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You can never read the problem too often

This first thing to do is make sure you have a copy of the full problem. This is a six page description of the requirements and scoring rubric. If you only have the short paragraph describing the problem, contact your school coordinator.

Once you have the problem, make sure your team knows what is on those six pages by reading and re-reading it, and by having the team continually verify that their solution both meets the requirements and complies with the “spirit of the problem.”

Regardless of the Odyssey of the Mind problem your team chooses, it is as important to know what the problem doesn’t say as what it does say. The general rule is, “If it doesn’t say you can’t, then you can.” What does this really mean? It means that if between the problem, the Program Guide (Rule) Book, and the Clarifications, if it doesn’t say you can’t do something in solving the problem your team has chosen, then you can. The reasoning behind this approach is to teach that there are many, many solutions to most problems and to encourage teams to really stretch to find a creative solution.

If your team thinks their idea is “pushing the envelope” or too risky or your team just wants to be sure what the problem says about a particular item, then they can write CCI for a clarification. (See the section about clarifications in the Program Guide or the national web site at and click on clarifications)

There are numerous tips that have worked for teams over the years. This is one approach.

  1. Make copies of the problem for each team member and coach.
  2. When team members come to meetings pass out the copy of the problem that was left with you.
  3. Read the problem aloud including scoring and penalties. Involve all team members in this reading exercise. Reading out loud forces the team to slow down. It also doubles comprehension by incorporating both reading and listening.
  4. Look up every word in the glossary. Sometimes the definition is different from the generally accepted meaning. If you are not sure what a word means in the context of the problem, or what the writer is trying to say, get a clarification immediately.

  5. Read the summary paragraph and analyze every word in the summary paragraph.

  6. Read, analyze and discuss at length the “Spirit of the Problem”.
  7. Read the scoring descriptions aloud and discuss whether this is an objective or subjective problem.
  8. Decide where the points are located and as a result where you will want to spend your time.
  9. What does the style section say and what is required for style.
  10. Reflect on what you have discovered about the problem.
  11. Repeat frequently.

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