Monday, July 28, 2008

Thrilling Physics 2

Recently we took our summer vacation to the amusement park Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, and also some stops in Kentucky which I'll describe at the end.

This summer the children have graduated from the Thrilling Physics (1) at Dollywood of last summer. Cedar Point is known for its roller coasters (17 in all and three of the top 10 steel roller coasters in the world) and uses the motto "America's Roller Coast" since it's on the shore of Lake Erie. It was cool for the kids to see a lake that looks like an ocean because all of our local lakes are really just dammed rivers and aren't so big.

Even my seven year old rode all the ones he was tall enough to ride. And our favorite was the 310 feet high Millennium Force:



It has to be the smoothest, fastest, and most thrilling roller coaster I've ever been on, even better than Dollywood's Mystery Mine. It is really a pure ride in that it doesn't rely on any special gimmicks like standing (though that is pretty cool) or inverted track (which is actually probably my second favorite one) or lots of loops (an old coaster which I suspect was bought from Opry Land in Nashville after it closed in the mid 1990s). I think the smoothness of the ride adds a lot to the enjoyment, and I don't really like the jerky ones whether they are steel or wooden.

Speaking of wood, we did ride their huge wooden coaster, Mean Streak,



which is aptly named since it was very rough and jerky. I think we got spoiled last year by the unusual smoothness of Dollywood's Thunderhead, still my most favorite wooden coaster of all.

Cedar Point's most extreme coaster is the Top Thrill Dragster:



It is 420 feet high (I wonder why they chose 420 ;-) ) and launches riders to 120 mph in about 4 seconds. It is designed to feel a little like a drag racing car, but my only complaint is that the entire ride is only about 18 seconds long. Well, maybe that is as much as one could handle of this straight up and straight down experience, but the long 1 hour wait in line made it a kind of lopsided time investment. ;-) The Dragster might have been my favorite over the Millennium Force if it had a longer duration (or the wait had been shorter between rides). That initial launch is the only acceleration and there were signs explaining that sometimes a train might not clear the hill on the first try and would have to roll back down to be launched again. I was sort of hoping that would happen to us so that we'd get an extra long ride, but we weren't so lucky. ;-)

We also enjoyed the once record-breaking steel coaster Magnum XL-200, the special effects themed bobsled style Disaster Transport, and the other smaller wooden coasters. Maybe it was because we were there during the week instead of the weekend, but the lines for most rides were very short, except for the newest and wildest ones. The only one of the big rides we didn't try was the Wicked Twister. I might try it if we ever go back, but as I've gotten older my stomach's tolerance for all that spinning and twisting has decreased and by the time we'd been on all those other rides I was worried about getting sickly if I pushed myself too much.

Oh, and Cedar Point's newest coaster The Maverick was pretty good too.



It reminded me a little of Dollywood's Mystery Mine but on steroids. ;-) Again, the line for this one was almost too long, but it was a great coaster with some fun surprises throughout. We only rode it once because of the long lines, but I would like to try it again someday.

I am pretty curious about the technologies used for these new super-coasters and their very fast acceleration. Even on the Millennium Force, as you are climbing that first 310 foot hill, the train actually accelerates midway up, instead of that clackety, clackety slow chain-driven climb on most coasters. I wonder how people might apply these technologies to more practical needs, especially in this time of concern with energy efficiency, etc. Well, if they could build public transportation roller coasters then I think many more people would enjoy not driving their own cars. ;-)

Okay, so maybe these amusement parks and roller coasters are kind of a redneck thing to do, and I've thought about why people enjoy them so much. It's certainly not a "natural" activity to be launched into extreme angles, twists, and descents at high speeds, but somehow it seems to serve a purpose. Or maybe I'm just an adrenaline junkie. ;-)

Aside from the thrilling physics of the rides there were other interesting things about Cedar Point. One of them was that many of their employees were students from all around the world. I saw some from Taiwan, Colombia, Turkey, Poland, Slovakia, and even China. The young guys from Poland and Slovakia were working together in a gift shop and seemed especially amused by my family's choices of souvenir trinkets. ;-)

After Cedar Point

Driving back towards Tennessee we stopped in Kettering, Ohio, where my oldest son got to skate at a famous skate park he had seen on TV.




My oldest is in the bright white t-shirt.


My youngest with a skateboarder's statue.

The way that we discovered we would be so near that park was because we drove past what we jokingly called the "giant white gorilla" that my oldest had recognized as a landmark from some skate-boarding shows. It is actually a huge Jesus statue but at first sight on the road we only saw the extended arms and thought it looked like a gorilla or something. ;-)



From now on we'll always refer to it as the Giant Jesus Gorilla, but of course we mean no offense to Jesus or gorillas. ;-) I don't really worry about God being angry with my irreverent jokes. He forgives me because I make him laugh. :-)

Then in Kentucky we stopped for a tour at Diamond Caverns. I think I could live in a cave, and I've always enjoyed touring them and learning about the geology. Maybe that's because I might be part Neanderthal. ;-)

And then we stopped at the National Corvette Museum so the kids could learn about the history of our favorite cars. Well, maybe a car museum is kind of redneck too? ;-) But really, Corvettes have been a big part of the history of American cars and culture for the last 50 years, and I think it's good for our children to appreciate those kinds of things. It must be doing pretty well because it looked like they are building a large addition to the Museum. With the fuel situation as it is, it could turn out that our sportscars will be more historical than we currently realize.

A couple more things. Another highlight of the trip for me was getting to see a couple of nuclear power plants pretty close to the roads. They are not a common sight for us, and although they might not be all that interesting to most people there is just something exciting to me about seeing them. ;-)

As we drove all through Kentucky and Ohio it was abundantly clear that the economy isn't doing so great. There were many, many large empty buildings and warehouses with signs for sale or lease, and everywhere there were so many houses for sale and/or sitting empty. It looked to me like "America For Sale". But there was also a lot of corn being grown and I wondered how much of it was actually going to food.

Well, I've rambled on too long about our big redneck family vacation. But it was very fun, and it's so important to make memories in these special ways.

1 comment:

General Franco said...

The Corkscrew was built, brand new, in Cedar Point in 1976 (which is why it has the red/white/blue color scheme.) It wasn't brought from Opry Land.