About Odyssey of the Mind

Odyssey of the Mind is an international creative problem solving program designed for K-12 students (as well as college!) to work as a team to solve a problem. It provides opportunities for students to leverage creative thinking, brainstorming, and teamwork skills. Three primary elements comprise the Odyssey of the Mind competition: the long term solution, style, and spontaneous. 

Long Term

Teams of 5-7 students choose from one of five problems (plus primary) written and released each year (check out the 2019 problem synopses here). Teams must then work to develop a solution to the problem. Their unique solution is presented during an eight minute skit, which means teams must also write a skit, create costumes, and make props. Teams compete in Divisions I, II, or III (with college-aged students competing in Division IV). Divisions are based on age of team members.


NO adult or outside assistance is allowed: teammates can only work with one another to develop all the elements that are presented in their long term solution. Teams must also adhere to a cost limit for all elements used in the presentation of their long term solution (usually around $130). 


The five problems and primary are:

  1. Vehicle/Mechanical: Teams design, build, and operate a vehicle. Sometimes teams drive the vehicle, or sometimes it must perform certain tasks. 

  2. Technical Performance: Teams must design and create unique contraptions that are incorporated into their skit. In the past, problems have included creating musical instruments or building a robot. 

  3. Classics: The theme for this problem is always something about the classics, from art to architecture to literature. Past problems have incorporated Shakespeare or ancient Egypt. 

  4. Balsa Wood Structure: Teams are required to design, build, and test a structure made only out of balsa wood and glue, with the goal to hold as much weight as possible. There is usually a twist, like making the structure shrink while it is being tested. 

  5. Performance: Teams develop solutions around a specific theme or use incorporation of certain elements. In the past, teams have developed original folktales or science fiction-themed skits.  

  6. Primary: The Primary Division serves to introduce younger students to the creative-thinking process, but is a non-competitive division. Competition includes similar elements as the competitive long term problems, and has similar scoring guidelines.  

Copies of past problems are available on the international Odyssey of the Mind website.

Check out the 2019 problem synopses here. The full problem rules (including scoring guidelines) will be published later this year and provided to registered teams.


Style is judged during the presentation of teams' long term solutions, and can be considered the "wow" factor of a team's presentation. Style helps teams not just solve a problem, but maximize their creativity and enhance their solutions. 


No matter which problem a team competes in, they must also prepare style elements to be judged. There are five different elements that make up the Style component of competition: 1-2 mandatory elements, 2-3 "free choice" elements (these are decided by the team), and an "overall effect," which is how well the other four elements fit into the long term solution. 


The Spontaneous section of competition is where creativity and brainstorming skills shine. Teams receive instructions for a problem and must develop their solution on site. These problems are top secret: only the team members who enter the room get to know the details of the problem. Teams competing in the same problem and division receive the same Spontaneous problem, so to ensure fairness it is important for team members not to discuss ANY details of the problem until after the competition awards ceremony. 

There are three different types of Spontaneous problems, and teams should practice each prior to competition.

  • Hands-On: Teams must create a tangible solution. Each hands-on problem will have specific scoring guidelines based on the elements of the problem. 

  • Verbal: Teams must provide oral responses, which may include improvisation or dramatization. Teams are given scores based on common or creative responses. 

  • Verbal/Hands-On: Teams must create a tangible solution, but the solution will also require some verbal element (such as telling a story about the hands-on portion). Teams are scored based on the hands-on as well as the verbal components. 

Are you a former team member? Click below to join Odyssey Alumni!