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Team Member FAQs

Please review our list of frequently asked questions for team members. If your question isn’t answered here, please contact our school coordinator liaisons.

FAQs for Odyssey Team Members

When will teams know the timeslot for their volunteer coverage responsibility?

When the competition schedule is finalized, each team will be assigned a two-hour timeslot for which they must provide an adult to help with the logistics of the tournament. This may involve serving as a door monitor, helping with team or spontaneous registration, helping with concessions, or another role. The assigned time slot will enable parents to watch the team perform its long-term solution. The assignment will be sent to coaches – it is the coach’s responsibility to identify a parent or other adult to cover the assigned role in the specified timeslot.

What if a judge hasn’t been found and the registration deadline is soon?

A temporary/placeholder judge may be registered; this could be anyone, since this person will not actually be judging.  BUT these steps MUST be followed:

  • The final question on the judge registration form asks for information the judge wants to share.  This MUST indicate that this judge is a temporary placeholder.  The questions about problem preference or children in the tournament should be left as “I don’t know”.
  • Keep looking for a judge.  Remember that this person must be 18 years old by the day of the tournament and does not need to be associated with Odyssey of the Mind.  Please contact the judges coordinator if there are any questions or concerns.
  • As soon as the actual judge is identified, that person should register as a judge.  The final question should be used to indicate that this judge is a replacement for the temporary judge for the team, identifying the team and the temporary judge that is being replaced.   Contact the the judges coordinator if you want to make sure the change has been made.

What is Odyssey of the Mind?

The Odyssey of the Mind program brings together teams of up to 7 students to begin a journey of creative problem-solving, team building, and fun! As described on the international organization’s web site:

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college. Team members apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics. They then bring their solutions to competition on the local, state, and world level. Thousands of teams from throughout the U.S. and from about 25 other countries participate in the program.

During the course of the year, team members will:

  • Learn to work as part of a team
  • Develop communication skills
  • Take responsibility and complete tasks on schedule
  • Take calculated risks in the solution of complex problems
  • Develop confidence in their own capabilities and ideas

What happens when a team eligible to compete as a Primary team (grades K-2) chooses a non-Primary long-term problem?

Any team that chooses to solve one of the five divisional problems (Vehicle, Technical, Classics, Balsa, and Drama) is considered a divisional team, regardless of the grades of the team members.

  • Example 1: A team of second-graders chooses to solve the Primary problem. This makes them a Primary team, and they will participate as a Primary team for Long-Term and Spontaneous.
  • Example 2: A team of kindergarteners chooses to solve the Balsa problem. This makes them a Division 1 team, and they will compete against other Division 1 teams in Long-Term and Spontaneous.

How do I know which Odyssey of the Mind region my school falls under?

You can read through our detailed description of the new NoVA regional boundaries. If you’re still not sure, you can check our listing of Northern Virginia schools to determine which region you’re part of.

If a team advances to the Virginia State Tournament, who pays the expenses of going?

Each team usually pays its own expenses. How the team raises the funds is up to the students, their coaches, and parents.

How do I find the information I need throughout the year?

While the international Odyssey of the Mind web site and the Virginia state VOICES web site have some great resources, you will find all the information you need right here on our NoVA North Region 9 web site.

You can also subscribe for email updates so that you’ll know whenever we add new information to the site. Just enter your email address in the field on the right side of the page.

How many teams from my school can compete under one membership?

For more information about the number of teams that can compete from your school, please see our page called How Memberships Work.

On the Cost Form, should the team pro-rate costs of items they only use part of?

Yes. Only items used and seen during the actual performance should be included on the Cost form. For example, if the team buys a quart of paint for $6, but uses only half of the paint in their final solution, the team should list only $3 on the Cost Form. Anything that appears on stage must have a value assigned on the Cost form aside from unadorned safety items.

Can a student from another school compete on one of our teams?

According to the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide, the following rules apply in this situation:

In most circumstances, all team members come from the same school. However, multischool teams — those made up of students from different schools — are permitted as long as all the schools have a current membership. Multi-school teams may choose which school name they wish to use for registering their team, but they may only compete at one regional tournament, even though the multiple schools may be located in more than one region.

Furthermore, each team is allowed one student that attends a different school without a membership, but who resides in the same general area. However, the team members must agree and must have permission from principals from both schools involved. If a team member transfers to another school he/she may continue on the team until the end of the competition year, provided both school administrations approve.

Can you modify the Cost form? It is too tedious to list the exact cost and value within the very tiny area allowed. Or is it possible to fill it out online?

CCI designs and provides the Cost form. The form is available in Microsoft Word format at to make it easier for teams to fit their information on the form.

If the space is too small to use each line, the team can use every other line; there is no limit to the number of forms permitted. You can contact CCI at with your suggestions.

If the team has their own costumes or props at home, do those count toward cost?

Yes. Typically, any items not designed and made by the team would be assigned “garage sale” prices, unless they purchase an item specifically to be used as part of their solution. In that case, the team should include a receipt with their Cost form and assign the full purchase price. Remember that a fundamental tenet of Odyssey of the Mind is for students to be creative; therefore, a team might want to consider a solution that does not use prefabricated items and instead devise their own. Anything that appears on stage must have a value assigned on the Cost form aside from unadorned safety items.

Can teams use a guitar or musical instrument to provide music in the background?

Absolutely. Odyssey encourages individual artistic performances of all kinds as part of team solutions. There are special rules for how to account for musical instruments on the team’s Cost form. You might want to review the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide for further information; a link to it is available on the Resources page.

Can the performance be less than 8 minutes?

Yes. The time limit for each performance is a maximum of 8 minutes. In some problems, such as Classics and Drama, a penalty will be assessed if the performance exceeds 8 minutes and the performance will be stopped at 9 minutes. In other problems, such as Vehicle and Balsa, the performance is simply stopped at 8 minutes. There is no penalty, but teams are not allowed to continue if they haven’t completed all of the assigned tasks. Review the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide (a link to it is available on the Resources page) and the individual problem statement for further information.

Can the team use commercial robotics kits, like Lego MindStorms®?

Yes, it is legal to use things like this in a solution. The team should remember, though, that the judges will be scoring them on the creative elements they themselves invent, not on the creativity of the engineers at the Lego company. Also, note that certain items from these construction kits are very expensive even at garage sale prices; used computer bricks for Lego MindStorms®, for example, typically sell for over $100 each on eBay or Craigslist.

If the team is using parts (e.g., wheels) of a Lego set or Tinker Toy set, how is that priced for the budget?

The Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide gives guidance on costs for commercial items; a link to it is available on the Resources page. Typically, the team would use “garage sale” prices unless they purchase an item specifically to be used as part of their solution. In that case, the team should include a receipt with their cost form. Remember that a fundamental tenet of Odyssey of the Mind is for students to be creative; therefore, a team might want to consider a solution that does not use pre-fabricated devices and rather try to build their own device.

If a team advances to different levels (states, worlds), does the performance have to stay exactly the same or can it be changed or improved?

If a team advances to the next level, they can use the same solution or an entirely new solution. Keeping in mind that, at the next level, the team will be competing with teams that placed at their tournaments, they are encouraged to review their scores and decide if there are any elements that they might adjust to present the most effective solution.

Do the cost of materials used in experiments for the balsa problem count toward the cost limit?

No. The cost limit for the balsa problem is $145 (U.S.). This means that the combined value of the materials used during the presentation of the team’s solution, including Style, must not exceed this amount. You might want to review the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide (a link to it is available on the Resources page) and the problem statement for further information about cost limit and items that are exempt from cost.

If a team has an 8th mind work on the long-term problem, how many points would they be penalized?

There is a limit to seven members on the team. You should not, under any circumstances, have eight different children participate on the same team. If a team has eight members, an outside assistance penalty of 1-100 points will be assessed. The value of the penalty will be determined on tournament day by the judges who watch the performance, based on their assessment of the magnitude of the offense. It is not possible to predict the penalty prior to the performance. You might want to review the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide for further information; a link to it is available on the Resources page.

What is Creative Competitions, Inc., also known as CCI?

Creative Competitions, Inc. is the official name of the international Odyssey of the Mind organization.

Can a team use any device to play background music in their skit?

Yes, they may use musical instruments, CD/mp3 players (or similar electronics), or computers. Review the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide (a link to it is available on the Resources page) for further information about “Itemizing items on the Cost Form” in the Penalty section. Musical instruments, computers, and audio video recorders/players may be used, but they have assigned costs that apply to all teams. You should also carefully review the problem statement because sometimes live requirements or other problem-specific rules occur.

What is NoVA North Region 9?

NoVA North is one of the regional Odyssey of the Mind associations in Northern Virginia. We were formerly known as NoVA West Region 13. In 2011, the region had grown too large to host a single tournament, and we split into Regions 9 (NoVA North) and 12 (NoVA South). We consist of a volunteer regional board that works with many other volunteers in the area to keep school coordinators up to date, assist coaches in preparing their teams for our tournament, train judges for the tournament, and host the actual tournament, as well as many other functions.

We hope you find this web site useful and that you’ll send our webmaster suggestions or comments so we can make it the best site possible.

Where can I find the problem descriptions for this year?

The long-term problem synopses for this season can be found on the Synopses page of this web site.

  • These synopses are just intended to give teams an introduction to the problems.
  • After the school coordinator or sponsor has registered the school at the international Odyssey of the Mind web site for membership, that person will receive copies of the full long-term problem statements, which can then be shared with the teams.Teams must create their solution using the full long-term problem statement because that contains the complete set of rules and requirements for the problem.
  • Additional rules that apply to all problems are contained within the Program Guide.

Can a team record their meetings using any devices and use the recording later when filling out their paperwork?

Yes. A journal can be very useful for remembering what was talked about in previous meetings. The journal can be written or can be video or audio recorded. What portions of the journal the team uses later must be a team decision.

Will teams be able to see the time or a clock during their long-term performances?

  • If there is a clock on the wall in their performance site, the team may look at it.
  • Teams are permitted to have a watch or clock of their own, but it must not beep or vibrate to signal time.
  • The team’s watch or clock is not official time.
  • Teams will not be able to see the official timekeeper’s stopwatch.
  • Teams should practice to develop a performance that takes fewer than 8 minutes.

What if a team has a mix of ages? For example, there could be 5 third-graders, 1 fifth-grader, and 1 kindergartener, whose attention span is a little less than the others. Would that be a penalty?

There is no penalty for a short attention span, but remember that the team’s score for “quality of performance” includes everything that happens on stage during the performance. Judges will evaluate the performance of all team members.

I received an email from NoVA Odyssey announcing the Regional Tournament, but the date isn’t the same as what is posted on the website. Which date is correct?

The Odyssey program in Northern Virginia is so popular (yay!) that we have five regional organizations and tournaments to make it possible for all of the teams to participate. On the right side of this website under the heading “Odyssey of the Mind Information,” you will see links to the other four regions: Region 11 NoVA Prime, Region 12 NoVA South, Region 14 Catoctin VOICES, and Region 16 Dulles VOICES. Also listed is the link to the State Association – VOICES (Virginia State Odyssey of the Mind).

Loudoun County is divided into Regions 14 and 16. Fairfax County, Arlington, and Alexandria are divided into Regions 9, 11, and 12. If you’re not sure whether your team is part of Region 9, 11, or 12, you can check our breakdown of NoVA schools to find where you are located.

How does a team choose a long-term problem?

It is up to the individual school membership to decide how teams will select a problem. At some schools, the coordinator assigns problems to the teams. At other schools, each team chooses the problem they prefer. Some schools mix these approaches.

If your team gets to choose the problem, one possible process would be to have the team read the synopsis for each problem on our website to see if any of the problems sparks an interest or ideas. Then read the problem statement entirely and take a vote. Remember that Problems 1 (Vehicle), 2 (Technical), and 4 (Balsa Structure) have technical requirements (that is, something has to be built) in addition to the creation of the 8-minute skit.

Can teams watch other teams’ competition performances?

Yes. Indeed, we encourage teams to watch other teams’ long-term performances on tournament day. Teams can watch other teams doing the same long-term problem, as well as teams doing other problems. Teams should NOT watch practice performances by other teams, prior to the Regional Tournament.

Can a team with fewer than 5 members participate in the competition?

Yes. You might want to review the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide for information about team size; a link to it is available on the Resources page.

Is it outside assistance for coaches or parents to provide definitions of terms used in the problem?

Yes. Coaches and parents should not provide definitions.

  • Coaches and parents can teach the team how to use a dictionary, thesaurus, or other reference to look up words they don’t know and can help the team truly understand the definition.
  • Coaches can remind the team to check the glossary of terms in the problem and in the Program Guide.
  • Finally, the team can ask for an official clarification on the international Odyssey of the Mind web site if they think a term or rule is incomplete or ambiguous.

What is a membership sign or team sign?

When a team is performing their 8-minute skit, a membership sign must be visible. The sign shows the official membership name and membership number. Please see the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide for details; a link to it is available on the Resources page.

For teams competing at the NoVA North Regional Tournament, we recommend that you wait until the tournament schedule is posted to finish work on your membership sign in order to verify what your team’s official membership name and number is. For schools with multiple memberships, you will not be able to determine whether you are Team A or Team B and what your number is until then.

Can the team use the Internet and libraries to research possible solutions?

Generally, yes. However, it is outside assistance for the team to look at Internet sites or other references that provide advice or suggestions specific to Odyssey of the Mind long-term problem solutions. Such sites are especially common for the balsa structure problem. When using a library, teams may ask a librarian to help them find books about a topic and to teach them how to use the catalog system to locate books for themselves.

Are the problems different at each level—Regional, State, and Worlds?

The same long-term problems provided by CCI are used at all levels of competition. Spontaneous problems are different at each tournament; a team will never experience the same one at a competition.

If a team advances to the next level, they can use the same long-term solution or an entirely new solution. Keeping in mind that, at the next level, the team will be competing with teams that placed at their tournaments, they are encouraged to review their scores and decide if there are any elements that they might adjust to present the most effective solution.

What are the “creative emphases” of the long-term problem?

The creative emphases are the specific elements of the statement that the problem’s authors consider to be most central. They are spelled out in Part A of the long-term problem statement. Judges are trained to pay the most attention to these emphases in their evaluation of the overall effectiveness and creativity of each performance.

Creative emphasis is another way of formulating the core of the particular problem. There are clues and criteria embedded in all aspects of the problem from the description, spirit, and elements to the glossary and scoring. It all informs on the boundaries and opportunities.

Can team members ask employees at stores (hobby shop, lumber yard, etc.) for help, including cutting wood?

It depends on the kind of help they ask for. Teams can ask employees to describe what an item can be used for or to describe the different characteristics of several versions of the same thing, such as uses of different kinds of glue or different kinds of paint. Teams should not ask a store employee to recommend something to do a particular job in the team’s solution; that would be outside assistance. It is the team’s responsibility (and right) to choose exactly what they want to use in their solution.

In regards to wood, if the team determines the exact cuts, then it is okay to have a store employee make those same cuts for the team that anyone else could request. However, if the store charges an extra fee for those cuts, that fee must be included on the Cost form. There is a fine line between generic cuts and having the store employee help produce your set. The team could consider sending a clarification request with the dimensions to CCI if still unsure.

Can each long-term problem only be worked on by one team at a school?

It is possible to have more than one team from a school do the same problem. Each CCI membership permits the school to have one team per problem per division. If the teams doing the same problem are in different divisions (e.g., Division 1 and Division 2), only one school membership is required. If more than one team decides to solve the same problem AND they are in the same division, then the school must purchase an additional membership from CCI for each additional team in that same problem and division.

Can coaches or parents watch their own team’s spontaneous performance?

No. This is a rule from the international Odyssey of the Mind organization. It applies at every approved tournament. This is not a rule that Regional Directors or State Association Directors can change.

What is “appropriate content” for the skit? Are religious or political themes permitted?

See Chapter 5 of the Program Guide; a link to it is available on the Resources page. Religious and political themes are permitted, but teams should be aware that much of the scoring is subjective. If the judges consider the presentation to be objectionable or offensive, their scoring will reflect that.

As the tournament is conducted within a Fairfax County public school, teams must also follow any county rules regarding items that may be brought into schools.

It is important for teams to always keep in mind that the judges evaluate their performance based on what they actually see and hear. Whether it is dialogue, props, lyrics, or other actions, there is no room in the Odyssey program for anything that is inappropriate or offensive. Teams should also keep in mind that many times judges do not know the most current songs or lyrics, and so teams should focus on making sure that their performance is effective. Aside from inappropriate, the argument here is ineffectiveness.

When will we have access to the full problem statements and not just the one-paragraph synopses?

In the Odyssey program, there are two organizations involved with your participation in the Regional Tournament. Creative Competitions, Inc. (CCI) is the group that administers the program internationally. Synopses of the problems are posted on the CCI web site. After the coordinator has registered and paid for the membership on the CCI site, they will receive the problem statements in the mail.

Our regional NoVA North organization plans and provides the Regional Tournament, but we do not post the problems on our website since they have to be purchased through the registration process from CCI.

What is the fourth required long-term form, other than Outside Assistance, Cost, and Style?

Many problem statements include a “list” described in Part B. It is not “required” (there is no penalty if it isn’t provided); however, it is extremely helpful to provide so that the judges do not miss or misunderstand an element. The list is a valuable tool for the team to assist the judges, where the team can identify and describe briefly the details of their performance and tell the judges when things will happen and what to watch for. List forms are not included in the Program Guide. List forms are available in the Members Area at the Odyssey of the Mind website, which requires the membership number and associated zip code for access. Contact your school coordinator to obtain this information.

If more than one team in a school is doing a problem, can the teams build and share a staging and performance practice area?

Teams can share a basic practice area, such as a classroom, but they cannot share ideas, props, set pieces, designs, or costumes. Also, if the teams reproduce the Competition Site to practice on as described in the problem, each team must build its own site from scratch, without seeing any markings or the physical layout used by other teams.

Where can I purchase balsa wood in bulk?

We have had numerous requests lately for recommendations of mail order companies that sell balsa wood. Here are two we know of:

Is it okay for coaches to suggest and allow team members to watch Odyssey skits from past years that are online?

It’s okay, especially if they have never seen a skit before. Make sure the team understands they need to use their own ideas; otherwise, it would be very tempting to try to recreate someone else’s ideas. Once they get the idea of what a performance looks like, it is probably better to limit this exposure to other teams’ solutions to ensure they create their own.

May coaches explain the scoring in detail to their teams?

Coaches may explain how Odyssey of the Mind scoring works in general, including the normalization and combination of scores for long-term, Style, and Spontaneous. However, individual long-term problem scoring is a part of the rules of that problem and should be treated like any other rules. The coach may suggest that the team consider the point values of various parts of the solution and remind the team to keep the scoring rules in mind, but may not interpret those rules for the team.

Coaches can recommend that teams look at the scored elements again or ask where in the problem something is described or scored. One good approach is to work with the team to set up a checklist of things to be looked at repeatedly over the season. If the checklist is part of every team meeting, the team can remind themselves, without the coach needing to be involved.

Can the coach suggest the team add something to enhance their Style score?

There are many ways a team can enhance their Style score. The coach cannot suggest to the team what they should do. The coach can ask the team if they can think of ways to enhance their Style score; this might be a good brainstorming activity.

If the team had Outside Assistance in developing part of their solution, and then didn’t use any of that part in the final performance at the tournament, should the team list that as Outside Assistance?

No. The team should only list Outside Assistance that is used in the performance that the team presents to the judges at the tournament.

In Spontaneous, can the team ask the judges questions to clarify the problem?

That will depend on the problem. In Primary, the team may always ask questions. In divisions 1, 2, and 3, nearly all problems permit asking questions during the “thinking” time, and many also permit the team to ask questions during solution time. Some problems require the team to solve the problem without talking, either to each other or to the judges. Teams should practice all of the variations that they and their coaches can think of.

How can team members help another team member who gets “stuck” (unable to think of an answer) in a Spontaneous problem?

In most Spontaneous problems, team members can’t help each other come up with an answer. Some problems will include a “pass” possibility, which the stuck team member can use to skip their turn. Teams should be sure to practice getting “un-stuck” as an individual skill. Practice is the best way to avoid getting stuck, since practice helps develop quick-thinking skills.

Can the team give a duplicate answer during the Spontaneous problem?

Responses from the team members may be judged as either “creative” or “common.” An objective of the Spontaneous competition is for team members to try to respond with creative rather than common responses, and so the creative responses receive higher scores. We also recognize that a team member can become stuck, and the only response they may be able to come up with is one that has already been given. So yes, a team member can give a repeat answer, and it will be judged as common, no matter whether it was originally judged as creative or common. You might want to review the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide for further information; a link to it is available on the Resources page.

Do we have to buy balsa wood from the Odyssey of the Mind website?

No. Balsa can be purchased from any site. The team members alone must decide which pieces of balsa to use when they construct their structure. Copies of the receipts will need to be given to the weigh-in judges at the tournament, as specified in the House Rules. It is important that the wood meets the requirements noted in the problem statement. Oversized wood (any piece that exceeds the specifications in the problem statement at its cross section and is more than an irregularity of that piece with the rest within limitations) will receive a “weight-held” score of zero.

For other questions, the teams can submit their questions for clarifications on the Odyssey of the Mind website.

Where do we get a balsa structure tester?

If the team wants to have their own tester, someone associated with the team will have to make one. The design details are provided in the problem statement. There are additional instructions posted on the Balsa Teams page on our website. Anyone can build the tester, and there is no outside assistance penalty for having a non-team member make the tester.

The Balsa Problem Captains in Northern Virginia hold one or two information sessions each year for teams and, at that time, permit teams to test a structure on the Regional Tournament tester. No team may borrow a regional tester, but any team may test their structures at such an information session. Check the regional website for announcements of these sessions.

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