Good for Yucks

It's not often that one gets to see a children's exhibit as blunt as Space Center Houston's "Grossology." Based on the books of Sylvia Branzei and appealing to grade-school potty humor, the show uses fart jokes to convey facts about urine, pus, puke and other bodily fluids and functions.

"The rectum is usually empty until just before you dookie. Then, poop is squeezed in by muscles in the colon and it just waits for delivery," reads one display. At another, rubber sphincters are used to show how tighter anuses raise the pitch of passing gas. A slide allows kids to enter the esophagus and be deposited through the colon.

Privately owned and operated by the Manned Space Flight Education Foundation Inc., the space center is free of federal restrictions. Experts from Walt Disney's Imagineering helped form the organization's vision, and at times the center seems more concerned with video games than worthwhile exhibits. But why travel across the country to visit an arcade at NASA when Chuck E. Cheese is next door?

"Grossology" at least shows some recognition that the space center is an institution devoted to the advancement of science. One wants to see that, as their Web site proclaims, "There is intelligent fun out there." And as the animatronic character at the entrance surmises, "Just because something is gross doesn't mean we shouldn't learn something about it."

Still, some displays are educationally obscure. It takes a keen eye to figure out that two pinball machines rack up points according to the "gaseous" value of food bumpers. Only careful scrutiny reveals that the rock-climbing wall is meant to be skin with moles, wounds and pimples as handholds. Apparently no one even bothered to try to rationalize the two air guns that fire Ping-Pong balls into giant nostrils.

"Grossology" does offer some interesting facts for those who bother to read the blurbs. (Did you know that mothers in some cultures suck the snot from their children's noses?) But the little ones may be too busy running through the huge two-story playpen to notice.

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Dylan Otto Krider