Each year, Odyssey of the Mind releases six Long-Term problems – one Primary Problem (for grades K-2) and five core problems (for K-university level). The purpose of the Primary Problem is to expose the youngest of students to the Odyssey of the Mind program in a safe, educational way: these teams do not receive an official “score” but, instead, are often invited to showcase their solutions at local and association-level tournaments (note: they are adorable). However, most students compete in one of the core Long-Term problems: 1) Vehicular, 2) Technical, 3) Classical, 4) Structural, 5) Theatrical. Although the specific requirements of a Long-Term problem varies year to year, the genre or “theme” of each problem stays the same (i.e., Problem #1 always involves vehicles — whether that means small vehicles that must complete tasks around an obstacle course or a large vehicle upon which a team member must ride and complete tasks). In April of each year, Odyssey of the Mind Headquarters will post Long-Term problem synopses for the upcoming Odyssey year. These synopses are “sneak peeks” at what the Long-Term problems will require of teams for the upcoming year. Then, in early September, the full, complete versions of the Long-Term problems are available for download and mail (hard copy) once a group has purchased its membership for the year.
The Long-Term problem is what the team will spend most of its time solving in Odyssey of the Mind. Some teams begin in September as soon as the full problems are released. Other teams wait until January to get started. As such, teams can spend anywhere from weeks to months dreaming up their solutions to their Long-Term problem. Teams often wonder whether it is advantageous to start earlier/later, but the truth is that it doesn’t matter: what matters is that a team uses its time efficiently and constructively.
When approaching the Long-Term problem it is imperative that every team member reads through the problem several times. Each problem will list, specifically, what the team is required to do. In some instances, the problems will also list what teams are not allowed to do. Research has shown that having some constraints often leads to more creative solutions than leaving a question entirely open-ended, so one way to think about solving the problem is, “If it doesn’t say we can’t do something, then we can!” Hooray for divergent thinking! Perhaps the most useful section of a Long-Term problem (aside from the list of requirements) is the section on scoring. Too often teams have a poor understanding of what, exactly, is being scored and how it is being scored. For example, in some instances teams are scored objectively: did the team present X during it’s solution? Yes (10 points) or No (0 points). In other instances, teams are scored subjectively: how creative was X (1 = not at all creative to 10 = extremely creative). Understanding scoring is important because it will suggest how teams should budget their time. If a team receives 10 points for simply having some item in the skit and 0 points if it does not, perhaps the team should not spend months perfecting the item because regardless of how pretty, novel, creative, or exciting it is, the team is only scored on whether or not the item appears. On a related note, when it comes to budgeting time, an aspect of the Long-Term solution worth 40 points should probably receive much more attention that an aspect of the Long-Term solution only receiving 5 points. Note, it is often true in the vehicular, technical, and structural problems that the vehicle, technical device, and structure, respectively, count for the majority of the Long-Term solution’s points. So while a good performance is often entertaining and fun to watch, teams should keep in mind where the points are in the Long-Term problem, as a structure team who sings its entire solution might be disheartened when they don’t win first place after their structure only holds five pounds. Alternatively, teams in the classical and theatrical problems will likely spend more time perfecting their sketches, costumes, props, music, and artistic masterpieces, as these items will likely count for more points in these particular problems. Of course, the specific requirements change year to year – a Classics problem may require a technological device just as a vehicular problem may require an original piece of music to perform – the point is to pay attention where the points are being allocated and to budget your time and efforts accordingly. This is a great preparation for real-life time management.
The day of competition, teams will be assigned a specific Long-Term performance time. They are required to show up at least 15 minutes prior to the start of this scheduled performance time to check in with Staging Judges. It is here that teams will provide copies of their required paperwork (found in the Long-Term problem; blank forms are available in the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide and online). Teams will then be escorted to the staging area where they will meet the Timekeeper/Announcer. The Timekeeper/Announcer will ask teams if they are okay with flash photography, videotaping, and what they will say to indicate that they are finished performing so he/she knows when to stop the clock. Teams performing in the technical problems (i.e., Problems 1,2, and 4) have exactly 8 minutes to perform their Long-Term solution at which point the Timekeeper/Announcer will say, “Stop,” aloud and stop the timer. Teams may not continue performing past these 8 minutes and any part of the Long-Term solution not presented during those 8 minutes will not be scored. Teams performing in Classics or the theatrical problem (i.e., Problems 3 and 5) can go over the 8 minutes but are penalized 5 points for every 10 seconds (or fraction thereof) that they go over the time limit. These teams will be stopped at 9 minutes (which carries a 30-point overtime penalty). No one likes to penalize, but the time limit penalty is enacted to keep the schedule on time, which is particularly important in the setup intensive technical problems (hence the 8-minute hard stop). Time management is an important part of Odyssey, so a well-rehearsed team will know its solution fits within 8 minutes.
Following the team’s Long-Term solution performance, the audience and judges will cheer and then the judges will approach the team to ask them questions about their solution. The judging team consists of Problem Judges and Style Judges. The Problem Judges are tasked with scoring the Long-Term problem per the scoring rubric presented in the problem. In other words, the Problem Judges are scoring the team on all the required elements listed in the Long-Term problem according to the scoring rubric also presented in the problem. As such, the Problem Judges will ask the team how they came up with their solutions, how they constructed their solutions, and other questions that help them better understand the team’s logic and work behind their Long-Term solution. The Style Judges are scoring *only* the Style categories — some of which are predetermined for the team and listed in the Long-Term problem and some of which are the “free choice” of the team — and, as such, will ask teams questions pertaining to their Style. IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT STYLE: For the “free choice” options, teams can *only* select to be scored on aspects of their solution that are not already being scored in the scope of the Long-Term problem. So if a Classics team is being scored on the creative use of materials in its narrator’s costume in the Long-Term problem, the team cannot choose “creative use of materials in the narrator’s costume” as its free choice for Style nor is it wise to choose “the narrator’s costume” or “the creativity of the narrator’s costume.” The team could choose another character’s costume or perhaps something that has nothing to do with the “creative use of materials” or the “creativity” of the narrator’s costume, but you can see how the latter might be tricky for judges to fully grasp in the short amount of time the team has their attention. More on Style in a bit…
Once the Long-Term judges are finished asking the team questions, they will let the team know, send them on their way, and return to their seats to finish scoring the team’s Long-Term performance. At this time, the team will begin to take its props and Long-Term items from the stage to an area outside the performance space as instructed by the judging team. Parents, coaches, supporters, and friends can help the team remove these items from the stage at this time to help speed the process along. At a later point in time, the Head Judge will post that Long-Term scores are available (usually on a white board or posterboard) at which point the team’s coach can retrieve the scores from the Long-Term judge.
In sum, the Long-Term component of Odyssey of the Mind is truly the central aspect of the program. This is what the teams will spend most of their time solving, this is where a great deal of learning takes place, and these are the 8 minutes that delight judges, fellow teams, family members, and spectators around the world!