Lauren Goode

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Steam Carnival Is One Big Traveling Nerd Circus. Here’s Why You Should Go (Video)

We’ve heard a lot about STEM education lately. But what about STEAM education?


The creators of a think tank called Two Bit Circus are convinced that “Arts” is what’s missing from STEM to make it fun and entertaining. So they’ve decided to marry the two in a big-top way: By launching a wacky carnival that includes gadgets and games you might expect to see at a science fair.

Founders Brent Bushnell and Eric Gradman appeared onstage at the D conference today to discuss the initiative, enlisting the help of AllThingsD’s Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher to the help them pull off some of the stunts.

Gradman, actually, rolled in on a red circus ball, while Bushnell teetered in on stilts. These elements became props for the games.

“The problem is that carnivals today just don’t compare favorably with Halo and online digital communities, so we’re taking the best of what the digital world has to offer and mixing it with the digital world,” Gradman said.

As part of the demo, Walt and Kara took turns hitting a hammer-and-bell-type contraption (which you’ve probably seen at carnivals), only this one was rigged with a high-voltage Jacob’s Ladder.

Disgusted with their own results, the Swisher-Mossberg team quickly moved on to the next game.

Steam Carnival then presented a giant video game involving outer space, pitting Walt and Kara against one another. Gradman’s red ball was repurposed as a giant trackball, while Kara used Bushnell’s stilts as a joystick. (Kara won.)

“The games are using the same components that kids already have access to, but this is supposed to be fun. You say ‘education’ and you lose them. You say ‘fire, lasers and robots’ and it’s fun,” Bushnell said.


To raise money for the Carnival, which is expect to launch sometime next spring, Bushnell and Gradman have launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $100,000. As of today, they’ve raised $86,100 through the campaign.

Steam Carnival is also selling kits, for around $150, for kids to build gadgets that can be featured at the carnivals. One kit, for example, includes a robot, a Jacob’s Strike hammer and a rotocube.

The carnival will launch in the spring of 2014 in Los Angeles, and make its way up to San Francisco shortly afterward.

When asked by Kara whether the maker movement inspired Steam Carnival, Bushnell said, “For sure. We’re all nerds.”

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