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Odyssey of the Mind

Page history last edited by PBworks 14 years, 11 months ago

Structure problem OM

Tips borrowed from

Screen Shots form OM Page

Please refer to OM for offical rules, Tipos and problems.




Odyssey of the Mind (often called OotM and OM, but see below) is a creative problem-solving competition involving students from kindergarten though college. Team members work together at length to solve a predefined problem (the Long Term problem); and present their solution to the problem at a competition. They must also generate spontaneous answers to a problem they have not seen before; this is the Spontaneous competition.

Odyssey of the Mind is administered by Creative Competitions, Inc.


The Odyssey of the Mind program was started in 1978 by Dr. C. Samuel Micklus, a professor at Rowan University in New Jersey. That first competition, known as "Olympics of the Mind", involved teams from 28 New Jersey schools; now, the program is international, with teams from Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Moldova, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Siberia, Singapore, Slovakia, the United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, and West Africa competing in addition to those from the United States.

In 1999, a rift in the Odyssey board of directors over the profit status of the organization led to the formation of a separate organization, Destination Imagination, a non-profit that runs a program similar to Odyssey of the Mind.









How Does OM Work?


There are Long-term and Spontaneous problems. Teams may prepare for the presentation of their solution to one of the Long-term problems over months until the competition, they get to know the Spontaneous problems on site only and have to solve it within a few minutes. However, they may practice to solve Spontaneous in general, which often is a lot of fun for them. The third scoring category, Style, is presented together with the solution of the Long-term problem.




There are three different types of Spontaneous problems.

For verbal problems, the team must give creative comments to a picture, a sentence or a situation. Common responses receive one point, creative responses receive three or five points. The team members may not talk to each other while solving the problem.

Hands-on Spontaneous problems require the team builds something out of common materials that must fulfilling certain requirements. The team is scored on how creative the result is, how well they have worked together and how well the requirements are fulfilled.

Mixed problems consist of a hands-on and a verbal component. Often, there are two parts, for example something must be built first, and creative comments must be made afterwards.


Odyssey of the Mind Spontaneous Fun

Here are some OM spontaneous practice problems (mostly original).  I hope they work well for your team!




Copy a few page from a children's book of riddles, then cut the copies into pieces with one riddle each. Have each team member ask a riddle of the rest of the team, using any style (e.g., acting out the riddle, accents, whatever) that they can. Go in turn, for 3 or 4 riddles per team member. This started out slowly for our Div. 2 team, but they quickly got into the spirit and had fun with it. And, you can do it several times during the year.



In Jail

"You have been sent to the local jail for a crime you did not commit. You have a friend Jane who is very clever at getting things in to you, past the guards. What would you ask Jane to bring you, and how would it help you get out of jail?"



Story Line

"I will start a story. Each person adds one sentence, then on to the next person. Continue for two minutes." [coach starts a story, such as "Elbert the flea thought he had it made..."]



Egg Drop Challenge

Each team (or 2 or 3 people) is given a fresh egg, 25 straws, one meter of masking tape, and miscellaneous other stuff. "Your task is to drop the egg from the height of 8 feet and have it reach the floor without breaking. You have 8 minutes to prepare." [none of our Div. 2 teams succeeded, but a team of adults did]



Double-Letter Delight

"I'm looking for words with double letters, like aa, bb, cc, etc. As one big team, tell me a word that contains aa, then a word with bb, then a word with cc, etc. You can skip jj and qq."



Riddles for the Entire Team

From 19, how can you take away 1 and leave 20?

Given a circle, divide it into 8 areas by drawing 3 lines.

Change IX into 6 by drawing one line.



52-Story Building

You can use a pack of cards to aid in the creation of a story. Have team members sit in a circle and place a full deck of cards face down in the middle of the circle. Team members take turns telling one sentence of a story. Before each member talks they flip over the top card of the deck and in their sentence they must say the suit, number, or figure of the card. After they finish they place their card on the bottom of the pile.

Contributed by Patrick Thompson, pthompso@erols.com




[An] interesting spontaneous exercise I dreamed up is to have a tape of instrumental music where the same three or four notes are played over and over again. Their problem is to sing any phrases that match the notes. Gets them to think creatively in an entirely different realm.

Bob, Igou@ma.ultranet.com via CAOM list




I think I am going to try a pairing technique I thought of...one kid gives a common response and the partner turns it into creative.

Rogsling @ AOL.COM (Rosanne Slingsby) via CAOM list



Hot Potato

"Name things that..." played with a tossed object. Kids can toss it to anyone, whoever receives it has to answer next. (designed to build speed and team spirit)



Puzzle Jumble

This is overly simple, but is a good team building exercise. Team Instructions: The team will have ten minutes to complete the problem. Points will be awarded for teamwork. Dump a 1000 piece puzzle on the table and begin timing. Judge's instructions: Award 1 point for "common" team work; 5 points for creative or significant teamwork; 10 points for exemplary behavior that carries the team way ahead. Examples of "Common" teamwork include "process" oriented help; a better way to work. Examples of "Creative" teamwork include encouragement and support to other team members. Make note of the behaviors observed and discuss with team after time is called.


E-Mail: Igou@ma.ultranet.com



Peanut Butter and Jelly

The team's problem is to build a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The scoring is 10 points for the technical aspects and 100 points for presentation of the solution. Presentation time will be 8 minutes.

Obviously this could be a very short, dry, unexciting demonstration about how to make a simple sandwich. And 8 minutes is way too long to devote to it.

Style would add: a restaurant patron, a waiter, a chef, a menu, costumes for the participants, a setting (table, chairs), atmosphere (lighting, candles, music, scenery), sophistication (fine china, 12 piece dinnerware, wine), dialogue ( accents, different languages between waiter and chef), drama (happens during a murder mystery), additional participants, etc., etc., etc. And this is just a common solution elaborated. Credit for this goes to last year's NHOM Coach's Cafe where this was their explanation on style.




# 1 - The Vehicle Problem

Picture of a Problem#1 performance 

Teams must build one large (which a team member may sit on) or several small vehicles and drive through a course. The presentation has to fit a certain theme, which the team may elaborate.


# 2 - The Mixed Problem

Picture of a Problem#2 performance 

Teams must build technical devices that fulfill certain tasks. This is incorporated into a play, that fits a certain theme. Often, the presentations should be humorous.


# 3 - The Classics Problem

Picture of a Problem#3 performance 

In the Classics Problem, teams deal with a history, literary or art history theme. For example, history must be re-written or art works must be reproduced. Every year a new surprise.


# 4 - The Structure Problem


Picture of a Problem#4 performance In this problem, teams must build a structure using balsa wood sticks and glue, which will be tested on how much weight it holds. The requirements are different every year. The record is more than 1000 kg on a 15 gram structure.


Building Practice


The Bridge

Give the team a stack of index cards and some adhesive materials (Avery dots, address labels, tape, hot glue and/or other glue). They also have access to a book and some carpenter's nails. The task is to build a bridge that is tall and wide enough to span the book lying on the table. At the end of eight minutes see how much weight (e.g., carpenter's nails) their bridge can support without collapsing or sagging (in the middle) enough to touch the table.

Squeeze Is On

From 1997 World Finals, courtesy of Lindsay (NJOM, Double Trouble Div 2):

There were two bricks on the floor and the sides facing each other were both black. Your problem was to design a "structure" that squeezed between the bricks and went as high as possible.. without touching anything but the black sides of the bricks. They started measuring from the ground, but your "structure" didn't have to start there. We were given spaghetti, straws, toothpicks, mailing labels, raisins, & a raisin box


# 5 - The Performance Problem

Picture of a Problem#5 performance

In this problem, teams often must prove their performance skills. There are fewer limitations and more possibilities. Teams may give their creativity full scope.



Style is the elaboration of the problem solution. Here, aspects are scored that are not required in the long-term problem, for example a costume, a dance or a song. Also, creativity is almost not limited here as well.




YouTube plugin error  

 What the competition looks like


Tips on the wood






This is the easiest, and perhaps the most important thing that a succesful team needs to understand.  Balsa ranges from 4 to 24 pounds per cubic foot. Building structures, I've seen 1/8" x 1/8" x 36" pieces ranging anywhere from 1 gram to 5 grams. When I first started buildingThe best idea is to weigh  them after they are cut  to 9 inch lengths, trying to reduce the variability. Even as balsa varies from piece to piece, one can also find variation within the piece.


Equipment can be a factor here. Digital balances that go out to the hundredth's are nice, but one can get by with a 3 arm balance as long as you have some patience.


The data in the Sig pamphlet shows an interesting trend if one compares the strength of the wood to it's weight. By looking at table 1, one can see that as the weight goes up, so do the various strengths.



TABLE 1 : Values of various strengths of balsa at varying weights
Bend Strength
Compressive Strength


Visual inspection

I started inspecting pieces of wood in Division IV to a higher degree than I had before. I know of teams that use the big hobby lights with the magnifiers built in and inspect the wood for holes and grain. I just looked at the pieces without magnification and threw out those that had visual porosity.



If you go to any OM competition you'll see people using hair driers, homemade ovens, and dessicants on their structures before weigh-in. Balsa wood is very porous and as a result picks up moisture from the air quite readily. To drive off the water, teams use the methods mentioned above. The method I use is the hair drier.


Other Ideas

Along with checking the woods density, visually inspecting it, and drying it, there are some other things I've heard people try. Instead of visually inspecting, I've heard of teams dropping the wood and listening to the sound it makes. I've also seen a stiffness tester for balsa wood. I'm not sure if this would help. Also, in the selection process, I've heard of teams throwing out pieces that were not the same dimension as other pieces. Due to the nature in which balsa is cut, the wood labeled 1/8" by 1/8" does not always meet those dimensions. I've also heard of teams that plane their wood (I'm not sure how) so that the dimensioning is consistent.



Team Training Guide




Virtual Bridge Building


Bridge Designer


    Actually this program allows you design trusses. Trusses are composed of straight members connected at their ends by hinged connections to form a stable configuration. When loads are applied to a truss only at the joints, forces are transmitted only in the direction of each of its members. That is, the members experience tension or compression forces, but not bending forces. Trusses have a high strength to weight ratio and consequently are used in many structures, from bridges, to roof supports, to space stations.

    In this simulation, trusses are created by attaching members to nodes (joints). then the nodes are linked by members to create a structure. Once the structure is established, two of the nodes must be assigned as support nodes. One must be a "fixed" node, i.e., one that can provide support in both the x- and y-directions; the other must be a "rolling" node, one that can provide support in only the y-direction. Finally, one or more nodes can be assigned to bear loads.

    Once these elements are specified, a click on "Calculate" will check your design. Another click will generate a complete force diagram showing compression/tension forces in each of the members and reactive forces at the support nodes.

    You can create practice structures with gumdrops and tooth picks or even spagetti noodles.

    This one you can play with on-line







    Bridge Designing Fun





    Download the following program West Point Bridge Design- You can create your own bridge and even load test it!




    WPBD 2007 is available in two different formats--a single-file setup for installation directly to your hard disk and a three-disk setup for 3.5" diskette installation. There is also a complete set of alternate download links at the bottom of the page, just in case these primary links are not working properly.

    WPBD 2007 Single-File Setup (Version 10.0.0 - January 1, 2007)

    Instructions for downloading and installing
    For Windows XP or Vista :  
      Download setup file:
    setup7x.exe [3,362 KB]
    For Windows 95, 98, NT, ME, and 2000:  
      Download setup file:
    setup7.exe [3,325 KB]


    Samples of Trusses in Real Life



    truss bridge examples.pdf



    Mechanics behind the structures

    • Newton's Laws
    • Vectors and Free Body Diagrams
    • Truss Analysis
    • Finete Element Analysis (Something I really don't know much about but would like to learn about



    Moment of Inertia


     The moment of inertia is dependant on the cross-section of a beam.

    In my experience the most common cross-section for a vertical member in a structure is a rectangle. I've also included a triangle cross section in this discussion.




    example dimension
    Fig. 1 Cross-section diagram


    Symmetry elements



         Geometers use the standard X,Y,Z Cartesian coordinate system to describe the

    symmetry of polyhedra.  As shown in Fig.  A  the location of each vertex of a cube

    with an edge length of one is described in terms of its length - X, height - Y, and

    depth - Z from the origin - 0,0,0.


    Fig. A -  Cartesian coordinates  

    Fig. B - [100], [110], and [111] axes and  

    of the cube's vertices

     (100) red, (110) blue, and (111) purple 


    planes of cubic symmetry



    0,1,1 1,0,1coord136x125transwlinestextfinaljpg4prog.JPG (9775 bytes)

    jam337338339ani136x125transgif256.gif (28404 bytes)

    Required parts

    6 large triangles

    9 small squares

    4 rectangles

    14 right triangles

    33 pinges


         For example, the vertex labeled 1,1,1 indicates that it is one unit in length, height,


     Elements and forces that act upon a structure. Clcik one of the 4 boxes below to go to the Load test lab for Sky Scrapers





    There is also a text version of this lab.




    Every Now and Then          

    The video below is another one of those things that when you see it-it makes an impression. After the failure of this bridge, engineering was taken into a whole new direction. Just in case you ever wondered why the things you learn in school are important-this bridge shows us what can happen when mistakes are made. Check out the video below-

    Article posted # February 21, 2008 at 12:31 PM • comment • Reads 54

      Here is a friend of mine and some of  the bridges they built after using WestPoint Bridge designer.
    Can you think of any of that math stuff that you learned that these kids used?? Can anything you learn from Bridge design be used in you OM problem?


    Click here to go back to the Interactive Lesson Page

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