Spontaneous Basics

Page last updated: 11/10/2021

NOTE: 2021-2022 season has seen some rule changes to the spontaneous problems. CTOM’s pages have been updated to reflect these changes but be aware most problems on our web site and on the web still have legacy processes. These resources are still valuable but should be adjusted when presenting the formal process to teams.

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. The coach does not go with the team into the spontaneous room. There will always be at least two adults with the team during the entire spontaneous process. 

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

  • Verbal spontaneous problems require verbal responses. They may incorporate improvisation or dramatization. Teams are scored for common and creative responses. (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).
  • Hands-­on spontaneous problems require teams to physically create a tangible solution. Each hands­-on problem has its own specific scoring categories. (e.g. teams 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)
  • Verbal/hands-­on spontaneous problems require teams to create a tangible solution and include some type of verbal component, for example, creating a story about the solution. Teams are scored for both the tangible solution and the verbal presentation. (e.g. teams 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, students and their coach(s) wait in a Holding Room. At some point the team is escorted to a spontaneous room. When the problem is completed, they are escorted back to a Debriefing Room where they will be reunited with their coach. They may discuss the spontaneous problem with their coach(s) at this point, but as soon as they leave the room they may NOT discuss the problem with anyone, not even each other. 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?

Team member jobs:

TIME KEEPING: Who keeps track of the TIME? Why is this important? Understanding how much time is left will be critical in determining how they need to wrap up and solve the solution.

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?  There is a time limit! How does the team feel about their decision making skills?

SCORE KEEPING: Pay attention to the scoring rules. 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 how points are earned. Who is good at math, adds numbers fast and accurately?

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?

MATERIALS: During hands-on type problems, someone should lay out all the materials and inventory what is there. Look and consider all of the materials before starting. You don’t have to use everything but, unless the rules say you do, or unless there is some scoring associated with how materials are used . . . think about everything you are given by the judges (Why did they give us paper, a t-shirt or cardboard or other unusual material?) 

Remember, there are no outside assistance rules in Spontaneous.

Key point:

If it doesn’t say you can’t, you usually can, but ask the judge if you are unsure. Questions do count against your time, though, but are very important to solving all problems.