OXON HILL, Md. (AP) -- Words such as "protege" and "gesundheit" and jokes about the George Foreman grill and the game Minesweeper were among the early highlights as the onstage preliminary rounds began Wednesday morning at the 87th Scripps National Spelling Bee.

With most spellers having no trouble with their words, the focus shifted more to the laugh-out-loud sentences that have become a regular part of the Bee in recent years. When Lillian Allingham of Hockessin, Delaware, asked for a sentence for "odyssey," pronouncer Jacques Bailly made the audience chuckle by speaking of someone who "got lost in Costco for 35 minutes."

"You should give sentences more often," Isabel Cholbi of San Bernardino, California, told Bailly.

Bailly also spun a short tale of someone who put down the phone and to "play Minesweeper until the yelling stopped" to help describe the word "belligerent." The word "coloratura" wound up in a sentence about someone getting their hand caught in a George Foreman grill. Another sentence opined: "To say that life will never be the same after kindergarten graduation is hyperbole."

Keshav Ramesh of South Windsor, Connecticut, was disappointed when his sentence for "debacle" was dry and routine.

"Can you use the word in a funny sentence please?" Keshav said.

"Not always funny," Bailly replied.

Each speller had a chance to earn points by spelling up to two words onstage during the preliminaries. The scores will be combined with a computerized spelling and vocabulary test taken Tuesday to determine who advances to the semifinals Thursday.

The finals take place Thursday night. The winner gets more than $33,000 in cash and prizes.

The spellers were 41 for 41 until the telltale bell sounded for the first time, when Amy Maldonado of Naples, Florida, was eliminated on "keeshond" (a Dutch dog breed). Amy misspelled it "kaushaund" and was ushered to the comfort area offstage.

There were also signs of nerves and lucky guesses. Speller No. 9, Eesha Sohail of Bakersfield looked stunned when she correctly spelled "tchotchke" (a trinket) and received a high-five from another speller when she returned to her seat.

Among the favorites was Sriram Hathwar, a 14-year-old eighth-grader from Corning, New York, who placed third last year and is back for his fifth and final time. Another top contender is 12-year-old Vanya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kansas, who tied for fifth last year and whose sister, Kavya, won in 2009.

The Bay Area competitors are eighth-graders Neha Konakalla of Lawson Middle School in Cupertino and Shirlyn Prabahar of Gale Ranch Middle School in San Ramon.

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