Topical as always, here's this year's question for the Great American Think-Off, the annual "philosophy contest for everyone" in New York Mills, Minn.: Which is more ethical: sticking to your principles, or being willing to compromise?

The event, now in its 21st year, chooses four contestants from essays submitted by thinkers who are willing to travel to north-central Minnesota in June. Last year, more than 500 entrants addressed the question of whether the nature of humankind is inherently good or inherently evil. (Evil won.)

Essays, limited to 750 words, should be "grounded in the writer's personal experience, not in philosophical abstraction," according to Jamie Robertson, executive director of the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, which sponsors the contest. The four writers selected will debate the question on June 8. Travel costs, food and lodging are covered by the center. All four finalists also receive $500.

The Think-Off is an outcome of the center's mission to provide innovative access to artists in a rural community. Its logo of Rodin's "The Thinker" sitting on a tractor symbolizes cultivating the arts, and the center has become a national model for such efforts.

Entries may be sent by mail (Think-Off, Box 246, New York Mills, MN 56567), online ( or by e-mail ( Deadline is April 1, with finalists notified by May 1.

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185