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Odyssey of the Mind Unfolds as Epic Adventure


Dan Delano’s head pops up in the top window of the cardboard castle. The East Grand Rapids Middle School student flops a very long blond braid down the side of the castle wall.

On the ground below, a witch talks about her devious plan.

But soon, with the help of fellow Odyssey of the Mind teammates who play various storybook characters tasked with stopping the world’s evils, the funky wigged Rapunzel is released from captivity.

It’s time to celebrate with a “friendship selfie with my new I-Pan 6,” Dan said, raising a silver skillet and joining other characters in cheesy grins for a group “photo” snapped with a frying pan.

East Grand Rapids seventh-grader Gwen Steele becomes Snow White for Odyssey of the Mind
East Grand Rapids seventh-grader Gwen Steele becomes Snow White for Odyssey of the Mind

When it comes to a competition that intertwines problem-solving, innovative contraptions, silly fun and teamwork, there’s no shortage of excitement or imagination for students in Odyssey of the Mind. For eight months, students spent countless hours creating their eight-minute performances.

Their explanation of the popular competition took twists and turns that involved mention of a sleeping princess, a crafty dragon, funny pop-culture references, a real-life video game and the pressure of answering mind-bending questions on-the-spot. The more out-of-the box one thinks, it seems, the more Odyssey makes sense.

The seven-member, seventh-grade team, including twins Katherine and Ashley McGray, Nicholas Merritt, Griffin Martell, Dan Delano, Gwen Steele and Simon Laflaur, put in countless hours over eight months on the quest that seems perplexing to those not involved.

“It’s so hard to explain,” said Nicholas Merritt with a laugh.

The students attempted to do just that, telling how they created a script for the competition to participate in the problem “Pandora’s Box.” They chose a theme of “Disney and Magic,” peppered their skit with puns and went wild with costumes and props. Their task: teams put a video game spin on the story. As in a video game, the students role played a character passing through a multi-level game inspired by the Greek myth.

In bringing it to life, the students wore medieval costumes, built a dragon with a moving mouth and played queens, kings and Sleeping Beauty.

“The objective is to defeat all the evils and release hope into the world,” said Dan Delano.

OM teammates gather for a “friendship selfie”
OM teammates gather for a “friendship selfie”

The team from East Grand Rapids Middle was one of several in Kent County and more than 800 worldwide that qualified to compete at Odyssey of the Mind World Finals in May.

Odyssey of the Mind, founded in 1978, is an international program involving thousands of teams from across the United States and 25 other countries. Everything is student-led and created, with volunteer coaches overseeing the process. Teams are scored for their long-term problem solution, how well they solve a “spontaneous” problem on the spot, and “style” — the elaboration of their long-term problem solution.

Students chose from five problems with challenges ranging from creating vehicles that travel on tracks and make stops at different stations without touching the floor; creating as structure made only of balsa wood and glue that will balance and support as much weight as possible, and creating a performance depicting a director-character that makes a silent movie featuring a humorous villain-character that commits three silly acts of “villainy.”

Nicholas Merritt, “Sleeping Beauty” slumbers
Nicholas Merritt, “Sleeping Beauty” slumbers

“It’s really interactive. A lot of people take a lot of pride in being in Odyssey of the Mind,” said Ashley.

“You have to work as a team,” Griffin said. “You learn to work with different kinds of people.”

That’s why Odyssey is hard to explain, students said. The problems lead to results that are always unexpected and filled with adventure, like that of a good epic tale.

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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