LAKEWOOD—Seven students from Preston Area School travelled to Pocono Mountain West High School on March 9 to compete in the 2019 Odyssey of the mind Northeast Regional Competition.

They returned as regional champs, edging out eight other teams in their division with one of the highest scores for the Pirates team in its six year history at Preston.

This year's crew, consisting of Arik Biedermann, Jakob Biedermann, Trysten Evanitsky, Ava Francisco, Audree Harris, Natasha Hendrickson, and Natalie Woodmansee, now have a week left to put the finishing touches and improvements on their project before traveling to the State Finals next Saturday, April 6 at Pocono Mountain East High School.

According to its website, Odyssey of the Mind is “is a creative problem-solving program for students in grades K-12 and college. The program provides students a creative outlet to develop their STEAM skills — science, technology, engineering, arts, and math — while working as a team to develop solutions that are presented at competitions around the world.”

Competitions consist of a long-term problem, which the students have several weeks to work on, build their solutions, and design an under-eight-minute skit to deliver the solution, complete with props, costumes, characters and any other creative flair they can work into it.

Contestants must also solve a spontaneous problem, devising the solution on the spot without any foreknowledge of the problem.

This year's Pirates team chose for their long-term problem, “Omer to the Rescue, Again.”

The team needed to developing a vehicle that could be driven to accomplish myriad heroic tasks, but must also be portable enough to fit inside a suitcase no larger than 27x27 inches.

“We build a tractor and we had to complete three tasks,” explained Woodmansee.

The team noted their tasks included, saving an animal by going backwards with a plow, returning a treasure, and “cleaning up the park,” by using the vehicle to pick up two objects.

After completing their tasks, the group's tractor, a green “John Fox” tractor, was lauded in a hero's parade, concluding their five-and-a-half minute skit.

Unifying the tasks into a concise narrative, the group devised the structure of tractor-salesman, John Fox, performing the deeds as marketing for his wonderful machine.

“We're very impressed with the way they put it together,” said team advisor, Gregory Adams. Noting the team normally chooses a problem centered on building a structure, Adams added, “We're very impressed that they were able to switch problems and finish first.”

Advisor Donald Burchell noted, “This is a very technical problem because there's so many moving parts to it and all of the aspects of the problem interact to make it even more challenging.”

For their spontaneous task, the group had to construct a tower “that had to extend outwards or upwards,” said Evanitsky. “It had … pipe-cleaners, and a cup, and some straws.”

Evanitsky noted the team chose to hazard the riskiest decision with the greatest point payout, a decision which ultimately proved beneficial as the group scored highest in their division on the spontaneous task.

In the three weeks since the competition's close, the Preston Odyssey of the Mind team has been busy tweaking their solution and presentation, utilizing feedback from the competition judges.

Harris noted some room for improvement could come in “working together better,” which J. Biedermann explained could be found by “watching the other teams” compete in other problems at the event.

The group also noted they're working on cleaning up their narrative structure, notably in rearranging some of their characters and costumes, and finding a better place for their over 20-foot wobbly inflatable tube person they built from scratch out of plastic bags, a plastic recycling bin and a large fan.

Stoked from their victory earlier this month, and excited to take on the next level of competition, the team has one final week to perfect their solution before leaving for states.