Odyssey of the Mind
|Founder||C. Samuel Micklus
|Type||Creative problem-solving competition|
|Origins||Glassboro State College, New Jersey|
|USA and 24+ other countries|
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 participate in the Spontaneous portion of the competition by generating solutions to a problem they have not seen before. While the Long-term Problem solution often takes many months to complete and involves various elements of theatrical performance, construction and design, the Spontaneous portion occurs the day of the competition.
Odyssey of the Mind is administered by Creative Competitions, Inc. (CCI).
The Odyssey of the Mind program was co-founded by C. Samuel Micklus and Theodore Gourley 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 Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Canada, China, Czech Republic, DoDDS Europe, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Mexico, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and Uzbekistan, regularly competing in addition to teams from the United States.
Odyssey of the Mind teams are divided into four divisions:
Division I -- Grades K-5 (U.S.): Less than 12 years of age on May 1 of the competition year (Other International).
Division II -- Grades 6-8 (U.S.): Less than 15 years of age on May 1 of the competition year (Other International).
Division III -- Grades 9-12 (U.S.): Oldest team member does not qualify for Divisions I or II and is attending regular school--not a college or university or anything similar (Other International).
Division IV -- Collegiate for ALL TEAMS. All team members must have a high school diploma or its equivalent and be enrolled in at least one course at a two- or four-year college or university.
The oldest team member determines the team's division.
There is also a non-competitive primary division for young children (Grades K-2 U.S.), 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.
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. The highest-scoring teams 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.
There are five categories of problems that participants can solve:
Vehicle: involves building vehicles of different sizes that must perform specified tasks.
Technical: involves building “innovative contraptions”.
Classics: incorporates knowledge of architecture, art, and literature
Structure: requires the designing and building of a structure using only balsa wood and glue, and competing to see which structure can hold the most weight
Theatrics: requires the team to act, sing, and dance based on a given theme
However, the different aspects of each of the five categories are not exclusive within that category; acting is prevalent in solutions to all five problems, and throwing in knowledge of history into a non-Classics problem or technology in a non-Tech problem will usually earn a team bonus points.
Specifications differ between problems, but there are some general rules that are crucial for everyone involved in Odyssey of the Mind to know. First, there is the Outside Assistance rule, which heavily stresses that every aspect of a solution must result from the work of the team; parents and coaches absolutely must restrict themselves to supervising the children to ensure that they are safe and focused. Something as simple as a mother adjusting her child’s hat prior to competition is considered outside assistance, and the team will have points deducted from their final score. Thus all brainstorming, building, painting, sewing, and fixing are to be done by the team.
For each Long-Term problem, every team can have a maximum of seven members, every solution a maximum of eight minutes or more depending on the problem in length including set-up and presentation, and the total cost of all materials in a solution must either be under $125 or $145, depending on the problem (see Cost Limit). Each of these rules require participants to push their thinking capacities as they decide how best to utilize their skills, time, and money.
A new problem for each category is presented every year, and the synopses and rules can be found on the official Odyssey of the Mind website.
Most years, one problem is sponsored by NASA.
As the name suggests, teams do not know ahead of time the topic they are to compete in. Upon competition, individual teams will enter a room of judges and will be presented with one of three problem types: Verbal, Hands-on, or Verbal/Hands-On.
In Verbal problems, teams are usually given a minute to think and then two to three minutes to respond to a theme such as "make a rhyme using a name or species of an animal". Teams will then be graded based on the creativity of their individual responses. For instance, "there is a dog on a log" is a common answer which would earn the team one point, while "I can step on an ant, but an uncle I can't" involves word play, a creative response that is worth 3 or 5 points. Verbal problems encourage individuals to incorporate their knowledge of history, science, literature, and popular culture.
Hands-on problems focus on teamwork and the ability to listen to complicated directions. Teams will usually be instructed to build something based on the limited materials given, such as a freestanding tower using a few sheets of paper, some paper clips, a pair of scissors, and a piece of tape. The team with the tallest tower and the best teamwork earns the most points. It should be noted that in OM, if the rules do not say that something cannot be done, then it can; in other words, participants are encouraged to search for creative, outside-the-box solutions.
A Hybrid, or Verbal/Hands-On, problem has aspects of both types, typically either a verbal problem that involves manipulation of physical objects or a two-part problem: build something in part 1, and provide verbal responses with it in part 2.
All teams who advance from 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.
- 2014 - Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, May 28-31
- 2013 - Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, May 22-25
- 2012 - Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, May 23-26
- 2011 - University of Maryland (College Park), May 27–30
- 2010 - Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, May 26–29
- 2009 - Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, May 27–30
- 2008 - University of Maryland (College Park), May 31-June 3
- 2007 - Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, May 23-26
- 2006 - Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, May 24-27
- 2005 - University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, May 21-24
- 2004 - University of Maryland (College Park), May 29-June 1
- 2003 - Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, May 28-31
- 2002 - University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, May 22-25
- 2001 - University of Maryland (College Park), June 2-5
- 2000 - University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee, May 31-June 3
- 1998 - Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
- 1997 - University of Maryland (College Park)
- 1995 - University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee
- 1994 - Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa
- 1993 - University of Maryland (College Park)
- 1992 - University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado
- 1991 - University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee
- 1990 - Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa
- 1989 - University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado
- 1988 - University of Maryland (College Park)
- 1987 - Central Michigan University
- 1986 - Northern Arizona University
- 1985 - University of Maryland (College Park)
A variety of non-competitive activities are provided at World Finals; the representative one is "Pin Trading" in which participants trade pins from their regions and states with participants from other states and countries. 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 Olympics 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.
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$125–145. As of the 2006-2007 rules update, some materials have a set "assigned value". Some examples include computers and most audio-visual equipment (projectors, radios, televisions, 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.
Style is a component of long-term where teams are judged on specific elements of their skit. There are five elements scored in style. 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.
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.
The Ranatra Fusca Creativity Award is granted to teams who have demonstrated exceptional creativity, the essence of the Odyssey of the Mind 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.
- After debate over the for profit nature of Creative Competitions, the controlling corporation for Odyssey of the Mind Inc., a non-profit organization Destination ImagiNation was created by members of the Odyssey of the Mind Inc. board of directors. These are the two largest programs of their type with both offering over 30 years of experience in the preparation of divergent, open-ended activities for students of all ages and cultures.
- Much like at the Olympic games, members of Odyssey of the Mind who advance to the World Finals often purchase a series of pins from their state. These pins are traded throughout the competition uniting teams from all over the world as they barter for one anothers state and country pins. During the World Finals of 1998, which took place in Disney World, Disney picked up on this concept and now pin trading throughout Disney World and Disneyland is quite popular.
- Western New England College press release, March 4, 1999
- Learn More link on the Odyssey of the Mind website
- "Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide, p. 17" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-04-06.
- "Learn More!". Creative Competitions, Inc. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
- "Practice Problems". Creative Competitions, Inc. Retrieved 16 November 2011.
- "Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide, p 46 (p 48 of PDF)" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-04-06.
- "Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide". Odyssey of the Mind. Retrieved 2014-11-30.