The 4 Coolest Things I've Seen At A Maker Faire

These are the four things I couldn't wait to tell you about when I got home from two different Mini Maker Faires.

I love Maker Faires so much. They're extravaganzas of DIY and combat robotics and frisbee-flinging machines and nerdery all out in the open walking around and talking to each other about Legos. Maker Faire brands itself as the greatest show-and-tell on Earth -- and I think that's pretty accurate, actually. But I'm all excited -- let me back up.

Maker Faire is an event originally created by the folks at MAKE Magazine to celebrate arts and crafts and hobby electronics and engineering and sciency goodness and everything else that could fall under the umbrella of DIY. They're big on community, so in 2006, Maker Faire was launched in the Bay Area -- and it's been spreading ever since. Now there are flagship Maker Faires in San Francisco and New York City, and an ever-increasing number of Mini Maker Faires everywhere else around the world.

I like it because it's kind of reminiscent of a really great science fair without any of the grade school emotions about failure. Also, maybe the people putting on the science fair were really liberal about what constituted science so you can also see, like, art stuff.

This year, I attended Mini Maker Faires in Orlando and Atlanta. Despite being fairly close to each other in the greater geographical scheme of things, these are two very different shows that really do highlight the flavor of the communities putting them on.

For Maker Faire Orlando, I dressed up a little bit. The benefit to going to a show on your home turf is that you can decide to get a little costumey about 15 minutes before you leave the house. The children in attendance found me mesmerizing, which is always a nice side effect.

For Maker Fair Atlanta, I mostly just didn't want to freeze to death. I'm such a cold-weather wuss and it was completely in the low 60s. How do people in actual winter type places even survive? It must be some kind of dark magic.

Both faires were full of amazing things. I even learned how to solder with a soldering iron, and made myself a totally blinky robot pin. But there were 4 things that stood out to me as being completely rad, and I couldn't wait to share them with you.

1. Dog Powered Robot

If I were going to the Fringe Festival like a good and properly cultured resident of Orlando, I'd have seen Dog Powered Robot before. But since I'm a theatre Philistine, my first encounter with them was finding their booth in the Orlando Science Center and watching a cardboard robot with a Pomeranian in its chest dance for my camera phone.

The other low-tech robots that are part of the troop are incredibly bright and colorful and fun. There's something super appealing about the at-home-playing-dress-up feel of the style, which was evident by the crowd that was always surrounding this group. It also made me want to make my own cardboard robot outfit, which is never a bad urge. Also, maybe we should all take a field trip to see their next show.

2. The Cloak & Blaster

I was actually looking for these folks and they did not disappoint once I found their table tucked away in a side corridor. I am so super into communities creating the spaces they want to see exist -- which means I am really into this gaming-themed pub that is supposed to open in Orlando in April. Meet me there, xoJaners, and we will play a totally cutthroat round of gin rummy and whatever table top game you are into, be it D&D or Magic: the Gathering.

Also, I am guaranteed to lose at Magic: the Gathering, so you will be able to bask in the glory of your superiority. Or maybe that's just everyone else I've ever played Magic: the Gathering with. I KID, I KID, it just kills me that I can't ever win this game.

But seriously, with tables custom-made for gaming and a dedication to not only beer but also wine and mead (MEAD!), the Cloak & Blaster is setting itself up to be my favorite place to be when I'm not at home. They've got a Kickstarter (of course) to finish raising their funds -- I've already pledged (I am eagerly anticipating my Mug Club membership) but if you're in the general area, you might want to check it out, too!

3. Cluetown

One of the very first booths we saw in Atlanta, and that we actually circled all the way around back to visit a second time, was Cluetown. The booth was super simple, nothing flashy, but the locally themed scavenger hunts that are being created by Jay Carlson are kind of super fun genius. There are currently three options, all located in Atlanta, but he's working on scavenger hunts for other cities.

What makes them really fun is that they depend not on random objects that you collect but on visiting significant landmarks and using those landmarks to solve puzzles. How fun is it? Fun enough that I walked around in the way below my preferred temperature range dark of the evening to complete the Downtown Decatur Cluetown with Ed and my awesome in-laws. (I appreciate that they humored me.) We got to see a lot of monuments I didn't even know existed, including the sign that bans wagons from parking in the central square.

There's also a compass, which thrills me. But I have no inherent sense of cardinal direction at all, so that might just be me.

4. SmartJars

There were a lot of really neat and useful things on display at both Maker Faires (seriously, Library Box has a bunch of amazing applications), but the Smart Jars definitely made me wish I could leave with a whole room full of them. Or at least a wall full.

I originally bypassed this booth to look at necklaces. I mean, we've seen jars on magnet boards all over Pinterest, right? But when I paid attention, I realized how much cooler these were, because those magnet boards always end in disaster for me. Pegboard, y'all. Plastic pegboard at that so the holes never get worn out and you can arrange your jars in any modular configuration you want!

The sample jars I walked out of there with are so freaking cool. They're big enough to store all sorts of stuff, including loose-leaf teas (they're food-safe), which means I really need a whole bunch more of them. I'm not worried about them falling off the wall either. Ed is all starry-eyed over these because he has a million tiny electronics components. I'm starry-eyed over these because I have a million art and craft supplies. Giacomo, the guy who invented them, uses them (and is probably starry-eyed) for competitive bbq dry rub spices, which means even more good things have come into the world because of competitive bbq.

I actually got to chat with Giacomo for a little while -- that's the beauty of Maker Faire -- and got some fantastic details about the manufacturing process. I think it's pretty much the coolest thing ever when people have a problem, find a solution, and then make that solution available to everyone. I'm definitely pledging to this Kickstarter as well.

The list of cool things could absolutely go on. And I'm considering hitting the NYC Maker Faire next year because I can't get enough of seeing the amazing things people make. (Another resolution for next year: take more effing pictures of All The Things!) If you see me there, say hi. And if you make something cool, tell me about it in the comments, please!