Leaps and bounds, later renamed Discovery Zone was an indoor playground where parents could take their kids to burn through weekend afternoons, or host birthday parties. for about $8 per head (and socks for the unprepared at $2/pair), you could let your kids romp through their a for unlimited play. This was a safe place, since the doors all had alarms that would trigger a piercing alarm if opened without first scanning the matching plastic ID bracelets handed out to parents and kids at the entrance. monitors roamed the floor, watching for problems and mischievous kids.
But this was no standard indoor amusement park. True to it original and updated name, this was a playground for the growing mind as well as body. you wouldn't find any video games here. No, no. Imagine Chuck E. Cheese's on a health kick, or a kid-themed Dave & Buster's. instead of violent electronic games, interactive game stations let kids challenge each other to puzzles. One electronic station would play an animal sound whenever someone pressed a button with a matching picture. A maze of winding plastic tubes covered the ceiling like an ant nest in the sky. Kids as well as parents could crawl through different sized connectors which might lead to transparent sections, slides or webbed sections woven together from in nylon cargo netting. Pits filled with colorful plastic balls offered hiding places to pop out of and startle the unsuspecting.
Looking for greasy pizza and soda? Sorry. not here. But they did have a nice juice bar stocked with healthy snacks. The worst thing on the list were probably frozen carbonated drinks. This was a place where parents would be able to burn their kids' excess energy through physical activity, leaving them to romp above in plastic tubes or activities on the floor level.
While Discovery Zone encouraged to play with their kids, most parents seemed to have the opinion that they were paying for a chance to rest while someone else supervised their kids. Adults retreated to tables underneath tubes or a special 'quiet room' with TV sets. Here, they could relax in peace behind soundproof glass windows while reclining in upholstered chairs. The sign on the door read “parents only,” but nobody cared as long as all the visitors were quiet. Some exhausted kids napped in the comfortable seats, after spending their energy sooner than their brothers and sisters. Some older kids read books while slightly younger ones ran across the floors in socks screaming.
I had a mischievous streak and looked for ways to goof off and misbehave. One of my favorite ways to cause trouble was to swipe swizzle sticks or coffee stirrers from the juice bar, carry them up into the plastic tube maze, and throw them at parents below through holes in nylon cargo netting sections. One day, I found an especially sensitive target to tease. A weary mother sat alone at a small two-seated table directly below a netted section, sipping her coffee. Time to stir up some fun! I aimed carefully with a small handful of swizzle sicks, and let them fall. Before she could look up, I'd already shifted back into a solid section, where she couldn't see me. Tee hee hee!
I returned in a few minutes, after a few loops through the round passageways suspended safely away from earthbound adults. I still had a pocket of stir sticks. Surprisingly, my mark was still seated at her table! She stared forward, sipping slowly from her drink. Ready, aim, fire! Scurrying away in glee, I knew the straws had struck again. “Parents: zero, kids: two,” I mused. Time to enjoy a few more trips through the tubes.
Round three. Stopping at the juice bar to reload, I risked getting caught by someone who would connect me with the showers of straws that fell mysteriously from above. Nobody paid attention though, and I returned to the plastic pathways suspended safely above earthbound adults. Finding my way again to the netted section, I saw her again. She hadn't left! This was too good to be true! And now, she frothed with frustration as I saw her filling out a comment form with angry pencil strokes. Now, I felt at risk and planned my launch carefully. I wanted to hide myself as completely as possible, and peered over the edge separating the nylon webbing from the joining section of solid tube. Slowly pushing my new handful of swizzles through the closest square opening, I showered her with double lumen plastic tubes for the third and last time. They landed on the table, in her hair, and a few fell down the back of puffy wool sweater. Would this appear on the comment form?
My other routine was to gather plastic balls in my shirt from a ball pit on the ground level, and carry them up into the tubes. When I found a slide leading back down to the floor level, I would toss them down the chute to scatter on the floor below. This upset the monitors, who never crossed the invisible line between floor space and the inside of the tubes. Only the most adventurous adults ventured up there. I thought this routine was just as safe as the straw-tossing bit, as long as nobody connected my gathering with the straws and balls that later fell from above.
Eventually, one of the monitors caught me red-handed while I stuffed my shirt with plastic balls. She spied me through the netting surrounding the ball pit, and gestured for me to come with her. uh oh. Did this mean that I would be kicked out? Was she about to fetch my mom, who would later think of some punishment at home? No. She had something far more strategic in mind. She led me to the counter where one of her coworkers sold trinkets and toys. Behind the glass counter, small cardboard boxes held bracelets, super bounce balls and pencils decorated with holographic glitter. The kind of impulse buys kids beg their parents to buy, all at OK-I'll-buy-it-for-you-if-you-just-stop-whining prices.
“Watch him for me, OK?” She asked her friend. He'd been through this before. As she disappeared into the back supply room, I wondered what she was about to do. Was she getting some writeup form? Some stamp to put on my hand so I couldn't return for a while? No, again I was wrong. She returned carrying a large plastic bin, and led me back to the floor where shuffling feet had scattered the plastic balls more widely across the floor. It was time to clean up my mess. “Help me pick these up.” she asked, gathering plastic balls into the bin. We finished, and she had me dump them back in the ball pit where they came from.
Then, she led me back to the toy counter and pulled out another bin. “Here, you can pick one.” This bin was full of the same trinkets displayed behind the counter. I picked an ornamented woven bracelet. Then she looked at me and said “now don't do that again” and left.
Huh? Had she just rewarded me for doing something bad? Wasn't there going to be some burst of anger from an adult after getting caught? I thought they didn't want me to make a mess. Was I getting a reward for disobedience? Now I realize the true genius of her approach.
She never had to shout, and didn't need to track down my mom. I wasn't upset, and wouldn't be reluctant to return to Discovery Zone. My brother and mom would walk out the door without ever hearing about my little run-in with the monitor. So from a business perspective, they hadn't lost any customers. But more importantly, the monitor had left me feeling more reflective than resentful. Did this mean it's better to goof off and fix a problem than never stepping out of line in the first place? Instead of simply yelling or scolding, she had induced a total mindfuck. A once disobedient guest was now quietly pondering what had happened. Instead of brewing up another way to cause trouble, I was searching for the true meaning of this lesson.
Sadly, Discovery Zone went bankrupt in 1996. since then, Chuck E. Cheese's has converted about 500 locations into its more profitable standard. Video games again take the place of plastic mazes and free interactive play stations. I don't remember Discovery Zone ever having a mascot like the anthropomorphic mouse that people can identify instantly. I can't imagine kids having the same experience with a video game or when trying to cheat a skee-ball machine. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.