Five things you didn’t think you could do at the fair

The state fair gates at dawn, on opening day. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)

The gates have opened.

It’s Day One of the Great Minnesota Get-Together, and already the lists of fair must-dos are piling up: Eat the food on a stick, see a parade, watch a few animal babies being born, shake the hands of a few politicians, take in some free entertainment…

But this year at the state fair, why not tack on a few experiences that are a little more unexpected?

1.) See a prehistoric fish — in person.

Head over to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ renovated fish tanks (open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the DNR building) to spend some time with the paddlefish.

The Paddlefish. (Courtesy of the University of Minnesota Press / Illustrator Joseph Tomelleri)

The species is old — really old, at least 200-million-years old — and it’s native to Minnesota. An individual fish can live about 20-30 years.

Most of their bodies, including their skeletons, are made of cartilage. They’re large and grayish and, as Cathy Wurzer found out on Morning Edition this morning — fascinating.

Can’t make it to the fair? The DNR is running a live webcam of the fish in their pond. Pop it up to full screen wherever you are, and it’s just like you’re out there at Carnes & Nelson.

 

Fairgoers will have the opportunity to go skating in this year — not on ice, but a hard plastic surface. (MPR photo/Conrad Wilson)

 

2.) Go ice skating — on plastic.

Despite all the times since July that you’ve heard your fellow Minnesotans say “it’s not long now, till winter,” summer is decidedly not over. And even the Minnesota State Fair doesn’t have an ice-skating rink.

But it does have a plastic-skating rink.

It’s made out of polyethylene, and $3 at D1 Backyard Rinks will get you 10 minutes to try it out for yourself. (Don’t bother bringing your skates; they say they’ve got plenty on hand.)

“It feels 90 percent what regular ice would feel like,” Mike Miller, who runs the company that makes the plastic ice, says. “So the stakes, the strides, the cuts, the stops — they all feel the same, you’re just going to get a little extra burn in your legs.”

It’s never too early to start prepping for hockey season.

3.)  Watch live radio.

Throughout the fair’s 12 days, Minnesota Public Radio News will be broadcasting live from the MPR booth, at the corner of Judson and Nelson, on the state fairgrounds.

It’s an opportunity to see something you typically just hear, but it’s also a chance to be a part of the broadcast. Today on The Daily Circuit, Kerri Miller led the audience in a battle of wits over Minnesota trivia: Who could stump Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Ryback and former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer? Tomorrow, The Current’s Morning Show will broadcast live from the booth.

Saturday, we’ll be talking about health; Sunday, it’s Cube Critics.

Monday, Gary Eichten will moderate a debate of Minneapolis mayoral candidates. And the list continues.

Gov. Mark Dayton talks to reporters on the first day of the 2013 Minnesota State Fair. (MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire)

 

 4.) Bump into a politician.

The week-and-a-half of the state fair is the type of occasion when politicians across the political spectrum come out in force to mingle with the rest of us, over turkey legs and everything-on-a-stick. Some head out specifically to campaign; others take the opportunity to meet-and-greet and field questions and complaints. Some just mingle.

The University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School is sponsoring, among other discussions, a forum for Republican gubernatorial candidates. DFL politicians are planning daily panels focused on specific issues. House members from both sides of the aisle will be taking turns greeting fairgoers at the House’s official booth inside the Education Building.

Gov. Dayton marked the first day of the fair today insisting that he’s not in campaign mode — and promising he’ll be back. He’s got five more visits on his schedule between now and Labor Day.

 

 5.) Explore art — from the inside out.

This year at the fair, you can dive into the belly of the Minnesota arts scene, figuratively and literally.

Arts A’fair, fair spokeswoman Brienna Schuette says, is not to be missed. It’s a sort of pop-up theater for state fairgoers.  “The state fair is one great big patchwork quilt of everything that is Minnesota,” she says. “And this is a spontaneous, fun thing to showcase Minnesota’s great arts community.”

Want to experience art from the inside out? The Luminarium Exxopolis is right up your alley. It’s a 39,000-square-foot sculpture of inflated plastic, light and color, an expansion of a similar installation at last year’s fair.

And then, of course, there’s the new roller coaster at the fair this year – and life-size Lego models near the Kidway. Don’t forget the Krazy Maze in Adventure Park near the Grandstand.

“I kind of liken it to one of the old hamster mazes,” Schuette said in June. “But in this case, the fairgoer is the hamster.”

 

Photo: Circle, circle, dot, dot by History Boy via MPR’s Flickr Group

 

Also: Don’t forget to join our State Fair Photo Challenge. 

Today’s topic (there’s still time!): Circles and wheels. #tellmpr

 

More from the fair today: