Human-sized puzzles build better brains, at OMSI

Take a look! There’s nothing old-fashioned or boring about these new action-packed games, now at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry …

OMSI president and CEO, Nancy Stueber, welcomes guests to the opening of the new exhibit “Mindbender Mansion”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As more physically-interactive software titles come on the market for Wii and other gaming consoles, it might seem doubtful that a museum could come up with a room full of games that could truly engage young (and adult) visitors. We thought so too, until we visited Oregon Museum of Science and Industry’s (OMSI) newest exhibit, “Mindbender Mansion”.

At the exhibit’s premiere, on September 26, we watched as hundreds of youngsters and grown-ups took the challenge of solving the newly-created human-sized puzzles throughout the “mansion”. Some challenges looked to be cerebral; others required full-body participation.

Eager visitors hurry into the “Mansion” for the first time.

Robert, Zandra, and Emmy Olko say they traveled from Tigard to be the among the first Mindbender Mansion gamers.

Play builds better brains
“Mindbender Mansion is an exhibit about problem-solving, and exercising your problem-solving skills,” commented OMSI’s president and CEO, Nancy Stueber, as visitors streamed into cavernous room on the museum’s lower level.

“We all need to exercise our problem-solving skills,” Stueber continued. “The same skills that are used to solve these puzzles may help our young visitors someday unravel important social, environmental or even engineering problems in the future.”

Jonathan, and his dad, Seldon Saks try their hands – and bodies – at playing the wacky furniture-moving game, “Mix and Match”.

Joining the “Space Race” are Jennifer and Douglas Davis as they pull strings to rack up points.

The ‘Mansion’ OMSI built
Over the years, Stueber related, the museum’s staff and management have noted that puzzles are a popular attraction. “We found that – in addition to solving puzzles themselves – visitors enjoyed pulling other people in to help them solve problems. We decided to turn this concept into a whole exhibit.”

The project took about a year, from inception to completion, Stueber noted. “All told, from the people who developed and research the ideas, to designers, into the evaluation team, to the exhibit fabricators, about 45 staff members and contributors worked on this exhibit.”

To add another layer of interest, the OMSI development team created a theme for the exhibit, so each of the room-full of puzzles contributes part of a solution to an over-arching puzzle. “When visitors complete the puzzles, they’ll have collected the clues and secret passwords that permit them to become a member of our ‘Mindbender Society’,” Stueber told us. “Society members are presented with a personalized certificate, and their photo is added to the ‘Wall of Fame’.”

David, and his dad, Tom Vollum, find that the Amazing Maze is like a pinball game in which players must tilt the machine!

Players young and old tackle mind-bending table games at the OMSI exhibit.

Push-ups for the brain
Lee Dawson, the museum’s public relations director, was enthusiastic about the new exhibit. “It’s like push-ups for the brain! While this exhibit is fun and a little bit wacky, guests learn essential problem-solving skills: Identifying patterns, thinking ahead, logical reasoning, and looking at problems from different perspectives.”

The games include:

  • Feeding Frenzy – It’s a race in the kitchen as guests try to beat the clock by filling ‘TV Dinner’ trays with five kinds of food on a fast moving conveyer belt. (Does this remind you, at all, of a famous scene in the “I Love Lucy” series…?)
  • Space Race – Maneuver a mechanical spaceship around a large game board by cooperating with other players.
  • Spelling Fever – Its Hopscotch meets Scrabble®, as players race to correctly spell words by jumping on light-up letter squares.
  • Move and Match – Visitors slide their dining room chairs on wheels into a correct pattern, before the clock runs out.
  • Amazing Maze – By working together to tilt a giant “floating” table, players work to guide a steel ball into several holes as quickly as possible.

Ready to wait on customers at the newly-redesigned OMSI Science Store is April Powers.

Mansion goes mobile
After the New Year, Stueber said “Mindbender Mansion” start a tour as a “traveling exhibit” at other, similar science museums.

“Come and see one of our best exhibits ever,” she encouraged. “Membership to OMSI is a great way to enjoy it – you can come back again and again to work on the puzzles.”

To learn more, check out their newly-designed web site by CLICKING HERE.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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