Published: Friday, September 30, 2011, 8:00 AM
Waitress Penny Golden has been found slain next to a motel trash bin. Flies have taken up residence on her limp body. Tire tracks on her torso serve as a reminder of what may have happened to her -- if you can figure it out.
Golden's killing -- a scenario playfully titled "Who Got Served?" -- is just one of three cases ripe for solving at "CSI: The Experience," an interactive exhibit premiering tomorrow at Discovery Times Square in New York.
Another crime scene has a skeleton sticking out of the sand of a re-created desert -- complete with photo backdrop. And then there's the crime at home: a dead man found strapped in a car that has plunged straight through a living room.
Armed with a clipboard -- so you can sketch out the location of key pieces of evidence and follow a step-by-step guide of how to proceed in an investigation -- visitors to the new exhibit move through a dark space with several brightly lit color-coded areas meant to simulate forensics labs.
A digital evidence area allows you to inspect a victim's text messages. Computer kiosks prompt you to analyze latent fingerprints from various crime scenes.
"The bloody print from the car hood, prints on the beer bottle and a print lifted from the steering wheel all came from the same person," a screen announces, encouraging you to note the connection on your evidence clipboard. An entomology lab plays a video of maggots crawling atop a corpse, while a ballistics lab offers a chance to examine a bullet through a microscope.
'EVIDENCE DOESN'T LIE'
Shift supervisor Gil Grissom (William Petersen) from the "CSI" TV series offers a final word on a video before the end of the exhibit: "Evidence doesn't lie. People do." After playing forensics expert, visitors are invited to have a "CSI" diploma e-mailed to them that they can print at home.
From crime scene, to lab work, theorizing and presumed breakthrough, "CSI: The Experience" takes from 35 minutes to an hour to complete.
Chicago hosted the first "CSI" exhibit in 2007 and it has traveled the world since, banking on the TV series' widespread popularity. (Exhibit materials are available in several languages.)
Forensic experts, increasingly pressured by the notion of lightning-speed detective work that "CSI" promotes -- a notion that has inevitably infiltrated the minds of juries -- are sometimes dismayed by the presentation, says Christoph Rahofer.
"They say it's been simplified," says Rahofer, president and CEO of Event Marketing Service, the Austria-based company producing the "experience." Yet real experts do accompany the show's actors in videos throughout the exhibit.
"For the everyday person, it's more the treasure-hunt component, solving a puzzle," says Rahofer. Corinne Marrinan, a "CSI" writer, crafted the exhibit's storylines, he says.
Rahofer's company partnered with CBS, the National Science Foundation and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History in Texas to put on the show, which also premieres at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia tomorrow.
The "CSI"-themed attraction doesn't exactly fall in line with the usual fare for the Discovery Center, where past exhibitions have centered on King Tut, Leonardo da Vinci and the Titanic, with an upcoming show focusing on the Dead Sea scrolls.
Jim Arnemann, director of Discovery Times Square, says "CSI: The Experience" is definitely a departure.
"Forensic science in all of the crime shows today has an appeal," he says. " 'CSI' is certainly the primary driver." He sees the "experience" as a recreational activity that plays off scientific procedures, giving family members the chance to compete with one another to solve cases.
"You get much more of a chance to understand it from this exhibit than I think you can get from the TV show," says Arnemann.
Rahofer classifies the exhibit-slash-game as "edutainment,"
"It's all about interactivity," he says, "getting engaged."