GOSHEN-Odyssey of the Mind resembles a 10-ring circus. At any time during the day in the gymnasium at Orange-Ulster BOCES in Goshen last Saturday, you could find students acting and performing original music. Or they were designing and building structures using mere ounces of balsa wood to hold hundreds of pounds of weights. Or they were launching toy car-sized vehicles they created themselves to navigate a course and blow out balloons. Carmine "Chip" Antonelli, the OM regional director, described the hallways as "a Mardi Gras," and noted that he never got time to see actual performances - just the costumed students. And, he added, while teams are rated and awarded rankings, "you took the risk to go out and find your best solutions - you are all winners." Monroe-Woodbury, with teams enrolled in nearly every problem at every level, emerged as the big winner. Other area schools took some significant second places, including North Main Street, which will attend the state competitions later this month despite a second-place finish. Teams from Warwick, Chester and Goshen also earned second- and third-place recognition. The numbers are impressive. Ninety-six teams from 16 school districts participated, with seven students on most teams. They were rated by 116 volunteer judges, who attended training sessions in addition to serving the full day on Saturday. Students in the BOCES law enforcement and food service programs provided security and served meals. The OM, as it is universally referred to, offers students competitions in five problems and three age groups. Students in kindergarten through second grade also had their own, non-competitive problem. They created "fables," which they had to write and act out. The eight-minute playlet had to have a moral and meet other criteria. Monroe-Woodbury students were especially proficient at designing and running small automobiles, taking first place in all three divisions of the "Stunt Mobile" problem. Two machines, each powered by a different method, had to be aimed or guided to burst balloons located strategically around a gymnasium at Orange-Ulster BOCES. Virtually all the rooms in the Special Education center were in use, either for performances or to hold students waiting their turns. Monroe students also took first place honors in the "Get the Message" problem, which required students to demonstrate communication using methods from the past, the present and - using their imagination - the future. In the "Laugh-a-Thon" problem, which required students to develop a comedy sketch, Monroe-Woodbury Middle School took first place in Division II (middle grades) and Monroe-Woodbury High School won in Division III (high schools). These were not the same students who won earlier; schools field different teams for different problems. Monroe-Woodbury had teams in almost every division and every problem; many other districts had fewer. In the Division II "Laugh-a-Thon," Warwick Middle School finished just behind Monroe-Woodbury in second place. In the last contest to be announced, Division II "In Your Dreams," Monroe-Woodbury Middle School placed third, with Port Jervis Middle School placing first. Monroe-Woodbury School Superintendent Frank Moscatti applauded enthusiastically for the winner. Does he still feel some ties to Port Jervis? "So many of those names (the Port Jervis team) are familiar to me," he said. That's part of the spirit of the Odyssey of the Mind - competition, yes, but keep it friendly. The "Outstanding OMER" award signifies that spirit. For instance North Main Street's Stunt Mobile team went first in the day's competition, then stayed and cheered on the next team. Chester Academy's Division III "Laugh-Other local teams scored well, coming close to grabbing the first-place ring that carries with it the opportunity to compete at the state level in Binghamton on March 19. State winners will compete at World Finals at the University of Colorado at Boulder on May 21 through 24. North Main Street Elementary School earned a second place in the "Laugh-a-Thon" problem and, through a special provision called "Lottery Slots," will also compete at the state level. Other second-place winners include Central Valley Elementary School in "Stunt Mobiles Division I, Monroe-Woodbury High School in "Get the Message," Division III "Laugh-a-Thon" required the students to portray a puppet, a mime, and a character and his or her reflection while performing an original humorous sketch. Teams are also required to limit their expenditures - in most cases to $125, with a higher limit, $140, for the mini-automobiles.