One of the nation's longer-running cerebral competitions is now accepting responses to the latest weighty philosophical dilemma it is posing to anyone feeling the contemplative urge.

After taking a year off because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minnesota-based 2021 Great American Think-Off is again accepting essays and reviving what it intended to pose last year: Which is more important, to win or to play by the rules?

"Winning and playing by the rules are both highly valued in our society, but they are sometimes in conflict," Think-Off organizers are dangling before prospective entrants. "What is your personal experience with winning or losing? Did you play by the rules, or not? How did you feel if you won but cheated? How did you feel if you lost to someone else who didn't follow the rules? Which is more important? How did you come to this belief?"

This is the 28th year that the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center has organized the Think-Off essay and debate competition. There is no cost to participate, and anyone can enter.

Essays are limited to 750 words and must be received by April 1.

Four finalists will be selected to receive $500 each, plus travel expenses and a chance to win the title of America's Greatest Thinker at this year's debate on June 21 in New York Mills, a rural farm and manufacturing town in west-central Minnesota.

Essays can be submitted at, by e-mail to, or by mail to Great American Think-Off, c/o Cultural Center, P.O. Box 246, New York Mills, MN 56567. Finalists will be announced on May 1. For additional details, call the Cultural Center at 1-218-385-3339.

Over the years, the Think-Off has fielded entries from all 50 states and numerous countries and received attention from C-SPAN, the New York Times and the "Today" show.

Previous debate questions have included, "Does technology free us or trap us?" and "Which is more dangerous, science or religion?"

The planning committee is also considering how this event might look to meet COVID-19 distancing needs and reach a broader audience. Suggestions are welcome by following the Cultural Center on Facebook or Twitter.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482