Norwood School fourth-grader McKenzie Davis shows off the Odyssey of the Mind pin that she and her teammates will exchange with other kids in the competition. (MOIRA E. MCLAUGHLIN/The Washington Post)

Imagine this: The year is 2028. You’re in a meeting with five of your co-workers at a company that’s devoted to keeping kids healthy. Your boss is upset because studies show that kids in the Washington area are not eating enough vegetables. Your team must figure out why this is and find a way to get kids to eat more veggies.

Creative competition

Where would you start? Would you use a strategy you have used before, or try to think outside the box (that means come up with an unusual or creative solution)? Thinking creatively is how scientists find cures to diseases, how engineers figure out new ways to make a car go and how kids win a competition called Odyssey of the Mind.

Starting Thursday, more than 800 teams from 13 countries will participate in the 34th annual Odyssey of the Mind World Finals in Michigan. Eighteen schools from Virginia and four schools from Maryland with kids from kindergarten through eighth grade will participate. Norwood School in Potomac will have five teams competing — more than any other local school.

Making something from nothing

This year’s event began last fall when each Odyssey team chose one of five projects to design for the competition. (Teams with the same project compete against one another.)

“I remember thinking, ‘How are we going to do this?’ ” said Kalen Fling, a Norwood fifth-grader who is going to the competition in Michigan. Kalen’s team had to create a play based on a structure that was built between the years 1000 and 1600. They also had to make the costumes and sets and come up with two songs and a dance.

“We wanted to do something different,” said sixth-grader Nicholas Polansky. “We went out of the box and thought of an Eastern structure.”

Meeting for about two hours each week, the team re-created the Forbidden City — a place in Beijing, China, where emperors once lived — out of cardboard boxes and soda cans. The team wrote a play that included a giraffe and a daughter who was separated from and then reunited with her father.

“It’s a really fun experience and worth the time and effort it takes,” Nicholas said about Odyssey.

Third-grader Jack Beveridge and his team at Norwood chose a different problem. Jack’s team had to glue thin pieces of a light wood called balsa to create a structure, such as a cube, that could hold weights on top of it. The structure also had to be able to roll down a ramp. The team had to make a TV commercial to go along with it.

To begin, Jack’s team simply played with the balsa wood, breaking it, cutting it, thinking about how to put the pieces together. The kids made about 25 structures, some with three cubes stacked together, some with two, until they figured out the best design for the balsa wood. Their completed structure holds about 175 pounds.

During the competition this weekend, teams will also have to answer a creative question that they don’t know about ahead of time.

Making friends

In Michigan, teams will stay in dorm rooms at Michigan State University and meet kids from all over the world. The teams also will get to trade Odyssey pins. Friendship is a big part of the competition, too: Everyone has to be able to work together, just like in real life. “I think [Odyssey] is fun,” said Patrick Newcombe, who is on Nicholas’s team. “I like being creative, and I have some good friends on this team.”

— Moira E. McLaughlin