Today my parents arrived from Colorado to visit us here in Las Vegas, Nevada. "And there was much rejoicing ... 'yay!'".

We did a lot today -- given my mother's handicaps (for assorted reasons, walking extended distances is difficult) we covered a lot of ground.

We started at a local cheap restaurant, hit Star Trek: The Experience (went through it twice), checked them into their hotel, rode the Race for Atlantis at Caesar's Palace, and finally toured through the classic auto show at Imperial Palace.

After that my folks got tired, so we took them back to their room, said "g'night", and then headed back to Star Trek: The Experience (you can ride it as many times as you can stand on the day you buy your ticket(s)).

It's a weird crowd later at night -- for one thing the crew is tired and it's more "relaxed", and the people riding the thing are goofy and younger.

...and apparently, the assholes come out to play. The second time through tonight (a total of four runs today through the ride; this was our last), the "experience" seemingly malfunctioned near the beginning.

Oh yeah -- spoiler alert -- don't read any further if you haven't been to Star Trek: The Experience and want to be surprised (pleasantly) when you visit.

Last chance -- quit reading if you don't want any spoilers.

Near the beginning of the experience, you're "beamed" onto the Enterprise-D's transporter pad. The effect is spiffy and neat, and really surprises you the first time you witness it. It's pretty impressive.

Only problem is -- this time through (it was a full crowd of people, 27), all the scripted events happened (the lights went out, the displays "screwed up", the staff acted "surprised"), except when the lights came back on, we were still in the "staging" room and not on the Enterprise-D's transporter pad. Heh. Whoops.

So everybody gets a good chuckle out of it, and we wait for them to restart it. A guy (presumably a shift manager or a mechanic/repairman) stepped into the room (already cramped and full of people). We all figured he was going to apologize for the goof, and either kick us all out because it was completely broken, or reassure us that it'd be back up and running in a minute.


Imagine all of this with a rather sarcastic, nasty tone. "Alright, show of hands, who here has been through the ride before?" (Everyone raises hands) "Who here wants to know how we do this special effect?" (Everyone's hands stay up) "Well stop it. If you're trying to figure out how we do it, stop. The man behind the mask is asking you nicely to quit trying to figure it out. I will take you off the ride if you keep it up. You know who you are. For the rest of you, we'll ready again in just a minute."

Apparently three of the goofier guys behind us had "leaned" against the back wall to try to glean how the effect actually works. This, in turn, apparently either tripped an automatic detection system (maybe picking up weight or pressure on the false wall so nothing will move, either for safety or for "guarding the secret"), or an infrared camera picked it up and the guy watching got pissy. Either way, a switch was thrown and we didn't get our cheap transporter effect.

Fine -- I can understand keeping people out of harm's way, and I can also understand wanting to stop a pair of jokers from ruining everyone's good time.

But this prick's attitude has just got to go. Something I've noticed about Star Trek: The Experience is Paramount's filthy stinking hands all over it. I know, I know -- "duh -- Star Trek's owned by Paramount, you dope" ... but that's not what I mean.

The scripted crud spewed at visitors before the ride, repeatedly admonishing them to turn of pagers, cell phones, and two-way radios (because of how they "interfere with the equipment inside the Experience" -- I call bullshit) and repeatedly warning that videography, photography, and audio recording are prohibited "due to Federal copyright law", and now just how fiercely the "secrets" of the show are guarded. They seem like incredibly uptight magicians miffed at anyone who even tries to discover their secrets.

We've seen lots of irritating things happen, and heard many clueless explanations of assorted things -- a guy once "dared" to sneak over and sit in the captain's chair as everyone filed onto the Enterprise bridge. They removed him from the ride entirely. When I asked "why?" they just said "oh yeah he violated copyright law -- you have to buy a license to sit in that chair." My brain explodeth. During the "ride", you're not allowed to touch anything or wander at all, but if you pay $14.95 extra to have your photo taken in the captain's chair, they let you wander around on the bridge set all you want while they transfer the picture from their digital camera to their file server. That's one hell of a "license" -- it lasts just five minutes or so, includes a picture and a color laser print of it, and a swift "get the fuck outta here" afterwards. Chalk this one up to a victory for the movie cartel, I guess.

Grrr. Time to lift the veil, then, dammit.

So, even more spoilers coming. We've been on the ride enough times to make a very good educated guess about how the damned effect works, so I'm going to spill the beans. If you've ever wondered how the transporter effect works, you're about to find out.

I'm serious -- I'm about to totally ruin the magic for you. Quit reading now if you're the kind who likes watching a magic show and hates learning how the tricks are done.

I'd like to point out that anybody with half a brain and enough free time to take a few runs through the ride can witness all this themselves.

First, I'll describe the effect.

You're ushered into a small room with a plastic floor, four doors (numbered one through four), and two screens above the numbered doors. The room is dimly lit, with just a few dim amber lights to provide most of the lighting, and some very soft blue lights mounted in the ceiling to add a bit more illumination.

The ushers make it a point to squeeze everyone together into four uniform lines, each line's members squeezed together as closely as reasonably possible. Like any good magic trick, this is the beginning of the illusion -- low light levels make it difficult to closely examine any part of the room, and with the ushers bantering constantly (either making intentionally corny jokes or rattling about safety) and establishing a clear aisle on all sides surrounding the participants, everybody is "nudged" towards thinking something special is about to happen.

It's a classic distraction and confusion tactic -- first timers don't know what's coming, and given the previous "strict" instructions doled out by the crusty staff, it can be accepted at face value that the crew really do want to avoid a lawsuit with excessive safety crap. Curiosity is high and everybody's eager to see what's coming next.

What comes next is a quip about how "thrilled" the participants appear to be, spoken into the headset worn by the front usher, followed by the start of the introductory safety video. The lighting in the room slowly fades as the video progresses. It shows the same room the participants are standing in, and warns that pregnant women shouldn't ride (a pregnant woman turns around, hugs her husband, and leaves; the husband stays behind to ride, and the ushers make a joke about what a nice guy he is). Shortly after that, the four doors are shown opening, and the people slowly start to file through.

Just when everyone is settling in to view a boring safety video, the feed suddenly scrambles, with weird video and audio distortions. The ushers act surprised, calling in to "operations" to report the malfunction. By this time, all the lights in the room have faded out completely.

A very bright flash occurs next from a set of strobe lights (a single pulse is fired from each, all at once) and then just in case those didn't hit your eyes the walls follow up with their own quick flash (not as bright). As soon as the two light pulses have stopped, lots of cold air blows down from above (very loudly) and the classic Next Generation era transporter sound is heard. A few seconds later, the wind stops, the sounds fade, and the lights come back up. Suddenly, everyone is standing on the transporter pad of the Enterprise-D. The transporter pad everyone is standing on is significantly larger than the room they'd initially stepped into (pay attention to this detail -- it's important).

From this point, the "in the future" act begins and the rest of the "experience" has no real trickery left up its sleeve.

How the trick actually works should be obvious by now, but I'll explain it anyway.

  1. Everybody's crammed into a small space, and encouraged to squeeze together to assure everyone's "safety". The small space is poorly lit (to prevent a good, detailed visual examination of the room), and the ushers' actions make it clear they don't want anyone within arm's reach of the room's walls.
  2. The displays showing the "safety video" are intentionally brighter than the rest of the lighting -- everyone is instructed to watch, so of course everyone's eyes adjust to the higher light levels of the display (starting the process of blinding everyone to the behind-the-scenes workings of the trick).
  3. The bright strobe flash finishes the job of temporarily blinding the participants; the secondary flash of light from the walls serves two purposes -- first because it's yet another light source, the eyes start closing up to adjust to the bright light, and second, because they're pinpoints and evenly spaced, the eyes focus on them (so the outer set that is soon to be revealed is out of focus just in case you actually do happen to catch a glimpse of something in the background).
  4. While everybody's being blinded, the noise in the room picks up significantly. You can just barely hear the surprised gasps of the people who haven't been on the experience before (and it's still a fun thing to hear). The transporter noise is loud, the wind being blown in is very loud, and it all serves to increase the dramatic tension and to disguise the sound of what's actually happening around the participants. The wind also serves to dry out the eyes and force people to blink. When you blink, you sometimes lose focus of what you were looking at.
  5. With everyone blinded and effectively deafened to outside sounds, and with the environment physically uncomfortable for sneaky eyeballs clever enough to be closed until after the flashes finish, the stage is set to undergo a quick transformation (Note: here comes the theory -- we cannot confirm with 100% certainty that this is exactly what happens, but our examination of what we've seen and heard does support it). The entire structure, including the surrounding walls, the displays, and the ceiling blowers and lights, are swiftly lifted up (about eight feet up) and a false ceiling (painted up to resemble the Enterprise-D's transporter room set) is quickly slid into place to hide this. This portion of the trick can be seen without any special effort -- look up as the lights come on and you'll clearly see the ceiling moving. Remember I mentioned you should remember that the transporter room is bigger than the room you start out in -- that's simply because the room you start in sits down inside the bigger room that is revealed during the transformation.

If you want to confirm this yourself, it's fairly straightforward to do so (and you don't get yelled at -- the idiots tonight who got scolded were scolded because they leaned against the wall to figure out where it goes):

  • Stand on an edge -- either the front of a line, the back of a line, or anywhere on line #1 or line #4.
  • Don't look at the screens or the lights. Try to look at the floor or a wall -- anything that's not reflecting any light. As soon as possible, close your eyes. Don't squint, just shut your eyelids. If you squint, one of the ushers will probably notice.
  • Once you hear the audio of the safety video start to go wonky, you'll soon hear the ushers acting confused. This is the time to start squeezing your lids shut tightly. Cover your eyes with a hand if you'd like -- at this point nobody will notice or care. You'll hear the "zappy" lightning sound -- once you've heard this, wait another couple of seconds (the second flash hasn't happened yet). When the wind kicks up, open your eyes. Look very closely -- you don't have much time to catch the movement, but if you get moderately lucky you'll spot the walls moving upward. Keep watching up, and you'll see the ceiling start to slide into place.

In case you're wondering why I spent the time to write this up, by the way, it's because that annoying manager guy just rubbed me the wrong way. The "secret" of how Star Trek: The Experience does its transporter effect doesn't really seem like it should be a secret. At least, not with jerks like that "guarding" it.

Uptight bungwad. Heh. Can you tell he got on my nerves? :)