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Denver County Fair Geek Pavilion: "Stormtroopers, zombies, steampunks ... it's going to be pretty dang cool"

Fear not, geeks (and geek-curious): The Geek Pavilion at the second annual Denver County Fair, which runs from Friday, August 10 through Sunday, August 12 at the National Western Complex, is in excellent hands. That's because Dana Cain, the Denver County Fair's director, is passionate about nerd life. "The Geek Pavilion, I don't mind saying, is my special baby," she explains. And she's doing her best to make sure her baby is, to use her term, "nerdvana."

To that end, she's gathered all manner of things that geeks love, from role-playing games to a robot opera, and put them together in one place so that fairgoers can get their geek on with maximum efficiency. And what will you find there? We talked with Cain to learn more about nerdvana...and how the Denver County Fair will help you find it.

Westword: What exactly is a Geek Pavilion? What all does that encompass?

Dana Cain: First of all, I would just like to point out that we are the only county fair in the world with a Geek Pavilion [laughs]. Basically, the Denver County Fair is all about representing Denver and the cool things about Denver. One of the cool things about Denver is it is sort of a nerdvana kind of a town. It's because, not not only do we have things like the Tech Center and Lockheed Martin, and that stuff, but we also have some of the best, oldest and most respected science fiction conventions and that sort of thing in the country.

Look at what just happened with Denver Comic Con. It came right out of the chute, guns blazing, making national news. There's a lot of geeks here. There's a lot of really smart people, there's a lot of really techy people. So we wanted to represent that part of the population with a Geek Pavilion.

Where did the idea for a Geek Pavilion come from?

I got my start with science fiction conventions. That's how I personally entered the realm of event management. Right off the bat when I first moved to Denver in 1980 I immediately got involved with MileHiCon and I chaired that. I'm [also] good friends with the people who run StarFest and both of those have been going on -- well MileHiCon since the '60s and StarFest since the '70s. It was kind of a no-brainer for me. The thing that really made me think of the idea was because I really wanted to do a spelling bee. I thought, Oh man, I wish we could do a spelling bee, but we don't have a pavilion for it. For something like that, we'd need -- and then it hit me -- a Geek Pavilion.

We do have two spelling bees that are being organized by the Denver Public Schools Semantics Department. That was pretty cool that they were willing to come in and run those. Of course it's all for the blue ribbon. Everything's about the blue ribbon here!

Spelling bees and sci-fi conventions. That's a good geeky start...

We also, I don't know if people know this, but Robot Wars? That was invented in Denver. It was invented at MileHiCon in the '80s. So the local mad scientists club that runs that at MileHiCon is running it for us. That's going to be cool, except this time the robots are fighting for the blue ribbon, because it's a county fair.

We have a lot of blue ribbon competitions in the Geek Pavilion, ranging from best original comic book to best homemade robot to best science fiction fan art, best science fiction art -- things like that.

Another big section of the Geek Pavilion is devoted to gaming. Not only do we have things like Dungeons & Dragons going 24/7, we also have Scrabble, which is my personal favorite. We're going to have a big Scrabble tournament, we're going to have a big chess tournament, and we're also hosting a speed Battleship tournament. Speed Battleship! Which we just invented. Everything's free, and it's all for the blue ribbon.

Do people need to pre-register for these contests?

[For] the live competitions, if you go online and look at our fair schedule, under entertainment, everything that's in blue [is] a live competition, [those] do not require pre-registration. For instance, if you're at the fair and you hear "the spelling bee is starting in five minutes," you can head over there and enter on the spot. For the live competitions you can just show up at the stage five or ten minutes beforehand and get a slot. that goes for the Scrabble tournament, the spelling bee, the Geeks Who Drink trivia competition -- anything that's in blue. If you're entering the pie eating contest, or the human chicken contest, anything that's just like, jump on stage and go for the blue ribbon, requires, almost demands, no forethought.

So, it's just live in the moment, jump up there and go for it?

Carpe diem! Go for the blue ribbon or make an idiot of yourself trying. For the live competitions, where you just jump up on the stage and go for it, the blue ribbon comes with a $20 cluck bucks, which is good at the County Fair store, so you can take your cluck bucks and go pick up a poster or t-shirt or a coffee mug.

As far as the spelling bee goes, is that broken down by age?

As far as I know it's just whoever jumps up and does it. The DPS semantics team is in charge of the whole procedure and process, so I can't say exactly how it will work. But it's being run by professionals. It seems like I did tell them we're not going to divide it out by age. Everybody gets up there. If a seven-year-old gets up there, they might want to throw them an easier word. I don't know how they're going to do it.

Or maybe a seven-year-old spells better than everyone and you get schooled by a seven-year-old.

Yeah, it might depend on the word...

And Geeks Who Drink will be doing their regular quiz thing?

Yeah, as far as I know. Once again, they're going to do their thing and run with it.

Are there any other geek contests worth highlighting?

Make sure everybody know about the speed Rubik's Cube competition. The speed Rubik's Cube and the speed-texting competition. Those are both good for a quick blue ribbon if you know your stuff. I mean, everybody knows how to text, but we have to get the word out to those Rubik's Cube people. Oh, Name that Sci-Fi Tune, on Sunday at 1 o' clock. That's going to be a fun competition that anybody can enter.

Apart from the contests, what are some of the other Geek Pavilion activities you want to talk about?

We just recently confirmed RobOpera, which is short for robot opera. We had to have that, even though we're all full. We were like, "Yes, please, get them now!" So it's robot opera [Friday at 6 p.m.]. That is something that I think is going to be a real highlight. My partner in the fair Tracy Weil was just telling me we're going to have Geek Pavilion t-shirts. I'm not sure what it will look like.

There's a couple other things I should probably mention. The steampunks, which is another whole realm of geekery, the Colorado Steampunks are hosting the Unsinkable Molly Brown dunk tank. The Molly Brown House museum actually jumped on and sponsored it and paid for the dunk tank, god bless 'em, they're such good sports. The steampunks will have a molly brown lookalike up there getting dunked. the StarFest people, who also run, they run a bunch of haunted houses, they're doing a section we call the Denver County Scare, which is a miniature haunted house within the Geek Pavilion.

What's this we hear about zombies? That has to be part of the Geek Pavilion, right?

Of course we've got zombie things happening. One of the vendors is the Zombie Protection Zone, and we have Stan Yan doing his zombicatures. Then Saturday night , after the Corpses and Crowns Zombie Beauty Pageant, the Geek Pavilion is hosting the zombie dance party and lounge of the dead. So that will be fun.

The corpses and crowns zombie beauty pageant is actually the brainchild of a guy named Brack Lee. He actually approached me wanting to do it. He gets the credit for that one. He is also involved with the 501st Legion. I don't know if you know who they are?

Are they the Stormtroopers?

They're the Stormtroopers, yes. They're going to be out in full force too. Stormtroopers, zombies, steampunks ... it's going to be pretty dang cool, if I do say so myself. Part of what we're trying to do is, the people who were at Comic Con, the people who go to StarFest, they know that Denver is, like I said, nerdvana. It's like a geek mecca. But we want to show the uninitiated. We want the families coming in from Highlands Ranch, if they happen to accidentally wander into the Geek Pavilion, we want them to know this is part of Denver. This is a huge part of who we are. This society of people thrives in the Mile High City.

So it sounds like the geek pavilion will almost be a mini con within the fair.

Yeah! Honestly, every pavilion is kind of like that. Every pavilion is like a show within a show. But the Geek Pavilion it may be even a little bit more so, because those people are used to going to a con.

They have con experience.

Yes. The difference is, and this is a pretty big difference, when you go to a con, it's a total immersive experience. it's like going to the family reunion, where you're among your own kind and you're separated from the world in a little oasis of weird. the difference is the geek pavilions is going to be constantly bombarded with... I don't want to say Muggles, but you know what I mean?

I do. Squares, norms, whatever you want to call them.

[Laughs] Squares. There you go. Yeah, whatever you want to call them. Mundanes is what they used to be called. It will be interesting to see how many come into the fold and love it and how many just kind of take one look and then back away slowly.

It sounds like an excellent opportunity for someone who isn't ready to go full out, and make the commitment to go to a con, but might want to get a little taste of what that is about.

Right, exactly. I firmly, honestly believe that when they go in there, and they talk to some of these people, and see how nice everyone is and how great everyone is, the people who belong are going to feel it. They're going to think "This is good, I want more of this." And they're going to sign up for, MileHiCon is just a few months after the fair, Nan Desu Kan is just a few weeks after the fair.

It's a good gateway drug, if you will

Yes, that's exactly what the Denver County Fair is, it's a total gateway drug, especially for places like the Geek Pavilion and the Holistic Pavilion. It's like come in and get your first tarot reading and maybe you'll get into that. Or come in and get your picture taken with a Stormtrooper and maybe you'll find yourself.

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Cory Casciato is a Denver-based writer with a passion for the geeky, from old science fiction movies to brand-new video games.
Contact: Cory Casciato