I have a confession to make: I am a geek. I guess that’s probably not much of a confession since I run two websites and spend way too much time on my computer. Of course I’m a geek. But thanks to the TV show CSI (set in Las Vegas), being a geek doesn’t carry quite the same stigma it used to. I was thrilled in 2009 when The CSI Experience, an interactive attraction that allows people to try their hand at crime solving,opened at the MGM Grand. Unfortunately, I missed its debut by about a week, so I didn’t have a chance to check it out until this past December.
Here’s the setup: You choose from 3 different crime scenes to investigate. You are given a clipboard with a form on which you jot down notes throughout the experience. After a video briefing by members of the CSI cast, you are led to your crime scene, where you can take all the time you want studying it and noting anything that seems like it might be evidence.
Then you enter Lab 1, where you go from station to station examining the evidence that was collected. Each case has its own color, and the evidence stations are color-coded to make it easy to find which one is related to your case. In Lab 2, you receive the autopsy report from a video recording of Doc Robbins from the show. Finally, you enter a room with several computer stations, where you enter your findings and submit your final analysis to your supervisor, Gil Grissom (not in person, unfortunately). If you successfully solve the crime, you’ll have the option to print (or email yourself) a CSI certificate. (I solved the case, but I can’t really take too much credit. It’s pretty much spoon-fed to you via interactive touch screens at each evidence workstation.)
I have to hand it to the creators of this experience: They have done a great job setting up the environment, from the crime scenes to the lab workstations. You don’t usually see this level of detail outside of Hollywood or Disney World. It’s impressive.
The coolest thing about it is the hands-on aspect of learning how forensic scientists solve crimes. It’s one thing to watch it on TV every week, it’s another to handle objects like bullet casings, and look through microscopes at evidence. (I imagine this would be a fun, though pricey, field trip for local middle or high school students.) Like all good attractions, this one has you exit into the gift shop, where you can buy CSI logo merchandise such as mugs, clothing, and mousepads before taking the escalator back up to the Studio Walk.
Is this a worthwhile way to spend an hour in Las Vegas? That depends on you and your interests. I definitely enjoyed it, though it’s not without its flaws. I wish it had been a bit more challenging. One of the stated goals of the exhibit is to “advance critical thinking skills through forensic investigation, scientific inquiry, and technology.” While the experience walks visitors through the process of investigation (which is interesting), there is never a point at which the correct answers aren’t handed to you, no critical thinking required. Also, in my opinion, the $30 ticket price is too high. $20 would be more appropriate. I recommend looking for discount tickets. I bought one through Goldstar Events for $15 (+$4.50 handling fee).
The ticket says photography is not allowed, but the staff actually encouraged us to take all the photos we wanted to and to “post them on Facebook”. I was pleased to see them embracing social media as a marketing tool, but it made me wonder if perhaps they were trying to encourage word-of-mouth because the Experience is not doing as well financially as they’d hoped. The staff at Cirque du Soleil’s Ka certainly didn’t encourage me to take photos of the show and post them on Facebook.
What: The CSI Experience
When: 10am to 10pm daily
Where: In the Studio Walk section of the MGM Grand, across from ‘witchcraft and next to the wedding chapel.
Who: Ages 12 and up.
How much: $30 unless you can score a discounted ticket.