Bringing your kids to “The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!” exhibit, which opens Saturday at Discovery Place Science in uptown, could be a bit like taking them to the ice cream shop but sneaking a few vegetables into their cones without them realizing it.
John Corcoran of Ripley Entertainment Inc. explains:
“We tried to take the sort of quirky, amazing, unbelievable stuff in Ripley’s – two-headed cows, shrunken heads – and put a little science spin on them,” he says, as he stands in front of a giant portrait of Albert Einstein made of toast. “How is it scientifically possible to have a two-headed cow? Why would a culture go through the process of shrinking a human head? Just don’t tell the kids while they’re looking at all this cool stuff that they might actually learn something.”
The oddly fascinating exhibition, a co-production of Ripley Entertainment and Ontario, Canada-based Science North, is fresh in from Las Vegas’s Springs Preserve and will remain at Discovery Place through Labor Day.
Part of the fun of the exhibit – most of which is contained to one space, although several parts are scattered around the whole building – is stumbling upon the weird surprises around every corner. So we’ll refrain from spoiling them all. But here are the five things that jumped out at us as most worth the price of admission.
1. Willard Wigan’s tiny sculptures
Actually, to describe the British artist’s work as tiny is an understatement. Or perhaps overstatement is more accurate? Wigan’s sculptures are so miniscule they can’t be seen with the naked eye, so visitors have to use super-high-powered microscopes to admire a unicorn he carved out of a sliver of nylon and a speck of rock; a barn owl he placed on an eyelash in the eye of a needle; and a mermaid that sits on top of a pearl.
Unbelievable ... but true: Wigan uses hairs from the legs of dead insects as paintbrushes.
2. Titanoboa, the largest snake that ever lived
It’s the stuff of nightmares: a snake measuring 50 feet long and tipping the scales at about 2,500 pounds. Fortunately, Titanoboa cerrejonensis hasn’t been spotted in South America for about 60 million years, and even more fortunately, kids (and kids at heart) can climb inside a replica of one of these reptiles without going through the horrifying experience of being eaten alive by one of these beasts.
Unbelievable ... but true: Titanoboa had a mouth large enough to swallow a crocodile – whole.
3. Shrunken human heads
These could actually be the stuff of nightmares, too: a collection of three reduced-sized heads from the early 1900s, all of South American origin. And unlike the snake, these are genuine artifacts – which is why the exhibit was built so that visitors actually have to go out of their way to see them in the flesh. Since some might not want to.
Unbelievable ... but true: There’s more than one way to shrink a head but, apparently, traditional methods involve removing all bones, immersing it in hot water and filling it with hot sand.
4. An 8-foot, 11-inch-tall man
Robert Wadlow, the tallest person in recorded history, could have dunked a basketball without leaving his feet. And speaking of those feet, his fit inside size 36 shoes that each measured almost a foot and a half long and weighed 4.5 pounds. The Illinois native gets the equivalent of a corner office in the exhibit (i.e. prime digs); a life-size animatronic re-creation of Wadlow periodically stands up out of his giant chair, creating an outrageous photo opp for visitors of virtually any size.
Unbelievable ... but true: He died in 1940 at age 22 – from an infection caused by a faulty leg brace – but it’s believed he would have continued to grow taller had he survived.
5. A phone book carving of President Obama
This made the list by squeaking past a portrait of Justin Bieber made from licorice, gummy bears and hard candies by Mexican artist Cristiam Ramos. What gives Cuban artist Alex Queral’s “Yes We Can” piece the edge is the fact that while an up-close look at Bieber reveals all the sweet secrets, it’s almost impossible to wrap your head around the fact that no tricks were used to carve Obama’s likeness into the pages of said telephone directory – just an artist’s scalpel, basic razor blades, ink and glue.
Unbelievable ... but true: People once used phone books to look up phone numbers.
‘The Science of Ripley's Believe It or Not!’
Where: Discovery Place Science, 301 N. Tryon St.
When: During regular museum hours, which are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. The exhibit opens Saturday and will run through Sept. 4.
Cost: Included with regular Discovery Place admission – $17 for adults (14-59); $13 for children (2-13); $15 for seniors (60 and older); free for members and kids younger than 2.
Details: 704-372-6261; science.discoveryplace.org.