Early one hot summer morning we set out for Sesame Place, a new theme park near Philadelphia: four eight-to eleven-year-olds, a Thermos, a camera and two University of Maryland faculty members seeking on-site research for a book about computers for elementary-school children.
We started with the indoor computer games room, turning our four "experts" loose at the terminals to play "Name That Muppet," a clue-guessing game; "Lemonade Stand," a simulation of opening a retail stand with all its marketing and finances; and "Think of an Animal," among other challenges.
We were all hooked on that last one. You're asked to think of an animal and then the computer asks for clues: "Does it live on land?" "Does it fly?" "Is it wild?" At the beginning of the day the computer knows only dog and lion. It adds to its store of knowledge by guessing wrong then storing the correct animal's name, and facts fed it about that animal. As the day progresses its stored memory grows, making the game more challenging.
Our four young guides opted unanimously to visit the "Count's Ballroom," a huge water pit of tough plastic that's filled with 80,000 green plastic balls. Ten children at a time slide, swim, scramble and bury themselves in the green balls. The squeals of glee and the reluctance to leave made this the day's favorite.
Next was the water climb, where they could climb through a maze of rope and plastic tunnels while water sprayed in all directions. Out they came, soaked and happy, ready to "go it again." (Next time we'll pack bathing suits!)
For lunch at the Sesame Food Factory a majority chose "squaremeal pizza," a thick pizza on whole-wheat dough, while the adventuresome chose a "pretzel sandwich," a soft pretzel sliced and filled with turkey, cheese and sprouts. We watched all the food preparation from dough-making to turkey-slicing to dishwashing.
At the "land area," the favorite item was "Ernie's Bed Bounce," an open-air attraction like a moonwalk. Some of the less queasy of us ventured into a four-story maze of cargo nets and tunnels of nets, some as high as 30 feet off the ground.
In the "air area," high marks went to "Super Grover's Cable Glides," a fast and breezy 120-foot ride on a rope pulley just above the ground. Our Tarzans raced and bellowed as if in the wilds.
Our planned three-hour visit took seven, and at that we had to drag our children away.