BRAIN CHALLENGE: Odyssey Of The Mind

Nearly 6,000 students from 15 countries (and Iowa) have one goal in mind:  To impress the judges through science and theatrics enough to win “Odyssey of the mind.”

In this competition that pairs scientific prowess with creativity, coaches are allowed to provide only the resources the students need while they compete in teams of seven.  According to Emma Shea, a middle school student from Houston, TX, Odyssey’s founder “wanted to prove to the world that creativity can be taught.  It’s not just an innate skill that you have.”

Late Wednesday morning, Shea and her team unloaded the props for the skit they will perform at Stephens Auditorium on Friday.  It’s a creative riff on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  She explained, “’To Vegas or not to Vegas?’  That is the question.”

At the Memorial Union across campus, the Korean team arrived with their own homemade set for a different challenge.  In their event, seven months of preparation will culminate in an eight minute-long performance.  For the same event, the state champions from Maine created a car that they drove during their performance.  They were required to use the car to convey different emotions.

Tamara Risser is a coach and mother of one of the participants from Portland, ME.  She marveled at how “(the kids) ripped up toys and appliances to find motors and they’ve got an axle made from a printer.”

In another building, a high school team from Arkansas made a tiny tower out of balsa wood and glue.  It supported more than 500 pounds, while the members performed a play that demonstrated a mathematical function.  Parents like Risser are often amazed at what their children have accomplished, especially given the fact that the sets, the performances, the design, and the science came with zero inspiration from the adults.  Risser said, “It’s just so humbling to see what your kid can do when you just let them try.”

The competition runs through Sunday.  It’s held at eleven different sites on the Iowa State University campus, and it’s open to the public.  There are no monetary rewards, but organizers said that a past team of students used their project to earn scholarships to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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