Brain-teaser exhibit to engage visitors at Exploration Place

The brain teaser puzzles that sit in Exploration Place’s grand hall as part of its permanent exhibit always have people – often frustrated but determined people wearing furrowed brows – crouching over them.

That’s one of the reasons Exploration Place staff members are expecting its new traveling exhibit, “Mindmender Mansion,” to be a popular attraction.

The exhibit, which features 40 different interactive puzzles made by the same company that supplied the ones in the grand hall, opens on Saturday and will stay through Jan. 5.

“It’s going to be one of those exhibits where people are going to spend hours here trying to figure these puzzles out,” said Christina Bluml, Exploration Place’s director of marketing. “People get obsessed with this kind of thing.”

The puzzles are organized into different “rooms” within the exhibit. Some take one person to solve them. Others require visitors to work together.

The dining room, for example, has a couple of walled-off cubes that contain brightly painted chairs on wheels. Visitors climb into the chairs and must work together to roll them into patterns.

In the kitchen, a conveyer belt has TV trays, and people must arrange wooden puzzle pieces painted to look like frozen dinner foods – corn, peas, turkey with congealed gravy – before the tray travels away.

Scattered throughout are other puzzles that will require thought and coordination to solve. In one, players are asked to balance 14 nails on the head of one nail. In another, they must remove a ring from a pair of linked horseshoes and then put the ring back on.

There’s also a giant disco floor covered with letters, which players must jump between to spell answers to trivia questions. There’s a massive pinball machine set up in a tilt table, and four people must coordinate together to get a ball to fall into six holes.

The puzzles aren’t easy, but that’s the point, Bluml said. Visitors shouldn’t expect the otherwise friendly volunteers stationed around the exhibit to just hand over the solutions.

“This exhibit is really trying to get people to use their critical thinking skills,” she said. “The staff is not going to tell you how to do the puzzles, but they will be stationed there waiting if people need help.”

The museum has organized a list of activities around “Mindbender Mansion,” including two School’s Out Edventures scheduled for Oct. 10 and 11, when USD 259 and other students are out of school. Kindergartners through eighth-graders whose parents sign them up will spend the day with activities linked to “Mindbender Mansion.” The cost is $30 for members and $35 for nonmembers. For reservations, call 316-660-0620 or visit http://www.exploration.org/schools_out.html.