Luther Burbank Middle School eighth-graders went cruisin' for a title but came up short Saturday in the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals at Iowa State University.
It wasn't for lack of imagination.
The students' entry into the annual competition that stresses creativity, teamwork and problem-solving was a homemade, battery-powered vehicle on wheels designed to first look like a dog and then change into a mouse.
They placed 16th in a field of 51 entries that came from middle schools in the United States and 14 foreign countries.
The seven students from the Burbank school earned a spot in the world competition by winning the California state championship earlier this year.
"Coming in 16th their first time at world was really good," said Luther Burbank Principal Donna Coffey. "The level of competition was so much higher than at the state level."
Odyssey of the Mind differs sharply from traditional scholastic competitions, such as the Academic Decathlon, in that it stresses problem-solving skills rather than rote memorization of facts.
The competition was the brainchild of Dr. Samuel Micklus of New Jersey, who started the program in 1978 and still creates problems for the kids to solve.
While working on the problems, students are not allowed to seek any help from teachers or parents. All props and costumes must be built from scratch and within a total budget of $100. A team's presentation must be eight minutes or less.
The problem for the Burbank students was called "Amusin' Cruisin'." It called on them to create a vehicle that would take them on two journeys, during which they would have to perform a variety of tasks.
For their presentation, the students built an amusement park setting out of cardboard that was big enough to allow their vehicle through. Their presentation ended with the car, in the shape of a mouse, getting caught in a homemade mousetrap.
The Burbank students earned points for wit. On a makeshift television that was one of their props, they put pictures from the film "The Bridges of Madison County," which was set in Iowa. This brought a roar of approval from the crowd.
The "Amusin' Cruisin' " competition was won by a team from Anoka, Minn.