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The Scene at Maker Faire, Where Fun Is Weird and Weird Is Fun (Photos)

Watch out for that fire-spewing octopus.

Eric Johnson

A man clad in cardboard armor clomps around a field, a 25-foot-tall octopus shoots flames out of its tentacles, and a woman inside a giant blueberry muffin motors past.

Just an ordinary five minutes at the Maker Faire.

The Faire, a massive annual gathering organized by the magazine Make, is expected to draw some 130,000 attendees this weekend in San Mateo, Calif. The first of three flagship Maker events this year, it’s a sprawling array of art projects, engineering experiments and geeky toys. Mechanical spectacles like the octopus, née El Pulpo Mecanico, are business as usual.

“Business,” though, may not be the right word for everyone here. The Faire doesn’t bother to draw many clear boundaries between the purely fun projects, like the Giant Cardboard Robots, and consumer-aimed presences from tiny startups and big brands alike. The result is a fun and loose hodgepodge where typically staid big brands like Intel and RadioShack are a stone’s throw from a geeky group of musicians called Arc Attack, who used Tesla coils and a Faraday cage to serve up an electric take on the “Doctor Who” theme.

There are also a good number of startups present, some in a startups-only tent and some in a larger shed alongside well-known companies like Oracle and Nvidia.

The companies here to pitch themselves were predominantly from fields like educational toys, 3-D printing and new non-muffin-based ways to get around. One company’s “virtual bike,” though, had to compete for attention with a wildly popular pen of R2-D2 robots that moved, danced and whistled just like the “Star Wars” character.

As the name implies, the Maker Faire puts a heavy emphasis on making stuff, through classes in practical skills like soldering, educational contests like a Ford-sponsored pinewood derby, and live demos of arts and crafts. Above all, though, the target audience for many exhibits seemed to be the thousands of families that descended on the fairgrounds. With so many buttons to be pressed and contraptions to be built, even Iron Man attracted only a modest crowd.

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