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Laughing and learning out loud

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Three “domes” donned coin-laden shoes and tap danced away from St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow, on a quest to find their two-toned papier mache “tops,” stolen by Rasputin.

Of course, the “domes” were actually Lowville Academy and Central School students acting out a skit at the Region 9 Odyssey of the Mind tournament Saturday at Watertown High School.

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative competition that asks students to prepare a skit for one of five different “problems.” The more wacky and creative the skit, the higher their chances were of receiving a first-place finish in their division. The Lowville students placed first in Division I of “ARTchitecture: the Musical.”

“All solutions are different. There’s a lot greater focus on the technicality for the older kids; total abandon with creativity with the younger kids,” said Catherine M. Pisarski, head judge for the “It’s How You Look at It” portion of the competition.

Ms. Pisarski gestured to a group of children dressed in handmade dinosaur costumes. Chuckling, she said, “Look, he has a chair cushion for his rear end.”

Roaming the halls, spectators would find a number of props and backdrops created from recycled materials. Children themselves looked as zany as their skits and props. Some wore face paint; others had hair piled as high as Cindy Lou Who’s. No one knew what to expect when they turned a corner, and beneath the caked-on makeup, handmade costumes and armloads of props, everyone appeared stress-free.

Odyssey of the Mind stands out as a competition in which students have more fun preparing for their task than they do in winning.

“So often society tunnel-visions (children); we want them to think outside the box. We give open-ended questions and they interpret it any way they want,” said Tina Groff, head judge for ARTchitecture.

For some pupils, such as those from South Jefferson’s Mannsville-Manor Elementary, even the creative process was unorthodox.

“We surrounded our story around the backdrop,” said Andrew C. Thomas, 10.

“The kids worked backwards compared to other groups. They worked on the backdrop and then the script,” team coach Avionne L. Huppert said.

Andrew recounted their tale of a leprechaun who becomes a foreign exchange student on an alien planet, and an alien who voyages to leprechaun land. Competing in “It’s How You Look at It,” the team’s goal was to demonstrate how seemingly odd behavior is normal to someone else.

Everything from script and design to performance lies on the students.

As for judging, it is all based at the level of the students who perform.

“Kid humor — there’s a lot of farts and a lot of falling down. We have to judge them on their level of humor,” said June Venton, head judge for “The Email Must Go Through.”

While it may not always be easy for judges to bring themselves back to that age level, Ms. Venton said, it is always fun.

The winning team from each division will head next to the Odyssey of the Mind state competition March 23 at Binghamton University.

Lowville will send three teams; South Jefferson Central, Lyme Central, Beaver River Central and General Brown Central will send two teams each, South Lewis Central and Watertown City had one team each.

For more information about Odyssey of the Mind, visit www.odysseyofthemind.com.

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