This coming weekend, one of our favorite annual festivals, World Maker Faire New York, returns for its fifth annual edition at Queens' New York Hall of Science. This massive celebration 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, incredible. 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.
Organized into five themed Zones, Maker Faire overflows with more than 700 makers, crafters, tinkerers, hackers, techies, thinkers and artisans proudly showing off their wacky robots, homemade needlework, 3D-printed products, music-making gizmos and zillions of other wild things. There are also hands-on activities for all ages, and live entertainment like the Coke Zero & Mentos Fountains and a life-size recreation of the board game Mouse Trap.
While Maker Faire's counterculture, do-it-yourself spirit seems to get a little more commercial every year (it's now presented by Disney), don't worry: We've gone through the program and there will still be plenty of super-offbeat stuff. Be sure to wander around: At Maker Faire there's something cool waiting to be discovered around every corner.
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. At this one-of-a-kind event, you'll find school-age kids selling homemade PVC marshmallow shooters or a geeky dad showing off his robots alongside established educational programs like Brooklyn Aerodrome, 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 some must-sees for families, both new additions and returning favorites.
NEW! Game of Drones Aerial Sports League – Catch cool competitions at this aerial combat arena as techies show off their best drone moves.
NEW! BOOM! The Puffing Gun and the Rise of Cereal – Watch cereal get puffed by a 3,200-pound, historically-accurate recreation of an old-school cereal puffing gun.
NEW! The NYSCI Village debuts two new activities for kids: crafting costumes out of everyday materials like paper, plastic and coffee filters, and Little (Mud) Makers, where you can collaborate on a giant mud mural, and create tiny mud dwellings with natural materials, mud bricks, twigs and leaves.
SkrapKins – Make boats out of repurposed materials and then race them on a track.
Duct Tape Bling – Create colorful duct-tape bracelets studded with LED lights.
Lockpick Village – Play cat burglar for a day by learning how to outwit security and pick locks. My son did it last year and it's easier than you might think!
Coke Zero & Mentos Fountains – Geysers of soda shoot more than 20 feet into the air in this mint-powered take on Las Vegas' Bellagio Fountains, brought to you by the mad scientists of EepyBird. Their online videos are legendary.
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 is obsessed with this!
Circus Warehouse – Watch the pros show off their skills and then learn a few new circus tricks yourself.
Science Demos on the Rocket Stage – Check out educators from NYSCI as they do chemistry, flight, magical science and other cool demos.
Plastic Storm – Check out this stunning sculpture made out of old plastic bottles, cups, jars, and caps.
While the fest doesn't have a designated family area this year, Zone 5 is where most of the kids' activities can be found along with some of food trucks, so make a beeline here to check out:
NEW! The Tick Tock the Croc – a 50-plus-foot crocodile sculpture that slithers around thanks to the cyclists powering it
BioBus – a school bus-turned-solar-powered science lab
The National Museum of Mathematics – Explore 3D geometric structures made of PVC pipes and bungee cords.
Crossbow Making – Learn how to craft PVC pipe bows with 16-year-old maker Kurt Hamblin.
Pop-up Playground – Romp in the makeshift playground.
Make Your Own Soap – Customize your own glycerine-based bar.
Puppet Phactory’s Hack-A-Puppet – Create puppets and masks out of found objects.
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 DIY fashion workshops.
Maker Faire also features a bunch of talks and demos like Inspiring Creativity in our Youngest Makers by the Center for Childhood Creativity's associate director, Erica Fortescue, who'll highlight resources for young makers.
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, 3D printing and best for families. If you're still not sure what to expect, watch this video we shot at NYC's very first Maker Faire 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 option for families is the Sunday Family Pass: $100 for five people as long as you arrive between 10am and 1pm on Sunday (you can still stay the whole day). That deal is only available in advance!
Plan out your day. While you'll certainly want to spend some of your time roaming the grounds, you should go through the program and look at the map before you arrive so you know what attractions you absolutely can't miss.
Arrive early. The space is big but 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 4 get mobbed right before showtime so again, come early.
Download the app. There's a Maker Faire app available for Apple and Android devices 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.
How to get there. The New York Hall of Science is about a 10-minute walk from the 111th Street stop on the 7 train. If you drive, you'll have to park your car at Citi Field for $10 and take a shuttle bus to the fair. There will also be a bike valet if you prefer to beat the traffic and pedal to the park.
Bring cash for food. Unfortunately, you're not allowed to bring your own food but there are tasty food trucks on hand. Warning: The lines get long! .
Prepare for a long day. Sleep well and arrive ready for a lot of walking, standing, engaging and learning. Maker Faire is not for the lazy!
World Maker Faire New York 2014 takes place at the New York Hall of Science, 47-01 111th Street in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens on Saturday, September 20 10am-7pm and Sunday, September 21 10am-6pm. In advance: $32.50 for adults, $17.50 for children ages 2-17; more at the door. Various ticket packages are available on the website.
Find out about other great things to do with kids this month in our September NYC Go List.
This post was originally published in September 2011.