What is Odyssey of the Mind

MADISON CT Parents only: Click here to sign up your child.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Team members apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. They then bring their solutions to competition on the local, state, and World level. Thousands of teams from throughout the U.S. and from about 25 other countries participate in the program. (www.odysseyofthemind.com).  CTOM was organized in 1981 in order to bring the magic of the Odyssey of the Mind program to Connecticut youth.

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How Odyssey of the Mind Works:

Teams of five to seven students develop solutions to one of six Long Term Problems over several months, while practicing for a Spontaneous Problem.  Teams, problems and competitions are organized into five divisions by age groups (Primary, I, II, III, IV).  The primary division problem is a demonstration problem that is not judged competitively.

In the Spontaneous problem, teams will work together to solve a problem they have never seen before.  They may need to build a bridge out of toothpicks, straws and marshmallows or even figure out how to get water out of an imaginary pond.  You never know what you’ll be asked to do in Spontaneous, but it’s all fun!

The top two teams (in each problem and division) who win at the State level will advance to the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals that is usually held at a university.


Throughout the problem solving process, Odyssey of the Mind students learn STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concepts by assessing the composition and strength of materials, designing vehicles and devices, engineering structures, sets and backdrops, and calculating scores, geometry and physics, all the while creating art!  It stimulates both right and left-brained thinking!

Whether the problem is technical, structural, classical or performance-based, the Odyssey of the Mind program provides a creative and innovative way to apply STEM concepts that students have learned.

Why Odyssey of the Mind is Good for Kids

The 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.

In the Odyssey of the Mind . . .

  • Students develop team-building skills by working in groups of as many as seven students per team.
  • Students learn to examine problems and to identify the real challenge without limiting the possible solutions and their potential success.
  • The creative-thinking process is nurtured and developed as a problem-solving tool.
  • Students of all types will find something that will appeal to them.
  • The fun of participation leads to an elevated interest in regular classroom curricula.
  • Teachers have a program to further provide students with a well-rounded education.

Who Participates?

Millions of students from kindergarten through college have participated in the Odyssey of the Mind. Since the Odyssey of the Mind eliminates the fear of criticism, even shy students are afforded the opportunity to open up and express themselves. Students learn to work in teams. Each year, five new competitive problems are presented for the teams to solve. These long-term problems are solved over weeks and months. Some of the problems are more technical in nature, while others are artistic or performance based. Each long-term problem rewards “Style” in the solution. This helps teach students that they should not simply try to solve problems but take the next step of enhancing their solutions. The teams are invited to participate in competition and present their solution with other teams. At the competition, the teams are given an on-the-spot “spontaneous” problem to solve. The combination of long-term problem-solving, Style, and spontaneous problem-solving produces a confident, able student.

Age Divisions

Teams are formed by division and compete against teams in the same division and problem. Grade level determines the division for teams in the U.S. and in countries with an educational structure that corresponds to the U.S. Except for Division IV, teams from countries with a different grade system ( “Other International” ) will have their division determined by the ages of the team members. In competition, each school membership may enter one team per problem for each division it covers. Community groups and home-schooled members may enter one team per problem.

The team must compete in the lowest division for which it qualifies. For example, if a team qualifies for Division II it cannot compete in Division III. The team member in the highest grade (U.S.) or the oldest determines the team’s division.  High school students taking accredited courses do not qualify for Division IV. There is a division finder to determine the division of your team. No special exceptions will be granted to allow a team to change its division.

An International Extravaganza

The Odyssey of the Mind is truly a worldwide competition. Participants include 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, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, and practically every state in the U.S. The annual Odyssey of the Mind World Finals is an event to behold. It embodies the international spirit of creativity!

Membership Costs

A member may be a school, a recognized community group, or a college or university. A membership fee is $135 (U.S.). With each membership, you receive:

  • Five long-term problems that are challenging, user-friendly, and cover a wide variety of subjects.
  • One non-competitive primary problem, designed to introduce younger students to creative problem solving.
  • An Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide, which provides coaching information, rules, sample spontaneous problems . . . AND MORE!
  • The Odyssey of the Mind Newsletter, a quarterly publication loaded with valuable program information.
  • The opportunity to enter official competitions.
  • A chance to attend the annual World Finals.
  • The opportunity to win educational scholarships.
  • All mailings and program updates.
  • Support services from International Headquarters.

Membership Savings

You’ll receive the following discounts if you purchase more than one membership:

  • Each additional membership for the same school or community group @ $100
  • 6-10 members from the same school district (registered at the same time) @ $120
  • 11 or more members from the same school district (registered at the same time) @ $100

Referring to the Odyssey of the Mind volunteers:

“Behind each one of our finalists is a volunteer support network that can proudly claim to be one of those thousand points of light that I like to talk about.”    – George Bush, President of the United States

Odyssey of the Mind Associations

Typically, a chartered affiliate is a state, province, or country that holds a competition in that geographical area. It is headed by an Association Director. Teams advance from regional competitions to association finals, and the champions are invited to compete at the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals. Members not represented by a chartered affiliate may compete at the World Finals on a first-come, first-served basis. All Division IV teams compete directly at World Finals. Odyssey of the Mind International Headquarters provides support services and materials to its affiliates. These include publications and trained consultants to conduct workshops and training sessions, and videotapes to train judges. Odyssey of the Mind tournament officials are properly trained at judges workshops to ensure uniform standards at all competitions.

Odyssey of the Mind Problems – Long Term:

The problems are designed for competition, with scoring components and limitations, or rules to be followed. The long-term problems change every year. They fall into five general categories. These are mechanical/vehicle, technical performance, classics, structure and performance.


Teams design, build and operate vehicles of various size and with various power sources. Sometimes they drive the vehicles, and sometimes the vehicles perform tasks, such as overcoming obstacles or visiting other “countries” to retrieve artifacts.


The theme of this problem is based on the classical — from literature to architecture to art. Whether it’s writing an additional chapter to Moby Dick or bringing paintings to life, it’s always a terrific learning experience.


In this problem, teams present performances that revolve around a specific theme and incorporate required elements. Past themes include “morphing” objects, animals that express human emotions, and originating folktales.


Teams design and build structures, using only balsa wood and glue. They test them by supporting and holding as much weight as possible — sometimes more than a thousand pounds! Teams usually present a skit as part of the Style presentation.

Technical Performance

Teams make innovative contraptions and incorporate artistic elements into their solutions. They might be asked to write an original musical score to play on a “new” type of instrument, or to build a robot with human characteristics, or to perform tasks using a chain reaction of snapping mousetraps.

Odyssey of the Mind Problems – Spontaneous:

The Spontaneous portion of the competition requires that the team solve a problem they have never seen, before a team of judges. They have approximately 8 minutes to solve the problem given. The coach does not go with the team into the spontaneous room.  There are three different types of Spontaneous problems, and the team does not know in advance what they will be asked to solve:
Verbal: Name things that break; or if you had a million bars of soap what would you use them for; or if you were the size of an ant, how would your life be different?
Hands-on: The team is given materials which must be used to accomplish a specific task such as getting balls into containers, build a bridge between two chairs, or build a container that would protect an egg if dropped 5 feet.
Verbal/Hands-On: a combination problem where a team might be asked to make a product out of materials and suggest advertising slogans, or are given two pipe cleaners and be asked to find uses for them or might be asked to draw pictures from a doodle from which the team tells a story.
In Connecticut, on competition day, after teams sign in at the spontaneous desk, the students and their coach wait in a holding room for a judge to escort them to their spontaneous room. When the task is completed, the judge will escort the team back to a debriefing room where they will be reunited with their coach. They may discuss the spontaneous problem with their coach at this point.  Once they leave the room they may NOT discuss the problem with anyone, not even each other, until the ceremony. The reason is simple. Which team will do better on a spontaneous, the team that has 8 minutes to solve it or the one that overheard the problem and has 2 hours to figure it out?

A Brief History

The Odyssey of the Mind has its roots in the Industrial Design classes of Dr. Sam Micklus, Odyssey of the Mind founder. As a professor at Rowan University in New Jersey (formerly Glassboro State College) Dr. Micklus challenged his students to create vehicles without wheels, mechanical pie throwers and flotation devices that would take them across a course on a lake. He evaluated them not on the success of their solutions, but on the ingenuity applied and the risk involved in trying something new and different. Students had fun. Word spread and the students’ activities attracted attention from the local media. Soon, people on the outside wanted a part of the action. This public interest led to the development of a creative problem-solving competition for school children. The Odyssey of the Mind was on its way. Since then, Dr. Micklus’s life has been happily consumed with developing problems for other people to solve. His rewards are in the joy and pride of the millions of participants who rise to the challenge of solving those problems.