COLUMBUS COSI Columbus bills itself as the ultimate playground for your brain, a place where programs and hands-on exhibits make it fun to learn about science.
My family was not disappointed as we explored the 320,000 square foot science center in downtown Columbus last month.
COSI (which stands for the Center of Science and Industry) features more than 300 interactive exhibits throughout its six themed areas Progress, little kidspace, Life, Ocean, Space, Gadgets and the outdoor Big Science Park.
Our favorite was Progress, which takes visitors back in time.
We entered a recreated town from 1898 and browsed the storefronts along the brick streets, including the general store, post office, telegraph station, newspaper office and appocathary. Visitors are allowed to enter some of the buildings, seeing the best that year had to offer in terms of goods and services.
Upon entering the next part of the Progress area, we arrived at the same place in the same town, only this time in 1962. Here we found a grocery store with prepackaged food including TV dinners in place of the old general store. A drug store replaced the appocathary, and a garage stood on the site of the former carriage house. The town also had a diner where kids could go behind the counter and serve up pretend food and a TV studio where they could audition as a news anchor.
My family also enjoyed little kidspace, where infants up to kindergartners can run free in a safe and engaging atmosphere. We were surprised the science center has a place that caters to children that young. As a security measure, parents receive a check-in tag for their children and no one can leave without it.
Little kidspace offers opportunities to climb, slide, build, splash and pretend. The tree playhouse and water table were hits with our youngest two, ages 4 years and 21 months. In this area, children older than kindergarten-age are required to remain in a separate place called "The Hangout Room," away from youngsters enjoying the preschoolers' paradise. Our 7 1/2-year-old found things to keep her busy there.
Little kidspace amenities include a clothes dryer and extra clothes (typically needed after a visit to the water table), a healthy-snack vending machine, a bottle warmer, diaper changing facilities, nursing room and pagers for older children.
The Life area was as interesting as it was educational. Visitors can learn about the birth process, play tricks on their senses and even watch rats play basketball. From X-rays to videos of surgeries to actual fetuses in various stages of development, we were reminded of the wonderful way in which our bodies are made.
It was too cold to visit the outdoor attractions. And our four-hour visit did not allow us time to explore the Ocean, Space or Gadgets areas, though we did note that visitors need to sign up early for spots in the Gadget's Caf, where machines and computers are constructed and dismantled.
COSI also boasts the electrostatic generator show, the only high-wire unicycle in the country and a seven-story Extreme Screen theater.
Better known as the EG Show or "that thing that makes your hair stand up," the electrostatic generator is a COSI classic. Guests learn how mutual attraction and electrostatic charge can make for a hair-raising experience. More than 40 of us in the audience interlocked pinkies and felt a shock travel through the line.
Our oldest daughter tried the high-wire unicycle, an attraction that allows participants to pedal on a 1.5-inch cable spanning 84 feet 17 feet above ground. She backpedaled to the end OK, but then ran out of energy on her return, so a COSI employee with a long stick helped pull her back to safety. Riders must weigh less than 250 pounds but have at least a 25-inch inseam.
The unicycle is one of 30 hallway exhibits that contribute to a fun atmosphere of learning.
As for the Extreme Screen theater, we highly recommend watching "Mystery of the Nile," a documentary of the first ever expedition to successfully navigate the Blue Nile from its source to the sea.
The scenery shown on this seven-story screen is breathtaking. Some of it was filmed from an aircraft, while other parts were shot at ground level or from one of the expedition's rafts. Along the way, the group visits ancient Egyptian structures and other ruins, as well as the Ethiopian, Sudanese and Egyptian people living along the Nile today.
The action, ranging from shooting dangerous rapids to fleeing aggressive crocodiles to dodging gunfire, is sometimes intense enough to hold the audience's interest but not enough to scare youngsters. The interviews and music also were enjoyable.
Like Jodie and me, our girls kept their eyes fixed on the screen as they watched the group's 114-day journey down the world's longest and most-dangerous river condensed into a 90-minute film. The girls especially liked the scenes which made them feel like they were flying. We appreciated being able to see that area of the world from the safety and comfort of our theater seats.
Tickets cost extra $7.50 per person, to be exact. But we believe that is money well spent.
"Dinosaurs Alive 3-D" will replace "Mystery of the Nile" on June 9. The other film currently at the theater is "Wired to Win Surviving the Tour De France." We did not have an opportunity to watch that one, which will be shown through Sept. 30.
Besides its regular features, COSI occasionally hosts traveling exhibitions from other museums. Right now it's Einstein, which offers interactive exhibits that animate Albert Einstein's revolutionary theories, videos about the famous physicist's life, science and legacy, hands-on activities and facsimiles of his manuscripts and personal letters. This exhibit will remain in Columbus through May 20.
COSI also houses the Science 2Go! retail store and the Atomicafe' restaurant, neither of which we visited.
Among COSI's out-reach programs is COSI On Wheels, which brings science learning to students throughout Ohio including those at some elementary schools in Huron County. IF YOU GO
WHAT: COSI Columbus
WHERE: 333 W. Broad St., Columbus
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Starting Memorial Day, COSI will be open every day (except July 3 and 4) through Labor Day.