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COSI -- Columbus PTR

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So, I recently moved to Columbus for a new job (my first post-college, big boy job. *takes a bow*) and have had a chance to really get to explore COSI, the absolutely incredible world-class science center here in downtown.

Brief history: COSI was originally a small, local, family / children's museum in Columbus. In 1999, it re-opened in a brand new, state-of-the-art facility on the bend in the Scioto River along downtown Columbus. The purpose of the move was to create in COSI a world-class science center. And I mean, world class. The idea was to be on par with Tokyo's Miraikan, Medizintechnick Berlin, etc. Designed by famous artist / architect Arata Isozaki, the building is just unbelievably incredible. From downtown, it's disguised with the remains of the city's old Central High School as a tribute to the history of the city.

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If you can believe it, the other side of the building is a 320,000 sq. foot futuristic structure (which I compare to a blimp hangar) made of 159 curved concrete panels. Architecture and math fans will get a kick out of the odd statistics of the West facade. So, from the city, the museum is a testament to the past. Approaching from the neighborhood of Franklinton, it's a statement of the future. A really, really cool juxtaposition right off The Bat (and you all know how I love that kind of thing / stories / details).

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Most science centers I've been to are simply large levels filled with fun experiments (green screens, bubble walls, piano floors, tornado machines, etc). COSI is different. It has this crazy Epcot-like mentality of having pavilions themed to different topics. You enter under the gold cylinder in the photo above into a three-story atrium with two levels crossing overhead on bridges. Two very long, high hallways split off from that atrium and flow down the length of the "blimp hangar." Just long, white walls with white vertical lights.

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Along those long hallways, you suddenly see... oh, I don't know, a shipwreck bursting halfway through the wall. That is the entrance to the Ocean exhibit. Like a freakin' theme park, COSI has massive themed atrium themed to seven topics that, when combined, make up "science."

Ocean

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Entering through that shipwreck, guests step into an underwater cavern. The path branches. To the right is an exploratory submarine called the DMS Poseidon, full of hands-on exhibits that discuss the factual exploration of the ocean - how submarines work, how diving suits work, watersheds, piloting remote subs, pressure readings, and ecosystems (above).

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Back in the underwater cavern, the path to the left branches into the underwater Temple of Poseidon (presided over by a massive statue of the god and a shining gold halo behind him) where hands-on experiments deal with the fantasy of water - the incredible things it can do, how it feels, how it looks, etc. You'll find water bells, laminar flow cannons, waterfalls, erosion, and whirlpool activities as well as ancient fish statues (you can see one in the bottom left in the photo above) that spit laminar flow streams into the ceiling, where they disappear without a single drop falling back down). If you have an Instagram, you'll Instagram this room. You just have to.

Progress

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How obvious and simple and yet brilliant is it to consider "Progress" an element of science? It really is. Here, you enter into the small town of Progress, USA in 1898 (so, set a few years before Disney's Main Street, where electricity and gas lamps still co-mingle). The town of progress has shops you can step into, a post office, a telegram office, grocery stores, etc. The town itself is on the crossroads of Hope Street and Fear Street as you explore the hopes and fears of the era, which are inseparable elements of progress and change.

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Then, you turn the corner and enter into the SAME town in 1962, which is 64 years later. Now there's a diner, and the department store has certainly changed its offerings. The telegram office has become a television news studio, etc. But along with a new era come new hopes and fears. The exhibit ends by asking "What would the streets of Progress look like today? What would be YOUR hopes and fears? What would your grandchildren think of the town of Progress in 2014?"

Life

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Life is divided into sections dedicated to Mind, Body, and Spirit. Mind is full of brain teasers and hands-on exhibits that show that you can't overpower your brain's reflexes. Spirit discusses life and death, our conception of both, and the way we memorialize. Body contains fitness tests that allow you to compare your statistics (resting and active heart rates, flexibility, and strength) to national averages. The exhibit also contains Labs rented out by OSU faculty who partner with COSI and visiting programs right in front of guests.

Space

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The final frontier, right? Space has been relocated a few times as COSI went through some difficult financial issues in the 2000s. Today it's the only exhibit that doesn't have its own giant themed atrium. When it DID, it was a crazy cool retro spaceport under the stars with one of those dizzying, spinning tubes as its entry. Today it's just a collection of exhibits along the mezzanine. This fall, COSI is re-opening its Planetarium (which is actually located in the big external gold cylinder... it closed during those tough years, and is now ready to re-open with your help) that should revitalize the exhibit or at least earn it its own official atrium again.

Gadgets

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Gadgets contains probably the most "typical" science center stuff. This is where guests can play with lasers, floating foam balls, plasma-globes, chaotic pendulums, cogs, pulleys, pistons, transmission, circuits, light bulbs, etc. There's also a tiny little theatre that plays "how it's made" videos for things like automobiles, ice cream, etc that are really fun to watch and just a few minutes long. There's also the wonderful Gadget Cafe where you're given a menu of experiments (like invisible ink, mini-volcanoes, etc) and choose an appetizer, entree, and dessert to build or work on. A lot of fun. If you're a tech person, they also have old computers, phones, and household accessories to take apart and try to put back together.

Energy

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The Energy exhibit is new. When walking in, you select an avatar and carry the card with you as you travel to the Home Zone, Product Zone, and Transportation Zone. At each, you place your avatar card into kiosks and answer questions about how to save energy given your character's back story.

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In the Home Zone, you walk around the home and look for "Energy Vampires" – household items that use power even when not in use. In the Transportation Zone, you can fuel up four cars with gasoline, natural gas, ethanol, electricity, and hydrogen and see which goes the farthest on $25 worth of fuel. You can also have two people "race" to the store - one by running in place on a sensor, and one by riding a stationary bike. Energy is totally interactive and a lot of fun to explore.

Adventure

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I could (and may) go on and on about how unbelievably brilliant it is that COSI has deemed "adventure" an element of science, right alongside study of the oceans or space or life. Instead, I'll just tell you briefly what this is all about. Adventure is an add-on experience ($3.00, I believe, on top of general admission) where guests "live out" the scientific method. One group at a time is brought into an Indiana-Jones style outpost in the mysterious and ancient Valley of the Unknown. Set in 1937, the Adventure exhibit centers on a most peculiar element of the Valley of the Unknown recently discovered by the intrepid members of the Explorer's Society: the towering two-story stone Observatory at the island's center.

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Supposedly, the Treasure of Knowledge is contained within. No one knows, because the Observatory is sealed shut. The only way into the observatory is to awaken four stone statues hidden on the island, each of whom has one piece of a four-part code. P'lunk is the Spirit of Questions, who starts you on your quest. Then you - at your own pace - explore the island (in perpetual nighttime) and awaken Ba'ra'zoa in the Maze of Reason (where you must use reason to unlock his secrets), L'lala in the Temple of Inspiration (where you must think outside the box to bring her to life), and T'em-poa in the Caverns of Perseverence (where you must endure three physical challenges, each of which you may lose and need to try again... Get it?).

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Only once you've collected all four pieces of the code can you unlock the Observatory.

It takes about an hour to unlock the Observatory in Adventure. What I've just recently learned is that there is a 'level 2' of the exhibit that takes 15 - 20 hours of work to complete. You end up plugging different codes into keypads where the island Spirits send you to new places. I won't say more in case anyone here is interested, but suffice it to say that once you unlock the Observatory, one of the island's guardians tells you that the code you used to unlock the tower has other meanings... Believe it, and check the ancient stone outside the Observatory's bridge.

Conclusion

The point is, if you've never considered a trip up to Columbus to visit COSI, think about it. It's very sincerely like a theme park for nerds (and I mean that lovingly, of course). If you're into science, it's the place to be. If you're into themed environments, architecture, museums, science centers, or storytelling, it's unbelievable. I'm blown away by Adventure. You will be, too, if you like that sort of thing. It's just sort of incomprehensible that all of this is at a science center. It's so unlike any other in the world.

http://cosi.org/

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Glad to hear it still sounds worthwhile! An unfortunately vocal minority despises the "new" COSI... or at least, they did in 1999 when it opened. In the opinions of many in Columbus, the gentle family museum that had been part of their community for almost 40 years had "sold out" in an effort to inflate itself. A multi-million dollar flashy building, "world-class" admission prices, and a new NASA-based CEO with a million dollar paycheck frustrated many, and the new COSI was sincerely boycotted for years.

As I alluded to, COSI fell into financial peril thanks to that angry response, coming to a head in 2004. It lost levy after levy after levy by Columbus residents who were - frankly - holding a grudge against the loss of their children's museum in favor of such a huge, expensive "sell-out." There are still fan sites dedicated to the "old COSI," and the map archive they have there shows exactly what happened when that financial wave struck: Half of the "blimp" was shut off. Adventure, the Planetarium, Space, and the CityView gallery were part of the closure. How weird to have that whole "blimp" and half of it simply gated off... SBNO. Weird.

Space was relocated. Two exhibits ("i|o" and "Simzone") were closed and never re-opened. Adventure was closed for almost a decade before re-opening for a "limited one-year engagement" in 2011. It's still open with no known plans to shut it. The $3.00 up-charge probably helps, and boy is it worth it!

(COSI had also helped put together a COSI Toledo, which legally split during this time to focus on its own financial problems, eventually cutting ties with COSI. It's still around today as Imagination Station. I've never been to the Toledo location, but it was not designed or operated by the same folks as Columbus'. It did not and does not have the themed atria or "pavilion topic" style.)

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Back when we used to live in Pickerington (suburb of Columbus) we went to COSI a lot. Being a little kid, it was great. But the strange thing is, I feel like I would appreciate it more now, just because I can see how amazing it really is. It's a really underrated place.

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I always love your excitement for architecture and themed experiences, goodyellowkorn. You usually make me want to visit places that aren't even on my radar, and this one is no different. I haven't been to COSI since likely before 1999, so I'm obviously due for a visit. I'll have to get back soon!

On a related note: have you visited the Columbus Zoo recently? Maybe it's my lack of visits to a Busch Gardens, Universal, or Disney park speaking, but I think the zoo's Heart of Africa and Islands of Southeast Asia areas are absolutely breathtaking. Family with whom I visited Africa agree with me when I say that Heart of Africa is surprisingly close to visiting a real nature park like Kruger Park. The best way I can describe Islands of Southeast Asia is to say that I would entirely expect Tomb Raider: The Ride to be tucked away around some corner, and it would not feel out-of-place at all (which is and isn't why I love it, haha. :P ) I could seriously spend hours in those areas. I think you might like them.

EDIT: I totally don't mean to derail the topic with talk of the Columbus Zoo, haha. I think your trip report was awesome--I just don't have any questions or anything to add to it! It's that good! :)

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For those of you who are nerds like me, here's a scan of the paper souvenir map you're given inside Adventure. Fun to look over, even if you haven't visited yet! The map was provided to me by the exhibit's creative design team, Roto Entertainment. They're based out of Columbus, so if you're into the themed entertainment world and looking for a career, couldn't hurt! ;)

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I visited COSI with my friend back in 2011. I'm pretty sure I should visit again soon, because it's my favorite science museum. My favorite parts were/are the spinning tunnel entrance into the Space exhibit, the glass elevator (I'm an elevator person :P) and riding the unicycle with the counterweight that went right over the front lobby!

Speaking of the unicycle, is it still there now? I didn't see a mention of it in the trip report.

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It is! The Space tunnel is not. Space used to have its own giant, dark, themed atrium like Ocean or Adventure. After financial struggles, half the building was shuttered and Space was relocated. Today its contents are out on the Mezzanine. So no more starry skies or tunnel or any of that. At least, not right now!

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I should also report that I've begun Level 2 of Adventure. Supposedly it'll take between 15 and 20 hours of decoding. So far, I'm learning the history of the Observatory's creation, and I'm looking to break a curse over the Temple of Inspiration. ;) I won't give too much away in case people want to try it out for themselves, but so far this is genuinely tricky and there have been times where the answers suddenly strike and it's like "OH MY GOD THAT'S GENIUS HOW DID THEY THINK OF THAT?" hahah. If you're local, give it a try.

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