Odyssey of the Mind, often called OM (although the official acronym is OotM), is a creative problem-solving competition involving students from kindergarten through college. Team members work together at length to solve a predefined problem (the Long Term problem); and present their solution to the problem at a competition. They must also generate spontaneous answers to a problem they have not seen before; this is the spontaneous competition.
Odyssey of the Mind is administered by Creative Competitions, Inc. (CCI).
The Odyssey of the Mind program was co-founded by Dr. Theodore Gourley and Dr. C. Samuel Micklus in 1978 at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) in Glassboro, New Jersey. That first competition, known as "Olympics of the Mind", involved teams from 28 New Jersey schools. The program is now international, with teams from Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Siberia, Singapore, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, and West Africa regularly competing in addition to teams from the United States..
Odyssey of the Mind teams are divided into four divisions:
Division I for students in grades K-5 for the U.S. teams and members less than 12 years of age for international teams
Division II for grades 6-8 in the U.S. and members younger than 15 for international teams
Division III for grades 9-12 in the U.S. and members who do not fall into the other divisions for international teams
Division IV for collegiate groups
The oldest team member determines the team's division. Division IV is specifically for college students, and all team members must have a high school diploma or its equivalent and be enrolled in at least one course at a two-year or four-year college or university.
There is also a non-competitive primary division for young children, who are given a simplified problem and fewer constraints than the higher divisions. They present and are given feedback at the first level tournament and cannot advance except for special occasions where officials invite a team to perform again at the State level.This is also a form of Odyssey of the Mind preparation for future years.
In the United States, each participating state has its own Odyssey association. Most states are further broken down into regions. Teams compete at the regional level first and then, if they win, progress to the state level. In the U.S., there is no national level. State-winning teams go directly to the World Finals, which have always been held in the U.S., usually at the end of May.
All teams who pass their state finals, or their national finals if they are from outside of the US, are invited to World Finals. World Finals is the culmination of the entire year of Odyssey of the Mind. Earning a visit to WF is a great privilege for any Odyssey of the Mind Team. Odyssey of the Mind World Finals for the 2006
school year was held from May 23
, 2007, at Michigan State University
in East Lansing, Michigan
. For the 2005-2006 school year, World Finals was held at Iowa State Universityin
Ames, Iowa. The 2007-2008 World Finals was held at the University of Maryland (College Park)
from May 31-June 3.
A variety of non-competitive activities are provided at World Finals. There is a creativity festival where each state/country runs a booth containing a fun activity related to their state. The highlights of World Finals are the opening and closing ceremonies. These ceremonies are held olympic style in a stadium on campus. Teams march in and sit with other competitors from their state. After the closing ceremonies, several parties are held for different age groups, and a party is held for the coaches. These parties are a reward for all the hard work that teams have put in.
Throughout the three competition days, the team will present their long term solution once and complete one spontaneous problem. The rest of the time is filled with fun activities, opportunities to observe other teams, and a chance to meet other competitors from around the world.
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.
Each year, six problems are released. While the specifics of each problem change from year to year, they always correspond to 18 general categories:
- 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. The vehicle problem for 2007-08 is called "Odyssey Road Ralley" and involves one vehicle competing in sports-related events at four Ralley-Checkpoints. The 2008-2009 vehicle problem is called "Earth Trek" and involves a vehicle visiting 4 different enviroments and each time it leaves, its appearance must change.
- The technical performance problem is mainly focused on a technical solution involving building machinery, and like the vehicle problem, places secondary emphasis on the performance. The technical problem for 2007-08 is called "DinoStories" and is focused on how the dinosaurs became extinct. Previous technical problems have included robot building, sound production and others. The 2008-2009 problem is called Teach Yer Creature. Teams will create a humorous performance about a mechanical creature that acts like a real mammal or bird and learns lessons.
- 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. The 2007-08 problem is called "The Wonderful Muses". The 2008-2009 classic is known as the Lost Labor of Heracles and will consist of teams creating a skit including one of heracles 12 classic labors and 1 team created that is said to have been lost in history. The team must explain its reason for the loss of this labor.
- The structure (or balsa) problem involves building a structure out of 1/8 inch (Actually 0.33 cm for international compatibility. ) balsa wood and glue. The task is typically to make the structure hold as much weight as possible; 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, but the skit must include the structure in it. The 2007-08 problem is centered around golf balls and is called "Tee Structure". The 2008-2009 problem is called Shock Waves. Teams will need to create a structure that may can hold weights will absorbing shock waves.
- 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. The 2007-08 problem "The Eccentrics!" requires a humorous performance about three Eccentric Characters. Overall, the majority of the performance category problems require a humorous script of some sort. The 2008-2009 problem is called Supersitions. The problem is to create and present a performance that includes two documented superstitions, an original superstition created by the team, and the events that caused the original superstition to come to be.
- 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, though some regions encourage them to exhibit their problems to an audience. The primary problem for 2007-2008 is called "Rude Awakenings". The 2008-09 primary problem is called "Candy Factory" and will entail teams to create a skit based on a candy maker and his or her factory.
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.
There is a "cost" limit on the value of all materials used in the presentation of the long-term solution. This limit is typically US$125–150. As of the 2006-2007 rules update, some materials have a set "assigned value". Some examples include computers and most audio-visual equipment (projectors
, music players, etc.). The suggested cost to write these items down as is anywhere between $5-$10. Still other materials are simply "exempt" from cost. This includes batteries
and power cords
, footwear, tables and chairs. All of these materials, even the exempt, must be listed on the "cost form". The judges check this list to make sure that the team is within the cost limit and following the appropriate assigned values and exemptions.
is a component of long-term where teams are judged on specific elements of their skit. There are five elements scored in syle. Often, two of these elements are specified in the problem, the other two are then "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, costume, or prop. The free choice items may be anything the team wishes as long as they are not already scored as part of the long-term solution. Each element is scored from 1-10, accounting for 50 points of the overall score.
The Spontaneous problems are the part of the competition that encourage quick, off-the-top-of-your-head thinking. While up all team members may enter the spontaneous room, only five team members can actually participate in spontaneous. Spontaneous problems fall into three categories:
- Verbal problems involve responses to a question, statement, or picture; team members' responses are scored on wittiness and creativity (With common responses receiving one point and creative or humorous responses receiving greater amounts, depending on the problem.). Usually, team members have one or two minutes to think of responses and then two or three minutes to give the responses. The order of responses is often random or sequential. Recent problems have also involved a limit to the total number of responses. (Each team member is given a set of colored cards and must turn in a card when they give a response. When they are out of cards, they are out of chances to respond.)
- 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. Scoring is based on team work and creativity of responses.
- 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. Scoring is based on team work, creativity, and problem-specific goals.
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 Spontaneous 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.
Each team is given a score out of 350 points: 200 from Long-term, 100 from Spontaneous, and 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.
Awards for Creativity
OMER’s Award is named for the Odyssey of the Mind raccoon mascot, OMER, in recognition of
individuals or teams who demonstrate outstanding sportsmanship, exemplary behavior, or
exceptional talent. Recipients of this award may be coaches, team members, parents, officials or
anyone else that tournament officials or directors feel exhibit these traits. This award is not
intended to reward creativity. Generally, a handful of these awards are given out at each competition.
Ranatra Fusca Creativity Award
The Ranatra Fusca Creativity Award represents the essence of the Odyssey of the Mind. It is
presented to teams or individuals who exhibit exceptional creativity, either through some aspect
of their problem solution, or an extraordinary idea beyond the problem solution. A successful
problem solution is not a criterion for winning the award; rather, the award is a way to
acknowledge and encourage creative thinking and risk-taking. Teams that earn this award at the state/province/country level are eligible to advance to world finals. The name comes from a type of insect Renatra fusca
which can walk on water and served as the inspiration for a particularly creative, but unsuccessful, solution to a problem in the early days of the program.
- When founded, the program was known as "Olympics of the Mind." In the early 1980s, the International Olympic Committee enforced violations of its trademarked "Olympic" name, and forced the program to change its name. The new name selected was "Odyssey of the Mind" to fit the "OM" acronym in use at the time.
- Though the program is often called "OM," this use has been discouraged as the result of a trademark-related lawsuit.
Associations for Canadian provinces
Associations for U.S. states
Resources for Spontaneous Problems