. There are 17 spellers this year from the Lone Star State, second only to Ohio, which has 18 entrants.

6. Go with a guy.
After four straight wins for the girls from 1996-99, the boys have reeled off five in a row. They make up 146 of the 273 spellers, or 53 percent.

7. Don't pick a sports fan. They're too nervous because they're on ESPN.
Count out speller No. 5, Jonathan C. Horton, who is a Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks fan. Spellers No. 97 and 105, John L.T. Tamplin and Steven A. Lopez, are Red Sox fans. And No. 50, Joshua Michael Partain, is partial to NASCAR.

8. Pick an experienced speller.
The contestants who have been under the lights before have a distinct advantage. Give a good, hard look at speller No. 238, Samir Sudhir Patel, who has participated in the last two years. If you insist on taking a girl, speller No. 146, Katharine Close, has been in the last three national bees.

9. Look for fans of "Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars."
These guys can really spell well. Fans of "Lord of the Rings" include speller No. 19, Jason Loucks; No. 24, Evan Zachary Lawler; and No. 78, Elliott Huck. "Star Wars" fans include No. 168, Michael Christie and speller No. 220, Michael Ryan Hackett.

10. Look for spellers with interesting lives.
Speller No. 22 Kendra Guthrie Yoshinaga is "an ardent conservationist who can often be found climbing trees." Speller No. 93 Kim Meyer enjoys "decorating cakes," and speller No. 119 Nathan Harkema enjoys "fixing pinball machines."

11. Stay away from home-schooled kids.
It goes without saying that these kids don't get out of the house much. There are 34 home-schooled competitors in this year's bee, including speller No. 142 Jack Ausick and speller No. 217 Benjamin Zachary Walter. The first home schooler won in 1997 and others followed, including Thampy in 2000. But kids that actually interact with other children at school have won three out of the last four bees.

Good luck to you all.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at darren.rovell@espn3.com




Darren
Rovell
BEE KEEPER