The Great American Think-Off was started in 1993 by John Davis. It was founded at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center in New York Mills, Minnesota and typically takes place on the first weekend in June.
The Think-Off is an unusual philosophy contest whose goal is to get the opinions of ordinary Americans on issues that have timeless appeal.
This is how the Think-Off works. Every year, the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center accepts ideas for that year's philosophical question and sometime in January they pick the best one and then make a press release. At this point, anyone can write an essay, 750 words or less, on how they feel about the topic. The catch is, the essay must be based on personal experience or observation. Next, all the essays are collected and read by a panel of judges and the four best are chosen, two from each side of the issue.
These four contestants are then invited to come to New York Mills to read their essay and then debate. The debate has been moderated the past 10 years by Alan "Lindy" Linda, the town's HVAC repair guy and local newspaper columnist. The debate takes place in three rounds. The first two rounds pit the contestants from the same side of the issue against each other. The winners of those two rounds debate in the final round for the title of America's Greatest Thinker. The debate takes place in a local auditorium and to advance to the next round and win, you must get a majority audience vote.
So, what's in it for the winner you ask? Well, I guess you could say fame and fortune. The winners of the essay contest are published for one, plus they get an expenses paid trip to the Middle of Nowhere, Minnesota for the debate. If that's not enough, all four get a cash prize and a bronze, silver, or gold medal. Probably the best reward though, the winner gets an appearance on the national TV's Today Show. Oh, I also suppose, the title America's Greatest Thinker, and all that goes with that.
Here is a list of past Think-Off questions:
The typical Think-Off contestants have ranged from clergy to sex therapists and everything in between, including: students, teachers, truck drivers, waitresses, housewives, and computer engineers.