One of the attractions at this year’s Long Beach Comic Con [see my LBCC article at K2R] was the S.T.A.R. Laboratories Mobile Research Unit, a traveling exhibit promoting the upcoming Flash TV Show with vaguely scientific exhibits relating to super-speed.
Overnight, they drove a truck onto the convention floor and took over most of the Laser Tag arena from the day before. Pods opened to the side like a vacation trailer. Two TVs ran the trailer for the show on repeat, between them a bulletin board…well, we’ll get to that.
The wait was about 30-45 minutes when I got there shortly after the floor opened, but it put us right next to a booth for a scooter company (there’s always one or two sponsors that I just can’t quite see the connection to comics). Their reps were going up and down the line trying to get people to sign up for their sweepstakes/mailing list. The one I talked to had no idea what everyone was waiting in line for, just that it was a good chance to sign people up.
They let in about 5-7 people at a time, giving each of us a card with the show logo on one side and a sticker with a unique bar code on the back. Each exhibit was triggered by scanning the bar code, results or video available at starlabsresearch.com.
On the Inside
The first I saw on stepping in was a dripping faucet, lit by a strobe light and timed so that it looked like the water droplets were falling incredibly slowly. (You can do really fun things by hooking up a hose to a speaker and timing the sound with the camera’s shutter speed. Be sure to check out that video sometime.)
Next up was speed reading. One way of reading faster is to cut out all the eye movement: Instead of sweeping your view across a page, an app flashes words at you one at a time. You can read really fast, though if you get distracted, you’re completely lost (and some studies suggest it’s not great for comprehension). So they took a bunch of monitors, loaded up parts of the Flash’s backstory, and set each to run at 200 words per minute, 400, 600, all the way up to 1200 words per minute. I managed to at least catch the gist of Barry’s history with Iris at about 800 WPM, but faster than that I couldn’t follow at all.
I got the impression that they were still figuring out the exhibits a bit. One that didn’t quite come together was moving around in front of a camera, and waiting for it to process the video. I never saw the result, and they said it would be available online afterward, but I just see a blank space on the website.
One that just seemed out of place was a chance to watch your pupils contract in response to bright light. OK, it happens fast, and they had some writeup on how metahumans’ pupils react faster than normal, but I wonder if they were out of ideas and someone made a pun on “Iris.”
Test Your Reflexes
The most fun parts involved testing your reflexes. One was sort of a radial
Missile Command game: Lines would move out from the center indicating an “Attack” and you had to hit the button corresponding to that sector. [Edit: Mashable’s right: it was more like Tempest.] It was harder than a similar game I’d played at an arcade once, which was more like a vertical whack-a-mole, because you couldn’t just strike where you saw the light, you had to trace it outward and hit the right button.
The highlight was trying to dodge or catch a nerf bullet, fired by your friend if you had one with you or one of the attendants if not. Well, it was more like a nerf arrow. I’m sure they had their reasons. And no one managed to dodge or block it while I was in there.
There was supposed to be video on that too, but as with the slow-mo, only a blank square shows up on my results page.
Finally, next to the exit, was a chance to see how fast you could vibrate your hand, repeatedly tapping a metal plate on the table. Supposedly I did better than 89% of people who had tried it so far. Not bad.
They didn’t rush us while we were inside, so we all got to try out everything before leaving. That was nice, and in keeping with the easy-going feel of the convention.
Oh, I mentioned a bulletin board outside. It was covered with newspaper clippings, photographs, police reports, letters, receipts, and string connecting them all. The case: The murder of Nora Allen, and the framing of her husband. Barry Allen has been working this case for a looong time. Click through to Flickr to download the full-resolution version, or check out my full set of LBCC photos.
The Flash TV series launches on CW on October 7 (but if you’re a regular reader, you already knew that). The S.T.A.R. Labs Mobile Research Unit will be traveling around Los Angeles until then.