BEST KEPT SECRET?

“Last year I was assigned to cover the llama costume contest. Someone in the standing-room-only audience said exactly what I was thinking: ‘This is the best-kept secret at the fair.’ I never knew there was such a thing. The contest is the curtain-raiser for a three-day llama competition for 4-H students, and it’s quite the sight to see what outlandish ideas the students devise for their long-necked, dark-eyed animals. It’s worth the trip to the AgStar Arena.”

JACKIE CROSBY, Reporter

FROM START TO FINISH

“There’s no single thing that sums up the fair, or deserves the honor of being The Singular Moment. It’s the variety and the discord. It’s one thing to walk around the Fine Arts building looking at whimsical sculpture and melancholic landscapes, but it’s somehow better if you were previously sitting in a beer hall with a chili dog listening to ear-rending karaoke. Or vice versa. But if I had to choose a favorite, it would be the first moment you walk through the gates. Everything’s there in its usual places, all familiar, all new. No, strike that. It’s the last moment you walk through the gates to catch the bus home. No, that’s not it. Try this: It’s the first moment, and the last. And everything in between.”

JAMES LILEKS, Columnist

STAY ALL DAY

“My family has a State Fair tradition that started when the kids were quite young. We pick a weekday, go midmorning and stay. All. Day. Long. I mean until the fireworks are done. At some point we hit the Blue Moon Café for their newest concoction and the chance to sink, however briefly, into the darkened outdoor theater section they have set up, with old car bench seats and some suitable b&w creature feature from drive-in days gone by. A few years ago, we added Ye Old Mill to our lineup, marveling at how long and intricate the waterway seemed to be and laughing at the sheer cheesiness of the dioramas. Top fair tip, from years of attending as a political reporter: The state Republican Party booth offers free, ice-cold water in the back and has a lovely patio.”

PATRICIA LOPEZ, Political Editor

EAT. DRINK. BE MERRY.

“Believe it or not, I have fond memories of the days when 3.2 beer was the standard at the fair. It was the late ’90s and early ’00s. I was a sturdy 20-something in those days. My friend Jerry and I would spend half the day at Andy’s Grille, pounding pitcher after pitcher of watery beer, never once feeling the slightest bit drunk. Then we’d head to the Food Building for some cheese curds. And then perhaps the Dairy Building for milkshakes. The day always ended aboard the Slingshot (a.k.a. the ejection seat) or one of the other rides at Adventure Park. Our stomachs seemed to cooperate, thanks to our youth — and the fair’s weak beer.”

CHRISTY DeSMITH, Digital Producer

THE HARD SELL

“They fascinate me, they captivate me, they make me want to do things I’ve never done before. Who are they? The pitchmen under the grandstand. It doesn’t matter whether they’re pitching a miracle knife, a wonder cure for toenail fungus or a shop tool that also walks your dog — I can spend hours listening to these masters of patter. Hold my wallet, buddy, because I’m going to want to reach for it.”

JOHN REINAN, West Metro Reporter

PAT EVERYTHING

What do you never miss? The Miracle of Life Barn. Home of nature’s gooiest miracles.

What’s your favorite food? Whichever new entry seems like they’re daring me to eat it. This year, it’s clearly the barbecue pickle ice cream. Or maybe the booth that’s trying to trick fairgoers into eating kale.

What’s your favorite ride / attraction? The Hall of Giant Vegetables. I like to ride the giant pumpkins.

Have you ever won a giant stuffed animal? Nevah!

Is it ever too early in the day for cheese curds? Nevah!

What’s your top fair tip? Pat everything! Eat everything! Enjoy everything!

What is your next-best fair tip? I truly believe that if you loiter near the refrigerated butter carving booth long enough, the artist will sculpt you out of sheer pity.

JENNIFER BROOKS, Reporter

RIDING HIGH

“We never miss the Sky Ride — the open-air one where your legs dangle. Part of our ritual is shouting out the items people drop on the roofs of the pole barns below. Money, shoes, underwear — it’s surprising what makes its way up (or down) there. The only problem is that as a family of five there’s no easy way to split up, and naturally everyone wants to ride with Dad! (And if you’ve never taken a small child into the butterfly house and seen the wonder on their face, you’re missing one of life’s most sublime moments.)”
STEVE YAEGER, Vice President, Chief Marketing Officer

STATE FAIR ADDICT

“My name is Melissa and I’m a State Fair Addict. Not in a ‘I can’t wait to get a batch of Sweet Martha’s Cookies’ kind of way, but I own enough State Fair t-shirts to make a quilt, and have a designated ‘Fair Backpack’ filled with the essentials (sunscreen, First Aid Kit, Tums, etc.). I go no fewer than four times — once with kids, then with adults and then by myself, because no one can appreciate the culinary genius, history and downhome earthiness of the fairgrounds like I can. My Facebook and Twitter followers look for my “Fair Diaries” entries so that they know what to avoid and what to make a mad dash for. Australian Fries, NO! Doughsant, heck yeah!”

MELISSA WALKER,  Entertainment Calendar/Features Writer

THREE BIG IDEAS

Diner, and a show: At Andy’s Grille, on the hour, you can watch the wait staff and bartenders dance along to a taped rendition of “Greased Lightning”.

A can’t-miss spot: The Blue Moon Dine-In Theatre. Where else can you sit back in old, plush automobile seats and watch vintage B-movies or a marathon of “Beverly Hillbillies”?

A “hidden gem”: The Minnesota Newspaper Museum, which only operates during the 12-day run of the fair. Visitors can watch as ink-stained volunteers produce a souvenir newspaper on vintage linotype machines. Be sure to snag a freebie: a signature pressman’s cap, folded origami-style out of a sheet of newsprint while you watch, or a custom bookmark or postcard printed on the museum’s letterpress equipment.

NANCY B. OLSEN, Copy Editor

 

COUNTING ON IT

“I doubt the State Fair is this low-tech anymore, but as grade-school kids in the early ’80s, a friend and I were given hand-counters to track attendance at individual buildings. We sat, triumphantly, for hours on top of a combine on Machinery Hill – back when the Hill featured the big tractors – clicking and clicking as people walked in. We must have done well, because we were moved up to the entrance of the Dairy Building. People rushed in so quickly for their malts and a glimpse at the Butter Queen that I couldn’t keep up and just clicked the counter wildly. Somewhere, there is a historical count of Dairy Building attendance that is sadly inaccurate.”

JEREMY OLSON, Reporter