Maker Faire New York 2012: What's New for NYC Kids at this Hyper-Creative Festival
This coming weekend, World Maker Faire New York returns for its third annual edition. This massive festival of creativity and innovation was launched in San Mateo, California in 2006 by Make magazine, and has since expanded to numerous cities, including ours. It is, in a word, awesome. Lots of other adjectives come to mind too, like outrageous, over-the-top, thought-provoking, enriching and (unfortunately for me) indescribable. It's very hard to explain why World Maker Faire is so cool—hopefully the photos in our slide show give you an idea of what a unique experience it is. My family and I went to the first two fairs and were totally blown away, and we're counting down the days until Saturday arrives!
On the last weekend of September, the fairgrounds surrounding the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park will be filled with 500 makers, crafters, tinkerers, hackers, thinkers and artisans, who will proudly show off their wacky robots, homemade needlework, music-making gizmos and zillions of other wild things. Organized into four themed (more or less) Zones, Maker Faire boasts a crafts pavilion, a slew of Young Makers under 18, and fantastic demos, installations and performances like the Coke Zero & Mentos Fountains, Circus Warehouse’s acrobatics and a life-size recreation of the board game Mouse Trap. New this year: An enormous clothing swap with fancy sewing workshops, make-your-own miniature cars and no-rules race, plus areas sponsored by Disney, Chevrolet and other big brands. While Maker Faire's counterculture, do-it-yourself spirit seems to get a little more commercial every year, don't worry: We've gone through the program and there will still be plenty of super-offbeat stuff you won't see anywhere else.
World Maker Faire is a mash up of people doing different things. Some sell their creations, others display or perform their work, and many booths host hands-on activities. This year Disney is offering Phineas and Ferb-inspired projects while across the aisle you'll find school-age kids selling homemade PVC marshmallow shooters or a geeky dad showing off his robots. There are also many local presenters we love like the Brooklyn Aerodrome, RoboFun, the Brooklyn Robot Foundry and, of course, the New York Hall of Science.
I won't lie: The whole thing can feel kind of overwhelming (heck it's overwhelming just to write about it!). Although the entire event is family-friendly and engaging, you may not know where to go or what to do first. That's why we've highlighted the must-sees for families, both new additions and returning favorites.
New and Notable Additions for Kids and Families
Toothpick World – Stan Munro crafts amazingly realistic looking world landmarks out of toothpicks and plain old Elmers Glue. Marvel at Yankee Stadium, the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty and many other iconic structures recreated on a 1:164 scale.
Zombie Detector Photo Booth – Robert Hermes will snap your photo with his zombie detector camera, which will reveal if you're a human or a member of the walking dead.
Swap-o-rama-rama – Clean out your closet for the world’s largest clothing swap! You can also learn how to turn your old duds into something new with sewing and silk-screening workshops. The weekend wraps up with a giant fashion show on Sunday.
Nerdy Derby – Make your own miniature cars at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program booth and then participate in races inspired by the Boy Scouts Pinewood Derby.
Returning Favorites for Kids and Families
Whack! Piñata Workshops – Learn how to make your own piñata at the Llaves Designs booth. I really loved the cool, one-of-a-kind piñatas created by kids and adults that I saw last year.
Lockpick Village – Play cat burglar for a day by learning how to outwit security and pick locks at the Toool booth.
Young Makers – Be inspired by these incredibly talented kids who show off their robotic, engineering and other smartypants projects.
Coke Zero & Mentos Fountains – Geysers of soda shoot more than 20 feet into the air in this mint-powered version of Las Vegas' Bellagio Fountains, brought to you by the mad scientists of EepyBird. Their online videos actually received two Emmy nominations.
Life-size Mouse Trap – This hand-crafted, 16-piece, 50,000-pound interactive kinetic sculpture is set atop a 6,500-square-foot game board. In addition to marveling at the fact that people actually made this, you can enjoy a charmingly amateurish Vaudeville-style show with mice can-can dancers, clown workers, acrobatic high jinks and an original score by one-woman band Esmerelda Strange. My son was obsessed with this last year!
Brooklyn Aerodrome – Want to make your own remote-control flying trash? Well, now you can. Brooklyn Aerodome is providing kits, plans, buddy box sessions and advice for those interested in creating a cheap, tough and great flying delta wing.
Circus Warehouse – Watch the pros show off their skills and then learn a few new circus tricks yourself.
Maker Faire also features a bunch of talks and demos like Every Child A Maker by former engineering professor and mom AnnMarie Thomas, where she'll talk about creating future-makers, and Low Tech/No Tech Robotics for Kids, which focuses on how to make cardboard box robots.
Of course our list is by no means comprehensive. Visit the Maker Faire website for a complete list of exhibitors and activities. You can even browse by topic so you can see all of the exhibitors in each category, like crafts, electronics, music, etc. If you're still not sure what to expect, watch this video of highlights Mommy Poppins shot in 2010.
Things to Know Before You Go
Buy your tickets in advance. You'll be able to save a few bucks and skip the line. The best deal for families seems to be the Sunday Family Pass, which gets you admission for five people for $60 as long as you arrive between 10am and 1pm on Sunday. You can still stay the whole day.
Arrive on the early side. The space is big but it gets crowded fast and you'll need at least one full day to cover everything.
Life-size Mouse Trap, Coke Zero & Mentos Fountain and other main-stage attractions in Zone D get mobbed right before show time so again, come early. We hung around the Mouse Trap in between performances so we could get up close.
There's a Maker Faire App available for Apple mobile devices and Android phones, that ostensibly helps you navigate the grounds and create a schedule. It seems to work better for planning in advance than when you're actually there. But it's free so it's worth downloading.
Take the subway. The New York Hall of Science is just a 10-minute walk from the 7 train. If you drive, you'll have to park your car at Citifield for $10 and take a shuttle bus to the fair.
Grab snacks at the tasty food trucks that will be on hand. Warning: The lines get long! Unfortunately you are not allowed to bring your own food.
World Maker Faire New York 2012 takes place at the New York Hall of Science, 47-01 111th Street in Flushing Meadow Corona Park, Queens. Saturday, September 29 10am-7pm and Sunday, September 30 10am-6pm. In advance: $27.50 for adults, $12 for children ages 2-17, free for kids under 2; more at the door. Various ticket packages are available on the website.