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Enter an Otherworld, interactive art space open now

Linda Lee Baird

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Otherworld is located at 5819 Chantry Drive in Reynoldsburg, and is now officially open Fridays – Sundays! To learn more about what Otherworld has in store, read our (614) Magazine coverage below! 

Remember the OASIS,  from Ready Player One, the immersive simulation game that sucked in players around the globe to escape from their dull existence? Columbus might have just gotten a step closer to that virtual reality. At least the escape part is down.

Check out Instagram highlights from people around Columbus here.

I need an escape. It’s a classic winter-in-central-Ohio gray day when I turn into the enormous parking lot of an abandoned strip mall off of Brice Road—a layer of fog has settled five feet above the pavement, and the faded lettering of a former Office Max marks the building in front of me. In the middle of the gray is a futuristic and intriguing sign: Otherworld. I park next to a car with the license plate “MORBID 1.” Despite the fact that I haven’t yet entered the building, I’m already transported.   

Jordan Renda, Otherworld’s Creative Director and Founder, takes me on a tour of the building—formerly a Sports Authority—that’s being transformed by a team of designers. Their goal is nothing less than developing a brand-new genre of “gamified” entertainment. Renda describes it as a combination of an escape room, a role-playing game, an art installation, a children’s science center, and a haunted house. “It’s an interactive art installation that’s tied together  with an overarching story,” he said. “We’re sort of blending all those things together to create something that’s totally new.” 

When visitors arrive, they’ll learn their role in the story that’s about to unfold—serving as beta testers for a company called Otherworld Industries.  “This company’s been developing this new sort of technology. It […] manifests this dream realm. So you’re unlocking this archetypal dream world that you can explore and go through,” Renda said. Visitors may also choose to follow a different path to  learn the backstory of the company. In total, there will be roughly three-hours of content to explore.

As we walk through the rooms, Renda shares more about who—or what—will inhabit them. Expect to meet a 19-eyed creature whose orbs can track you, a seamstress in a room of spiders, a monster with an oversized bed, and a botanist experimenting with wild plants (Renda describes him as “Willy Wonka meets Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty.”)

Even without having met these characters, I’m taken in by the design. With light projections, fantastical creatures, infinity mirrors, interactive control panels, and a central surreal-looking tree, Otherworld functions at a core level as a giant immersive piece of art, designed to be enjoyable even if visitors don’t want to solve any puzzles. 

“A lot of this tech is just emerging where we can actually make a whole room change around you by, like, the touch of a small button,” Fabrication Director Leland Drexler-Russell said. “There’s an interactive, or multiple interactive elements in every single room.” These features include spiders whose legs visitors can control and gems that guests can explode. There are even opportunities to influence other visitors’ experiences. 

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While Otherworld aims to be something entirely new, it’s inspired by the creators’ experiences with different forms of immersive art. Renda and Drexler-Russell both credit visits to City Museum in St. Louis as a formative early experience with large-scale interactive exhibits. Renda also spoke of attending Haunted House trade shows. “As a teenager I thought, ‘Man, wouldn’t it be great if you could add a story to this, add some themed elements,’ ” he said. 

I wondered whether Otherworld could be compared to immersive theater experiences where guests wander through the set, often staged in multiple rooms, watching bits and pieces of story unfold along the way. Drexler-Russell confirmed my hunch, but added that in this case, the story is told with video and audio logs instead of actors. “It’s kind of like immersive theater, if it was combined with like a Burning Man art installation and a role-playing game,”Renda added. 

Renda felt Columbus was the right place to bring Otherworld to life, and not just because of the abandoned retail space that’s available. “There’s a lot of people looking for, you know, culture, cultural activities like arts and entertainment, so it seemed like a good spot to do it from that angle,” he said. Our proximity to other large cities also convinced him. “We’re looking to not only attract people from Columbus, but to make it more of a regional thing.”

With the uptick in interest in escape rooms and other forms of immersive entertainment, it seemed to Renda like the right time to take things to the next level. “There’s so much information coming at us all the time; we just need to be interacting with it somehow,” he said. 

How far Otherworld’s guests will take these interactions remains an open question, even to the designers. As the storyline and the art evolve, so do the possibilities for the experience. It’s “taking that idea of this immersive entertainment and really branching it and seeing where the limitations are,” Drexler-Russell said.  

So how many levels could this world go? Plan a visit to Otherworld and find out for yourself.


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Things To Do

Hit Your Peak: 3 worth-the-drive ski slopes near Columbus

Asa Herron

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The cursed Ohio Winter Monster has made its presence known to all with its 5pm sunsets, snow storms, and seasonal depression for all. How are you going to fight back against the gloom this year? It may seem like it’s impossible to do fun things with your friends or to stay active in the winter, but I’m here to tell you that not all hope is lost. Finding a new hobby is a great way to kick your winter woes to the curb and start the new decade on a good foot.

Skiing can be a great way to casually exercise with friends and resuscitate your serotonin levels. Here are three high quality places to ski within driving distance of Columbus for you to check out.

MAD RIVER MOUNTAIN

Located in Zanesfield, Mad River Mountain is about an hour's drive northwest of Columbus. They have the most reasonable prices of all the nearby ski resorts. Plus, their on-property bar, The Loft, has 12 taps of craft beers on rotation to add a little more fun to the night. Mad River is open until 1 a.m. on Fridays, too, so you’re getting a full Friday night of flurries.

Mad River is home to over 20 trails (spanning 3.9 miles) and four terrain parks making it the largest ski resort in Ohio. They also bolster ten ski lifts (the most in Ohio) and are tied with Snowtrails for the largest vertical drop in the state with their 300 foot slope. An added perk of Mad River is that they just built a new $6.2 million facility in 2016 to replace the space they lost to a fire in 2015. Plus, most of their trails are designated “easy” difficulty. Mad River has everything you need to have a relaxing, affordable day of skiing.

Details on hours and pricing can be found at www.skimadriver.com.

SNOWTRAILS

Founded in 1961, Snowtrails is Ohio’s oldest ski resort. It is located in Mansfield, so also about an hour drive north. This resort is only slightly more expensive, with lift rates starting at $31 for midweek evenings and $52 for all-day on the weekends, with skis, boots, and pole rentals are $37. If there’s one day this month that you visit Snowtrails, let it be January 25 for their mid-season party. Get ready for an outdoor DJ, a custom built snowbar, and a fireworks show 30 minutes after the slopes close for the night. Not into skiing? No problem! The party is free and open to the public, so let your expert friends hit the slopes while you hit the spirits at the snow bar.

Snowtrails is the second largest resort in the state with six ski lifts and 3.3 miles of trails. The majority of their trails are designated “intermediate” difficulty, so more experienced skiers will enjoy their time here.

More information can be found at www. snowtrails.com.

BOSTON MILLS & BRANDYWINE

Boston Mills & Brandywine is the farthest ski resort from Columbus on this list, but great for a full weekend away. This quaint resort is in Peninsula, OH is a two hour drive from Central Ohio. Their pricing is $40 after 3:30 p.m. and $45 for an all-day pass. Staying another night? Come back on Saturday for $5 Late Nights admission from 8:00 PM to 1:00 AM.

Boston Mill & Brandywine ski resort is known for being especially conducive to beginning skiers. They offer high quality lessons and will walk you through the process. This is the place to go if you have “stupid” questions about skiing, or just want to tube. However, they also appeal to veteran skiers as the majority of their 18 trails are designated “advanced”. Despite the high quantity of trails, this resort is much smaller than the other two, with only 1.2 miles of skiable trails, and their largest vertical drop being 264 feet. But for these prices? Could definitely be worth the trip.

Learn more about Boston Mills & Brandywine at www.bmbw.com.

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Arts & Culture

Watch: “World’s largest mural” in Short North is more than meets the eye

Regina Fox

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At a glance, "The Journey AR Mural" adorning the Graduate Columbus hotel in Short North is stunning. Look a little harder, and it actually comes to life.

Standing at over 107 feet tall and over 11,000 square feet of augmented reality, "The Journey AR Mural," is the world's largest AR mural, offering technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.

The gaily-painted snapdragons, hibiscus, Easter lilies, and hummingbirds bloom and fly when viewed through the Journey AR Mural app (free for iPhone and Android). Watch the murals come to life in the video below.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7PRvBxpBkI/

Los Angeles-based artists Ryan Sarfati and Eric Skotnes (going by “Yanoe” and “Zoueh," respectively) are the creatives behind the project.

In an interview with Short North Arts District, Skotnes revealed he was inspired to take on the project after learning that Columbus is home to the second largest population of Somali immigrants in the country—he hopes the murals symbolize strength and prosperity for its viewers.

To learn more about The Journey AR Mural, visit shortnorth.org.

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Food & Drink

Worth the Drive: Lima’s Kewpee Hamburgers

Regina Fox

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Lima, OH may not be the first destination that comes to mind when planning a road trip, but you may have to reconsider after learning about a little (AKA one of the oldest burger chain in the world) not-so-hidden gem called Kewpee Hamburgers.

It all started in 1923 when Kewpee Hotel Hamburgs opened in Flint, Michigan. This was home to the "Mity nice Hamburger," which could be purchased for just a nickel. Kewpee was also known for its life-sized naked mascot baby, created to the likeness of the classic comic strip Kewpie dolls.

By 1940, the chain rebranded to simply "Kewpee Hamburgers," and was 400-locations strong. From Ohio to New York City, Kewpee's stole the hearts of Americans with its square patties, hot chili, thick shakes, homey diner atmosphere, and not-to-be-beaten prices.

During its rise to popularity, Kewpee also managed to revolutionize the fast food game by becoming one of the first restaurants to offer a drive-thru.

But much to the dismay of its fans far and wide, most restaurants in the franchise met their demise during WWII meat shortages.

Kewpee's time-honored legacy lives on in Lima, OH where the only three remaining restaurants are located. Despite its novelty across the country, Kewpee continues to offer guests their beloved greasy grub at rock-bottom prices ($2.45 for a cheeseburger? Take that, Five Guys).

It's hard to believe that such a famed piece of America's food history is just 90 minutes from Columbus, but it's true and definitely worth the drive. How could you say no to this innocent, yet slightly ominous face?

To learn more about Kewpee Hamburgers, click here.

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