It is Safe2Say


The national Odyssey of the Mind has made a video  “A Creative Experience “, which can be downloaded for free online.  The 10-minute video features testimony from teachers, parents, coaches, and team members who talk about the benefits and rewards of participation, and includes problem footage filmed at past World Finals. For more information, please visit the Odyssey of the Mind and the Pennsylvania Odyssey of the Mind. For more FAQ’s visit the Pennsylvania Odyssey of the Mind.


What is Odyssey of the Mind?

 Odyssey of the Mind is the world’s oldest international creative problem-solving competition for students in kindergarten through college. The purpose of Odyssey of the Mind is to promote creativity and problem-solving in a variety of areas from building mechanical devices and balsa wood structures to presenting dramatic and technical performances. Odyssey of the Mind develops team building skills, divergent thinking, along with presentation and organizational skills. The program provides a caring, supportive environment for team members to develop positive values, self-esteem and social competencies.

Who participates?

The Odyssey program began in 1978 with 28 schools in New Jersey. Today there are more than 3,500 memberships in the United States and many foreign countries including Canada, Japan, China, Poland, Germany, Hungary, Hong Kong, Singapore, Slovakia, United Kingdom, Moldova, Australia, Lithuania, West Africa, Siberia and Kazakhstan. At the annual World Finals teams from around the world present their solutions to the same problems.

How is it organized?

Teams of up to seven members form to solve a long-term problem and develop skills in spontaneous problems. A coach, who must not be involved in any way with the solution, but may help the team logistically by providing practice locations, materials and instruction in techniques, guides teams. Teams compete in each problem against other teams in their division. Divisions are divided according to school grade. In order to compete at the World Finals competition, teams must qualify at their regional competitions and then at their state competitions.

How are teams judged in competition?

Thousands of volunteers from around the world judge the competitions and serve in various positions to help make the tournaments a success. Teams are scored for their Long-Term problem solutionand “Style” (the elaboration of their long-term solution) and how well they solve a “spontaneous” problem on the spot. Teams compete within age divisions.

How did Odyssey of the Mind get its start?

Dr. C. Samuel Micklus, Professor Emeritus at Rowan University in New Jersey, created odyssey of the Mind. In 1978, 28 New Jersey schools participated in the very first creative problem-solving competition ever. “Dr. Sam” still develops all problems for the program, along with his son, Sammy, President of CCI.

How much time does Odyssey of the Mind take?

This is an individual team decision, but most teams meet from October or November until the Regional Tournament in March (and beyond, if they advance past Regionals). Most teams meet once or sometimes twice a week. Many teams meet from 1 – 2 hours per meeting, depending on age and frequency of meetings. Most teams sometimes have a lengthier work session to finish up props, costumes, and so forth. All meetings must be at the convenience of the coach(es), of course!

How does my child get involved in Odyssey of the Mind?

Every September, the faculty coordinator, currently Joy Walls, holds an information/registration meeting where students can register for the program.

How can I, the parent, volunteer for Odyssey of the Mind?

There are always many opportunities for parents to participate and support the program, including coaching, judging and fundraising, to name just a few.  Every year the program coordinator has parents complete a Parent Volunteer Form expressing the parents’ interests.

What is a Long-Term problem?

The long-term problem solutions are presented as skits of no more than eight minutes. During these skits, some team members will generally be “backstage” controlling the technical aspects of the skit, while others will be acting. The Long Term presentations take 3-5 months to produce.


There is a “cost” limit on the value of all materials used in the presentation of the long-term solution, other than “exempt” materials. This limit is typically US$125–150; the team members must submit a list of all non-exempt materials, which the judges check to make sure that the team is within the cost limit. Exempt materials include computers, most audio-visual equipment (projectors, radios, televisions, music players, etc.), batteries and power cords, footwear, musical instruments, and tables and chairs.

Each year, six problems are released, corresponding to six general categories:

  1. The vehicle problem focuses on the design and construction of a vehicle used to solve a designated problem, with a lesser emphasis on the performance accompanying the solution. The problems alternate between team-driven vehicles sized to carry a person and independent self-propelled vehicles.
  2. The technical problem is mainly focused on a technical solution involving building machinery, and like the vehicle problem places secondary emphasis on the performance.  Technical problems have included robot building, sound production and others.
  3. The Classics problem involves a performance tied to some area or aspect of human achievement or culture (art, literature, music, etc.). The problems typically focus on the performance itself, without substantial technical requirements. They have included in the past topics from Shakespeare interpretation to art analysis, great human achievements, and other “Classical” themes.
  4. The structure (or balsa) problem involves building a structure out of 1/8 inch balsa wood and glue. The task is always to make the structure hold as much weight as possible.  However, each year there is a different requirement as to how the structure must be built. There is little emphasis on acting and on the script in this problem.
  5. The performance problem is heavily focused on acting and on the script, with the major challenges involving the incorporation of required elements in the performance. Past problems have covered topics such as idioms and animation.
  6. The primary problem is designed for younger participants in grades K-2, and contains simple requirements for a problem that can easily challenge the youngest minds. Teams who solve this problem do not officially compete and are not scored.

There is a lot of overlap in these categories. Acting problems can make use of technical solutions, and technical problems can emphasize their skits. Many aspects of scoring emphasize creativity and ingenuity rather than technical or acting skill; in addition, special awards are sometimes given to teams whose solutions may not be successful, but which demonstrate exemplary “out-of-the-box” thinking.


Style is a component of long-term where teams are judged on specific elements of their skit. There are five elements; two are specified in the problem, there are two “free choice of team” elements, and the fifth is a score of how well the other elements contribute to the performance. The pre-specified elements are related to the problem in some way; they are typically something to do with the appearance of a vehicle or costume, however in the Balsa Wood problem, the structure may not count as a style element. The style points account for a significant part of the overall score, depending on the nature of the problem.

My child says, “adults can’t help” with the Odyssey of the Mind team at all. Is there anything I can do?

Adults may certainly help, but some kinds of help are “OK,” and some kinds are not. A fundamental rule for Odyssey of the Mind is that all the work must be the team’s own, including all the ideas and all the work on a long-term problem solution.

The team may have no “Outside Assistance” with the long-term problem. Some students will then assume that parents should not help in any way, but there are some things parents can do, including:

  • Teach skills the team may need, such as sewing, woodworking, art, drama, welding … any skills the team believes might be useful. The only constraint is that you may not teach them a particular method of doing something specifically for their problem solution. For example, you may not show them exactly how to paint the exact sort of tree they want to paint for a backdrop … but you MAY show them different ways to draw and paint trees. In other words, you may teach general skills and several methods for doing something, but not teach or demonstrate the exact model for what they want to do. They must learn to take the skill and apply it to their own ideas and the team’s solution themselves.
  • Encourage your child to be a problem solver and not to give up when the going gets hard.
  • Support the coach by offering to take the team to Home Depot or other retailers, or by providing snacks if the coach would like help with those.
  • Learn the process for Spontaneous and help the team practice (or practice at home with your family). There is no such thing as Outside Assistance in Spontaneous!
  • Help the team get everything to the tournament and help them carry props in IF the team asks you to (but if you break something, the team must be the ones to fix it!)
  • Learn to step back and let your child apply his/her own makeup, fix his/her own vehicle, make or repair his/her own costume, and generally be empowered to do all the work by him/herself.
  • Volunteer to help for an hour or two at the tournament (at registration or concessions).
  • Volunteer to train as an official for the tournament (but be aware you may not be able to see your own child compete, as you may be assigned to a different judging team).
  • Most importantly, be supportive of the team’s efforts and understand that failure is not only an option, but sometimes inevitable, and is an opportunity for growth and for learning.

What are spontaneous problems?

The Spontaneous (“Spont”) problems are the part of the competition which requires quick, off-the-top-of-your-head thinking. Spontaneous problems fall into three categories:

  1. Verbal problems involve responses to a question, statement, or picture; team members’ responses are graded on wittiness and creativity. Usually, team members have one minute to think of responses and then two minutes to give the responses. The order of responses is usually random, being controlled by a deck of randomly sorted cards or some such device.
  2. Verbal hands-on problems are similar to verbal problems, but they usually involve manipulating a physical object in some way. This may include using an object as a prop, or taking clay or aluminum foil and making characters, which then participate in a story made up by the team members.
  3. Hands-on problems rely almost entirely on the manipulation of physical objects; these problems usually take longer than verbal problems, and team members may sometimes only be able to communicate non-verbally.

Although an Odyssey team can consist of up to seven members, only five can participate in the Spontaneous problem. Team members that do not participate must either leave the competition room or stay in the room without communicating with the rest of the team in any way. The team members usually decide in advance who will participate in the different types of Spont problems.  After the judge announces which of the three types a team will be given, the other teammates will leave or stay as the case may be.

Why can’t I watch the spontaneous competition?

Even coaches do not attend the spontaneous portion of the tournament. This is a time for the team to be “all on their own” to solve a problem on the spot. Part of what we want children to learn is how to work as a team to solve a problem quickly that may be totally unexpected. An audience would not only distract them from focusing on the problem (which they only have 5-10 minutes to solve) but also there is not room for an audience, as the problems may take up an entire classroom, with only enough room for the team and judges.

If you are interested in spontaneous, you could ask the coach about watching a team practice, or even offer to learn the process and be a “spontaneous coach.” You might work with other parents on the Spontaneous Fair, by setting up problems for several teams to come practice and/or volunteering to judge. You could also volunteer to be a spontaneous judge at a tournament (but be aware you would almost certainly miss the team’s long term performance, depending on the schedule.)

How do I find my child when I arrive at the tournament?

Every tournament has a registration/information desk where there are maps of the performance sites and copies of the schedules. You need to know which school your child or relative attends, what grade he or she is in, and you MUST also know the name of the long-term problem the team is solving. One school may have several teams performing at different locations, so knowing the name of the problem – or at least the type of problem it is – is necessary in order for us to direct you.

How are the teams scored?

Each team is given a score out of 350 points:

200 from Long-term
100 from Spontaneous
50 from Style.

Style is scored from 1-10 in each of the five categories, and the Long-term and Spontaneous problems are scored according to each problem’s individual rules.

The scores awarded are then scaled within each problem and division based upon the highest score achieved by any team in each of the three scoring categories. So, for instance, the team scoring highest in Long-term in a particular problem and division receives 200 points, and the scores for the other teams in that problem and division are scaled proportionately. A team ranking first in its problem and division in all three elements of the competition would thus receive a “perfect” score of 350 points, regardless of the actual raw scores assigned by the judges.  (See actual scores on the PA site which show how style and spontaneous can effect overall scores.)

Why can’t the Closing Ceremonies begin earlier at our tournament?

Keep in mind that score room personnel check every score for every team. Then think about the fact that the last team of the day has 30 minutes to return to discuss any scoring issues. If the last team performs at 4:00, that team finishes at about 4:15; those scores don’t usually reach the score room until 5:00. Then they must be checked, verified, and entered into the computer before ANY scores for that entire problem/division can be calculated and printed out. Verification takes some time; printing takes some time. And there are scores coming in after 4:30 for other problems (probably) and possibly for spontaneous. By the time all of those are checked and associated, membership numbers and math verified, and so forth, it is usually about 5:45 or later … IF no sites are running late and there have been no tribunals. Most tournament directors will allow at least 2 hours after the last team finishes to be confident of having scores printed before starting Closing Ceremonies.

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