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International problem-solving competition ‘a release’ for Ohio State students

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Participants at the opening ceremonies of an Odyssey of the Mind World Finals Competition. A chapter of Odyssey of the Mind, an international creative problem-solving competition, recently started up at OSU. Credit: Courtesy of Nathaniel Carvin

Participants at the opening ceremonies of an Odyssey of the Mind World Finals Competition. A chapter of Odyssey of the Mind, an international creative problem-solving competition, recently started up at OSU.
Credit: Courtesy of Nathaniel Carvin

Designing cars for drivers’ tests, creating a “not-so-haunted” house or recreating a historical king or queen’s court — these are a few of the problems one Ohio State club recently had to choose between solving.

Some students started a team of Odyssey of the Mind, an international creative problem-solving competition, at OSU in January.

Odyssey of the Mind aims to present “creative problem-solving opportunities” for students from kindergarten through college, according to its website. Teams creatively solve problems that can be anything from building something mechanical to interpreting literature and bring their solutions to the international competition to be presented.

This year, the Odyssey of the Mind 2014 World Finals are set to take place at Iowa State University from May 28-31. Teams are divided into divisions by grade, ranging from a kindergarten through fifth grade division all the way up to a college-only level.

Nathaniel Carvin, a fourth-year in landscape architecture and the president of Odyssey of the Mind, said he started the student organization at OSU because he enjoyed participating in the competition in the past.

“I started this organization because I did it for four years in high school,” Carvin said. “And I really love doing it. It was kind of a release, you know, something you don’t have to do. (It’s not like) you have to go to the class, you have to go to the work.”

Carvin said the competition has two parts: long-term problems and spontaneous problems.

Teams work to solve the long-term problems over several weeks or months and are rewarded for style in their solutions. At the competition, teams present their long-term problem solutions and are given a spontaneous problem to solve on the spot.

Panels of judges then score the teams based on their solutions’ creativity and determine the winners.

For the long-term problem portion, Carvin said his team of six members picked one called “It’s How We Rule.”

According to the Odyssey of the Mind website, teams working on that particular problem have to recreate a “King’s Court from history and make their own Royal Court set in an original kingdom at a different time and place.” The court then has to issue a decree that will change everyday behavior in the kingdom.

The original royal court has to be made up of a leader, a minstrel who performs a song while playing a “team-created instrument” and a jester who makes fun of the leader, and the performance must include puppets and a person portrayed as a puppet. The teams will be scored for their humor, according to the website.

“Basically we have to find a historical court,” Carvin said. “It has to have a king or a queen. And we have to create a skit where they make a royal decree. It’s totally our imagination.”

The problems each have a cost limit for how much the team can spend to solve it. “It’s How We Rule” has a limit of $125. It costs $135 for a group to become an official member of Odyssey of the Mind.

Carvin said the competition is challenging.

“We are truly unique in the sense that we compete internationally with some of the most creative minds we’ve ever met,” Carvin said.

Paul Lacher, a fourth-year in art and materials science and engineering, said he joined OSU’s Odyssey of the Mind chapter after he saw a poster for it in Knowlton Hall.

“I joined OM because I did OM a long time ago in grade school. I had a lot of fun when I was a part of it back then,“ Lacher said. “So I decided to see what was going on here at OSU.”

Carvin said creativity, which is emphasized in the competition, is “a life skill.”

Lacher said he agreed that the competition teaches a different set of skills.

“Anyone can learn facts and processes and repeat them in the scenario defined in his or her instruction,” Lacher said. “But it takes creativity to apply that knowledge to a new scenario.”

Emily Flanagan, a third-year in communication who has been participating Odyssey of the Mind for nine years, said the experience is “amazing.”

“It’s not something describable,” Flanagan said. “It’s just such a great experience and it affects every aspect of your life actually.”

According to Odyssey of the Mind’s website, there are about 25 countries represented in the competition, including Australia, Canada, China, the United Kingdom and Russia.

Carvin said in that sense, the event is a chance to meet new people.

“We got opportunities to see the world and to meet people internationally,” Carvin said. “I have had friends from California, Florida, and from Vietnam and Pakistan (from Odyssey of the Mind).”

Flanagan said she has had a similar experience.

“We stayed in the dorm rooms together so we are with other teams consistently,” Flanagan said. “We get the experience of meeting new people so that you are not stuck in your little small community.”

Carvin said after he graduates in May, he hopes Odyssey of the Mind at OSU will continue to grow.

“I just thought it was a great chance to do something, to leave a legacy and bring something I like to Ohio State,” Carvin said.

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