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3-HOUR TOUR

Where Spinning Out Is a Gas

March 23, 1995|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes frequently to the Times OrangeCounty Edition.

All you want to do is have some fun? Make tracks to Uncle Jax and friends in Lake Forest.

3 to 4:10 p.m.: Everything's a whine, a whir and a blur at Uncle Jax Trax.

"All cars must have bodies" and "all cars must have four wheels" are the posted rules at the Trax, but there are scores of wheels to choose from, and the bodies of the '90s are a far cry from the slot cars of the '60s and '70s.

" Very different from 20 years ago," said Barry Rosen of Lake Forest, an adult who took up the hobby again a few months ago. "These cars are more aerodynamic. Without the air-control dams, they won't corner handle. These are called slider bodies."

The slider bodies corner handle just fine. Some cars go by others as if they're standing still, and, according to Rosen, some are even faster: "The racers have cars that make this one look like it's going in reverse. Jack's got cars that just scream right off the shelf."

Cars off the shelf cost from $30 to $400, which is also the price range of controllers.

According to Uncle Jax owner John Androsko, the fastest cars complete the track in about two seconds. "You can see them," he said. "You just have to watch closely."

The rental cars are no slouches. Try out the three tracks for 15 minutes each: It's $1.50 on the small-scale HO track, $3 for the hill climb and $5 for the largest layout, the Engleman. If you own a car, track time ranges from $4 an hour ($1 for 15 minutes) for the HO to $10 an hour ($2.50 for 15 minutes) for the Engleman.

The store regularly stages races. And winners of the powder puff races receive a new slot car or a gift certificate to Nordstrom.

4:10 to 4:35: Comic Quest offers lots more than comics. Card games, for instance.

Kelly Allen, who owns the store with husband Don, describes one popular card game, called Magic: The Gathering, as "a combination of poker and chess. The players are wizards battling it out. You have creatures, heroes, spells and enchantments. Each person starts with 20 life points. You want to be the last person standing."

Spinoff merchandise of the game include collectible miniatures, magazines and even novels.

According to Allen, card games are an incredibly popular genre now. Others include Illuminati, New World Order ("a political satire"); Doom Trooper ("like Marines in space") and Jyhad, which has raised a question or two from customers about holy wars but actually has to do with vampires.

The Comic Quest clientele is not limited to kids.

"When Superman died a couple of years ago, it brought a lot of men into the store who hadn't read comics for years," Allen said. "Now, after 5 o'clock, I get the suit crowd in."

For people interested in a career in the comics biz, the store carries books on "Getting Into the Business of Comics" and "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way."

Role playing games--remember Dungeons & Dragons?--have gotten so sophisticated that one local high school teacher uses Civilization, Game of the Heroic Age in his class. But what I liked best were miniature war games such as Dwarf Ironclads, Nurgle Plaguecrushers and Ork Drillakillas.

4:35 to 4:45: J.A. Cobs Action Sports sells skateboards and snowboards--and rents snowboards for $30 a day. Assembled skateboards, which can sport pretty sophisticated graphics, run about $100. One particularly existential model read: "Who made me, I don't feel human, I come out of tall buildings, what am I . . . ?" Ponder that one while watching continuously playing videos, which inspire other such imponderables as, "They catch air, why can't I?"

4:45 to 5: Among the thousands of beads at Bead Station are fancifully painted ceramic beads from Peru (75 cents) and glass beads from India (50 cents), as well as those made from sliced walnuts, cocoa shells and bone--even a skull made from bone. You'd think buttons were a dime a dozen, but, in fact, they're a dime apiece or $1 a dozen. The store also carries bead looms, dream-catcher kits and, best of all, a book on "How to Bead If You Think You Can't."

5 to 6: Pizzas at Chuck E. Cheese range from a mini cheese-and-tomato for $3.50 to a large, five-topping combo for $18.99. But anybody who has a kid knows that pizzas are not what Chuck E. Cheese is about.

The fact that tokens accompany your pizza should give you a hint as to what the restaurant's slogan "where a kid can be a kid" means. Tokens are used for games such as Munch Mouth (four shots per token, or 25 cents): Knock over all the clown's teeth and win a five-ticket bonus. Ten tickets will get you a Chuck E. Cheese coloring book, 25 tickets a miniature Frisbee.

In case you don't win any tickets, all merchandise is available for cash. Cotton candy is $1.75, or 175 tickets, T-shirts $6, or 600 tickets. (Make this an educational outing: On your way home, have your child try to imagine how many quarters, with the very best of luck, it's going to take to win 600 tickets.) Tickets are a fine science at Chuck E. Cheese: They don't count them, they weigh them in a bucket.

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