The young at heart get the run of Carnegie Science Center on nights designed just for them.
Robert Seifried bounces high off the trampoline, his pale blue eyes widening as he flipped backwards. To his amazement, he lands the stunt on two feet and in one piece.
Seifried, 76, would have never strapped himself into a bungee harness at an exhibit called Bounce at Carnegie Science Center’s Highmark SportsWorks® had it been crawling with kids the way it usually is. But this is a 21+Night, and Seifried and more than 250 other adults have the run of the place during the no-kids evening, the first of 10 to be held this year.
“This is great,” says Seifried, a McKees Rocks resident, flashing a big grin. “There are no kids around and you don’t embarrass yourself as much. We’re going to do everything.”
With Pittsburgh’s skyline and rivers flickering in the distance—and visitors hula hooping to music, screaming inside a roller coaster simulator, and sipping beers as they marvel at robots—Carnegie Science Center has been transformed into an adults-only playground. This January event is centered around the theme of sports, giving adults free reign not just inside the main building, but in Highmark SportsWorks, too.
“When adults come to the Science Center, you hear so many times that they want to try things but they feel awkward pushing an 8-year-old out of the way to play with a robot,” says Jessica Lausch, director of visitor experience. “There are lines, and adults feel guilty making a kid wait longer to play.”
Following the lead of adults-only events at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Science Center staff piloted two adult-centered events last year. They were so popular—one Friday evening focused on the science of glass attracted some 900 people—that the museum decided to hold one a month in 2013, minus July and December. Each evening has a theme. February 7 focused on the science of love and candy. March 14—3.14—will celebrate Pi Day. “It’s a good geek day,” Lausch says. As part of the programming, staff will explain the mathematics and probability behind gambling (not to mention guests also receive a voucher for $15 in free slot and match play at nearby Rivers Casino).
At the January event, Amanda Budai, a 34-year-old social worker from Whitehall, tries something she hasn’t done since second grade: hula hooping. On the fourth floor’s Works Theater, she and others join the Steel City Hoop Union in keeping sparkly hula loops from falling as they swivel to the beat of Beyonce and other music. “It’s cool,” says Budai. “You see every kind of person—older people, people our age, younger people who were a little bit grungy, all with sparkly hula hoops.” She notes that it’s a totally different experience from when she brings her toddler son to the Science Center and just watches the kids play.
Inside Highmark SportsWorks, Budai ascends the climbing wall and jumps on the trampoline. Only the roller coaster simulator makes her feel nauseated, a common reaction from adults wobbling out of the exhibit. “It was a little rougher than I’m used to,” she says.
Other exhibits are especially suited for adult frames. In YouYo, a person pulls down on a handle, which causes a wheel to roll, the momentum pulling them back up in the air. “People assume it’s for kids, but little kids often can’t do it right,” explains Zach Weber, a program presenter who helped plan the evening. “You need upper body strength to get to the top. It’s nice to see grownups take advantage of the exhibits. They’re not just for kids.”
Liz Brindarova, a 26-year-old from Carrick, didn’t have much luck with YouYo. “I kind of flopped,” she admits. But she loves the roller coaster simulator, the climbing wall, and the whole idea of exploring a place that she used to come to as a kid. “This was the greatest idea ever,” she says. “It’s an affordable way to get out and do something different and be a kid again. I’m going to do everything!”
People also sip drinks from the cash bar as they listen to the band, Dan Getkin and the Masters of American Music. Steely McBeam makes an appearance and volunteers from Bike Pittsburgh help visitors make buttons out of bike maps.
Adults even spill over into the part of the Science Center usually filled with its youngest visitors. Instead of toddlers and kindergartners splashing in the water table and loading up the ball factory, grown men and women roll up their sleeves and play with the same sense of abandon. “They’re totally loving it,” observes Seifried.
The cost for the evening, which runs from 6 to 10 p.m., is $10 or $15 at the door, and guest get a $15 voucher to use at Rivers Casino, a sponsor of the events.
As for Seifried: The day after his romp through Highmark SportsWorks, his 76-year-old body ached. “I felt like I was in a fight,” he says with a laugh. But like any banged-up kid, he couldn’t wait to do it again, vowing to be at a future 21+Night. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”