Spontaneous Basics

The Spontaneous portion of the competition (worth up to 100 points) 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.

Teams do not know beforehand what kind of problems they will face.  The possibilities include:

  • a verbal problem (e.g. 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).
  • a hands-on problem (where they are given materials and must use them to accomplish a task- get balls into containers, build a bridge between two chairs, or build a container that would protect an egg if dropped 5 feet) or
  • a  verbal hands-on problem (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 asked to find uses for them, or  might be asked to draw pictures from a doodle and tell a corresponding story).

On competition day, after signing in at the Spontaneous Desk, the students and their coach wait in the Holding Room for a judge to escort them to their spontaneous room. When the problem 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, but as soon as 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?

There are lots of resources from which to draw spontaneous practice ideas.   There are books available from Odyssey of the Mind full of ideas to try.  There are also resources available on the many websites of other Odyssey of the Mind organizations. Also check out our SponZone site for additional resource s and many problems.

Spontaneous problems are designed for 5 team members – the remaining members may remain to observe but may not participate in any way- no signalling of any kind. Consider the role of the students who sit out during the spontaneous.  How can they contribute to the team without saying anything?  They can pay attention to what the team does well, to what the team misses, to what the team could improve, and give constructive feedback to the team later. Try to think of something every team member did well. Keep comments constructive!


TIME KEEPING: Who keeps track of the TIME? Why is this important? Which team member always wants to know what time it is?

RULE KEEPING: The team copy is for the team’s use. Read along with the judges and refer to it often. Pick it up and look at it! That’s OK! Who on the team keeps track of the rules, who notices the details? It is easy to miss a simple rule that can ruin a great solution.

DECISION MAKING: If the team members disagree on a solution in spontaneous, what does the team do? Some teams have a decision maker who makes the final decision. Does the team need or want a captain? How will they make decisions quickly?  They usually have only 8 minutes! How does the team feel about their decision making skills?

SCORE KEEPING: Pay attention to the score points. Where will the team get the most points in a problem? Practice looking at the points of different kinds of problems. So many spons are lost on this alone because the team focused on something worth a few points when they could have easily gotten many more, if they had paid attention to the points. Who is good at math, adds numbers fast and accurately?

PLANNING: Decide in advance of the competition who will be on the Verbal team, Hands On team and Verbal/Hands On team. Should the students field the best teams possible or give everyone a chance? Depends on the teams goals– are they seeking to move to the next level of competition or do they want everyone to get experience. Both positions are valid. Who decides who is on what team? Some teams decide by secret ballot, with each team selecting the best spon specialty team in their view, others openly discuss the options with team members well aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Should a team member avoid an area of weakness? Depends. How will your team make this decision?

BUILDING: Who will do the building if it is a Hands On problem? Everyone?  One or two? Who is good at building and has good fine motor skills? Think about what works and what doesn’t. Can the team switch if say artistic (drawing or mask making) or athletic (throwing, reaching, jumping) skills are required instead of building skills?

TEAMWORK: Many Hand On problems include teamwork points. What are the judges looking for in good teamwork? What can your team do to showcase how well the team works together? Is it possible to get along too well? Everyone does something well. Well- prepared teams know the strengths of their teammates and know how to work out new issues quickly. This takes time to develop. Watch a skilled high school team do a practice spontaneous!

LISTENING: How does the team make sure all of the ideas are heard in the spontaneous? If a quiet member of the team has the best solution will the team miss it?

JUDGES: Who are the Judges? What will they see as funny? Are they more like your friends or your parents/teachers?

MATERIALS: Look and consider all of the materials before you start. You don’t have to use everything but . . . think about everything you are given by the judges (Why did they give us paper, a t-shirt or cardboard or other unusual material?) Think about ways to use paper, and other materials.

Remember, there are no outside assistance rules in Spontaneous.

Remember, too, in Odyssey usually if it doesn’t say you can’t, you usually can, but ask the judge to be sure. Questions do count against your time, though.