"The Beam Walk," "Bed of Nails" and "Ball of Danger" all sound like they should be episodes of Buck Rogers. In fact, they are the situations that make up Risk! at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The interactive exhibit offers insight into risk and risk assessment. For most of us, the average risk assessment involves the justification of consuming a piece of cheesecake despite a current diet, or factoring in what embarrassing acts we might commit with one more cocktail. Risk assessment will mean a little something different in Cowtown as of Saturday.
The first encounter is "The Beam Walk," where the risk-taker must cross a steel one 7 inches wide. Sound simple? It's a bit more Fear Factor than that. The museum has enhanced the perspective. Try 17 stories above ground, with added wind, construction noise and a flock of birds flying by. The choice is to go forward on the beam, skirt the perimeter or refuse to take that first step and risk the scoffing of all your friends. The risk (the falling or the scoffing) is all yours.
The 5,000-square-foot exhibit has more than just a beam to taunt you into doing things so far removed from daily life they could qualify as subplots in a soap opera. Take, for instance, the "Bed of Nails." Lying on thousands of nails, points up, takes serious preparation. Or does it? Mentally, we're calculating just how long our gelatinous thighs will withstand the pressure of our body weight on the little rods of fear as we sit down. But alas, the museum makes it just a touch easier by offering a Plexiglas bed through which the nails slowly rise.
The exhibit also incorporates less physical challenges such as the "Ball of Danger" and the "Gambling and Probability Area." Test the power of deduction, instinct and probability; see a film about professional risk-takers; and take a quiz or two. Figure out personal comfort level with risk through true-false questions and find out how lifestyle dictates "How Old Are You Really?" The museum also offers a game show-like competition and the "Extreme Gallery" featuring objects developed to protect against certain types of risk.
Dr. Paul Slovic, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and a principal adviser for the exhibit, feels there is little connection in the perception and assessment of risk between scientists and the general public. He says of the show, "The exhibit provides a wonderful opportunity to bring real risk and perceptions of risk closer together."
Unlike most exhibits that are geared either toward young children or just adults, Risk!is designed for adults and children ages 12 and up (although the museum says it is also appropriate for elementary school-age tykes). That whole combined interest thing is cool on many levels: Parents and kids can have fun together (whilst goading each other on or calling one another "sissy"); everyone can satisfy a bit of the Fear Factor/Road Rules-induced thrill-seeking (while keeping the midriff covered and wearing something other than a bathing suit); and everyone can learn something about themselves (even if it's that a 13-year-old is braver than most of us adult professionals).
Now before hopping in the car and heading out to Fort Worth this weekend, practice these words for any scaredy cats (ourselves included) that might shrink from the various exhibits: "Hey, that's cool. You did your best. No one expects you to do something you're uncomfortable with." Then hopefully, since there's no new car and no money on the line, said cats won't be shunned by their "teammates" and flipped off when they turn around (ourselves included).