What is Odyssey of the Mind?

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem-solving program for students ranging in age from kindergarten through college. Students work on teams to solve problems creatively! Modeled on interscholastic sports, Odyssey of the Mind’s creative competitions combines the excitement of athletic competition with fun-filled often zany mental gymnastics. Teams match wits & abilities together to develop creative solutions for broadly defined problems. It allows students to work with others and provides them with the opportunity to learn creative problem solving, brainstorming, and teamwork. Students form teams of up to seven members to develop a solution to one of six Long Term Problems over several months. During this time, teams are also working on developing their skills for other aspects of the competition.

In the Long Term Problem portion of the competition, teams create a theatrical and engineered solution to one of the specific problems that they choose to solve over several months. Team members will develop an 8 minute performance that will involve costumes, props, and problem specific requirements that will demonstrate the solution they have created.

In the Spontaneous portion of the competition, teams will be given a problem on competition day they must solve. Typically, students have around 5 minutes from first hearing the problem to having to complete it. These problems challenge students to think on their feet and solve problems very quickly without any outside influence. Spontaneous problems are done in a closed area so that each team has the same amount of time to see and solve the problem. Spectators of any kind are not allowed to view this portion so that the competition aspect can remain fair and consistent.

Teams, problems, and competitions are organized into five different divisions by age group (Primary, I, II, III, IV). Division I is elementary aged competitors, Division II is middle school age students, Division III is high school age students, and Division IV is for college students. The primary division/problem is an exhibition only and is not judged competitively. These teams will only perform at regional competitions and is setup to be an introduction to the program for young students.

Introduction to Odyssey of the Mind

Odyssey of the Mind was developed in 1978 by Dr. Sam Micklus and Dr. Theodore Gourley at Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) in New Jersey. At first, the competition involved only 28 schools in New Jersey and now has grown to include most states and several foreign countries.

All participating teams are given the choice of the same six long term problems to solve, though these problems change from year to year. Part of the long term problem includes style which enhances the solution through costumes, props scenery, drama, etc. The nature of the problems incorporates the use of critical thinking skills and creativity. The problems usually include a “vehicle” problem, a technical problem, a “classics” problem, a balsa wood structure problem and a strictly dramatic problem.

The team of five to seven members selects from the six given problems and after working for several months on the solution, presents it at a regional tournament. At this time, the students will compete against other teams solving the same problem in their division. The top winners will be invited to State Finals and the top winners for each problem in each division at State Finals are invited to compete at the World Finals.

At each competition the teams are also given spontaneous problems to solve the day of the state and world tournaments. These problems also foster creativity and teamwork. Their solution involves a form of brainstorming. Though teams may practice for this segment, they do not know the problem ahead of time.

Participation in Odyssey of the Mind is a memorable experience for the team members. Students look forward to forming new teams and solving new problems each year.

Components of Odyssey of the Mind

At an Odyssey of the Mind competition, teams are judged in three distinct areas: The Long-Term Problem, The Spontaneous Problem, and Style.

The Long Term Problem (worth 200 Points):

Every year, the Odyssey of the Mind organization publishes five competitive long-term problems, and one non-competitive Primary problem. Some problems are theatrical, while others are more technical. Typically, Problems 3 and 5 are more dramatic and focus on the performance aspect. Problems 1 and 2 are more technical in nature and involve creating vehicles or other props that must accomplish tasks. Problem 4 incorporates building a structure made to bear weight. While all problems have different criteria, all problems have an 8 minute performance requirement. All problems are open-ended enough that an unlimited number of interpretations are possible. The long-term solutions are prepared by the team in advance of the tournament. Teams usually spend three to five months developing these solutions.

The Primary problem is an exhibition performance at all regional competitions. The criteria for Primary change every year and can focus on technical elements one year and be performance based the next.

To see the synopsis of problems for this year click HERE

Spontaneous Problem (100 Points)

Each Odyssey of the Mind team entering a tournament must also solve a Spontaneous problem. Spontaneous problems take one of three forms: Verbal, in which team members generate as many creative verbal answers as they can in a short time period; Hands-on, in which a physical or technical problem must be solved in a given amount of time; and combination of the two, Hands-on Verbal, in which a physical object is manipulated in turns by the team members as they generate creative verbal answers. All spontaneous problems require teamwork and points are often awarded for this, regardless of the success of the team’s solution. Team members will not know the content of the Spontaneous problem until the judge presents the problem to them. Teams competing against each other are required to solve the same Spontaneous problem. Team members are not allowed to discuss the problem they were given until after the State Competition.

EXAMPLE: (Verbal) Your problem is to name as many things as you can that fly, or use the word fly in as many unusual ways as you can.

Style (50 Points)

Odyssey of the Mind long-term problem solutions require creative problem solving. Exactly what is Style? Think of a banana split. The long-term is the ice cream on the banana. Style is the way the toppings are placed on the ice cream. All teams that solve the problem have met the requirements of the problem – the banana with the ice cream, but all teams have placed their toppings on in a unique way. They have created special aspects of their solutions that were not required. That is Style. Anything that is not scored in the long term portion of the problem can be scored for Style.

EXAMPLE:  The team is to create and present an original performance that includes a scene from the Iliad and a scene relating to a real occurrence during the twentieth century that includes a god or goddess. The team creates that required skit, but elaborates on it by presenting the skit totally in rhyme. That is Style.

Program Goals

  • Develop creative thinking abilities
  • Increase student ability to apply known principles and facts to “hands-on” situations.
  • Improve communication skills.
  • Learn how to use a creative problem solving process.
  • Develop and utilize skills of all team members.
  • Develop and use local resources.
  • Develop and use research skills.
  • Exercise and use the higher order thinking and critical thinking skills, especially analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
  • Have fun while learning all of these very important skills.
  • Participation in Odyssey of the Mind provides the student with both cognitive and affective experiences.
  • Participation in Odyssey of the Mind provides the student with both cognitive and affective experiences.
  • Students are challenged to develop their critical thinking potential and their divergent thinking skills through creative problem solving.
  • They are encouraged to plan, organize and set long-range goals.
  • During this process, they gain sensitivity and experience with group dynamics.
  • Learning to take risks allows the students to become more self-confident and independent thus making successes and defeats easier to place in perspective.
  • Experiences with OotM problems prepare students to solve real-life problems using specific skills and behaviors.


Odyssey of the Mind is a competitive program, but it’s nothing like your typical sporting event. The competitive element encourages kids to be the best that they can be, but it’s a friendly competition. Kids learn from and even cheer on their competitors. Odyssey of the Mind is not a college bowl or a competition about knowledge. It’s all about creativity, an often overlooked element in the growth and development of many students. Kids are rewarded more for how they apply their knowledge, skills and talents, and not for coming up with the right answer. In fact, in Odyssey of the Mind problems, there isn’t one right answer. Ever.

In Odyssey of the Mind, students learn at a young age skills that will last a lifetime. They work in teams so they learn cooperation and respect for the ideas of others. They evaluate ideas and make decisions on their own, gaining greater self-confidence and increased self-esteem along the way. They work within a budget, so they learn to manage their money. They see that there’s often more than one way to solve a problem, and that sometimes the process is more important than the end result.

Educational Initiatives

Odyssey of the Mind teaches students to learn creative problem-solving methods while having fun in the process. For more than twenty five years, this unique program has helped teachers generate excitement in their students. By tapping into creativity, and through encouraging imaginative paths to problem-solving, students learn skills that will provide them with the ability to solve problems — great and small — for a lifetime. The Odyssey of the Mind teaches students how to think divergently by providing open-ended problems that appeal to a wide range of interests. Students learn how to identify challenges and to think creatively to solve those problems. They are free to express their ideas and suggestions without fear of criticism. The creative problem-solving process rewards thinking “outside of the box.” While conventional thinking has an important place in a well-rounded education, students need to learn how to think creatively and productively.

Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM)

Odyssey of the Mind provides an extra-curricular activity for students that is driven by problem-solving, discovery, exploratory learning, and it requires students to actively engage in order to find its solution. Throughout the problem solving process, Odyssey of the Mind students learn STEM concepts by assessing the composition and strength of materials, designing vehicles and devices, engineering structures, sets and backdrops, and calculating scores, geometry and physics.  Because students are working in a project based environment where they solve a problem from a multi-disciplinary approach, they incorporate science, technology, engineering and math into the process. Odyssey of the Mind problems, from technical to classics, structural to performance, provide a creative and innovative way to problem solve while applying STEM concepts that students have learned.

21st Century Skills

Today’s students need more than core knowledge to be successful. Students must also learn the essential skills for today’s world, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, teamwork and collaboration in addition to core subjects and 21st interdisciplinary themes. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has identified the elements described below as critical to ensure 21st century readiness for every student.

Learn how Odyssey of the Mind problems support 21st Century Skills (pdf)

Learning & Innovation Skills

Learning and innovation skills are what separate students who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in today’s world and those who are not. They include:

  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication and Collaboration

Information, Media & Technology Skills

Today, we live in a technology and media-driven environment, marked by access to an abundance of information, rapid changes in technology tools and the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions on an unprecedented scale. Effective citizens and workers must be able to exhibit a range of functional and critical thinking skills, such as:

  • Information Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) Literacy

Life & Career Skills

Today’s life and work environments require far more than thinking skills and content knowledge. The ability to navigate the complex life and work environments in the globally competitive information age requires students to pay rigorous attention to developing adequate life and career skills, such as:

  • Flexibility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Self-Direction
  • Social and Cross-Cultural Skills
  • Productivity and Accountability
  • Leadership and Responsibility

For more information on 21st century skills, the framework, detailed outcomes and support systems, please see Partnership for 21st Century Skills at www.p21.org.


STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and offers students one of the best opportunities to make sense of the world holistically, rather than in bits and pieces. By removing the traditional barriers between the four disciplines, STEM integrates them into one cohesive teaching and learning paradigm. As an interdisciplinary approach to learning where academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons, STEM teaches students to apply science, technology, engineering, and math in contexts that make connections between school, community, work, and the global enterprise. Odyssey of the Mind develops the following STEM skills in students:

Learn how Odyssey of the Mind problems support STEM skills (pdf)


Able to define questions and problems, design investigations to gather data, collect and organize data, draw conclusions, and then apply understandings to new and novel situations.


Creatively use science, mathematics, and technology concepts and principles by applying them to the engineering design process.


Recognizes the needs of the world and creatively design, test, redesign, and then implement solutions (engineering process).


Able to use initiative and self-motivation to set agendas, develop and gain self-confidence, and work within time specific time frames.

Logical Thinking

Able to apply rational and logical thought process of science, mathematics, and engineering design, to innovation and invention.

Technological Literacy

Understand and explain the nature of technology, develop the skills needed, and apply technology appropriately.

Common Core

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare children for college and the workforce.

The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. These standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

Learn how Odyssey Of The Mind problems support Common Core standards (pdf)