WASHINGTON (AP) _ Harry Altman was stumped for four minutes and 30 seconds by the first word he faced today in the finals of the national spelling bee.

He whispered the word ``banns'' to himself, glanced around the stage, sighed hard into the microphone, closed his eyes _ even stuck out his tongue.

``B-a,'' he started. He stopped. Then he started again. ``B-a-n-d ... oops, let's see.''

The judges were getting impatient.

``Take a deep breath and let's finish the word,'' judge Mary Brooks told the sixth-grader kindly.

Harry spelled ``b-a-n-d-s'' with little confidence. The elimination bell sounded. Harry, a 12-year-old computer enthusiast from Glen Rock, N.J., was out.

He appealed his elimination, arguing that the official pronouncer mispronounced the word ``banns,'' a plural noun that means an announcement of an intended marriage.

``I said `bands' and they didn't make me repeat it,'' he said.

Spelling bee officials disagreed. They did not reinstate Harry, but they did reinstate Greg Touney, 14, of Decatur, Ill., who appealed his elimination as well.

Greg's word was ``immanent,'' which means dwelling within. He spelled it ``imminent,'' and was eliminated. After he appealed, the judges ruled that he had given an acceptable alternate spelling.

The 72nd annual Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee began Wednesday with 249 spellers. When the competition resumed today, 104 spellers were still in the running, but by the end of the fourth round at midmorning, only 49 were left including the reinstated contestant. The winner gets a $10,000 first-place cash prize, plus encyclopedias, two airline tickets and computer software.

Some of the 9- to 15-year-old contestants, all wearing white polo shirts, spelled with their hands stuffed deep in their pockets. Others gazed at the ceiling for inspiration. When they sat waiting their turn, they yawned, examined the bottoms of their tennis shoes, twirled hair and fidgeted with yellow numbered placards hung around their necks.

Wednesday was a nerve-wracking day for Jason Espiritu, a 13-year-old speller from Tamuning, Guam.

First he faced the word ``verisimilitude,'' a noun meaning something that appears real. It has seven _ count them, seven _ vowels. Then the judges accidentally sounded the elimination bell when he correctly spelled ``operatable.''

``It really shook me. They rang the bell, but it was right,'' Jason said.

His third word on Wednesday was ``encaustic,'' a paint mixed with beeswax. That one troubled him for four minutes, two seconds.

``Could you say it slowly?'' he asked official pronouncer Alex Cameron, who finally got up, walked to the middle of the stage and pronounced the word just inches from Jason's face.

``This is a noun?'' Jason asked.

He was stalling, but finally tried.

``E-n-c-a-u-s-t-i-c,'' he said. He waited for the bell to ring. When it didn't, Jason thrust both arms in the air.

Ashley White, 13, of Washington, D.C., breathed hard, held her stomach and then her head before she successfully spelled ``lycanthrope,'' a word meaning werewolf. Three spellers later, Ashley was still holding her head in her hands.

She got her second word right too, but then misspelled ``ecclesiastical.''

``I think it was my time to get out. I thought I was going to faint,'' Ashley said.