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WORLD FINALS COMPETITION: Each year, over 15,000 people from around the world come together in the world's longest-running, largest celebration of creativity: the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals. OMers get to meet fellow students from over 30 nations during this once-in-a-lifetime event!

What is Odyssey of the Mind?

Are you a parent or teacher interested in having your child or student(s) get involved in Odyssey of the Mind (OM)? Well, you've come to the right place!

First, let's talk a bit about what Odyssey of the Mind is. Started in 1979, Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem-solving program for students K-12 (and university level) in which students learn and apply divergent thinking skills to solve one of five Long-Term Problems (detailed below). Students spend weeks to months working on their solution to the problem in preparation for their annual regional, state, or association-level tournament. The day of the tournament, teams will present their solution to a panel of trained judges and an audience.  Teams will also compete in an activity called Spontaneous, in which the team  walks into a room and solves a problem given to the team in that moment (with no advance preparation). Teams are also challenged to come up with their own unique way of solving their Long-Term Problem, an element we like to call Style. Teams that place in the top spots at competition are invited to represent Illinois at the annual Odyssey of the Mind World Finals, a global celebration of creativity!




The majority of our teams represent schools throughout the state of Illinois.  Teams span the state, from Chicagoland to the St. Louis metro area, Champaign-Urbana to Peoria.  A school or school  district will typically purchase a single membership for their school/district, which permits them to enter one team per each Odyssey Long-Term problem in each age division.  In this way, Odyssey of the Mind represents an affordable, proven way to provide gifted and creative education to students in a fun, engaging, and memorable way. Home school groups are also able to participate in the Odyssey program!  If you aren't sure if your school or school district has the Odyssey of the Mind program, the simplest way to find out is to ask them (usually the Gifted and Talented coordinator or the school principal/district  superintendent). And, if your school does *not* yet  have an Odyssey  of the Mind group, the solution is  simple: start one!  We'll help!  Here's a simple STEP-BY-STEP for getting a new group up and running.




Sometimes schools are unable to provide students the opportunity to compete in Odyssey of the Mind.  Fortunately, community organizations - from the local Girl Scout or Boy Scout organization to the local community library - are able to start a membership for young people to participate in the Odyssey of the Mind program!  As long as an organization already exists (i.e., the organization cannot be created for the sole purpose of competing in Odyssey of the Mind), then teams can compete under that organization's name!




Are you a former Omer looking to get back involved?  Maybe a teacher  or administrator who wants to be a part  of Odyssey of the Mind before starting a team?  Great news!  Illinois Odyssey of the Mind is a volunteer-run organization.  From our Association Director to our judges, our merchandise coordinators to our coach trainers, each and every individual volunteers his/her time to help bring this wonderfully rewarding program to young people across the state of Illinois.   We are always on the lookout for eager folks who  want to help, so if you are interested in helping with Illinois Odyssey of the Mind as a volunteer, please don't hesitate to contact us today!






The Long-Term Problem is the *focal* point of the Odyssey of the Mind program.  Each year, Odyssey of the Mind releases FIVE Long-Term Problems to coincide with the traditional academic school year (late August / early September).  Teams around the world will select ONE of the FIVE Long-Term Problems to solve for that academic year.  Some teams get started right away, others wait until later in the year (e.g., January) and spend months to weeks addressing the requirements of each problem.  Odyssey of the Mind's Long-Term Problems are rooted in the academic creativity research suggesting that imposing some constraints actually makes people *more* creative. Each problem lists a set of required elements every team is expected to include in their solution, but the specific way in which each team goes about addressing those requirements will differ from team to team. The five problem "types" each year include:


Teams are required to explore the science of movement and to build vehicles, flying machines, and other modes of transportation - sometimes to be operated by the team and other times to be ridden by a team-member - that complete tasks and travel along designated courses. 


Teams focus on engineering, technology, coding, and mathematics to create technological devices that complete particular tasks, solve problems, or transform in interesting ways. From robots to eco-friendly machines, coded contraptions to innovative musical instruments, the Technical  / Engineering problem gets teams building for the future!


Teams rely on classic literature, artwork, history, music,  and  civilizations in this throwback to earlier eras. Using the past as their source of inspiration, teams competing in the "Classics" problem might be asked to write a musical based on a Shakespearean play, to make prehistoric  artwork come to life, or even to re-create old myths as modern video games!


Teams build lightweight structures out of balsa wood and glue and  then test these structures on a tester board using weights to see just how long their structure can hold up...all while withstanding billiard ball impacts, pieces deliberately being pulled off, and other interesting structural challenges each year.


From infomercials to comedy revues, superhero sagas to team-created fables, the theatrical problem asks students to put on their comedy and tragedy masks and perform while also integrating elements of music, sound and lighting design, creative scenery/props and so much more!


Young students can benefit from the OM experience, too!  The Primary problem is designed for young learners, kindergarten through second grade, who will solve a problem designed specifically for them.  The structure of the primary problem resembles that of the other Long-Term Problems but the problem is non-competitive: Primary teams are often invited to perform their solution at local competitions for fun (not to be scored for competitive purposes).  With the confidence and experience these young learners achieve, they will be ready to compete in future years!

NOTE: Every  Long-Term Problem requires the team to perform an accompanying skit during their allotted 8 minutes, so vehicular and structural teams perform a play just like Classical and theatrical teams. The only difference is the focus of the scoring: performance-based problems (Problem 3 and Problem 5) are scored more for their performance whereas the engineering-based  problems (Problems 1, 2, and 4) are scored more for their technical and engineering components.  Still, Odyssey believes that *all* the elements of  STE(A)M are important, which is why  every problem has some theatrical and engineering components. Students can  choose the problem that showcases their personal strengths while also learning to grow and develop new skills!


The day of competition, teams will be scheduled to compete in a part of the program known as Spontaneous. The name describes the problem: teams will enter a room and be asked to complete a task within minutes. The task could be something as simple as naming as many "green" things  as  possible (e.g., grass, envy, Greenland) to something as complex as building a weight-supporting bridge between two desks using only common household items provided. The team must work  together with a limited amount of time to develop a creative solution. Once  finished, the  team is not allowed to talk about their problem until competition is  over (as this makes the  experience truly "spontaneous" for every team competing).


Style is part of the team's  Long-Term Problem solution. While each Long-Term Problem has a list of requirements that the team must  include in its solution...BUT Odyssey of the Mind encourages  teams to put  their *unique twist*  on their solution. One way to think  about it is this: someone may not know every Beatles' song, but the Beatles had a fairly unique *style* to their music such that if someone were to hear a new song s/he could probably identify it as a Beatles song just by the style.   The same is true of artwork: one need not know every Picasso painting to be able to identify a new Picasso painting due to his unique style.  What this means  and how the team executes it is entirely up to each team, but think  of Style as the team's way of putting its unique stamp on the product solution in a clear, lasting, and memorable way. 





Over the years we have found that the most successful Odyssey of the Mind groups tend to have a program coordinator, whether a teacher, administrator, or parent, for their school or district. This person oversees the  program and helps recruit parent and teacher coaches for the teams. If a school has five teams, the coordinator may oversee all the organization of the program while five parent or teacher coaches each take on one team to coach. In this sense, it is great to get support from fellow teachers and parents. Generating  interest in the program is a good place to start, and to help with that here's a link to a useful flyer!


Joining Odyssey of the Mind is super easy! Simply navigate to the international Odyssey of the Mind homepage at and purchase  a  membership. The  membership includes all the FULL Long-Term Problems  for the  year, practice Spontaneous problems, the Program  Guide, classroom activities, and access to other online resources throughout the year. Purchasing a membership does *not* obligate a team or school to compete at a tournament, but that is usually what most  teams decide to do. Another perk: the membership covers the entire year AND  as  many teams as possible (each membership can enter a  team  in each problem and in each age division -- Division I: Elementary, Division II: Middle School, Division III: High School, and  Division IV: University -- covered by that school or  school district.  The goal of Odyssey is not to make creative problem solving expensive.  In fact, the goal is the opposite: to bring creative problem solving to as many students as possible!


We know it may seem daunting to get a new Odyssey of the Mind team up and running, BUT we also promise 1) it's easier than  you think, and 2) it is worth *every* second!  To help make the process as easy as possible, we have created a STEP-BY-STEP to help you get your Odyssey of the Mind group up and running.  In the first year some new memberships start with one team, others bring 5-10.  What we know is this: if you do Odyssey of the Mind for one year, you *will* be back for more even smarter, stronger, and prepared for the best STE(A)M experience in the world!



August 1: Schools, community groups, and homeschool teams can register at
September 1:  The full Long-Term Problems are posted online and are mailed as hard copies for registered teams.
September 1 - March/April: Teams solve their Long-Term Problem, develop their Style, and  practice Spontaneous.
October (first Saturday):  Online coaches training
January 1:  Teams let Illinois know they intend to compete at the Illinois State Tournament to be held March/April.
January 31:  Last day to register new memberships/teams (internationally and for the Illinois competition).
                         NOTE: Teams must also submit the name and contact info for a competition volunteer by this date.
February 15:  - Last day to submit any Long-Term Problem clarifications.
                            - Last day to order Illinois state shirts and pins for pre-order before Illinois State Tournament.
Late March / early April: Illinois State Tournament.
April 15:  - Last day to order Illinois state shirts and pins for pre-order before World Finals.
Late May: Odyssey of the Mind  World Finals Competition.
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