Tuesday, September 15, 2009

FoG-PoP Revisited: June/July 2009: Pop on Pop Episode 6: The Museum Of Play

Previously in Pop on Pop: Baby watched too much TV.

It's summertime, so what better subject to tackle here than the geek family vacation?

But don't expect me to cover the easy or obvious pop friendly choices, like the San Diego Comic Con, Disney World, or Universal Studios; or even the not-so-obvious geek getaways, like Niagara Falls' Adventure City, a Marvel Comics-themed arcade on the ground floor of a hotel at the end of a strip that includes multiple fun houses, candy shops, and even a ferris wheel.

There's apparently even a geek-family friendly cruiseline, for those of ou who want to get your nerd on while at sea(thanks to Wired's own "Geek Dad" for that tip)!

These are all great destinations for the pop-minded family on holiday. But that's not where I'm sending you, dear reader. I'm sending you to Rochester, New York.


Honestly, I don't know that there is much to "woo" -- or even to "hoo" -- about in Rochester. It snows a lot. The city is famous for a dish called "The Garbage Plate," which looks like this. But the main draw for me (Pop on Pop), my wife (Mom on Pop? Wait, that sounds dirty), and little miss Alexa Sunshine is family.

At least that was the reason.

But that all changed when my brother and sister-in-law introduced us to the coolest place I've ever been -- The Strong Museum of Play.

Strong is home to the National Toy Hall of Fame, the National Center for the History of Electronic Games, and the world’s largest collection of toys, dolls, games, and other items that celebrate play. And while there are plenty of archived goodies behind glass to tickle your nostalgia bone, the building is also packed with hands-on "exhibits" to play with, on, and even in! The museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to the collection and preservation of--and education about--artifacts of fun, as well as the dissemination of awesomeness (that last bit is not technically in their mission statement, but it's totally true).

I've already been to Strong a few times in the past year, but it was from the minute I saw the giant picture window and crazy building blocks exterior of the building that I knew I'd be writing about it here. No amount of snapshots can capture the pure energy of the place, but hopefully some of this photo tour inside Strong will inspire you to check it out for yourself.

Here's my sister-in-law, Aunt Sara, and Lesky's cousins Mason and Ivy. Before Lex was born, Mason served as my "beta test" for geek parenthood (as you can see by his choice of wardrobe for the day).

Driving up to Strong and circling the exterior, you can't help but get the sense that this place is built for fun. Unfortunately, not photographed here is the gorgeous playground and skate park (complete with half pipe and vert ramps) directly across the street, which is also part of the museum grounds.

Once inside, the fun begins...even before you buy your tickets. You'd think the merry-go-round would come later, but no -- there's no delaying the fun!

Here's Lex and with her Noni in front of one of the large tropical fish tanks in the museum anteroom.

You do have to pay to get into the museum, but at about $10 a person, it is no worse than a trip to the movies, and far more satisfying.

Not everything is as cut-and-dry as old action figures or boards games. Here are some shots of my brother-in-law Uncle Dan demonstrating the mind-boggling and stomach-churning Slanted Room (of DOOM).

While the younglings will be content playing in the giant sandboxes, climbing around various jungle gym playsets, or riding the life-size train set, parents and chaperones will be cheating themselves if they don't set aside ample time to walk through the museum's National Toy Hall of Fame. Aisle after aisle, display cases line the walls, each filled with the most amazing collection of childhood relics.

Not pictured here are the hundreds of antique dolls and doll houses, all in amazing condition, little time capsules of fun.

But even after looking at old toys, there's more actual, physical playing to be done. We've been to the museum multiple times and still haven't been able to spend enough time with everything offered.

This looks like we stopped at a gift shop or convenience store outside the museum, right? Actually, this is a functioning "make-believe" Wegman's grocery store. The products are fake, but the kid-sized registers and price scanners actually work.

Hard to make out, but this is a life-size replica of the game Mouse Trap on the ceiling of one of the play rooms.

Are you exhausted yet? Seems like a full day already just reading about this place. But there's more! One of the biggest "brand name" presences at Strong is Sesame Street -- which is enough to satisfy most kids without any of the rest. But at Strong, Elmo and friends are just another part of the mix.

I encourage you to check out the Strong website and read more about the Museum of Play and to plan your own visit to this nostalgia paradise.

Matt Bergin is the Pop who writes on Pop. See what else he's up to at http://Division18.com, http://ComicBlogElite.com, and on Twitter @D18Matt.

1 comment:

Suzanne Seldes said...

Matt, I thought that you'd like to know that this weekend (October 17 & 18) Strong National Museum of Play is opening American Comic Book Heroes, an original and permanent exhibit produced by Strong. I hope that provides you with another reason to take the family back to Rochester, NY and enjoy a Strong day with the kids and cousins.