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Sustainable Lafayette’s Odyssey of the Mind Team Reduces, Reuses, and Recycles their way to Success

By: Ben Brekke, Michael Solomon, Riley Walter, Liv Hoppe, Benjamin Jo, Evan Sverak, and Milana Nalitkina


To many people, leftover materials, newspapers, and utensils are seen as trash that should be immediately disposed of. To many of you reading this, you understand that this garbage should at least be recycled. However, to a few innovative children, these materials are not garbage, but instead treasures that can be repurposed into beautiful artwork. These creative-minded kids are participants of Odyssey of the Mind.

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem-solving, after-school activity that consists of two problems: long-term and spontaneous. Teams of up to seven students from either elementary, middle, or high school (sometimes even college) work together to take on both of these problems; the solutions to these problems are presented at a competition day, where teams’ solutions are scored and ranked. Based on ranking, such teams can move from regionals, to state, and finally to worlds.


In the first part, the long-term problem, teams tackle one of five problems that they can choose from. Teams spend hundreds of hours over a span of six months formulating a solution to solve one of these detailed problems as creatively as possible - hence the name long-term. The culmination of this work is an eight-minute performance including solely team-created costumes, props, script, and set (meaning absolutely no outside assistance!).

The second part of Odyssey of the Mind consists of solving a spontaneous problem that teams are presented with on the day of the tournament. Teams have around three minutes to prepare as a group before showcasing their solution to the judges. Spontaneous problem-solving has pushed us to be comfortable with risk-taking and ambiguity.


One important aspect of Odyssey of the Mind is the usage of recycled materials. With a budget of only $125, it is important to reuse and repurpose materials. Often, we find cheap, reusable materials by going through garages, posting requests on Nextdoor, or rummaging through old trash. However, in some instances, we have trouble thinking of what materials we should use or where to find random materials we may need. For these cases, we go to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse to find the most random materials that end up creating beautiful artwork, props, and set pieces in our skit.


Last year we really focused on trying to reuse as much material as possible. One of our biggest projects last year was our set, which was completely made out of materials that otherwise would have ended up in the trash. From the chicken wire base to the exterior decorations, everything in our set was garbage. We used strong chicken wire that we attached to large sheets of reused cardboard with zip ties. For the decorations we used everything we could find. Packing peanuts, newspapers, old books, plastic utensils, even expired dry beans. By making sure we mainly only use recycled materials, we hope to play our part in reducing waste.

Reusable materials can also prove useful when designing costumes. One required element of an Odyssey of the Mind Problem two years ago was the creativity in the design of the villain character’s costume, our villain character being Poseidon that year. Instead of putting nearly half our team’s budget into buying an already created costume, we put our creative minds together and used a much more affordable method: plastic spoons. By intricately gluing and layering countless plastic spoons on top of a base structure made of old wooden planks, we created a large, fish-like tail that flowed behind Poseidon as he walked. The costume was scored very highly and helped us go far in the competition (due to the creative usage of recycled materials), despite only costing pennies to manufacture.


For our team in particular, Odyssey of the Mind would not be possible without the sponsorship from the thoughtful people at Sustainable Lafayette! We really appreciate you and the meaningful work you do to help our environment.


Four local elementary schools (Burton Valley, Lafayette Elementary, Springhill, and Happy Valley) as well as Stanley Middle School have Odyssey of the Mind programs. We encourage everyone who loves to act, write, build, draw, reuse, or do anything creative to join Odyssey of the Mind. It is such a wonderful program that teaches the invaluable lessons of teamwork, problem-solving, and creativity!


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