Monday, August 27, 2007

Amusement Parks (August 2005)

We just got back from Coney Island, so this column seems especially appropriate!

Not being thrillseekers in general, we only made our first trip as a family to a “big kid” amusement park, The Great Escape in Lake George, this year. But all those giant rides and extreme roller coasters sure looked exciting (at least from the ground). If you want to know what you’re getting yourself in for when you make your pilgrimage to a major amusement park, or just want to enjoy some vicarious thrills, try swinging by some of these amazing websites.

The idea of amusement parks goes back to ancient Rome, but the early 1900s was when trolley companies looking to drum up weekend business built waterside picnic groves, which soon morphed into lively places like Coney Island. Midway Plaisance (the name means “pleasure ground”) is a site about the history and design of parks and rides; it also tells you how to get the most out of a visit. For hardcore advice, turn to Theme Park Insider, an award-winning, independent consumers' guide to parks in Orlando, Anaheim, and around the world. There’s news, rumors and safety information, and users’ opinions of attractions, restaurants and hotels. For Disney deals, MouseSavers has coupons, discount codes, and membership bargains for theme parks and resorts at and around Disney World and Disneyland.

If you’re a roller coaster fan, the Roller Coaster DataBase has information and statistics on over 1800 roller coasters worldwide. The site Joyrides is a bit out of date, sadly, but contains excellent still photos of some US amusement parks, along with links and tips for taking exciting roller coaster photos of your own. And on the brand-new website CoasterRadio.com you can listen to podcasts online, with links, or join the discussion in the forums.

Of course, you don’t have to leave your computer to experience the ride of your life. Build your own coaster on the Travel Channel theme parks page, using loops, corkscrews and boomerangs, and then see how it scores on the Fear-o-Meter. Funderstanding’s simulation lets you see how thrilling you can make your coaster without sending the riders into outer space. Set the height of the hills, the size of the loop, the speed and mass of the cars, the amount of friction on the track -- even how much gravity your park has – and then let ‘er rip. Learn how rides work and why they’re scary in the Physics of Amusement Park section of the animated Virtual Science Center Virtual Science Center, a Japanese site, which includes directions for a soda bottle gravity meter you can test at the playground. Or find out how to make an accelerometer from an old tennis ball tube and a fishing weight at ThinkQuest.

There’s do-it-yourself, and then there’s people who design their own real-life amusement park rides. All the animals on the Totally Kid Carousel in New York City’s Harlem were adapted from kids’ drawings, and they are amazing: Adriana Francisco’s chihuaha, Tanya Garcia’s lobster, Taji Okolo’s beautiful blue rabbit. And some pretty neat videos can be found by searching for backyard roller coasters, like metalworker John Ivers’ single-loop “Blue Flash.”

Food is a big part of the park experience. Cotton candy’s been around since the 1890s, and Nathan’s hot dogs are still a boardwalk favorite. But if you grew up in the sixties the fries from Palisades Amusement Park in Fort Lee, NJ may bring back fond memories. Here’s a recipe to try at home: Peel and krinkle-cut five potatoes into large pieces and place in a half gallon pitcher filled with about 5 ounces of malt vinegar and the rest filled with water. Fry in corn oil at medium temperature for two minutes until almost done. Remove and drain. Raise the heat to high, and just before serving, drop the potatoes back into oil for 70 seconds. Drain and sprinkle liberally with salt. Serve in a cone-shaped paper cup, topped with more vinegar. And remember to give yourself time to digest before getting on the Ferris wheel…

Family Online Picks:

The Great Escape (www.sixflags.com/parks/greatescape/)
Midway Plaisance (www.icewind.net/themepark)
Theme Park Insider (www.themeparkinsider.com)
MouseSavers (www.mousesavers.com)
Roller Coaster DataBase (www.rcdb.com)
Joyrides (www.joyrides.com)
CoasterRadio (www.coasterradio.com)
TravelChannel (http://travel.discovery.com/ideas/themeparks/rollercoasters/buildacoaster.html)
Funderstanding (www.funderstanding.com/k12/coaster)
Virtual Science Center (http://jvsc.jst.go.jp/find/rikigaku/english/index.htm)
ThinkQuest (http://library.thinkquest.org/2745/data/meter.htm)
Totally Kid Carousel (http://www.hoopla.org/Carousel/index.htm)
Blue Flash video (www.thrillnetwork.com/boards/attachment.php?attachmentid=11322)
Palisades Amusement Park (www.palisadespark.com)

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