Odyssey of the Mind: What You Need To Know

January 11, 2023
By AdmissionSight

Odyssey of the Mind: What You Need To Know

What Is the Odyssey of the Mind?

What is the Odyssey of the Mind? Odyssey of the Mind (OM™) is an international program that teaches students how to develop and apply their innate creativity to solve problems. This program is intended to assist students from all learning levels in growing as individual learners and team members to reach their full potential.

A man is holding a book standing in the foreground while other students in the background are chatting.

Students employ what they learn and combine it with their hobbies and passions to solve unique open-ended problems in OM. Odyssey of the Mind also promotes cooperation, budgeting, time management, public speaking, and a variety of other skills.


Dr. C. Samuel Micklus’ creative teachings inspired the creation of the Odyssey of the Mind. Dr. Micklus (Dr. Sam to OMers) challenged his Industrial Design students at Rowan University in New Jersey in the 1970s to use their creativity to solve unique problems such as building a vehicle without wheels, designing and testing a mechanical pie thrower, and creating a flotation device that transported them safely across a lake.

Long before it was recognized as a beneficial aspect of education, he developed a course called Creative Problem Solving. The students’ innovative solutions caught the attention of the local media.

Teachers and students discovered what they were lacking in the classroom through those activities and requested to be included in Dr. Sam’s challenges. He created problems for New Jersey’s middle and high schools in 1978. This was the first competition of its sort and was called the “Olympics of the Mind.” Creative Competitions, Inc. (CCI) was then founded in response to popular demand to produce and run the program.

The first teams from outside of New Jersey, including the first international teams from Canada, competed in 1980. This was the first World Finals. CCI assisted to establish local non-profit associations in 1982 to run the program for the schools and teams in their particular state/country.

Soon after, the program’s name was suitably changed to Odyssey of the Mind, signifying the voyage of discovery participants experienced while employing their creativity and natural ability to overcome the program’s challenges.

There are now associations all over the world that serve thousands of schools participating in Odyssey of the Mind. Teams represent nearly every state in the United States and approximately 25 foreign countries. Teams from China, Germany, Mexico, and India are now competing in the World Finals, in addition to Canada’s continuous involvement.

Approximately twenty thousand people, comprised of teams, parents, coaches, and volunteers, go to World Finals, demonstrating that creative thinking is present worldwide and that Odyssey of the Mind is the unifying element that makes this possible.

How Do You Participate in the Odyssey of the Mind?

How do you participate in the Odyssey of the Mind?  A member may be a school, a recognized community organization, or a college or university. The annual membership fee is $135 (U.S.). Membership inclusions are the following:

  • Five long-term problems that are challenging, user-friendly, and cover a wide range of subjects are included with each membership. This means that a single subscription entitles a school to one team (of up to seven students) for each problem in each division.
  • One non-competitive primary problem that is intended for introducing younger pupils to creative problem-solving
  • An Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide, which includes coaching tips, guidelines, sample spontaneous problems, and more
  • The Odyssey of the Mind Newsletter, a quarterly booklet full of program details
  • The opportunity to compete in official competitions
  • The chance to participate in the yearly World Finals
  • The chance to win educational scholarships.
  • All mailings and program updates
  • International Headquarters’ support services

Once your order has been confirmed, you will have access to the current year’s full problem specifics, program materials, and a link to your local OM™ association. You will be given a membership number that will allow you to access the Member’s Area and download membership materials, register for competitions, and more.

Log in to the Member Area once you’ve become a member to access the issue materials. Once your order has been processed, you will be provided login details.

How Does Odyssey of the Mind Work?

Odyssey of the Mind is a problem-solving competition for students and members of community groups of all ages and learning levels. Teams of students choose a problem, develop a solution, and then compete against other teams in the same problem and division.

Group of students in the hallway smiling for the camera

How does Odyssey of the Mind work? The program has numerous complexities that are detailed more in their guide, but here are some of the fundamentals of participation:

1.  Students work in groups of up to seven people under the supervision of an adult coach.

2. Teams work together for weeks or months, at their own speed, to solve long-term problems. Every year, six long-term problems are made for these categories: vehicle, technical, classical art and literature, structure, performance, and primary categories.

3. Team members generate all the ideas for their solution and do all the work themselves. Coaches may assist in teaching skills and educating the team on how to approach the problem and evaluate their solutions, but they will not solve the problem for the team.

4. To answer a problem, teams must follow the general guidelines, the problem’s constraints, and any explanations published during the year on the Odyssey of the Mind website.

5. Teams work within the budget specified in the problem. This will educate the teams how to work within a budget and cultivate valuable life skills.

6. Competition is optional; it is not necessary. Teams from all around the world are addressing OM™ long-term problems, and Odyssey of the Mind will give a platform for teams to compete outside of their school or company if desired. If your team wants to participate, here are a few things you should know:

  • In competition, teams get 8 minutes to show their long-term problem solution.
  • If a team enters a competition, it will be assessed on how successfully it meets the requirements of the problem and on innovation in problem-specific areas. Before finishing their solutions, teams should reread the scoring.
  • Teams are urged to try their best, and a Style score is assigned based on the quality and impact of the team’s solution.
  • Competing teams are given a spontaneous problem to solve on the spot. Spontaneous problems are unknown to the teams and coaches before to competition and are detailed in the Program Guide’s Rules section.

7. A team’s standing in a competition is calculated by adding its Long-Term, Style, and Spontaneous scores and calculating them based on   the scores of the other teams in that competition.

The rules in OM’s guide apply to all issues; any conflicting problem limitations take precedence over these rules, and clarifications released throughout the program year take supersede the rules and the problem restrictions.

What Does the Odyssey of the Mind Competition Measure?

All Odyssey of the Mind problems is based on creative problem-solving. So, what does the Odyssey of the Mind competition measure? Teams are judged in three areas during the competition: long-term problem solution, Style component of long-term problem solution, and how well they answer the spontaneous problem presented on the day of the competition.

a group of students getting to know each other

Long-Term Competitive Problems

Each year, Odyssey of the Mind offers five competitive long-term problems ranging from technical to artistic to classical in nature. Teams select a problem to address and develop a solution to submit in competition against other teams in the same grade range.

Long-term problems require teams to start to plan their solutions weeks or months before the competition. Each problem has one or more objectives, a set of constraints and requirements, and different score categories.

Each year, the problems are changed, as do the requirements and constraints, but the categories of problems are as follows:

  • Problem No. 1: Vehicle – Teams must design, manufacture, and operate one or more vehicles. They can be little at times, or large enough to ride on and convey other goods. In general, the vehicles are graded based on their propulsion system, as well as their ability to travel and complete various tasks.
  • Problem No. 2: Technical/Performance – Teams are graded on performance factors and technical accomplishments. Typically, this problem requires the creation of one or more devices that execute specific duties or tasks.
  • Problem No. 3: Classics – This is a performance problem based on a “classical” theme. It could include mythology, art, music, archaeology, or any other classical subject.
  • Problem No. 4: Structure – Teams must design and construct a structure using only balsa wood and glue. The structure is tested by adding Olympic-sized weights until it breaks. Each year, there is an aspect of the problem that distinguishes it from previous years. For example, having the structure withstand the impact of a ball thrown down a ramp.
  • Problem No. 5: Performance – This is strictly a performance task, with grading based mostly on performance and performance factors. It demands a specific character, comedy, and an original tale at times, but it is always enjoyable.

Long-Term Style

The addition of style improves the presentation of the solution. The Style section of the competition allows teams to demonstrate their talents and creative skills while also expanding on their long-term problem solution.

Each challenge contains its own set of compulsory Style elements, as well as a set of Free Choice Style categories chosen by the team. Teams can select the features they want to include; thus, these provide an incentive for creativity in a variety of areas.

The Style score is added to the long-term problem score.

Primary Problem

Each participant is given a non-competitive primary problem with the goal of introducing younger students to the creative problem-solving process.

The framework of the primary problem is remarkably similar to that of the competitive long-term problems, complete with examples of score and Style categories, to prepare students for Odyssey of the Mind competitions.

Although there is no competition at the primary level, teams may be invited to participate in an official tournament to showcase their solutions. This is a decision made by the Tournament Director.

To gain access to the Primary Problem, schools must pay a subscription, although there is no limit to the number of teams that can join.

Spontaneous Problems

During the competition, each team solves a spontaneous problem. This portion of the competition is dubbed “Spontaneous” since teams do not know what they will be required to complete until they reach the competition room. Solving spontaneous problems encourages students to “think on their feet,” which means responding to situations in a decisive, efficient, and impromptu manner.

Spontaneous problems are classified as “top secret.” Teams with the same long-term problem and division will solve the same spontaneous problem, hence it is vital that no one discusses the topic outside of the room until all teams have competed.

Students listening to the class lecture

Even so, you may only discuss it within your group until all OotM competitions throughout the world are finished. Notifying other teams of a potential problem could offer them an advantage in a tournament. Anyone who discloses a spontaneous problem to others risks disqualification and/or disciplinary action against the entire team.

The spontaneous challenges vary in type, with each having its own set of rules that are read to the team in the competition room. In competition, teams will be required to tackle only one type of spontaneous problem. Teams competing in a long-term technical problem may be required to solve a verbal spontaneous problem and vice versa.

Here are the types of spontaneous problems:

  • Verbal spontaneous problems call for verbal responses. They might use improvisation or dramatization. Teams are graded on how common and innovative their responses are.
  • Hands-on spontaneous problems require teams to physically construct a tangible answer. Each hands-on problem has its own set of grading categories.
  • Verbal/hands-on combination spontaneous problems will require teams to develop a tangible solution and incorporate some form of verbal components, such as writing a story about the solution. Teams are graded on their tangible solution as well as their verbal presentation.

The spontaneous component of the competition is open to all seven team members. Every team should practice both verbal and hands-on skills.

Is Odyssey of the Mind Good for Kids?

Parents often ask, “Is Odyssey of the Mind good for kids?” Odyssey of the Mind is a program that challenges students to think and write imaginatively to propose a solution to a problem. It is an excellent opportunity for young children to exhibit their creativity.

Primary teams are made up of seven students from the first and second grades. The problems include a writing component and the ability to follow directions well and work cooperatively.

Odyssey of the Mind is a program that focuses on student aptitude while requiring little assistance from teachers and adults. There is no way to adequately prepare your youngster for tryouts.

The adult input consists of meeting schedules, adhering to Odyssey of the Mind laws and regulations, guiding students in addressing the challenge assigned by the Odyssey of the Mind organization, and creating an environment that fosters creativity.

The Odyssey of the Mind curriculum is predicated on the idea that creativity can be taught. Not only can creativity be taught, but learning can be fun, too. Odyssey of the Mind gives that outlet in a setting where nearly every type of student will thrive. Odyssey of the Mind benefits all students at all levels of learning.

Does Odyssey of the Mind Look Good on College Applications?

Extracurricular activities may make or break a college application. Each year, hundreds of students apply to the most renowned universities, and students must do more than have excellent GPAs and SAT scores to stand out.

A male student looking at his laptop and pondering

Some activities are more likely to leave an impression than others. Academic competitions are the best for college applications because they demonstrate a student’s intellectual prowess and ability to work as part of a team.

Academic competition is an excellent chance to showcase your capabilities if you excel at problem-solving and make efficient decisions quickly. It can also help your application, especially if traditional extracurricular activities like sports and music aren’t your thing. Even if your team does not win an award, these competitions will demonstrate to universities that you can work as a team and remain confident under pressure.

Does Odyssey of the Mind look good on college applications? Odyssey of the Mind encourages high school pupils to think outside the box by identifying issues and developing innovative solutions. Competition occurs at the regional, state, and national levels.

Odyssey of the Mind, Quiz Bowl, Chess Club, and math competitions demonstrate to colleges and universities that you are competitive, enthusiastic, and attentive.

Academic teams and clubs also indicate your interest in academics outside the classroom, which will be more important in college than in high school.

Participating in an academic team or club allows you to exhibit your capacity to work hard, collaborate with others, and execute challenging tasks under pressure. Your application will portray a student who is not frightened of hard work.

If you need more insight into which extracurricular activities will help your application, AdmissionSight is here to help. Choosing which activities to spend your time and effort on is essential since you must fit all your activities and studies within a limited schedule. AdmissionSight can also assist you in preparing your application to stand out among highly-qualified and compelling applications. Book an initial consultation with us today.

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