Fourteen-year-old Shawn Neugebauer of Glenn Burnie, dressed as Huck Finn, skillfully maneuvered his hydraulic-powered, cardboard and wood "raft" down a trail at the University of Maryland yesterday, periodically uprooting one-pound synthetic trees as he rode along and then replanting them elsewhere, while hundreds of students from across the country cheered.

Neugebauer and the rest of his teammates from Old Mill Middle School North in Anne Arundel County were competing with about 3,000 students in the OM Association championship games for the intellectually talented. The games, designed to test the creativity, ingenuity and intelligence of elementary and secondary school students, were held on the University of Maryland's College Park campus for the past three days.

A variety of other hydraulic-powered vehicles -- all different in design from Neugebauer's -- human circuses and computer-diagramed houses of the future were the order of the day yesterday as the whiz kids from across the nation, British Columbia and Ontario participated in the contests.

The problems, posed to the students several months in advance, ranged from designing an efficient "living/work space" for the future to building an inexpensive hydraulic-powered 'dozer with a device to pick up the "trees" to creating a four-member circus that included a two-person animal.

The problems were kept simple, and the cost of materials was limited, encouraging students to be original and ingenious in their ideas, according to Carole Micklus, OM executive director. Their creativity is judged by teachers and other interested adults.

Neugebauer said that the competition "made us use our minds and provided us with a challenge." He said he and his team spent as many as five hours a day, four days a week for two months preparing for the competition.

Fellow teammate, Julie Miller, 13, said the "experience was a lot of fun because it gave me a chance to be with others and learn new things while working with them."

Four Copperwood Elementary students from Glendale, Ariz., created "Clementine's Creatures of the West," a human circus featuring Clementine as the ringmaster and her pets -- Terranch, Ragrat and Mountain Liar. A spider-ant combination, Terranch played water-filled bottles to the tune of "Skip to My Lou," while Ragrat thrilled her audience by jumping through two-foot-high rings and Mountain Liar displayed his skills as a ventriloquist.

Denise Miller, 10, said she enjoyed creating "Clementine's Creatures" because it gave her the chance to work with others while trying to perfect the skit, which advanced to the finals after competing in two preliminary rounds of competition in Arizona.

And then there were the 21st century architects who devised computer programs to graphically display the houses of tomorrow. Designs varied from a dwelling equipped with a bathroom that had its fixtures hidden in wall panels to a swimming pool that could be converted to a washing machine.

The overall goal of the competition is "to teach children that education can be fun," and "to give them the opportunity to expand their horizons and learn from other children," said Micklus.