I love museums. But then, I'm an adult and I've learned to appreciate what museums have to offer: Cool old stuff.
When I was a kid, my parents used to drag me to museums to look at everything from stuffed bears to old arrowheads to faded documents to old-time photos. Back then, I had more fun at the museum store, where I could buy cool kid stuff like fake gold nuggets and astronaut cotton candy and popguns.
Museums have changed over the years. While I can still see a bunch of cool old stuff, it's the kid-centered places that have brought museums into the 21st Century and Beyond. I know, because I've been to two kid museums in the past couple of weeks -- one on each coast -- and had a blast at both of them.
The first museum I explored was the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. I was there doing a Code Busters book event (How cool was that!) and got to see all kinds of cool stuff that spies use. The museum is set up in a labyrinth of hands-on stations, offering insights into this invisible profession that intrigues so many of us wannabe spies.
The museum seems authentic, but then how would I know, since spy stuff is mostly secret? Still, the people who helped create it worked for cool places like the FBI, CIA, NSA, KGB Counterintelligence and Covert Operations. They even had the Chief of Disguise behind the scenes. I want that job. Just think of all the cool outfits I'd get to wear.
Once inside the maze, I tested my skills of observation, analysis and surveillance with cool spy gadgets like concealed bugs (not the insect kind), cipher machines (Enigma!), miniature cameras (hidden in lipsticks), tricky vehicles (like Bond, James Bond), and disguised weapons (a killer umbrella!) I now know important things like "How to Make a Dead Drop," "How to Tap SOS in Morse Code," "How to Tail a Suspect," "How to Spy on People with Rear-View Mirror Sunglasses," "How to Create a Ransom Letter," and "How to Interrogate Your Brother or Sister if You Suspect They've Stolen Your iPod."
The museum even has a Spy Camp and other spy activities to help train youngsters in the art and craft of espionage. How I wish they'd had something like that when I was a kid! All I could do back then was use my toy periscope (remember those?) to spy on my sister and brother, and they never did anything remotely intriguing.
When the tour was over, naturally I headed straight for the Spy Store. How could I resist buying such gizmos as a Lipstick Pen (for writing blackmail letters), a James Bond Credit Card Lock Picking Kit (to break into my car when I lock my keys inside), a Dr Pepper Can Safe (to store my valuable jewelry, like my Mickey Mouse watch), a "Deny Everything" T-shirt (so people will stop asking me questions), an Invisible Ink Pen (so my grocery lists don't fall into the wrong hands) and Edible Spy Paper (to eat my secret messages and grocery lists). After all, these are must-have items for today's competitive spy. Or wannabe, like me.
Next time: A visit to a cool kids' museum on the West Coast ....
Contact Penny Warner at www.pennywarner.com.