Gardens' games debut April 27

Toddler plays at BEEd Maze sculpture at Reiman Gardens

Four-year-old Bruno Kimble of Ames plays at the "BEEs Maze" sculpture installed this week at Reiman Gardens. The "BEEs Maze" is scaled to be used by all ages, especially toddlers and young children. Photo by Christopher Gannon.

Find your favorite toys and lawn games at Reiman Gardens this year -- each with an artistic and ecological twist.

The "Nature of the Game" exhibit is part of Reiman Gardens' 2019 theme: Toys and Games. Eight larger-than-life toys and games, designed by Iowa State faculty, alumni, students and Reiman Gardens staff, will be displayed throughout the gardens April 27 through Oct. 6.

"It's almost revolutionary as far as exhibits go," said Ed Lyon, director of Reiman Gardens.

That's because public gardens typically seek out large exhibits they can bring to their gardens to attract visitors. Reiman Gardens is reversing that tradition by enlisting the help of Reinaldo Correa, lecturer in architecture, and the College of Design's Institute for Design Research and Outreach to design the interactive exhibit. After its year in Ames, the exhibit will be leased to different venues.

Architecture, industrial design and mechanical engineering students and structural engineering alumni teamed up with Correa to plan the exhibit, working closely with Reiman Gardens staff to bring their vision to life.

"The mission is to educate people about the beauty of nature," said Aaron Steil, assistant director of Reiman Gardens. "The artistic and ecological elements deepen this exhibit to be more meaningful and impactful."

The titled projects are: 

  • "Scavenger Hunt." Inspired by "I Spy," five works of art represent five biomes in the United States, giving visitors an opportunity to look closely at each to learn more about plants and animals in each biome. "These five sculptures will be spread throughout the garden, allowing the viewer to engage in the act of learning while exploring," Correa said.
  • "Morphing Morphology." This cryptex (a vault used to hide secret messages) allows visitors to turn five wheels to line up the various parts of eight trees found in North America.
  • "Photosynthesize." Visitors work together to move a ball through this maze to learn about the six elements of the photosynthesis cycle. The maze form was inspired by the veins of a maple tree leaf.
  • "Food Web Chess." This larger-than-life chess match has a twist. The pieces represent an animal or plant from the food chain: grey fox is the king, red-tailed hawk is the queen, painted turtle is the bishop, praying mantis is the knight, stink bug is the rook and dandelions and clovers are the pawns. Each piece has the original chess symbol on top and name on the bottom.
  • "Cause and Effect." This double-sided sliding tile puzzle demonstrates the cause and effect of wetlands and pollution. Unscrambling one side scrambles the other, demonstrating the connections between different biomes and their threats.
  • "Consequence." This game, inspired by KerPlunk, shows humans' impact on the environment. Each ball has a relief pattern of an endangered plant species, and each pole is engraved with negative human actions. As poles are removed, the balls tumble down, demonstrating the repercussions of human decisions for the environment.
  • "BEEs Maze." Inspired by bead mazes found in clinic waiting rooms, this game teaches the importance of bees and pollination as each 3D-printed bee can be pushed through a flower. The maze involves the whole family with sections designed to encourage parents to interact with their young children.
  • "Connect Food." This large game inspired by "Connect Four" demonstrates the life cycles of butterflies and moths.

Reiman Gardens staff are creating three more pieces in-house: giant dice, a fan of cards with photo-op face cut-outs and a playhouse shaped like a speed cube. Twelve fabricators in Iowa and Ohio, together with Correa's team, are working to finish in time for the April 27 grand opening.

"Giant lawn games are not unknown to public parks and gardens," Lyon said. "But we wanted to take it a step further. From a national public gardens perspective, this exhibit will make an impact."