by wjw on April 13, 2016

The entertainment has been interactive around here.  And no, I’m not talking about Xbox games.

A few weeks ago we visited License to Spy, a traveling exhibit of spy gear sent from Australia to (for some reason) the New Mexico Museum of Natural History.  (See a dinosaur, spy on your neighbor . . . all good fun!)  There’s a story involved.  You can spend a couple hours tracking down enemy agents suspected of stealing a quantum computer, spotting hidden cameras, working bugging equipment, listening to satellite transmissions, cracking a safe, and breaking codes.  They really need a quantum computer in this scenario, because the spy gear is kind of creaky, and I think the most recent cipher system dated from around 1900.  (They even included a skytale.)

Still, there’s nothing wrong with being a spy from an earlier decade.  meow01

The exhibit remains in Albuquerque only through the 17th, after which it will migrate to another location, possibly near you.

Next up was a visit to the New Mexico Escape Room.  Escape rooms have been sprouting up across the country for maybe a decade, and New Mexico finally got one of its own.

We formed a party of eight, and were locked in a room for an hour.  There were perhaps a dozen locks in total, plus various clues, ciphers, puzzles, maps, etc., intended to provide the information necessary to undo all the locks.  We could only win by breaking out of the room, and were allowed to ask thrice for hints (delivered on a video monitor).

My cipher-breaking experience earlier in the week came in handy, but on the whole we did not cover ourselves with glory.  Plus, we were unlucky: noticing encyclopedias on a bookshelf, I spot-checked some of the volumes to see if there were any clues, and found nothing— I cleverly missed the volumes that actually contained information.  That sort of thing happened more than once.

At the end of the hour a good three locks still kept us from freedom.  Our referee kept sending us clues toward the end, more than our allotted three— I viewed them as “pity clues,” but by the end of the hour we were still confusticated.

E’en so.  Fun.meow02

And thirdly we went to Santa Fe to visit Meow Wolf.  This is a former bowling alley bought by George RR Martin and leased to an artists’ collective to create a vast barnlike environmental headspace.  There were something like 135 artists involved, and the entire building is one vast explosion of imagination through which the viewer is invited to wander at will.

Think of it, if you like, as an artists’ installation crossed with a haunted house.  Or a virus from another dimension invading your brain.  Take your pick.

There is even a story.  The viewer starts outside a two-story house, allegedly in Mendocino, that is filled with clues about the fate of a missing child.  The kitchen wallpaper has a vague sinister design.  The house itself opens up, like a tesseract, into other environments, other dimensions.  If you’re reasonably patient, you can follow the story of the missing child and its family, delivered for the most part in some very sloooooooow-moving videos accessible in various parts of the house.  I don’t think anyone used to the tropes of modern science fiction would have any trouble following the plot.  I think I got the whole story, though there was so much background noise in various parts of the structure that I was unable to hear some of the videos for long stretches of time.  (Either turn up the volume, or give us earphones!)

meow03The story itself isn’t interactive— you can’t change the outcome or anything— but other pieces of the installation are.  You can play music on the bones of a fossilized mastodon, or on bits of fungus in a jungle, or on laser beams shining in a darkened room.

Of course you don’t have to follow the story, you can just enjoy the environments as environments.  Some of which may be short-lived— I think the artists may have underestimated the sheer amount of destruction that will be caused by the large packs of children charging through the structure.

Meow Wolf relates a story similar to one I’ve been longing to tell myself.  Since I can’t afford a bowling alley, I would have put it online, but it would likewise have told a cosmic story through a wild variety of media, including art and fiction and video and puzzles and whatnot, for details of which see This Is Not a Game and its sequels.  But, y’know, try pitching all that to a publisher and see where you get, and publishers are, alas, what I have to work with.

So Meow Wolf— awesome, imaginative, and fun.  And me, totally envious.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

TRX April 14, 2016 at 7:16 am

> Escape Room

There was a story that back in the 1960s heyday of running rats through mazes, one of the researchers built some human-size mazes in the same patterns as the ones they ran mice in, and ran undergraduates through them. His resultant data indicated that mice were smarter than college students…

I don’t know how the story is true, but it’s a good example of how hidden assumptions can hose test design. Though maybe not as spectacular as Gary Larson’s famous dolphin communication cartoon – “…we’re getting another one of those strange ‘aw blah es span yol’ sounds.”

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