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Columbus Zoo and Aquarium: Wildlights

Wild animals plus millions of lights makes visit to zoo merry, bright


The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is making the holiday season even brighter this year with its “green” Wildlights display, running now through early January. It’s one of the best ways for central Ohio families to spend a holiday evening if it’s not raining or too frigid outside.

The two million shiny lights in this years’ display illuminate more and use less electricity than traditional bulbs because they’re LEDs (light-emitting diodes). They also last longer.

But nevermind the technical stuff. The zoo’s annual holiday display wows visitors with its fun animal shapes, musical choreography and intensity. The lights are strung among the zoo’s eight geographic regions, where more than 5,000 animals are housed.

It’s a pleasure to walk through this light show, not drive by it or through it. The grandest display is around the zoo’s pond. The lights reflect upon the water, creating a brilliant scene. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a late autumn snowfall, which no doubt would yield a magical backdrop.

The zoo also is planning special activities in conjunction with the lights display such as Santa’s Reindeer Corral, where guests can meet four of Santa’s reindeer friends that reside at the zoo, and Animals on Safari, an energetic animal show with performing dogs, cats and other creatures. Kids also can decorate a cookie in Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen and get their photos taken with Santa.

If you’re chilly, there are plenty of indoor exhibits to duck into. We enjoyed visiting the elephants.

The Columbus Zoo is a wonderful place to visit because of encounters such as these. Recently the USA Travel Guide named it the No. 1 zoo in the country. A lot of the publicity comes courtesy of Jungle Jack Hanna, the director emeritus whose many public appearances through the years have propelled the zoo into the national spotlight.

The zoo is located just north of Columbus in Powell at 4850 W. Powell Rd. Wildlights hours are 5-9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 5-10 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 5-9 p.m., Sunday. The zoo will be closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

For more information, visit www.colszoo.org.

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COSI: Family Friday Nights

Experience all science center has to offer at fraction of cost


So you’re sitting at home in Columbus on a cold Friday evening with your family wondering what to do for entertainment. Do you roam the clearance aisles at Target yet again? Or do you hang out in the play area at Polaris Fashion Place?

Thanks to downtown Columbus’ Center of Science and Industry, there’s something exciting and affordable to do once a month during COSI’s Family Friday Nights. On the last Friday of each month, guests can explore all the interactive exhibits and educational activities the 320,000 square-foot science center has to offer for $10.95 per person, a fraction of the regular admission price.

COSI Family Friday Nights run from 5-9 p.m. Admission includes all of COSI’s permanent exhibitions and educational activities on three floors, plus a viewing of a movie on the seven-story-high screen. Entry typically costs $32.50 for exhibits, shows and a movie.

Playing with “coffee dough” in KidSpace.

My family of four decided to give a Family Friday Night a try in October. Family nights generally have a theme, and our theme was “spooky science” in celebration of Halloween. The activities included a face-painting station and a magician. There was a good crowd, but it wasn’t overwhelming.

While there, we investigated a first-floor exhibit called Ocean, where kids can shoot water canons at a statue of Neptune, the god of the sea in Roman mythology. We also watched a movie on COSI’s Extreme Screen, which normally costs extra but is included on Family Friday Nights.

We spent the majority of our time, though, in an area designated to preschoolers called Little KidSpace. My two-year-old daughter Rosie unknowingly learned about the force of gravity while making a plastic ball hover over a stream of air. She learned about electricity by flipping a light switch in a kitchen with exposed framing.

COSI is located at 333 W. Broad St.

Plenty of wall-mounted hand sanitizers helped mitigate my concerns about her playing indoors with lots of hands-on activities.

COSI’s employees are more than friendly. In Kidspace, several of them whipped up a batch of “coffee dough” for kids to play with. It felt liked Play-Doh but smelled like coffee and was fun to squish and mold into fun shapes. (See recipe below.)

For $10.95, Family Friday Night can help inspire future inventors and engineers at a friendly price. Now that’s science you can take home.

For more information, visi www.cosi.org/promotions/item/family-friday-night-2.

COSI opened in 1964 in Memorial Hall, and has since welcomed nearly 20 million visitors from all over the world. The science center moved to its current location at 333 W. Broad St. in 1999, and celebrated its tenth year there on Nov. 6. Regular hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-6 p.m. For more information and additional discounts, call 614-228-2674 or visit www.cosi.org.

COSI’s COFFEE DOUGH RECIPE:

Materials:
4 cups un-sifted, all-purpose flour
¼ cup instant coffee
1 cup salt
1 ½ cups warm water

Directions:
Dissolve coffee in warm water. In another bowl, mix flour and salt. Make a hole in the mixture and pour one cup of the coffee water into it. Mix with a fork or hands until smooth. Add more coffee water if needed. (Dough should be smooth and satiny.) Store in plastic bag to prevent dough from drying. Mold into fun shapes. Finished designs can be baked in a 300-degree oven for 1 hour (until hard). Add two coats of shellac to preserve.