YouZeum wins over a skeptic

Saturday, May 3, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:10 p.m. CDT, Thursday, June 10, 2010
Kennedy is a professor emeritus at the MU School of Journalism.

It isn’t every day — or even every decade — that Columbia gets a new attraction, so when I saw in the paper that the long-awaited YouZeum would open May 1, I decided I’d better get there early. In fact, I was told that I was the first paying customer.

I should confess that I’ve been a YouZeum skeptic. Would it ever get off the ground? Was a “museum” devoted to the inner workings of the human body really the best use for the old federal building? Would anybody come? On Thursday morning, even before the official ribbon-cutting, the answers seemed to be yes, yes and yes.

Nearly all my fellow attendees were half my height and way less than half my age. The grown-ups were mostly group leaders, volunteer docents and a handful of other downtown devotees. As far as I could see, we all got our money’s worth.

The recommended route begins with a 3-D movie showing and explaining the basic structure and function of the body. Did you know we have 206 bones? (Later, there was an opportunity — gleefully seized by many in the younger set — to handle a fake spinal column and pose for a photo with a representation of your innards.)

Then it was on to the “Phytoheroes” game. It was so popular I didn’t get a chance to play, but I did study the color-coded wall display of the essential phytochemicals. You remember them — flavonoids, lutein, lycopene and the rest, each matched to their food sources. Turnip greens provide lutein, for example. Who knew?

Another interactive offering had a cartoon character with a really bad Italian accent explaining the various pastas. I moved on to a room where another computer screen gave me the opportunity to “interview” a local celebrity on a health-related topic. The categories of interviewees were news, sports and health. Of course, I picked “news.” Imagine my surprise when the only available notable turned out to be our mayor. Then I realized my own face was showing up on the screen, too. Horrified, I fled.

The “emergency room” was a real crowd-pleaser. The kids piled into the ambulance and began attempting CPR on a realistic “victim.” I played the triage game, in which I was faced with brief descriptions of emergency room patients and had to decide who got treated first. I remembered my own few visits to emergency rooms and put the crying babies first every time.

In the “laboratory,” I learned how to read blood test results, with the medical jargon translated into standard English. Not many kids joined me there.

Back upstairs was a huge, fascinating kinetic sculpture, described as a “view-a-ball you.” And, of course, the gift shop. I could have bought a “Stack the bones” game ($16), a vegetable serving dish ($22.50 for the carrot platter) or the popular book “Everybody Poops” ($12.95).

Oh yes — several naming opportunities remain. To claim the elevator, for example, you’ll have to pony up $25,000.

I’m a skeptic no more. If you know someone under the age of about 12, take her or him along. You’ll both enjoy it.

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