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Manhattan Beach Kids Rule 'Odyssey of the Mind' Competitions

Jun 06, 2021 04:42PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
The international Odyssey of the Mind competition involves creativity and fast thinking... and Manhattan Beach kids are dominating the competition. In the Odyssey of the Mind's Virtual World Finals last weekend, all four Manhattan Beach teams placed either first or second in their respective divisions.

The top winners included a 3rd grade team from Pacific Elementary (first overall in their problem category); a 5th grade team from Pacific Elementary (second overall and first for spontaneous thinking in their problem category); a Manhattan Beach Middle School team (first overall in their problem category); and a Mira Costa High School team (first overall in their problem category). 

Odyssey of the Mind is a competition that combines theater and problem solving with a creative twist. Through the writing of original scripts, the creation of costumes, props, scenery, and technical elements, teams of students work together to solve problems while thinking outside the box. The competition gives students a unique opportunity to showcase their gifts in script writing, costume creation, music, dance, visual arts, props and scenery construction, engineering, problem solving, leadership, critical thinking, and more.

"For students, Odyssey helps develop confidence, creativity, and critical thinking skills," said Brian Fan, a parent and the coach of both the middle school and high school teams. "It challenges kids to think of a problem from multiple angles and celebrates unconventional solutions. I have had several members go from being shy and quiet, to singing, acting, even rapping in front of a crowd. Odyssey inspires them to take a risk and put themselves out there."

The Manhattan Beach teams arrived at the world finals by competing at a regional tournament in March, and the state tournament in April.  All competitions were held virtually.  The teams had been practicing together (both remotely and together socially distanced) since September, and devoted countless hours to script writing, set and costume and prop creation, practicing the skit, and spontaneous problem preparation.

At the world finals, they competed against a total of 828 teams from 28 countries and across 35 states. 

Lindsay Geida, parent of three of the children involved in the competition, put the Manhattan Beach teams' winnings in context this way:
  • There were more competitors at this year's Odyssey of the Mind World Finals than there were at the last Winter Olympics.
  • More than half of California's podium winners came from Manhattan Beach.
  • If this were the Olympics, Manhattan Beach would have placed 4th in the world standings behind China, Poland, and New York (state).
  • The only city to top Manhattan Beach's medal count was Shanghai.

Winning Team Problems and Strategies

Pacific's 3rd grade team competed in a problem called "Superhero Socks: A Cliffhanger Beginning," where the team had to create a 15 minute skit that began with a cliffhanger “ending" and followed a superhero that was in peril as she escaped with a pair of Super Socks (in our team's case, socks that had super stink powers) and fend off an adversary who caused the cliffhanger situation. The spontaneous problem the team was tasked with involved coming up with responses (within a 25 minute time period) to the prompt: "I'm not allowed to play video games anymore because...."  The team's responses included "Even Mario was getting sick of me!" "The teacher told my mom I was copying my seat partner’s test. And, he wasn’t the smartest in the class!"; "I told my sister there really are monsters sleeping under her bed" and "I tried to milk a raccoon."  The team placed first overall in their problem category comprised of 72 teams.

The team included Zayaan Mehrotra, Vivienne Schneider, Lielle Sklash, Ellie Armandpour, Lara Geida, Noah Segil, and Gabe Segil, coached by Michelle Lautanen.

Pacific's 5th grade team competed in a problem called "Classics," where the team created a 15-minute skit about story book characters coming alive when a special bean grows into a magic “beanstalk” that takes a youngster into a storybook land.  The spontaneous problem the team was tasked with involved coming up with responses (within a 25 minute time period) to two photographs of houses and tell why they might be a good place to live.  One house was upside down, propped up on its chimney; the other house was in the middle of a huge desert. The team's responses included "I would finally catch Santa Claus when he got stumped trying to go through the upside chimney"'; "I would never have to worry about searching for my loose change under the sofa"; I would get a lot of use out of my metal detector"; and "I could have a pet camel instead of a pet cat".  This team placed second overall and first for spontaneous thinking in their problem category from among 64 teams.

The team included Cary Geida, Brady Lange, Jack Schneider, Cameron Geida, Rehaan Mehrotra, Reagan Ertman, and Devin Manasse, coached by Michelle Lautanen.

The MBMS team competed in a problem called "It's a Trap."  For  "It's a Trap," the teams needed to build structures out of balsa wood and glue to support as much weight as possible after it was used to trap a moving object. The creative emphasis was to create a humorous performance in which an oblivious character unwittingly avoids three traps.  For the spontaneous problem, the team was given 20 minutes to think of 35 responses to their prompt.  The prompt was two lists of words from which the team was asked to select one word from each list and connect them in some way: List 1: peanut, phone, baby, flower, sky; and List 2: planet, bear, mountain, tree, button. Some of MBMS's responses included: "What do you get when you give a bear a phone? $1200 dollars wasted!"; "Flowers and mountains are very important; that's why we use their space to build fossil fuel plants;" and "if you see a baby bear DO NOT PET IT no matter how cute it is." The MBMS team placed first overall in their problem category comprised of 37 teams.

The team included Charlotte Fan, Sierra Wolbert, Ty Ahrens, Audrey Treger, and Zachary Green, coached by Brian Fan.

The Mira Costa team also competed in the "It's a Trap" problem in a different age category. Their spontaneous problem tasked them with completing this phrase in 20 minutes: "I like getting caught in the rain because _____ ."  Their responses included "I like getting caught in the rain because I am curious what type of thunderwear the clouds are wearing on that specific day"; "I like getting caught in the rain because it checks "monthly shower" off of my to-do list"; and "I like getting caught in the rain because then I get to pretend I am in my own music video. Sorry, I am not taking autographs right now." The Costa placed first overall in their problem category comprised of 23 teams.

The team included Ashlyn Green, Ella Kim, Abigail Seo, Andrew Fan, Luke Green, and Brian Chiu, coached by Brian Fan.

"Spontaneous problems - these can range from asking the kids to think of quick witticisms, or completing a MacGyver'ish task with a few household items - teach them to think on their feet," said Fan. "In our problem my teams are also required to build a balsa wood structure as part of their solution. The kids design, build, and test the strength of their structures; this requires them to combine material science, drafting, math, engineering, and the scientific process. There are a plethora of other skills - including writing, teamwork, STEM, public speaking, and project planning -  that students develop throughout a season, but I think one of the things I like most about Odyssey is that it empowers students to solve their own problems. Seeing kids say, 'Yeah, we can do it' is just such a powerful thing."

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