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05/22/2012 / van berger

The weird and wacky side of the States

One of the bonuses of calling this country home for a while is the opportunity to experience some of the weird and wacky festivals America is famous for. From gadget shows to mashed potato wrestling to dressing up as aliens, the States has it all. So far we’ve only been to the Makers Faire which was awesome, but I’ve looked into a few others which might not be everyone’s cup of tea (including mine) but certainly interesting to read about! Enjoy. 

1. MAKER FAIRE (the traditional spelling based on the French verb: ‘to do/make’)
19 & 20 May. San Mateo, California

If you’re like my lovely partner in crime and are glued to the TV every time Mythbusters is on, or in fact have your TV stuck on the Discovery Channel, then you’d love the Maker Faire. It started many years ago and has grown into one of the biggest DIY festivals in the world (the main events are now in California, Detroit and New York, but there are mini-versions across the country).

Originally when D said he wanted to go, I was envisioning a whole lot of geeky gadgets and robots and things I wouldn’t necessarily understand or appreciate. Ok sure there was a lot of that, but the event caters for so many types of ‘making’ that there’s sure to be something you enjoy. Not only were there amazing creations from robotics and computer pieces, there were also crazy bicycle creations (often made from old scraps of metal, etc), sewing workshops, musical instruments, calligraphy, craft workshops for kids (and adults), soldering lessons and so much more. There’s a really cool emphasis on building raw mechanical stuff using recycled materials (what I learned is called the Steampunk movement) as well as new age robotics stuff. And what would an event be like without the weird and wonderful people who attend – when D was looking at some kind of computer gadget thingy I didn’t understand, I was people watching – interesting characters were everywhere: one girl was wearing an incredible skirt made entirely of ties knotted together while another dude was dressed in only a red body stocking (not sure how he was breathing as it went over his face too!).  

Everyone is encouraged to just build stuff (it doesn’t matter what you use – metal, fabric, circuit boards- the main emphasis is to enjoy yourself) and there were so many kids who seemed to be loving every minute of it. My British friend who joined us made an interesting observation that these kinds of events make science and knowledge ‘cool’ again for kids and take away the traditionally ‘nerdy’ association that many children associate with learning. There were over 600 makers at the event, and even though it ran over two days there was no ways we could see even half of it on the day we went. I would definitely encourage anyone who gets the chance to go to attend. 

maker faire pics

From left to right: Inventions that you could interact with- like this extending seat machine; a cupcake-mobile that festival-goers could ride around in; a set of instruments that was wired up and programmed to play by itself!; awesome robots doing their thing; the product of a 3D printer; amazing lego creations; one of the interesting bicycle creations; the coke and mentos experiment – lots of coke flying upwards and everywhere!

27 & 28 Aug. Barnesville, Minnesota

The website says it all: “Two days of ‘spud’riffic fun during the annual Potato Days Festival”. (such a creative explanation haha)
Who doesn’t love a weekend of carbs? While you guzzle different potato products (I’m sure garlic fries are in there somewhere – they are big over here) you can participate in some of these events:

Mashed potato sculpture contest • Mashed potato wrestling competition • Mashed potato eating contest • Potato Picking Contest • Potato Peeling Contest • Sewing & Stacking Contest • Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head • Potato Sack Fashion Show

Needless to say: If you hate potatoes, don’t go.

potato days festival

Left to right: Participant in the Potato Sack Fashion competition; Mashed potato wrestling; Contestant in the sew and stack potato competition. Source:

4 – 8 Aug. Montana
 (great website name right?!) 

Yip, you’re thinking the same thing as me: why, oh why? Well apparently over 15 000 people enjoy eating deep-fried bull testicles. Here over 2½ tons of deep-fried bull testicles are consumed by attendees. At the same time, according to the delightfully designed website you can enjoy watching or participating in a wet t-shirt contest, hairy chest competition and a bull chip throwing competition. (Word of advice: Whatever you do, stay away from the photo section on the website- unless you want to see a lot of naked old people- I couldn’t stay long enough to find a picture of people eating bull’s testicles!)

Some added information that might make you want to go (or stay very far away) :
“Express yourself! Adults only! Stay over in your tent or RV. Free Wi-Fi.”
One can only imagine the type of people at this event! (Definitely adults only).

testicle festival

2-4 July. Roswell, New Mexico

This is one event that Hollywood has managed to include in quite a few movies, so I had heard of it before (as I am sure a lot of other people have). The town of Roswell is well known for it’s association with aliens after the alleged sighting of a UFO in 1947. Since then, the subject has been one of extreme controversy with the United States Armed Forces saying that the debris was from an experimental surveillance balloon from a classified programme. There are a collection of people (many who attend the festival) who believe that the debris was part of an alien craft and that the military were simply trying to cover the whole situation up. Here is how they describe the incident on the festivals website:

In early July, 1947, a mysterious object crashed on a ranch 30 miles north of Roswell. The Roswell Army Air Field (RAAF) issued a statement claiming to have recovered a crashed “flying disk.”  An article ran on the front page of the Roswell Daily Record and the next day, RAAF changed its statement to say that the object was a weather balloon, not a flying disk as they previously reported.  This revised statement sparked immediate controversy and has continued to be a topic of debate more than 60 years later.”

At the festival, thousands of alien enthusiasts come together dressed in all sorts of costumes and enjoy activities like costume competitions, recreational skateboarding, live music, a museum and lectures. The costume competition is for both humans and pets (best pet wins $50!) and if you’re wearing a costume you’re welcome to partake in the light parade where you ride around on ‘alien spaceships’. 

Roswell pics

Left to right: Alien branding on vending machines at the festival (source:; Pet dress-up competition (pic credit: Yawning dog- Mark Wilson, other dog- Karlitos Lomas); Roswell town (source:; festival-goers in their alien costumes with Miss New Mexico (pic credit: Joan Marie). 

12-15 July. San Diego, California

I first heard about this festival through that excellent American show ‘The OC’ which many of us were addicted to during university days – those who were equally embarrassingly glued to the show will remember how obsessed Seth was with Comic-Con. And scenes of all those people who dressed up to the max for the event. It’s also regularly referred to in the Big Bang Theory. Entourage has quite an entertaining episode with the fictional ‘Viking Quest’ character attending the event. 

It is in fact the fourth largest comic festival in the world, with the biggest being Comiket in Japan. In 2010 the event had over 130 000 people attending, filling the San Diego Convention Centre to it’s capacity. The Comic-Con organisation has been going since 1970, and originally began as a way to display new (and old) comic books, science fiction, fantasy and television. However it has expanded enormously and now includes other genres like horror, animation, anime, manga, toys, collectible card games, video games and web comics.

Comic fans can meet their favourite authors, get autographed versions of comics and books, visit exhibition stands, find rare collectible toys, and watch the annual masquerade which features many amazingly designed costumes. According to the website, it is called a masquerade and not simply a costume competition because: 

“…It’s more than just posing on stage: it’s about portraying characters too, a show full of spectacle, beauty, awe, comedy, light-saber battles, and song and dance, an event where you never know what’s going to happen next.”

Sounds like something worth seeing!

comic-con pictures

Left to right: Some of the many costumes you may see at the event (source:; the official logo of the festival; celebrities often attend the event in interesting outfits like this! (source:; more awesome outfits based on super heroes (pic credit: Pamela Schreckengost); funny merchandise on sale (source:; the convention centre in San Diego (source:

Although we do have quite a few festivals in South Africa (art, wine, food, home expos, etc), I haven’t heard of any that are similar to these kinds of wacky events- have you? I think this is probably because the size of SA is so small in proportion to the States that we don’t have a broad or big enough audience to attend them. A lot of events over here have been running for so many years meaning that they’re very well organised and seem to make big profits.

Okay – so I’m pretty sure no one would voluntarily go to an event like the testicle festival in South Africa (I wouldn’t!). However, I think events like the Makers Faire could work in South Africa as a way to inspire great entrepreneurial ideas that could contribute to employment and the economy. 

Anyone want to dress up as an alien and join me in Roswell? 🙂



One Comment

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  1. Marisa / May 23 2012 00:54

    Awesome! I would love to go to Comic-Con at least once 🙂

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