NEW YORK MILLS -- If you've ever wondered whether the pen is mightier than the sword, now is your chance to decide.
That's the issue that will be debated Saturday night in New York Mills by the four finalists in this year's Great American Think-Off essay contest.
The outcome of the debate will be judged by the 450-500 members of the audience who will gather at 7 p.m. in the James W. Mann Performing Arts Center at the local high school.
Finalists include an Austin teacher and a Littleton, Colo., high school student, arguing on behalf of the pen, and two Richmond, Va., residents who take the side of the sword.
Now in its 10th year, the annual essay contest and public debate were the brainchild of John Davis, a New York Mills area farmer who helped establish the event's sponsor, the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center.
Over the years, its popularity as a forum for common-sense philosophy has attracted national media attention, including live broadcasts on cable's C-SPAN network.
This year's Think-Off kicks off on Friday night with a downtown "philosophy parade" at 6:30 and a street dance featuring Velvet Touch band, starting at 8.
A promotional media event -- called "the weigh-in" -- is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday at the Mann Performing Arts Center, a gimmick featuring the finalists.
Paul Higday, an information technology specialist, and Barbara Parker, a housewife, will open the debate at 7:15 p.m. by reading their winning essays in support of the sword over the pen.
A moderator will pose a couple of questions to each of the contestants, whose responses help determine the winner, selected by popular acclaim by the audience.
Timothy Brennan, the Austin teacher, and Jenna Madsen, the Colorado student, will face off in similar fashion at about 7:45 p.m., followed by a public vote.
Then the two winners -- one each on either side of the issue, "Is the pen mightier than the sword?" -- will respond to four questions from the audience before an overall winner is selected by ballot.
The winner is declared "America's greatest thinker." Each contestant receives a $500 cash prize, as well as all travel and lodging expenses.
Advance tickets are $5 for Cultural Center members and $7 for non-members, while gate sales are $8 and $10. For reservations, call (218) 385-3339.
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