Games that make calculating fun. A celebration of 40 years in Minnesota. Ways to show poultry — without showing poultry. A personal loss that inspired a campaign to save lives. Every year the fair sprinkles new attractions among its beloved traditions. Here are four with intriguing backstories.

 

MATH ON-A-STICK

Family Fair at Baldwin Park, southwest corner of Randall Avenue and Cosgrove Street, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily

Corn dog on a stick? Of course. Mashed potatoes on a stick? Um, well, OK.

But Math On-a-Stick? That doesn’t even make sense, does it?

It does if you’re Christopher Danielson, a math teacher, author and blogger who designed this new attraction, which will offer math-related games, puzzles and activities — including a fair-related challenge.

Connecting the abstractions of mathematics with concrete objects like sticks is what Danielson does on his blog, Talking Math With Your Kids (www.talkingmathwithkids.com), where he offers ideas for helping kids apply mathematical concepts to everyday objects and experiences.

Are the new “Big” Cheez-Its really twice the size (as advertised) of regular Cheez-Its? No, concluded Danielson’s own children, ages 6 and 8 at the time. If two marshmallows count as dessert, how about one marshmallow plus half a serving of Jell-O?

“We act as though the abstractions themselves were the heart of the subject, but they aren’t,” said Danielson, who teaches at Normandale Community College. “The process of abstracting is the heart of the subject. So to teach math well, and to expose young minds to the beauty of the discipline, we need to begin with concrete objects, situations and experiences. We need to build abstractions from those.”

Research suggests benefits in talking about math with kids, Danielson said. “Reading out loud with your children is a good thing to do; talking about numbers and shapes is a good thing to do.”

Math On-a-Stick will challenge visitors to find sets of fair items numbering 1 to 20: one stick on a corn dog, four legs on a cow, 20 carts on the Ferris wheel. Players can fill out a card or share #numbersatthefair photos on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Danielson envisions some smart aleck with a cup with 20 french fries — eats one, there’s 19, eats another, there’s 18, and so on. That’s perfectly fine, Danielson said; it’s another creative way of solving the same problem.

 

HMONG MINNESOTA DAY

Sept. 7, Carousel Park, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Hmong people began arriving in Minnesota from war-torn Southeast Asia 40 years ago. The community will celebrate the anniversary with events ranging from traditional dancing and arts such as the geej, bamboo flute and ncas to contemporary Hmong-American fusion art forms such as hip-hop and break dancing.

“Picture this as a Hmong Version of ‘America’s Got Talent,’ ” said Tou Ger Xiong, an entertainer who is helping organize and will emcee the event. “Pretty much the who’s who in the Hmong entertainment world will probably be showcasing their work in some way, shape or form.”

The event will celebrate and dramatize the Hmong journey “from our agrarian roots in the mountains of Laos to frozen tundra of Minnesota, from hunting with bows and arrows to fishing through a hole in the frozen lake.”

Minnesota’s Hmong population is estimated at 80,000 and includes educators, social workers, law-enforcement officers, doctors, lawyers, public officials, business people and entertainers.

“Our parents’ generations were fighting for democracy and freedom,” Xiong said. “We’re Americans now and we’re carrying on this great tradition of country, honor, family and pride.”

The day will be divided into four segments commemorating each decade of Hmong progress. Events will include stage shows, Hmong elders telling of their exodus from Southeast Asia, pageants for a Miss Hmong Minnesota and a Hmong Prince Charming, tables promoting Hmong-centric organizations and businesses, resources to help fairgoers learn more about the Hmong and other refugee communities in Minnesota, Hmong-Americans dressed in traditional garb answering questions and demonstrating arts and crafts.

 

POULTRY BARN ACTIVITIES

When the avian-flu epidemic led the Board of Animal Health to ban public exhibits of live poultry this year, 4-H members across the state who had been raising chickens, ducks, turkeys and homing pigeons since last fall, planning to exhibit the birds, were understandably disappointed.

But the club decided to make a silk purse out of … well, whatever the poultry equivalent of a sow’s ear would be.

In place of live birds, this year’s Poultry Barn will exhibit research projects by the kids — displays somewhat like those at a science fair, except focusing on aspects of poultry-raising: breeding, nutrition, health topics, meat production, financial aspects and so on.

Most visitors to the livestock barns are there to gawk at, well, livestock. But this year they’ll get a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes, putting the emphasis back where 4-H officials say it should be: on the kids who raise and study the animals.

“What we say in 4-H is it’s about the kid not the bird, it’s about the kid not the cow,” said Wendy Huckaby, communications manager of the Extension Center for Youth Development at the University of Minnesota.

Every year, in addition to their exhibits, the 4-Hers take tests that measure their poultry knowledge, do one-on-one interviews with poultry industry experts, and demonstrate their showmanship — typically with a live bird, but this year with a photo or toy bird or some other substitute. A barbecue contest is optional. The kids compete for scholarships and other prizes in each event.

“This wouldn’t be their first choice, but they’ve made the best of it and are going to do the best they can,” said Brad Rugg, director of 4-H state fair and animal science programs. “In a way it’s probably a deeper and more diverse way of learning than the traditional ‘bring your animals.’ ”

 

FREE SUNSCREEN

At all information booths, located throughout the fair

The State Fair isn’t like a beach. People headed there don’t tend to think about protecting themselves from the sun, Megan Wood discovered.

“They don’t realize how much sun they’ll be exposed to,” she said. “They remember their water, they remember their wallet, but they don’t necessarily talk sunscreen.”

Wood wants to change that. A recent graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School currently doing an internship as a resident physician at Hennepin County Medical Center, Wood worked to distribute free sunscreen from dispensers throughout the fairgrounds.

“It just makes so much sense, why are we not doing this already?” Wood said. As other types of deadly cancers are declining thanks to preventive efforts, melanoma is rising. “One out of five Americans gets skin cancer. It’s out-of-control ridiculous.”

Wood plans to become a radiologist, but became interested in skin cancer for a sad personal reason: during her second year of medical school her father, a lifelong athlete, died of melanoma.

“He was so strong and so healthy when it started, it was really incredible,” Wood said.

Wanting to do something to help prevent the disease, Wood had the idea of installing sunscreen pumps, like hand sanitizers, in sunny public places. Last year, she surveyed fairgoers and found that many were not adequately sun-protected, but said they would use free dispensers.

Fair administrators agreed not only to have them installed but to make them permanent fixtures, Wood said, and sunscreen manufacturers offered to donate their product. “Everybody wants to be the next Purell of Sunscreen, I guess.”

She selected Vanicream, a high-end lotion recommended by dermatologists, nontoxic, hypoallergenic and safe to use on even infants’ delicate skin. The company donated 100 gallons.

“For me, hopefully this is just the beginning,” Wood said. “I would really like to see more outdoor venues adopt this, from concert venues to outdoor patios at restaurants … I’m going to take this all the way to Disneyland.”