An Oxford Dictionary sat on a large wooden table in the East Hampton Library.
Behind it, Erica Farber, a children’s author who assists with library programming, sat with her back straight, glasses perched on her nose, and eyes surveying the roughly 20 adults about to compete in a spelling bee.
As she explained the rules, she was calm but stern - two traits she would call on throughout the night when patrons questioned her word selection, her hearing and her ruling.
Participants would stand to hear their word. They would spell it - getting one chance only - and if they were correct, they sat down. If they were wrong, Farber would ring the bell and the shamed would move to the back of the room.
“Then you can have a snack,” she said.
After the library saw success with spelling bees for children, it hosted the first adult spelling bee on Tuesday evening. The library hopes to hold more adult spelling bees in the coming months, and will post dates on its website, said Steve Spataro, head of reference at the library.
On Tuesday, the group played three rounds, which each moved quickly. The mood in the dimly lit meeting room with high ceilings was mostly lighthearted but at times tense.
Kyle McCann, a substitute teacher in Sag Harbor and Springs, stood at attention as she was given a word to spell: Caribou, a breed of reindeer native to North America.
McCann brought her hand to her forehead and rested her head on her fingers. She closed her eyes for a second and then spoke: “C-A-R-A-B-O-U.”
A quick tap from Farber’s hand and the shrill ring of the small bell filled the room.
McCann seemed surprised. “It’s C-A-R-I-B-O-U,” Farber said.
McCann nodded with an understanding smile and made her way to the back of the room.
“Give her another word!” shouted her seven-year-old daughter Mary McCann, from the sidelines. “She’s the best speller here!”
But the rules were the rules, and Farber moved on.
Throughout the night there were quiet cheers for the spelling elite and pats on the back for the offenders. There was some general trouble with double-letter words: ‘accommodate’ with just one ‘M’, ‘graffiti’ with one ‘F’ and two ‘Ts’, committed and harass were also missing or in excess of consonants.
There were some words that the crowd just couldn’t get over. One woman who misspelled “Gherkin,” as in a young, green cucumber used for pickling, and she swore she’d never heard the word. Doubloon, a Spanish coin, was another mystery.
Kyle McCann’s husband, Liam, 47, ended up winning the last round of the night, but not without a few failures first. In the first round, he was knocked out after he misspelled “Croquet,” as in the sport, spelling it C-R-O-Q-U-E-T-T-E, as in the French finger food.
“My brother lives in Paris,” he reasoned, and when he got up for his next turn, he first spelled croquette correctly, just to prove a point.
He was under some self-inflicted pressure that night, revealing that he won a spelling bee in the eighth grade and wanted to live up to his reputation.
“I thought I would have a flashback to my former glory and serendipity prevailed,” he said.