There's the Pillsbury Bake-Off, the Pun-Off in Austin and a small town in Minnesota has started the "Think-Off."
This challenging contest began (as far as I can tell) in 1993 with the question: "The Nature of Humankind: Inherently Good or Inherently Evil?" According to the website, a priest, a newspaper editor, a 15 year-old cheerleader and a former tribal police officer made such strong arguments that the audience couldn't decide if mankind is good or evil, leaving the question forever unresolved.
Since then such questions have been "thought-off" as:
1994: "Does Life Have Meaning?"
1998: "Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?" (again from the wegsite) A record year, the 1998 Think-Off received over 820 essays, and the final debate was broadcast live on C-SPAN. As the country grappled with the spectacle in the White House, the Think-Off audience and the C-SPAN viewing audience, agreed with a soft-spoken priest from New York--honesty is not always the best choice
2002: "Is the Pen Mightier than the Sword? (and the web site says) Paul Higday of Richmond, Virginia said No. It's not a matter of which has the right, but which has the might. In today's world it takes the sword to change societies so the pen can flourish. In order for the pen to be mightier, the people in whose hand it lies must be 'entirely great', said Higday, referring to the 19th century novelist Bulwer-Lytton who said, "Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword?"
The event is organized by Minnesota's New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding the cultural and creative opportunities of rural Americans. New York Mills is a farming town of some 1,200 people in central Minnesota, about 170 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
Anyone can enter by submitting an essay of 750 words or less. Four finalists will be chosen to debate the question on June 13 before a live audience.
Last year's question was “Does immigration strengthen or threaten the United States?” The audience decided Craig Allen, of West Linn, Ore., was most convincing with his argument that the system of immigration and immigration policy is broken, that it encourages illegal immigration and poses a threat to the country.
Here's how it works ... go to --> this website <-- and you can read previous essays and debates. There is a link to the entry form --> here <-- . You compose a 750 word essay on this years question ~ "Is it ever wrong to do the right thing?" You submit the essay and it will be judged along with all the others received. And the four finalists will be chosen to debate the topic on June 13th before an audience that will decide. At least one of the debates has been broadcast by C-Span and given all that happened in 2008, I suspect this years topic will generate a lot of interest.
The prize for the four finalists is travel, lodging and $500. They also will appear in the parade on the 12th of June. The final prize(s): Gold, Silver & bronze medals and title of "America's Greatest Thinker".
From the website again:
"Entering the competition is easy. Just submit an essay of 750 words or less by April 1, 2009 (postmark date). You may send your essay in one of three ways: through the mail to Great American Think-Off, New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, P.O. Box 246, New York Mills, MN 56567 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org (no attachments)".
My challenge for this year ~ enter this contest . . .