Odyssey of the Mind is an international STEAM program that teaches students how to tap into their creativity so it can be applied to real-world problems. Odyssey of the Mind provides an opportunity for students in grades K-12 to work together in small teams. OM teams solve one of five open-ended problems that range from building mechanical devices and balsa structures to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. They bring their solutions to competition on the local, state and world levels where they are judged on creativity and risk-taking.

What exactly do students do in Odyssey of the Mind?

Working in teams of no more than 7 members, OMers work together as a group from October to the Regional Tournament in March. They have 2 tasks to prepare:

  • Long Term Problem
    The team selects one of five pre-defined problems and must create an 8-minute performance that creatively “solves” it.  The problem specifics change each year, but the broad categories remain the same:  1) vehicle, 2) technical, 3) classical, 4) balsa structure, and 5) performance.  (Note: Primary teams for students in grades K-2 are given a special, age-appropriate problem.)  From October to March, teams meet weekly to interpret the problem, brainstorm ideas, write a script, build gadgets, make props, design costumes, etc. Each problem has its own specific set of goals to reach, but it is up to the team to choose how they get there. No two solutions are ever the same!
  • Spontaneous Problem
    At the competition, teams are also given a problem to solve on the spot, which they do not know in advance. This is a Spontaneous Problem. It’s an open-ended question or task and gives the kids a chance to show their creativity, teamwork, and ability to think on their feet. Teams practice these sort of problems throughout the year to help develop their spontaneous thinking skills.  Each spontaneous problem has its own time limit – usually ranging from 3 to 10 minutes. The problem may require teams to improvise a skit, build a sculpture, transfer an egg 10 feet without touching it, or give as many creative answers to a question as possible. Teams never know what they will be asked to do during competition, so they practice as many types of problems as they can throughout the season.

USC divisional teams (grades 3-12) compete at the regional level on March 3 at Moon Area Schools. 
Advancing first or second place teams compete at the PA state level on April 7 at Pocono Mountain East Campus in Pennsylvania. 
Top teams at the state level advance to the world level competition from May 23-26 at Iowa State University.
(Primary teams (grades K-2) perform only at the regional level.)

Why should I join a team?

Odyssey of the Mind is an opportunity to learn!
Begin part of an Odyssey of the Mind team gives you the opportunity to learn creative problem solving, teamwork, brainstorming, self-reliance, and respect for individual strengths — unique, unforgettable experiences that will serve you now and in the future.

Odyssey of the Mind is different!
Odyssey of the Mind is different than other team, club or sports activities. Odyssey is about your team solving a problem or creating a presentation with your own ideas. Although you have a coach to support and advise you, all the ideas and the work on the solution comes from you and your team members. Nobody outside the team (not even your parents, friends, or teachers) can contribute ideas or participate in designing or constructing the solution. No outside assistance allowed!

Odyssey of the Mind is FUN!
Seeing your solution come together is exciting! Brainstorming and evaluating a variety of ideas is stimulating. Meeting other teams and seeing their solutions and presentations for your problem and other problems is fun. In addition to the Long Term Problem, your team will be presented with a Spontaneous Problem at the competition, which you must solve or respond to in a matter of minutes. Competing in and practicing for Spontaneous can be fun, while also sharpening your creative and quick thinking skills.


  • How does USC OotM work?

Upper St. Clair Odyssey of the Mind purchases memberships under our school name and forms teams of up to seven students. Each team chooses one of five competitive problems to solve (K-2 teams get a special, age-appropriate problem).  Under the guidance of an adult coach, teams work on their solutions throughout the school year and present them at the Regional Tournament in the spring where they compete other OM teams from schools in the Western PA region.

  • What's the time commitment?

OotM is a challenging and time-intensive team activity requiring regular weekly effort over a span of 5-6 months. All team members are expected to attend regular practices and are required to attend competitions (check the calendar for competition dates). OotM should not be considered a secondary activity. Practice schedules are set at the discretion of the coach, but each team will typically meet once a week for 1-2 hours during the first semester of school.  As competition nears, most older teams decide to add an extra weekly practice session, or meet for a longer period. Because teams are so small, good attendance is critical to the team’s ability to produce a successful solution.

  • How much does OotM cost?

Once your child is placed on a team, a registration fee of $150 must be paid prior to the first meeting. This is paid directly to the coach. Part of this fee is used to offset the costs for national team registration, part is given to the coach for materials needed to produce the team's solution, and part is used for USC OotM workshops, end-of-year trophies and other administrative items.

Your child’s coach may also ask you to participate in a snack schedule or contribute to a snack fund for the team. Additionally, if the team exhausts its funds for materials and supplies necessary for the solution method they have chosen, the coach will need to request extra money from all team parents.

Teams fortunate enough to advance past the regional level in March, will incur more expenses. Those advancing to the world competition usually need to fundraise.

  • Does my child have what it takes to be in OotM?

YES!  In fact, the most successful OotM teams bring together students with widely diverse backgrounds and skill sets. OotM teams need kids with a variety of skills and interests, including thinkers, builders, negotiators, painters, writers, actors, singers, dancers, etc.  OotM needs the shy kids, the loud kids, the silly kids, the serious kids, the artistic kids, the nerdy kids…. OotM needs ALL KIDS!

  • What are the competition levels?

In the U.S., the first level of competition is usually within a region of a state. Teams who place at the regional competition are invited to compete at the state level. The state championship teams are then invited to participate in the annual Odyssey of the Mind World Finals, where they compete with teams from countries around the world, including Canada, China, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Malaysia, Poland, Singapore, and Uzbekistan. New countries join the program each year.

  • How are teams judged in competition?

Thousands of volunteers from around the world judge the competitions and serve in various positions to help make the tournaments a success. Teams are scored for their long-term problem solution (up to 200 points), how well they solve a spontaneous problem on-the-spot (up to 100 points), and for style (or the elaboration) of their long-term problem solution
(up to 50 points).

  • Who runs the Odyssey of the Mind?

Not-for-profit organizations administer the Odyssey of the Mind program in each participating U.S. state and country. Each organization is run by a local Association Director. The organizations are licensed by Creative Competitions, Inc. (CCI), which provides all of the problems and materials necessary to run training sessions and tournaments.

  • Why do I need to volunteer?

Without adult volunteers, there is no Odyssey of the Mind. Volunteers are required needed to be coaches, judges, tournament workers, etc.  If you want your child to participate in OotM, you MUST be willing to participate in OotM as well.

Still have questions about Odyssey of the Mind in Upper St. Clair? USC's OotM Coordinators can provide answers! Contact Meridith Markovitz or Laura Murtough for more information.