Problem 5 Video

Celebrating after competition

A Word on Problem 5 – Transcript

Key Moments

Teamwork: 0:45:28
Brainstorming: 1:27
Outside Assistance: 2:27
Reading the Problem: 3:34
Sections of the Problem | Problem Requirements: 4:27
Materials: 11:56
Important Words and Phrases: 14:12
Scoring: 19:22
Style: 20:48
Picking Scoring Items: 24:15
Paperwork: 26:21
Final Tips: 28:57

Introduction and Part One

Hi, my name is Kristen Friend. I am the Northern California Problem Five Problem Captain. I’m here to talk a little about problem five and the Odyssey of the Mind experience.

This video will be applicable to approaching problem five in any competition year.

Before we get into the problem itself, I want to talk a little bit about teamwork.


One of the many great things about Odyssey of the Mind is that teams benefit from having all kinds of different people on them with different personalities and interests.

Each team member brings something unique, and every team member does not have to excel in every skill for a team to be successful. Developing good teamwork means figuring out how to use everyone’s unique talents for the benefit of the team’s solution.

Personality traits that aren’t always included in other school competitions can often become a strength in Odyssey of the Mind.


Brainstorming: Brainstorming sessions are important before and after writing your script. After you’ve given your ideas, make sure everyone else has a chance to talk.

Any idea is good during a brainstorming session. You never know what an idea can turn into when it is given the chance. Ideas can snowball into something unexpected, and a seemingly crazy idea can turn into a great one.

Coaches: This must be a hands-off process because there is a fine, sometimes difficult to understand line between teaching teamwork and outside assistance. But you can ask questions to help encourage teammates uncover what they love to do.

Coaches: You can record ideas. Because teammates were the ones to think of them initially, this isn’t outside assistance.

Coaches: Have drinks and snacks available during meetings and divide the responsibility for refreshments between teammates. We all generally focus better when we are fueled up.

Kids: Be proactive in making sure everyone gets a chance to talk!


In Odyssey, we really want the teams to own their solutions. That means that everything from initial ideas through execution must be done by team members.

Not every team member has to work on everything and deciding who should do what and who should be involved in which decisions is an important part of time management.

Coaches: You can ask guiding questions, but you cannot provide suggestions.

You can teach kids how to do something, but they have to ask you. You cannot just say, “Why don’t you learn X, Y or Z.”

If putting together a set requires a specific skill, someone can teach that skill, or you can point the team to a place where they can learn it. However, the team members have to be the ones to execute on all items used in the performance.


You have your team, and you are ready to get started on your solution. I would suggest reading through the problem at least twice before starting on anything.

The most important part in early preparation is reading the problem well and really understanding the requirements. Without that, your script could be off-base, and you will miss out on scoring for required elements, which puts you at a disadvantage at competition.

It may also be a good idea to re-read the problem before each meeting to make sure you are on track and that your solution isn’t veering away from the requirements.

In the problem, you’re given a set of criteria — in problem five, that is the criteria for your performance. Sometimes that involves creating a certain character or a certain number of characters. Sometimes that involves creating a certain setting or even prop or sound effect. Those rules are different every year.

But within that set of rules, it is up to your team to come up with a creative performance that meets the outlined criteria. There is no limit on creativity.

In fact, Odyssey Headquarters is trying to open up problem five and give it fewer limitations so that you can be even more creative with all the elements.

When you first look at the problem, you’ll notice that it’s divided into eight sections. The problem, limitations, setup, scoring, penalties, style, and the last two sections outline what will be provided by the tournament director and what needs to be provided by your team.

It’s important that you read through the whole problem even though it might seem long, and it might seem a little overwhelming, to get a feel for the big picture and what you’re going to need to be doing. Especially because Style is an important part of the problem and it’s not listed until F, after setup and after scoring and after penalties.

Coaches: It is a good idea to make several copies of the problem and make sure each team member has a copy.


A: The Problem

The problem itself is outlined in section A. This is a detailed list of what is required in the problem, the Creative Emphasis of the Problem, and the Spirit of the Problem. A lot of Section A is restating what was in the first part of the problem, but that’s because these are the things that are important.

The problem overview basically tells you what you will be performing. It says, here’s the scenario and and the rules, and within eight minutes you have to provide a solution that goes along with these rules and guidelines.

The Creative Emphasis of the problem is what judges are going to be looking at when they score you on overall creativity. So, for example, if humor is part of the creative emphasis of the problem, then that is one of the things that judges are going to be looking for when they judge the overall creativity of the performance. The same goes for any characters that are in the creative emphasis or any props. Those are going to be judged at some point in the long-term scoring.

The Spirit of the Problem basically lists everything that your solution has to contain. So, if the spirit of the problem lists two characters, one sound effect and one song those things must be in your performance otherwise you could score a zero or get a small Spirit of the Problem penalty.

B. Limitations

The Limitations are the meat of the problem. Section B takes all the details mentioned in section A and fleshes them out. This section also gives the basics of the problem (general rules, length, cost). Reading the limitations thoroughly is crucial to understanding the problem.

C. Site, Setup, and Competition

This section talks about the layout of the competition area. The stage size set by the problem is a minimum. Your actual stage at competition could be (and usually is) bigger. So, make sure you can fit everything into the minimum size, but feel free to use the whole stage during the actual competition if it is bigger.

For new teams: When you get to the performance area, you will go through a few steps. First, you’ll talk to a staging judge who will ask you some questions and make sure you have all your forms ready.

When it is your turn, you will be allowed into the performance area. There will be a space marked off where you will wait until you are given the signal to perform. Only teammates can move items into that area. And you cannot start setting up until you are given the signal: “Team Begin.”

Once you get that signal, you can set up and present your performance using the whole space provided. I have seen a team give their whole performance in the initial box where they were waiting to start, and unfortunately, they did not score well because the judges had a hard time seeing and hearing them. So spread out and be seen and heard when you are given the opportunity.

D. Scoring

Section D tells you what really matters for scoring highly. It is probably a good idea to read through section D every time you get together to work on your solution.

Although you need to follow all the criteria outlined by section B, section D tells you which of the required elements are worth the most points.

When you look through the scoring elements in D you will know exactly what the judges are looking for. You will also know how many points are assigned to each element. So, you will see what Odyssey considers to be an important part of the problem in terms of the scoring.

It is a good idea to frequently read through your script with the problem as you develop it and ask yourself how each part will score. Reread scoring while brainstorming, reread scoring when creating props, and reread scoring whenever a team member doesn’t know what they should be working on.

E. Penalties

Judges will take every opportunity to give you points and do not want to penalize your team. However, if you clearly don’t follow the rules, you will be penalized. The problem tells you how you will be penalized for certain violations.

A note to coaches, this is another reason it is important to read the program guide. The program guide outlines general rules and definitions that are not in the problem specifically. Just because a rule isn’t in the problem doesn’t mean the team can ignore it. The team will be expected to abide by all the rules in both the program guide and the problem.

F. Style

Section F is where you see what officials will be judging for style. I will talk more about style later, however, I want to emphasize here that just because style is listed at the end of the problem does not mean it is not important. Style is 50 points of your overall score. Your style elements enhance your solution and make it stand out. Do not look at style as an afterthought, it is an integral part of your solution.

G. Tournament director will provide, H. Team will provide
These are pretty straightforward but read through them and make sure you have all the right forms


Where do I get materials?

The specific cost limit for problem five is given in the problem. The cost limit is not a spending requirement, just a limit to how much can be spent. It is meant to level the playing field and encourage the creative use of recycled and repurposed materials.

Only items that directly contribute to the solution need to be counted toward cost. If none of the team has shoes that directly contribute to their costumes, for example, those don’t need to be on the form.

Your own homes and garages are a great place to start looking for material ideas. You might consider starting a collection of certain “trash” items that you could use to assemble a costume or prop.

If possible, field trips are also helpful. Simply wandering through a craft store, second-hand store or hardware store might spark some ideas about how to repurpose an item in an unexpected way.

In Odyssey, every material has potential, nothing is trash. In fact, in the world of Odyssey nothing is as it seems.

Always remember that judges are looking at how creative your solution is and how creative the elements of your solution are, not whether things look like they were done by a master craftsman. Judges would always rather see something you made yourself.

So, for example, if one of the characters in your solution is a frog, well you could go to a costume shop or a local theater company and get a costume (and probably use most of your cost limit!) Or you could create a costume out of found materials. And while it may not be perfect, it would be more creative and innovative and score more highly.


When you’re looking through the scoring section of the problem, you’ll see phrases like “creativity of,” “effectiveness of” and “impact of.”

And while those things seem very similar, in Odyssey scoring they mean different things. A good way to think about effectiveness is stage presence. Are you speaking loudly enough for the judges to hear? Can they see your faces when appropriate? Can they see your backgrounds and props? How do you work together as a team? If something goes wrong during the performance, how do you fix it?

The effectiveness of the performance also encompasses your team’s overall approach to the performance. So, any enhancements made by the team that go beyond the problem requirements will add to the performance’s effectiveness. Basically, anything that is not scored in the long-term problem or style but adds to the team’s solution will boost that effectiveness score.

When considering the impact of an item, ask yourself, how much did that thing add to the solution?

When you’re putting together your solution, try to think about putting all the required elements together to make a whole that is bigger than each element. So, you’re not just putting in a character into the script because the problem requires that character or creating an outfit because the problem requires that outfit. Yes, you are creating all the required elements. But you’re creating them within the context of a bigger theme.

If you have all the required elements, you will get all your objective scoring points. However, if required items are a hodgepodge or if they don’t support an overall theme or if they just show up without explanation, then your “overall impact” scores will suffer, and your creativity scores may suffer too because judges will be confused about what is happening. So, the goal is not just to meet the requirements. The goal is to meet the requirements within the context of a theme, within the context of a performance that tells a story where all the elements come together to make that story work.

This brings me to an important phrase that is defined within the program guide glossary: as portrayed in the performance. When you see “As portrayed in the performance,” that phrase gives your team permission to do anything you want.

Any part of your team’s solution that is not specifically defined in the problem or in the glossary can be defined by your team. So, for example, if “society” is mentioned within the problem but not defined in the glossary then you can make society anything your team wants. It can be aliens or living dust bunnies or musical notes on a scale, anything that qualifies as a society within the context of your solution. So, the phrase “as portrayed in the performance” gives your team permission to just really go crazy with creativity.

So, for example, let’s say I’m a fish. I’m a fish and I’m living underwater in my fish world, and the problem says that something needs to happen to me that’s terrifying as portrayed in the performance. Well, maybe that something is breathing air. So, you would think breathing air, that’s not terrifying, we all breathe air. But to a fish, it’s like drowning, and that’s terrifying within the context of the performance. So, if something is to be a thing it doesn’t necessarily have to be that thing in the real world. It just must be that thing to your characters.

Italicized Words

When you are reading the problem, you may come across words that are italicized. If a word in the long-term problem is italicized then that word has a specific definition within the program guide glossary or the glossary at the end of the problem, and officials will be judging according to that definition.

The glossary at the end of the problem is specific to that problem that year. And the problem-specific glossary always overrides the program guide glossary. So, go to the definitions in the problem first and if you don’t see it there then look in the program guide glossary.

SCORING: 19:22

Objective vs Subjective Scoring

When you are looking over the scoring, you will notice two types of scores. One type of scoring is subjective. Subjective elements are scored on a sliding scale. These are things like the creativity of an outfit, and creativity of the use of a material. The scale is usually between 1 and 15, sometimes between 1 and 20 but often it’s a 10 to 15 point sliding scale for subjective scoring.

These things will be scored differently by each judge based on their interpretations. Subjective scores cannot be challenged.

An objective score just states whether a thing did or did not happen. Either a character did wear the part of the costume they were supposed to wear, or they didn’t. That’s a zero or five usually, sometimes zero or two, sometimes zero or three. But the score is either a zero or a number. It’s not up to the judges to determine how well it was done, it’s just up to the judges to determine that it did happen.

And judges will give you every opportunity to prove that a thing did happen. If the judges aren’t sure they saw it, they will come up to you after the performance and they’ll ask you some questions and you can explain when it happened. Because again, judges really want to give points.

STYLE: 20:48

For your performance, you will have two judging teams: long-term, or problem judges, score what is in section “D” of the problem, and Style judges score what is in section “F”. In person, these teams are often separated into two groups at two different tables. The tables may be together or on opposite sides of the room.

When you are reading through the style section of the problem, you will notice there are 5 things that are scored. Problem five has two components that are defined and listed in the problem and two components that can be chosen by the team. Then there is a fifth component, which is the effect of all the style elements on the solution.

Your team has to include the two things listed as the required Style elements into your performance. And on your style form, you will tell the judges what those two required things are. For example, if one style element is the creative use of a material in a hat, then you will write in what that material is and whose hat it is on so that judges know what they are looking for.

In addition to the two required style elements, you will see two “free choice of team” spaces. This means you can choose anything in your performance that is not already listed for scoring in section D of the problem. Anything!

Now style may be positioned at the end of the problem, but your style items are really important. Style is not an afterthought and please don’t think about it that way. Teams who score well on their style elements and the impact of those elements on the performance generally score well in their long-term solution overall.

This is because teams who have really thought about the style elements and planned out how to incorporate those elements into the solution have generally given a lot of thought to the context of the problem, to the whole story, to the whole theme and how each element they’re creating fits into that story.

So, what is style?

Style is more than just the icing on the cake of your performance. Style includes all the things that make your performance shine. Style is the stuff that adds to the solution of the problem and that relates to the nature of the problem but is not required in the long-term problem under sections A, B, or D. Style is basically the enhancement of your problem solution.

When thinking about Style, always ask why or ask how. For example, why does this character act the way she does? How does this costume fit into our setting? Is this thing appropriate for the place where our performance is happening?

Here are some good things to ask yourself while you’re thinking about style.

  • You can ask yourself: how does this relate to the long-term problem?
  • What do you mean by that?
  • How could we accomplish this?
  • How does this benefit the solution?
  • Does this costume or sound, etc make sense in context?


How do you pick what elements you want your judges to score?

The key here is to focus on any elements within your performance that you really think showcase your team’s creative strengths. Remember, this can be anything. So, this is your chance to really show off. This is your chance to say to the judges, hey, Odyssey didn’t tell us to do these things, but we think they’re just such a great part of our solution and we’re really excited about them, and we think they’re really creative. So, here you go. Please score these.

Also, try to pick items that really add to the impact of your team’s overall solution. So, for example let’s say a material is used in a creative way in a vest. And that vest gives whoever wears it the ability to travel through time, and that time travel is integral to the team’s solution. Then that material would have a lot of impact on the overall performance and likely be a great style and element pick. So, just remember that nothing that is scored in the long-term problem, that’s everything that’s listed in D, scoring can be scored in style. There’s no double scoring. So, be thoughtful and pick items that aren’t already being scored.

What are judges looking for?

Officials are looking to make sure there’s a clear beginning and end to the presentation. They’re looking for a good integration of all your team members, not the dominance of one team member.

They’re looking for things that are unpredictable or unexpected, things that are innovative.

And they’re also looking at the emotional aspect of style. Did it make judges laugh? Did it make judges think? Was there some sort of response evoked? These are the things officials will be looking for.


And one last thing. Paperwork.

When putting together your paperwork it’s always best to be as clear as you can.

When you’re describing what you want to be scored for your free choice of team in style, be as specific as possible. If you just say, for example, “the bear” then judges will score everything about the bear. The costume, the performance, the script, everything the bear does.

You could say, “the appearance of the bear,” in which case judges would score costume, makeup, that type of thing.

Or you could say the bear’s costume or the bear’s vest or the bear’s dress, any part of what the bear is wearing and then judges will score just that, and all aspects of it.

You could get even more specific and pick a material used in the costume, and then the judges will score that material specifically. So, just always remember that you can be as specific as you want with your style choices and the more specific you are, the more you think through what you really want the judges to score and are clear with them about it, the better chance you have of scoring highly.

Speaking of forms

Make your forms an integral part of your team’s solution. Filling out your forms is not only a requirement of the problem, it also helps judges score your problem.

Paperwork is not only critical to your team’s score. It’s also critical to the operation of the tournament. Let’s focus on how it’s important to you. Your paperwork is your opportunity to show the judges your vision. It’s your opportunity to tell them who your characters are and what they’re up to and why they’re doing it. It’s your chance to brag a little, show off about how important these things are to your solution. Also, if you keep your paperwork in mind, particularly the required list and your style form, while you’re putting together your solution then you’re more likely to hit all of the required elements of the problem.

And finally, for the sake of your own sanity at the tournament, if you do not have your required forms when you check in with staging then you will have to fill them out right there. And this is an added level of stress that no one on your team needs when really you should be focusing on getting ready. So, paperwork, it’s not just a last-minute thing. It’s a requirement of the problem and critical to telling the judges how they need to look at your solution, what they need to be looking for. Good paperwork can actually help enhance your score.


If you don’t know, ask. You can write in for clarifications of the problem through the national Odyssey of the Mind website. The link to clarifications is under “teams” in the main menu.

Your problem captain cannot answer questions because that would be outside assistance. And coaches have to be very careful, too. Plus, a coach’s interpretation of the problem may be different from the actual requirement as defined by Odyssey headquarters.

So, if you have a question that you really can’t figure out by re-reading the problem, write for a clarification and ask. The clarifications are all private. Only your team (and I) will see the answer, so you aren’t giving anything away to other teams.

Make a pre-tournament to-do list

For example, a week before the tournament you should be practicing your performance with everyone in character. During these practice sections, you can make note of any missing elements and make sure those are on your list.

Some pre-tournament list items could include:

  • Know what you are going to say when the timekeeper asks you “Team, are you ready?”
  • Make sure you have your membership sign.
  • Double-check your clarifications
  • Double-check scoring elements

Make sure you have all your forms filled out. That includes:

  • Style form (3 to 5 copies)
  • Team Required list form (3 to 5 copies)
  • Outside Assistance Form (1 copy)
  • Cost form (1 copy)

Put together a fix-it kit

No matter how careful you are traveling with your props and costumes, there is a chance something will break. Your fix-it kit should contain items that you can use to fix them, from general things like tape to solution-specific items like certain colored markers or costume and set materials.

Have fun solving and good luck!

Coaches & Teams
Judges & Volunteers