The Cultural Center in New York Mills is now accepting essays answering the 2021 Great American Think-Off question: Which is more important: to win or to play by the rules? 

This year’s question was chosen for the 2020 debate, which was canceled due to COVID-19. After a year of deep political and civil divides in the nation, as well as a worldwide pandemic, the question seems even more relevant now. 

This topic marks the 28th year of a classic philosophical quandary meant to inspire thinkers from all walks of life. The Great American Think-Off is a philosophical essay and debate competition held each year in rural New York Mills. The contest is free to enter and open to all, and has received thousands of entries from all 50 states and a number of international countries throughout its nearly three-decade history.

Winning and playing by the rules are both highly valued in today’s society, but they are sometimes in conflict. Information abounds on both sides of this topic; a quick Google search reveals stories from college campuses, parenting blogs, Harvard Business Review, ESPN, and the Bible. 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?

Everyone is invited to submit their answer in essay form for a chance to win $500 and participate in the live debate on June 12, in New York Mills. To enter, submit an essay of 750 words or less by April 1.  Essays can be submitted online at (preferred), by email to, or by mail to Great American Think-Off, c/o Cultural Center, P.O. Box 246, New York Mills, MN 56567. 

Four finalists will be announced on May 1, and receive $500 each plus travel expenses, along with a chance to win the title of America’s Greatest Thinker at this year’s annual debate held on June 12, in New York Mills.

The planning committee is also considering how this event might look different in 2021 to meet distancing needs and reach a broader audience. To engage with the topic online, follow the Cultural Center on Instagram @nymkulcher and Facebook and Twitter @ccnym.

For additional contest details or feedback, visit or call the Cultural Center at 385-3339.

About the Great 

American Think-Off

Now in its 28th year, The Great American Think-Off is an exhibition of civil disagreement between powerful ideas being explored by everyday people. Designed to bring philosophy down from the ivory towers of academia and accessible for all, the contest has received national acclaim including coverage by C-SPAN, the New York Times, and The Today Show.  

The New York Mills Regional Cultural Center, located in the rural farm and manufacturing town of New York Mills, sponsors this annual philosophy contest and encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to participate. 

The Cultural Center is a rural hub for creativity, community vitality, and lifelong learning in the arts. Since our incorporation in 1990, we have been passionate about connecting people to artists and rich cultural experiences in rural Minnesota, celebrating the local and being a window to the world.

To get a better sense of the Think-Off, find details, historical information, and a list of the past 27 years of questions and winners on the event website at