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Family: Ventura County | FOR THE KIDS

Mind Games

Santa Paula museum show will test your puzzle-solving skills.


This Sunday afternoon, some families in Ventura County are going to tear themselves away from the TV set and drive to Santa Paula to give their brains a workout.

Santa Paula resident Donna Brown will bring Nate and Andy, her two elementary school-age kids, to the opening of the new "Brain Teasers" interactive exhibition at the city's Union Oil Museum. It's a visiting show of science puzzles and games sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

There will be 20 activities--some with evocative names like "Horse and Rider," "Balancing Nails," "Five Room House" and "Handcuffs." All are kid-safe, having been tested extensively by the show's originating museum, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

"My kids went to a version of this exhibit last year [and] would have stayed for hours, but I called 'time' after one hour," Brown said. Her advice to parents about the show is, "It's for younger children who are primarily hands-on, rather than reading [types]."

The charm of the "Brain Teasers" exhibit, she says, is that "kids can come and work the different experiments as often as they choose--and the ones they like the most, they can do again and again."

We're talking physics here, and geometry. For instance, in one experiment entitled "Two Balls in a Rocker," the challenge is to move two balls in the center of the rocker to opposite corners.

Another has a self-explanatory but cryptic title: "15 Sticks--Remove 6 to Leave 10."

Another puzzle's name is simply the posing of a problem: "Form a Pyramid With Two Identical Blocks."

Do you feel your brain being teased yet?

Mike Nelson, museum director, said, "Last summer we had one of these shows and it proved to be the most popular exhibit we've ever had." He recalls that visitors returned again and again and, "parents and children often teamed up to solve the most difficult brain twisters."

Some of the interactive puzzles may stump most visitors. Take "Handcuffs," which despite its name is really a rope trick. Two people are joined by two ropes tangled loosely between their wrists. The object is to untangle the rope mass without removing the rope "handcuffs" from their wrists.

"Five-Room House" is a board on which there is a rope and the plan of a five-room house. The object is to make the rope go through all the doors of the house only once without crossing the rope over itself or over a wall. This one, said Nelson, is the exhibit most likely to stump every visitor, although it appears to be easy.

Nelson said he would be pleasantly surprised if a visitor this weekend proves him wrong, because the person who invented the problem 30 years ago still hasn't solved it.


"Brain Teasers," a hands-on exhibition for the entire family, Santa Paula Union Oil Museum, 1001 E. Main St.; show opening and reception Sun., 2 p.m.; free. Information: (805) 933-0076. Hours: Thur.-Sun., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., through Aug. 31.

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