Geeky in NYC?
April 11, 2013 7:26 AM   Subscribe

Heading to NYC next week with the family for a few days. What are some good destinations for a family that likes geeky things?

Not Star Trek and Cosplay, think more engineering and Lego. We're staying in Manhattan near Grand Central Station.

I'm especially looking for quick things that we can see on the way to somewhere else. Audiokinetic sculptures / ball machines and that sort of thing would be especially welcome.

Things The Boy (11) likes:

Star Wars
The Simpsons
Complex mechanical things
Humor / comedy
Farts and fart-related things
Hot dogs / pizza / sushi / shrimp
Roller coasters (full size and models)

Not interested in:

The Intrepid (I've seen it and he's seen enough Air/Space museum type things)
FAO Schwarts (does that still exist?)
Movies (I am, but he's not really into many films)

Currently on the list:

Museum of Natural History / Hayden Planetarium
Empire State Building
Museum of Math
WTC Memorial
The Subway (we have those here but the system isn't as complex)

General NYC advice is welcome too. (best times to hit those destinations, etc)
posted by bondcliff to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (33 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
If you have time to head to downtown Brooklyn, check out the Transit Museum. They usually have a couple of exhibits open. Last time I was there it was a whole bunch of interactive machines re: power generation. You might want to check the exhibits on first.

The only roller coaster in town is in Coney Island, although the weather's still not great so I'm not sure if stuff is open down there yet (and if it is, the Cyclone is unpleasant enough to not be fun in shitty weather unless you're the sort of person to ride a rickety outdoor rollercoaster in shitty weather.) Also, it's about two hours on the train from where you're staying.

There's a bunch of (well, at least two) chess shops down near Washington Square Park. The park is also where all the chess hustlers hang out.

Best hot dogs, IMO, are at Gray's Papaya on 8th St. and 6th Ave.
posted by griphus at 7:35 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was going to suggest Washington Square Park for chess, as well. It's chilly here, still, and will be next week, but there will probably be people playing.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:36 AM on April 11, 2013

Well, you know I'm biased, and it's bit of a time commitment... but if he's into architecture (or if National Treasure happens to be one of the few films he's into) you can tour the Grand Lodge of Masons in the Flatiron district.
posted by usonian at 7:40 AM on April 11, 2013

Seconding that the Transit Museum is great. And you can get a cheap, tasty lunch nearby.

The Lego Store in Rockefeller can be pretty fun, particularly if you can go early on a weekday when it's less crazy.

If you have time, the New York Hall of Science in Queens is really cool, and also close by to the Worlds Fair semi-ruins.

There are loads of cool little Japanese restaurants on St Marks Place and 9th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Otafuku is great for a quick, interesting snack and Yakitori Taisho is cheap and tasty. If he would enjoy eating a Japanese meal in a restaurant made to look like a tiny indoor village, maybe check out Village Yokocho.

Things in Manhattan are generally less crowded in the morning and will get more and more crazy over the course of the day. Generally, it's always better to do things during the day on a week day when possible.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:44 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Transit Museum is a good call, and if the weather's nice you can get there fairly easily by walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, which is an amazing piece of engineering. Do a little education up front (the use of caissons is particularly noteworthy and cool) and it could be a great experience.
posted by mkultra at 7:45 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Near Washington square park is also comic / sci-fi store forbidden planet (and awesome sushi place Japonica).

If you go to the Lego store, its in Rockefeller center and I think the underground shops down there (between fifth and sixth avenues, where the subway stops are) are pretty cool.
posted by shothotbot at 7:48 AM on April 11, 2013

If the weather is nice and you're in the area there is Bryant Park behind the main NYPL building which is a great place to chill out and eat hot dogs and people watch. Sometimes scheduling downtime is as important as scheduling uptime. Otherwise, yes the Museum of Math is really going to be enjoyable.
posted by jessamyn at 8:10 AM on April 11, 2013

For cool walk-by tech, there's the sound sculpture at the Herald Square subway station (I believe it's on the N/R/Q platform)

There's also Tom Otterness's Life Underground 'hidden' sculptures around the 14th Street A/C/E station

For more time-consuming options:

Robofun gives weekend workshop classess of lego robotics for kids

Watson Adventures does scavenger hunts in public places like Grand Central Station and the Metropolitan Museum.
posted by Mchelly at 8:19 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh - and Sony Wonder Technology Lab is great for his age, but get there early because it's always crowded (it's free!)
posted by Mchelly at 8:20 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The new Museum of Math!
posted by mothershock at 8:28 AM on April 11, 2013

A walk across the Brooklyn Bridge could be combined with research in the history of technology.
posted by mareli at 8:30 AM on April 11, 2013

For hot dogs, my favorite is Crif Dogs. Bacon-wrapped hot dog with sour cream and avocado? Yes please!
posted by Grither at 8:35 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

The geeky tween in my life loved the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens. ALthough I did not go there myself, from what I understand you don't have to be a movie lover to dig this place -- it's more about the science and technology of moving and digital media. Kids can make moving flip books of themselves in action, get into all sorts of interactive exhibits, learn about TV/digital media technology, and there is a full line of Star Wars figurines...
posted by third rail at 8:38 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're in the neighborhood you could check out the MakerBot store on Mulberry street, near NYU. They have lots of stuff to demo and play with in the store. If the kid likes LEGOs I bet he'd like 3D printing.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:44 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, yeah, Crif Dog is great too.
posted by griphus at 8:47 AM on April 11, 2013

If he actually wants to play chess instead of watch/be hustled, Tompkins Square park is the better choice.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:11 AM on April 11, 2013

There's a kinetic ball sculpture in Port Authority Bus Terminal, somewhere on the ground floor.

And there are two far-flung but cool things - the New York City Panorama in Queens Art Museum is a scale model of the city that was originally built in the 1960's, but is periodically updated as the city changes. It's supposed to be so detailed that locals who visit can easily find their own buildings.

And as for roller coasters - The Cyclone is running. And just nearby is Deno's Wonder Wheel, a Ferris wheel featuring a few cars that have an unusual "swinging" feature.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:20 AM on April 11, 2013

Oh, and duh - Coney Island is also home to Nathan's Hot Dogs, and that's where they have the hot dog eating contest every July 4th. You can also get fried shrimp there, as well as fried clams and fried fish and such. (At one point you could also get fried frog legs, but I don't know if they still have that....)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:22 AM on April 11, 2013

Is Nathan's open again yet? I can't find any info, but I was down there a month or two back and they were still closed and renovating from Sandy.
posted by griphus at 9:33 AM on April 11, 2013

Look for the Japadog cart.
posted by cazoo at 9:36 AM on April 11, 2013

Oh, good point Griphus, thanks. I did hear that the Cyclone is definitely operational, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:37 AM on April 11, 2013

Yeah visiting the Makerbot store is like visiting the Not-To-Distant-Future
posted by The Whelk at 10:09 AM on April 11, 2013

Response by poster: This is all good stuff. The Makerbot store sounds like fun. Any other cool stores for nerds? We already have a local Lego store so unless the NYC one has an attached theme park or something we'd probably skip it.
posted by bondcliff at 11:18 AM on April 11, 2013

AC Gears might be fun. Also the Nintendo World Store.

Regarding the Lego store: I have not been there, but when large companies like that set up a store in NYC, it tends to be a flagship shop, meant more for the experience of going there and looking at awesome stuff than buying things (they often lose money on these stores for that exact reason, which is all part of the plan.)
posted by griphus at 11:21 AM on April 11, 2013

Any other cool stores for nerds?

The Superhero Supply Store in Brooklyn is a pretty good time if you're over that way.
posted by jessamyn at 11:24 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Superhero Supply Store in Brooklyn is a pretty good time

Enthusiastically seconding this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:30 AM on April 11, 2013

Evolution is a cool store full of fossils and skeletons and framed bugs and other natural-world stuff
posted by Mchelly at 11:37 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

And since you mentioned farts, not much beats Abracadabra for magic and novelties and such
posted by Mchelly at 11:39 AM on April 11, 2013

The Superhero Supply Store in Brooklyn is a pretty good time

Enthusiastically seconding this.

Enthusiastically thirding this.

That's really the only attraction in that area, though, aside from a CD store, a Brooklyn Industries location, and a reasonably tasty bakery that sells cake made to look like rainbow cookies.
posted by topoisomerase at 1:45 PM on April 11, 2013

Best answer: Many regular tourist stops can be made geeky though sometimes it may take a bit of research.

Brooklyn Bridge - what kind of bridge, how does it stay up. The Circle Line river tour goes under a few bridges and (briefly) compares them. There was also some discussion of the plane that landed in the water and how fast and which boats go there because airplanes sink fast so boats need to pump the water out now!

Apps - some locations such as I think the Natural History museum have apps to help you enjoy them, also MOMA (free on Friday night), Top of the Rock (some say better than Empire), and you can't miss the HopStop app to help you geekily get from one place to another.

MOMA store is full of geeky things.

Stomp at the Orpheum theater was hilarious and cool and near Bare Burger and Momofuku Milk Bar. Actually includes farts or at least a pretend fart. This was expensive but really really worth it.

After the Museum of Nat History there are many geocaches in Central Park.

Depending on where you are from, the rocks at the bottom of South Central Park in the playground are fun to climb if your geek is also a climber.

Grand Central Station - search for the secrets at Grand Central such as the Whispering Wall, hole in the ceiling, reversed constellations. Short walk to library and previously mentioned Bryant Park.

Yes, skip Lego stores unless you want a quick walk-through to see the builds. I didn't see anything unique.

Look at the reviews for the Museum of Math before you go.

The Strand Bookstore? Near the Union Square subway stop where we saw chess being played on a Saturday, also Stand4 (toasted marshmallow milkshakes), City Bakery (pretzel croissants), Max Brenner Chocolates

Memail me if you want our detailed itinerary.
posted by RoadScholar at 4:22 PM on April 11, 2013

Seconding Evolution, Forbidden Planet, and Max Brenner. I wouldn't go out of your way to visit Evolution, but if you're going to be anywhere near there it is definitely worth going in to gawk at all the dead things. It's a little pricey to buy stuff but SO COOL to look around.

Max Brenner isn't geeky per se, but they have lots of chocolate-filled plumbing and extremely novel food, and it's always a big hit with my geeky crowd. Get a reservation if you decide to go, though.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 4:48 PM on April 11, 2013

The Lego store in Rockefeller Center has many Lego dioramas of NYC landmarks and life that are pretty cool. They're scattered around the store in small circular windows.

More stores listed at Nerd York City.
posted by kathryn at 8:00 PM on April 11, 2013

Response by poster: The Museum of Math was kind of neat but it felt like it wasn't yet finished. They really need to demonstrate how the interactive exhibits relate to math. The Museum of Natural History was amazing. What we saw of it, at least.

We were pretty busy doing other stuff so we didn't get anywhere else listed in this thread. I think the favorite activity was rock scrambling in Central Park.

Thanks, all!
posted by bondcliff at 7:52 AM on May 13, 2013

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