For Everyone

What is Odyssey of the Mind?

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem solving program which teaches students how to think divergently by providing open-ended problems that appeal to a wide range of interests. Students solve these problems by writing skits, sewing costumes, making props and, depending on the problem choice, building vehicles, technical elements or balsa wood structures.

The Odyssey of the Mind Association is a private organization founded by Dr. Sam Micklus and Dr. Ted Gourley of Glassboro State College (Now Rowan University), New Jersey, in 1978. The program includes member schools from almost every state and from more than 35 countries.

The foundation of the program is the creative solution of one of five long- term problems that students work on for three to five months. These challenges are designed with specific goals, guidelines, judging criteria, and monetary limitations. New long-term problems are created every year.

How are teams formed?

The best teams are a mix of students with varying interests and talents, eg; writers, artists, actors, musicians, builders, etc. Usually, classmates or friends from the same school
(and usually from the same grade) come together to form an OotM Mind team.

How many people are on a team?

Up to seven may perform in the long-term portion of competition but only five may do the spontaneous part of the competition.  Primary teams are allowed up to eight team members since they are non-competitive.

Do all team members have to come from the same school?

In most circumstances, all team members come from the same school. However, multi-school teams — those made up of students from different schools — are permitted as long as all the schools have a current membership. If the schools contain the same division, multi-school teams may choose which school name they wish to use for registering; otherwise, teams must compete under the school name that houses the division that they are competing in. Multi-school teams may only compete at one regional tournament, even if multiple schools may be located in more than one region. Furthermore, each team is allowed one student that attends a different school without a membership, but who resides in the same general area. However, the team members must agree and must have permission from principals from both schools involved. If a team member transfers to another school he/she may continue on the team until the end of the competition year, provided both school administrations approve. (p. 16 from the Program Guide)

What are the Divisions for Competition?

Teams are formed by grade level and a team’s division is determined by the grade level of the oldest team member.

  • Primary Division. Students in kindergarten through grade two.
  • Division One. Students in grades Kindergarten through five.
  • Division Two. Students in grades six through nine.
  • Division Three. Students in grades ten through twelve.

Are the problems different at each level—Regional, State, and Worlds?

The long-term problems are the same at each level of competition.  However, your team will experience different spontaneous problems as they compete at each level.

What is Style?

Style is the third scored component of a long-term solution. Style scores are scaled to 50 points, with each of four categories receiving up to 10 points, and “Overall Effect” also receiving up to 10 points. Each team must fill out three copies of the “Style Form” to give the Staging Area judge(s) at each competition. So … what IS style, exactly? Style is the unique elements that each team adds to the basic long-term problem solution. There are one or two “mandatory” elements listed in section F of each long-term problem. Then the team may select other “free choice” elements. The team should ask itself, “what have we made or done that is not scored in the long term problem specifically, but which enhances our presentation in a unique and ‘stylish’ way?” The answer may be a creative costume, a clever way of introducing themselves, an unusual use of materials … almost anything may be listed for style score

What is Outside Assistance?

This is the heart of the OotM program. Because coaches want to do their job, do it well, and never place a team in jeopardy due to their own misinterpretation of what Outside Assistance is or isn’t, it is important that they know just what does and does not qualify as Outside Assistance.

Scenario A: For a Division I team a parent plugs in a power tool for one of the students because it is a rule in their house that no children are allowed to plug in any appliance.

Question: Is it Outside Assistance (OA) for any non-team member to plug in a power tool that the team uses to complete its solution to the problem?

Answer: No, it is not OA for a parent to plug a cord in an outlet for practice. (The parent may not use the power tool to work on the problem solution.) However, it is OA if someone other than the team plugs a cord in during the team’s performance time.

Scenario B: Kids try to assemble two boards (fourth graders) using screws and nails, but they keep falling apart.

Question: Is it OA for the team to ask an adult who is familiar with carpentry how to fix the problem?

Answer: An adult can tell and show the team members various ways to connect boards. He/She must not show the team one specific way to connect the boards in the team’s solution. An adult should give the team many possible ways to assemble the boards and must allow the team to determine what it will do in its solution. There is a principle that if information can be found through research, an adult can tell the team.

Scenario C: A team decides it will center its skit on a CELL theme. The coach gives the team members a homework assignment to come up with as many words as possible that contain the word CELL, such as cellophane, cellular phone, etc.

Question: Is it OA for a coach to give a homework assignment that gets the kids to think more creatively about an initial idea than they came up with?

Answer: Although the coach should not give the team any examples, the assignment is one of the types of things the coach should do to help the team develop its creativity.

What is the difference between Long Term Problems and Spontaneous Problems?

Both problems are designed for competition, with scoring components and rules to be followed. But as their name suggests, the time needed to develop a solution is very different. A team will work on one long term problem for a long while; these problems require months of preparation and hard work. A team might practice spontaneous problems often but each of these problems can be solved in a 10-20 minute time frame. Spontaneous problems are designed to improve a team’s spur-of-the-moment problem-solving skills. Teams will perform their long term solution and also solve a spontaneous problem at the regional competition.

What are the costs associated with Odyssey of the Mind?

  • Generally, it will cost $25-$50 per team member to participate in OotM through March. Registration fees are usually paid by the School or PTA.
  • Team supplies and expenses vary and are controlled by the team but there is a strict cost limit $125-150 on the items included in a long-term problem.
  • School registration (Membership). $100-$135/school. This membership covers several teams within a school or group.
  • Team registration for regional tournament. $65/team
  • Teams that advance to the VA State Finals and even the World Finals will have additional fees and expenses including: registration, room and board, and travel costs. Fundraising may be necessary to raise funds for teams that qualify for the World Finals.

For Teams

Where do teams meet?

Meeting place varies by team. Team meetings can be held at school or at the home of the coach or another parent. Coaches can reserve a room to hold meetings at a NP school. During a meeting, team members will work on a solution to the long term problem they have chosen to solve. The team will also practice spontaneous problem solving. Snacks are another important part of every OotM meeting!  

How often should teams practice?

Time commitment varies by team since team members set their own goals which drive their pace and schedule. Teams that aspire to be more competitive will meet longer and/or more often. Generally, teams meet once a week for about two hours. As competition day approaches, teams might schedule additional meetings to accomplish their goals. The coach will work with the team to set the schedule and plan meetings.

What do teams do at meetings?

A typical meeting includes an opportunity for team members to practice spontaneous problems of different sorts (at least one per meeting), a block of time devoted toward development of costumes, props, script, and other required tasks specific to the long-term solution for their chosen problem.  (For greater detail refer to pp. 10-12 in the Odyssey of the Mind 2018-2019 Program Guide)

For Coaches

What is the role of a coach?

Coaches must remember that Odyssey of the Mind is a “hands-on” activity for students and “handsoff ” for adults. It’s important that teams create their solutions without the help of others. There is value in letting teams succeed and fail on their own merits, especially when achievement is rated on effort, as much as on results. You, the coach, will offer guidance and encouragement, and teach team members how to explore possibilities, listen to others, learn from failures, and evaluate solutions effectively. However, you are not to give the team ideas or solve the problem for it. You will be amazed at what students can do on their own and, in the end, you’ll be proud they did it themselves. And the students will amaze themselves and build self-esteem from knowing they did it on their own. As the coach you will provide supervision and handle logistics such as scheduling meetings, making sure paperwork is done properly, getting the team to competition, teaching them how to solve differences, and so on. You may be responsible for recruiting and selecting team members. You’ll want to make sure the team understands the limitations of its long-term problem and oversee brainstorming and spontaneous practice sessions. When team members get an idea, you can make sure they obtain the skills required to carry out that idea. You’ll provide moral support. And . . . if something goes wrong, the team might need to rely on your guidance to help them make things right without actually fixing the problem for them. Be sure to read and re-read the problem and clarifications. Make sure the team reads them as well and recognizes what is being scored. (refer to page 7 in the Program Guide)

Why should I coach Odyssey?

Since Odyssey of the Mind is an all-volunteer organization, teams are always in need of coaches.  If your child is interested in participating in this activity, they will not be able to do so without someone who is willing to volunteer and coach them.  This is often how parents decide to take the plunge into coaching Odyssey of the Mind; however, there are other great reasons as well:

No other activity offers all of the following options in one wonderful package:


  • A chance to help children implement their own unique ideas
  • A time to learn to think more divergently ourselves
  • A method for teaching the concepts of true teamwork to children
  • An opportunity to interact with children in a special and unforgettable way
  • An exciting way to teach unlimited lifelong skills to children
  • An exciting way to learn lifelong attitudes towards creativity
  • A means to make a difference in the future for your own child and many others


Creativity, teamwork, self-confidence, persistence, and problem solving: all these are fostered in Odyssey. All of these also engender some mess, some chaos, some experimentation, some learning through failure. But what more glorious way to teach such important lessons than by having fun and feeling part of a unique and supportive group of creative people?

Copied from: Reasons to Coach Odyssey of the Mind by Lisa Love

Who can be a Coach?

Usually, the coach of the team is the parent of one (or more) team members although a team could recruit another adult to coach, eg; aunt, uncle, friend, etc. Coaches must be adults, 18 years old or older.

Where do I get help?

  1. The Problem Statement. No, really, read it again.
  2. The Program Guide. A searchable e-copy can be useful, since some topics are ‘hidden’ (e.g. info on membership signs in the ‘Penalties’ section).
  3. The Coaches’ Handbook
  4. This FAQ!!
  5. The Regional 11 Website https://novaeastodysseyofthemind.wordpress.com
  6. The VOICES Website, http://vaodyssey.org
  7. The National Website (CCI), http://www.odysseyofthemind.com
  8. Your School Coordinator
  9. If your question is specific to a long-term problem:
    1. Read the Clarifications published on the National Website
    2. Email the Problem Captain (Regional Website, “Who’s Who” page)
    3. If those don’t resolve your team’s question, they may request a Clarification of their own. Note that CCI does not appreciate clarification requests that are already answered in the Program Guide, the Problem Statement, or previously-published Clarifications, so do your homework first.
    4. To submit a clarification request, go to the national website, click “Clarifications” select the appropriate problem, enter your membership number and membership zip code at the bottom, and click “log in”. Remember – the membership zip code is the zip code submitted with your membership request, and might be different from the school’s zip code. Ask your coordinator for this information.
  1. If your question is about Judging/Judges/Judges’ Training, ask our Judges Coordinator (via “Contact Us” at the regional website)
  2. If your question is about ordering team T-shirts, ask the T-shirt Coordinator (via “Who’s Who” page at the regional website)
  3. If your question is about Region 12 tournament sites or Region-specific rules, or if you are volunteering to help with one of the many little tasks that have to happen to make the Region run, then email the Tournament Director (via “Who’s Who” page at the regional website)                                                                

What is a clarification?

Long-term problems are written to provide just enough guidance to solve the problem without limiting creativity. If a team questions the interpretation of a limitation, or is not sure if an aspect of its solution is allowed or meets the problem’s requirements, it may request a clarification. Anyone requesting a clarification must cite the rule in question. Abuse of the clarification system may result in an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty.

Who submits clarifications?

Most clarifications are submitted by coaches.  There are three main types of clarifications:

(1) General clarifications amend or further explain a problem’s limitations without revealing information about a team’s solution. All general clarifications are posted on http://www.odysseyofthemind.com/clarifications. When teams question a problem limitation, before requesting a clarification, they should first check online to see if their concern has already been addressed. Clarifications take precedence over limitations listed in the problem and the rules in this guide, so it’s important that teams keep current on all general clarifications issued throughout the year.

(2) Team-specific clarifications pertain to a particular team’s solution. These are confidential and are not published, since teams must describe details of their solution to receive an accurate reply. In some cases, the answer to a team-specific clarification may be distributed to judges; however, they are never made available to other teams unless the answer is “no” and other teams will benefit by knowing that specific action is not allowed. If a team receives a clarification allowing an element but the performance does not match what was approved, the judges will disregard the clarification. Be sure the request is specific to a part of the solution. Teams can request a clarification via e-mail: visit http://www.odysseyofthemind.com/clarifications/ and follow the directions for submitting a question. You can view all general clarifications at this site as well. All clarifications are answered by CCI within seven days of receipt. Copies of all clarifications are sent to the International Problem Captain for the long-term problem in question and the Association Director for the association from which the question came.

(3) Judges clarifications are limited to Odyssey of the Mind association representatives and may be submitted at any time. If a team receives a clarification, it is important that it presents the printout of the e-mail to judges at competition to avoid scoring discrepancies. Only clarifications issued by CCI are official. No one else is authorized to issue problem clarifications. Do not submit questions about a specific competition site, for example, floor type, scheduling, and so on. You must contact your Tournament Director for this information.

How often should I check the clarifications?

Clarifications take precedence over limitations listed in the problem and the rules in this guide, so it’s important that teams keep current on all general clarifications issued throughout the year. Coaches or team members may want to set aside a time each week to simply check for clarifications to make sure they stay current and aren’t heading in the wrong direction with their solution.  

Check the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide to determine the cutoff date for submitting team clarifications. Since the problems are new every year and teams are using their creativity, events at the first level of competition may require clarification. This is to ensure all teams are working within the same general parameters.

For Parents

What is Expected of Each Odyssey Parent?

  1. Absolutely no Outside Assistance.
    1. Normally, this means you are limited to providing guidance to your child by asking questions rather than giving direction. “What different methods of attaching felt to papier mache can you think of?” rather than “Masking tape will never hold that felt on to the paper mache!”
    2. You can teach skills like sewing or drilling, but not on the Odyssey project itself – use scrap material as a teaching instrument.
    3. On Competition Day, you cannot apply makeup or arrange their hair, etc. Teammates must help each other with these tasks.
    4. All ideas must come from the children on the team.
  2. Encourage your child to think about Odyssey and the team’s presentation.
  3. Ensure that your child has the time and resources to meet his/her team obligations.
  4. Ensure that your child arrives to meetings on time. If he/she must miss a meeting, arrive late, or leave early, let the Coach know as early as possible.
  5. Keep an open line of communication with the Coach.
  6. Volunteer to be a “Volunteer” or “Judge” on Competition Day. Being a “volunteer” usually this means two hours of Registrations or Concessions on the day of the competition. Every school is responsible for providing a volunteer for every three teams participating from their school.  That said, if you only have one team from your school, you must still provide a volunteer.

For Volunteers

When will teams know the time slot for their volunteer coverage responsibility?                                                                                                                              

Volunteer assignments are not made until the tournament schedule is finalized.  This typically happens two weeks prior to the regional competition.

Is it possible to schedule an assignment so that they can see a specific team perform?                                                                                                                    

When a individual signs on to volunteer, they are given the opportunity to indicate the team(s) they would like to cheer on.  All efforts are made to schedule individual’s volunteer times around the teams with whom the volunteer is associated.

For Judges

Is it possible to schedule a judge so that they can see a specific team perform?

No. Judges are busy the entire day judging the problem they’ve been assigned to. Judges need to be there for the entire competition. Much of the judging is subjective in nature and therefore consistency in the judging team is essential to provide a fair assessment of the teams’ solutions. If a judge were to leave in the middle of the tournament (due to illness, for instance), we would have to go back and remove that judge’s scores from all of the teams that had competed so far that day.

Can teams watch other teams’ competition performances?

Yes. Indeed, we encourage teams to watch other teams’ long-term performances on tournament day. Teams can watch other teams doing the same long-term problem, as well as teams doing other problems. Teams probably should NOT watch practice performances by other teams, prior to the Regional Tournament, especially if they are solving the same problem.

Can a team with fewer than 5 members participate in the competition?

There is no minimum number of team members required but we recommend each team has at least five, preferably six or seven. In competition, seven team members may participate in the presentation of the long-term solution, but only five team members may compete in spontaneous. If there are less than five team members the team’s spontaneous score might be adversely affected. Be prepared to go to competition with one or two team members missing in case of illness or other unexpected absence. Team members should practice sharing roles and covering for each other and all should be prepared for every type of spontaneous problem.

What if a judge doesn’t know what team they’re representing?

Judges who have been asked to represent a team and school should contact their school’s Odyssey of the Mind Coordinator to ask which team they will be representing.  It is often helpful if the school’s coordinator helps the judge register online since they will need the school’s membership number, coach’s information, and details about the types of problems they can choose for their judging preferences.  

What if a judge can’t attend the scheduled training?                             

Please let us know a few weeks in advance if you are unable to attend our Judges’ Training.  Usually we can arrange for your to attend training in another region of northern Virginia on a different weekend.  That said, if you are still unable to attend training, someone else should take on the role of judging. Training is imperative for judges since the problems and rules change from year to year, and it is essential for judges to know what to do so teams are judged fairly and consistently throughout the meet.  

Can teachers receive Continuing Education Units (CEUs) or recertification points by volunteering to be a judge?

Yes.  Copies of a letter signed by Pam Clark, regional director for NoVa East Odyssey of the Mind, will be available at the registration desk on the day of competition should you need one.

What requirements are there to being a judge in Odyssey of the Mind?

The only things you need to be a judge for Odyssey of the Mind are:

  • An open mind
  • A friendly smile
  • Two free Saturdays, for training and then for the tournament

How many teams does a single judge see perform at a tournament?

The number of teams seen by a single judge varies by problem and from year to year.  Typically, a judge will see between 10 and 18 teams perform at a tournament.

When do judges choose a judging role or position?

At the NoVa East Odyssey of the Mind Judges’ Training in February, judges will have the opportunity to learn about the various roles and available positions.  After learning about each position, judges will be allowed to select a position.

Which division is the most fun to judge?

Much depends on you. Each division has its own rewards. The young folks in Primary and Division 1 are always fun to watch. They are often new to the Odyssey of the Mind experience so the feeling of awe and wonder is there. The Division 2 teams are more competitive and they are starting to become more team-like. The Division 3 teams are more adult-like and they often don’t even want to see their coach (except when snacks are called for). Go into it with an open mind and you WILL have fun.

Planning for the Regional Tournament

Where and when is the Regional Tournament?

This year’s regional tournament takes place at West Potomac High School at 6500 Quander Road, Alexandria, Virginia, on March 9, 2019.

Where can I park?                                                                                                                            

In a legal parking space. Not trying to be flip about it but people tend to park wherever they feel like because they are running late. The Fire Marshall has never ticketed anyone for parking legally.

What is a membership sign or team sign?

To ensure that the judges score the correct team, and to be recognized by the audience, every team must have a membership sign that is readable from a minimum of 25 feet away throughout the presentation of its long-term solution. If the team fails to provide a sign it may create one while in the Staging Area. If it is not visible part of the time there is no penalty. If it is not visible most of the time it will receive a penalty. The sign must be created by the team. It must show the team’s membership number as it appears on the membership card, and it must show the membership name that appears on the card. The name may be spelled out or abbreviated, as long as the abbreviations are recognizable by the judges. For example, George Washington High School may read George Washington HS or Geo. Washington HS, but GWHS is insufficient. If a membership card contains any other information, such as Team A, Team B, and so on, that must appear on the sign as well, either spelled out or abbreviated, e.g., Tm A. This required information on your membership sign must appear in the language of your tournament host at all times. Any other language that appears on the sign will be considered part of the sign’s decoration. The team may add to its membership sign as it wishes, and the sign may change appearance during the presentation; that is, it may rotate, blink, etc. The team may have more than one sign but only one will be the official membership sign that must be visible during the performance and scored if it is listed as a free choice Style category.

Who is in Region 11?

If your school is in Arlington, Alexandria or Falls Church City you are part of our region; some schools from Fairfax County are also part of Region 11.  This link will take you to a list of participating schools from Region 11: OUR TEAMS

What paperwork do I need to bring?           

The coach needs to print out and bring their completed  “Coach’s Ticket” from the last page of Tournament Newsletter. The coach should also have completed Emergency Forms from each child on the team signed by their parents.  Fairfax County Public Schools requires these for participation in events at their schools. They will not be collected, but the coach must have them in the event of an emergency.  Teams also need one copy of the completed cost form, one copy of the outside assistance form, 4 copies of the style form and 4 copies of the required list to give the judge at their competition site.  These forms should be completed by team members prior to the regional meet so the judges have a better understanding of what they will be seeing.                                                                           

Why do I need the program guide?                                                                                                  

The Program Guide has the specific answers to most of these questions.  It’s a good idea to print out a copy, read it, and refer to it regularly.  You wouldn’t believe how often something is questioned by a coach or team at the regional meet and the answer was in the program guide.  

Who fills out the paperwork?

As a general rule, team members should be doing the paperwork as much as they are able.  They need to be making the decisions about what is written on the forms (ie. which style elements they have chosen for judges to look at).  Only coaches of Division 1 teams are allowed to serve as scribes for the team members when filling out paperwork; however, if there is a team member able and willing to do it, empower them to take on that role.  (refer to pp. 29-30 of the Program Guide).

Can I change my solution between Regional and States?  

Much depends on who is asking this. The coach may not change the solution. However, your team may (remember that the solution has to come from a team, not  a coach). The team can change the solution at any point they feel is appropriate.

How many teams from one school can do a problem?

All membership organizations may enter one team per problem per division. The grade of the team members determines the division in which a team is eligible to compete. For example, consider a school of grades K-6. Generally this would be made up of Division I and II students. This membership could enter a total of ten teams in competition — five in Division I and five in Division II. If a membership wants to enter more teams in the same problem and division it may purchase an additional membership at a reduced rate. All teams that fall under the second membership would be considered “Team B.” If a third membership is purchased, those teams would be considered “Team C,” and so on.