From “Spy Kids” to “Kim Possible” to “Inspector Gadget” to “Young James Bond,” there’s just something about the death-defying thrill of undercover operations that appeals to aspiring secret agents of any age. Which is likely why Discovery Times Square is inviting the whole family to check out The Spy Exhibit: The Secret World of Espionage through March 31, 2013. Your tour begins inside a recreation of The Oval Office, where all clandestine operations are launched and authorized (officially, anyway), and a reminder that George Washington wasn’t merely the Father of Our Country, he was also America’s First Spymaster…
The Hard Stuff
From there, it’s onto a room guaranteed to thrill any military hardware buff, displaying everything from a collapsible scooter Allied forces used to parachute behind enemy lines during World War II, to a one man submarine code-named Sleeping Beauty (complete with the nose plugs the sailor wore to avoid being given away by air-bubbles), to inside the cockpit of a fighter jet, to a Cold War photo-taking satellite. There are detailed military uniforms with all their hidden compartments, newspaper headlines and TV broadcasts from botched operations like that of Francis Gary Powers in 1960 and, to remind that this wasn’t a movie but serious business, the suicide pill that Powers carried on him, hidden in a hollowed out silver dollar, that he had the option of taking to avoid capture and torture.
But, don’t worry, for parents who don’t feel like explaining why an American pilot would need to carry a suicide pill or how that bloody axe is connected to the picture of Leon Trotsky (luckily all the gory details are in written form, and you don’t have to read them out loud if you don’t want to), there are more innocuous objects to marvel over. Check out the Pigeon Camera, basically a device attached to a trained bird’s leg that turned a regular pigeon (something NYC kids know a whole lot about) into Spy Pigeon, as it flew above super-secret enemy facilities, snapping away with no one below being any wiser.
Making Up Is Hard To Do
Because disguise is such an important part of the spying lifestyle, there are numerous examples of wigs, make-up, artificial facial hair and shape-defying clothing to be found, along with a video of how such transformations were achieved by masters of their trade. If your kiddo wants to check out how he or she would look disguised, there are computer terminals where you can snap your picture, then decorate it with assorted hats, hair, glasses and beards.
There are also examples of microfilm being hidden in a fake nickel. One spy was actually apprehended when the coin fell into the hands of a paperboy, who thought it felt too light. He took it to the police and ultimately unraveled a massive conspiracy to steal US nuclear secrets for the USSR.
You Dirty Rat
Bricks were also used to hide secret documents or cash, as were the insides of agents’ teeth, the heels of their shoes…and the stomachs of dead rats. The rodents were sliced open, their guts replaced with contraband material. The rats were then doused in hot-sauce to keep other scavengers away before being dumped on the street for fellow spies to retrieve. This aspect of the exhibit is so popular with kids, the gift shops even sells toy rats…with Spy Hot Sauce.
Hidden in Plain Sight
You can also see the fake IDs and other documents used by the New York-New Jersey-Massachusetts-Virginia Russian spy ring exposed by the FBI only two years ago, and marvel at how well they were able to infiltrate and pass themselves off as typical, suburban Americans (it might also make you look twice at the other parents in the school pick-up line. And furtively sweep the ground, looking for any dead rats smelling of hot sauce).
This being the 21st Century, spying has moved into the digital realm. Now, hackers can (and do) break into the most sensitive government computers from the comfort of their own homes. Another display allows your child to match wits with a foreign agent, typing in a code to prevent the bad guys from disabling a sensitive missile system. (Don’t worry if your little one isn’t a Matthew Broderick from “War Games” level of savant. It appears typing in any string of numbers and letters will do.)
Finally, no lover of adventure should leave The Spy Exhibit without stepping into the laser maze. In a dark room, green bolts of light criss-cross the space, and it’s up to you to make your way through them without setting off an alarm – in twenty seconds or less. In this game, children definitely have an advantage over their parents as, not only can they move quicker, but they can crawl on their bellies to avoid detection, while Mom and Dad attempt to climb over and under, and realize why, at least in the movies, spies are always so thin and limber.
Tickets for The Spy Exhibit are $27 for adults, and $19.50 for kids ages 4-12. Discovery Times Square is open Sunday through Thursday: 10:00am – 8:00pm, and Friday through Saturday: 10:00am – 9:00pm. All strollers must be checked.
Discovery Times Square
226 West 44th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues
Will you be taking your little men and women of mystery to check out this exhibit?
–Alina Adams (she took the photos too!)