It's like a word problem from your elementary days: School's out for three months. Daylight lasts at least 12 hours. The kids are bored 24/7. What do you do?
We've got three solutions that don't involve expensive vacations or long car rides. These mini getaways new to the Columbus scene are designed specifically for your family's mini members. Meet the sister polar bears settling in at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium's Polar Frontier, head to COSI and feel the freezing temperature of the iceberg that wrecked the Titanic, or construct a Lego creation at Easton Town Center.
To help make the most of your outings, we did the homework and compiled fun and educational trivia related to each attraction (great for the drive to your destination), as well as tips for keeping your kids involved in the experience. You might even learn some things yourself-like how many scoops of ice cream were on board the Titanic.
It's been more than 20 years since the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium housed polar bears. Finally, in early May, an eager public met Aurora and Anana, twin bears whose new home is the zoo's $20 million Polar Frontier.
Located on the eastern edge of the park, Polar Frontier is part of the North America region and is perhaps the most interactive section of the 90-acre zoo. An outpost chock-full of games and a playground await, but first greet the bears: Aurora, whose name refers to the northern polar lights, and Anana, which is Inuit for "pretty," are 3 years old and came to Central Ohio from the Pittsburgh Zoo andPPGAquarium. They are native Ohioans, though, born at the Toledo Zoo.
Their Columbus habitat is designed to impress polar bears as well as zoogoers. Through a wide expanse of windows, viewers can watch the girls frolic in two pools or prowl around the 1.32-acre yard that keeps them entertained with smell ports, dig pits and shelters. Downstairs, an underwater viewing area lets visitors step into a glass enclosure beneath the pools to watch the bears swimming overhead.
Joining the polar bears in the new exhibit area are arctic foxes and the zoo's brown bear brothers, Brutus and Buckeye, who were rescued after they were found as orphan cubs in Alaska.
Aurora and Anana, who aren't yet fully grown, will be carefully monitored by both the zoo and the conservation group Polar Bears International. The species' situation is becoming dire-as climate change continues to melt sea ice, not only is the bears' food supply threatened, but the increase in water means polar bears must swim longer. Many drown; at most, only 25,000 are left in the wild. Saving the polar bears through eco-friendly decisions and conservation education is a big focus of Polar Frontier, says Karen Huebel, the exhibit's design and planning manager.
Enter Polar Pete. He's the fictional scientist Huebel and her team created for the exhibit's storyline. Polar Frontier is designed to look like an abandoned mining town, and the Polar Pete Outpost building in the center of the space has play areas, educational video games, Arctic Ambassadors videos, storybook sections and a scientist station.
"The story is that Polar Pete was a businessman who inherited this abandoned post and was going to sell it," Huebel says, "but he decided this was a great place to study and save the bears."
In addition to the interactive areas inside, there is a playground on-site with an outpost replica, weather vanes, an igloo, a zip line, a slide and an ice jump, which lets kids get the full polar bear experience by learning what it's like to travel from ice spot to ice spot. Hungry young scientists can eat at the frontier's food station, called Polar Grille. The exhibit has everything families need for a daylong outing. "There are a lot of opportunities for stay time here," Huebel says.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, 4850 W. Powell Rd., colszoo.org. Open daily 9 am to 6 pm Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Adm $12.99, ages 2 to 9 and seniors $7.99, children under 2 free; parking $5.
Conservation is big focus of Polar Frontier. Start the discussion about being eco-friendly with this quiz, courtesy Polar Bears International.
Q) Polar bears evolved from which other bear?
a) brown bear; b) black bear; c) sun bear; d) panda bear
A) Polar bears evolved from brown bears that began living on ice nearly 200,000 years ago. (Compare them yourself at the exhibit: Brutus and Buckeye, the zoo's brown bears, now live next door to the polar bears.)
Q) A polar bear can smell prey from how far away?
a) 1 mile; b) 2 miles; c) 5 miles; d) 20 miles
A) Even when their next meal is hidden by snow or ice, polar bears can detect prey 20 miles away.
Q) How long can a polar bear hold its breath underwater?
a) one minute; b) two minutes; c) five minutes; d) 10 minutes
A) They can stay underwater for two minutes and swim 6 1/2 miles per hour.
Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition
"My husband is dead!" a young girl's panicked voice shouts above the crowd.
Instead of concern (for her husband's demise or the fact that this tween is married), the statement draws laughs. She's in the last room of COSI's new Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition, examining the massive boards that separate the survivors from the victims of the 1912 shipwreck. Upon entering the exhibit, each visitor is given a White Star Line Boarding Pass, which has the name of an actual passenger and details such as who they were accompanied by and why they were traveling. The young girl, perhaps drawn in by the emotion of the exhibit, had just learned her passenger's mate didn't survive the trip.
In addition to the boarding passes, the exhibit has other features that make visitors feel like they are on the doomed ship-from the stiflingly close quarters of the third-class cabins to the fancy dining area reserved for first-class guests to a full-scale replica of the ship's ornate Grand Staircase (references to Jack and Rose not included).
"People bring different emotions to the exhibition," says Lowell Lytle, an actor who has traveled the world playing the Titanic's Captain Edward J. Smith. (Lytle went on a dive to the ship itself in 2000.) He says some guests will connect with the personal stories that line the walls, while others will focus on the recovery digs to the ocean floor or the various artifacts-and there are plenty of those.
The Titanic exhibit made its first stop at COSI in 2005, becoming the most visited show in the science museum's history. The return exhibition features 66 more artifacts that are new to Columbus and 23 that never have been displayed in the world. There are 350 items in all that were recovered from the ocean floor. Personal effects such as a man's bowler hat, a collection of perfume vials and stationery are displayed alongside technical items such as binoculars, a wall telephone and part of one of the engines.
Beyond simply viewing the artifacts and reading the stories, Lytle offers an insider's tip for visitors: In one of the final rooms of the exhibit there's a simulated iceberg that helps people experience the frigid temperatures of the ice the night of the crash. "Put both hands on that iceberg and count out a whole minute," Lytle says. "Now imagine your entire body feeling that. Most people only had 10 minutes to 40 minutes, depending on their will to live. . . . It's an experience that a lot of people miss when they go through COSI. Just keep your hands there. That brings it home."
COSI Columbus, 333 W. Broad St., cosi.org. During the run of the Titanic exhibit through Sept. 6, open Mon-Sat 10 am to 5 pm, Sun noon to 6 pm; closed July 2. Adm $23.75, seniors $21.75, kids ages 2 to 12 $16.75, members $8 and $7.
A lot of numbers will be thrown your way at the Titanic exhibit. Here's a breakdown to help put them in perspective for kids.
Fact: 1,750 quarts of ice cream were among the ship's cargo.
Breakdown: One quart equals four cups, and one cup of ice cream is an average scoop. That's about 7,000 scoops of ice cream.
Fact: There were only two bathtubs available for the more than 700 third-class passengers.
Breakdown: Compare 700 to how many classmates your child has-and then imagine there being only two tiny places for all of them to wash.
Fact: Where the ship sits on the ocean floor today, the pressure is 6,000 pounds per square inch.
Breakdown: Lowell Lytle says during his dive to the ship, the crew packed Styrofoam cups in the submarine. When they emerged from the ocean floor, each cup had been reduced to the size of a thimble due to the pressure.
Fact: A first-class ticket on the Titanic cost $2,500.
Breakdown: Today that's around $57,200.
The Lego store
"Leg godt." These Danish words, meaning "play well," were the inspiration for the name of one of the most popular toys of the 21st century, Lego. Although the miniature, colorful building bricks were created in 1934, it wasn't until later that the company discovered "leg godt" also means "to put together" in Latin. These translations are indicative of the Lego legacy: building through play.
One of two Lego stores in Ohio opened last summer at Easton Town Center. (The other is in Cincinnati.) The small store looks like Santa's Workshop, if the only toys the elves made were tiny bricks and figures ranging from a construction worker to Harry Potter. Plaques of facts telling the toy's history line the store, and portholes hold bricks of various colors (there are 52 hues from which to choose). Glass cases throughout the store house tiny worlds built with Legos; there's a carousel in one, a Star Wars scene in another. And, most notably, there are play areas "where children and children at heart can build," says Julie Stern, the company's brand relations manager.
The Easton location encourages creativity, Stern says. Visitors can build customized minifigures, those popular little Lego people, and choose from selected parts in the store. Your little designers can make three minifigures with their choice of hat or hair and one accessory for $9.99. A carrying pouch is included to take the new toys home. The store also has a mini model build the first Tuesday of every month at 5 pm. Tables are set up in the middle of the store with instructions on how to create that month's designated model, which the young builders then get to take home. For example, kids created a Lego duckling for Easter in April, and a Lego rose was on the to-build list for May. The mini model builds are free for kids ages 6 to 14, but supplies are limited and it's first come, first serve until the store runs out.
"Construction play helps to build a sense of pride and accomplishment in children, as well as the more physical skills like motor skills," Stern says. Lego has a full line of educational products, such as the Mindstorms robotic toolkit, great for the techie teen. There are educational games and activities at lego.com/education; the site lets visitors select an age range, skill level and type of activity desired, then provides a project and list of discussion questions.
The Lego store, 160 Easton Town Center, lego.com. Open Mon-Thu 10 am to 9 pm, Fri-Sat 10 am to 10 pm, Sun noon to 6 pm.
Jackie Mantey is an assistant editor for Columbus Monthly.
Half the fun of Lego is the trivia behind the blocks. Impress your kids with your knowledge.
• It would take a column of 40 billion Lego bricks to reach the moon.
• The first minifigure created was the policeman, and 32 years later, he remains the most popular. The first female minifigure was a nurse.
• There are 915 million ways to combine six Lego bricks.