Despite the heat, despite the crowds, one magic word can give almost any dazed, sore-footed fairgoer with indigestion a shot of adrenaline: Free.

At the Great Minnesota Get-Together, lines are always a telltale sign that something good is just ahead, oftentimes for nothing more than your time.

"People come to the fair for free stuff," said Brienna Schuette, the fair's marketing and communications manager. "We've talked to people who get in a line, not even knowing" what they're going to get.

For the most sought-after item, the all-purpose reusable bag, lines can snake around entire buildings.

The University of St. Thomas is credited with creating the bag craze. "When we started, we had no idea that they would be this popular," said JoAnne Pauley, assistant director of communication services at the University of St. Thomas.

Sometimes, even the people giving away the stuff don't understand the attraction. Take the Home Depot bucket.

"It's interesting how long people will stand in line for something that [costs] $2.79," said Scott Harrington, Home Depot district service manager.

But what do you expect? It's free.□

Top 5 freebies

Reusable bags

Hot commodity: St. Thomas started the trend but the University of Minnesota's bag is king. The U's sturdy drawstring backpack attracts lines down the street.

Location: Inside the Education Building.

Culligan water

Hot commodity: Loathe the taste of the fair's water fountains? So does everyone else. That's why Culligan's booth is so loved. But beware the water czar. Yes, you should stay hydrated with the provided cup, but no, you cannot fill your water bottle.

Location: Northwest corner of Dan Patch Av. and Cosgrove St.

Funny hats

Hot commodity: People love paper hats at the fair, but only one reigns supreme. You'll find it at the Oink Booth. It seems you can make something out of a sow's ear, after all.

Location: Inside the Swine Barn.

Home Depot buckets

Hot commodity: The big orange bucket might be cumbersome, but it comes in handy. Not only will it hold all your free swag, it's a seat, too — just flip it over and voilà. Unfortunately, this year you have to spin a wheel to win the pail.

Location: West side of Underwood Street at Murphy Avenue.


Hot commodity: Because you can never have too many colorful yardsticks, right? However, if you want a higher-quality measuring tool, the Minnesota Farmers Union is still selling its $3 yardstick.

Location: Minnesota Blue Flame Gas Association, north of W. Dan Patch Avenue.