Children get down and dirty at science center’s annual Mess Fest

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Alex Repinski, 5, was in his element: Up to his elbows in a pool of sticky goo, Alex was getting it all over his hands, arms and -- to his mother's mild dismay -- his hair, with undisguised glee.

Fortunately for his mother, the Carnegie Science Center is taking care of the cleanup after this particular event. Alex, described as a "high-energy kid who loves to get messy," and a few thousand other kids took part Tuesday in the seventh annual Mess Fest, where kids are expected and encouraged to get good and gross.

On its surface, Mess Fest lives up to its name: Kids get a chance to drop eggs off a balcony, eat pie with no hands and fling goo (cornstarch and water) at each other.

But the Carnegie Science Center finds a way to include science lessons in the messy events, explained Susan Zimecki, director of marketing and community affairs. The egg drop contest, for instance. While smashing an egg appeals to mess-oriented children, those who package their eggs in such a way to prevent damage learn about engineering. The kids who use the fewest amount of materials to protect the eggs win prizes.

"You have to use some ingenuity in your packaging," she said.

Timmy Metzger, 11, of Connellsville had an unsuccessful first attempt at the egg drop, but quickly assessed where he had made his mistake. "There was too much pressure at the bottom, I think," he said, examining the remains of splattered yolk. "Next time, more bubble wrap."

Even the "oobleck" goo that Alex reveled in, one of the most popular features of Mess Fest, has science behind it, Ms. Zimecki said. Oobleck is a non-Newtonian substance, neither a liquid nor a solid.

"We have become a New Year's Day mecca for families," Ms. Zimecki said. She noted that while there were many family-friendly activities around the area on New Year's Eve, on the first day of the year, many places are closed, even though most people have the day off from school and work.

Ms. Zimecki said previous Mess Fests have drawn between 2,000 and 3,000 visitors.

Aimee Wilson of Kittanning brought 8-year-old Samuel, who reveled in the pie-eating -- or rather, "pi" eating -- contest. "We're all off today and really wanted something we could do together as a family," she said.

Mike Hennessy, the pi contest emcee, told the contestants they had "3.14 reasons to be happy" and that "there's nothing irrational about pie," to the groans of parents who remembered their geometry lessons.

Incidentally, the prize for winners who finished fastest or had the cleanest plates was a stuffed toy "E. coli" bacteria creature.

Kim Lyons: or 412-263-1241.

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