Kinetic racers take to the streets of Baltimore

Saturday is the day Fifi looks forward to every year.

Fifi is the American Visionary Art Museum's giant pink poodle-with-wheels, who once a year ventures outside to take part in what is clearly Baltimore's funkiest annual event, the Kinetic Sculpture Race.

This year, some 36 land- and seaworthy vehicles, all strictly people-powered, will be taking part in the 15-mile race over land, sea, mud and sand. Like Fifi, some are designed to resemble animals; one of last year's crowd favorites was a hookah-smoking caterpillar. Others look like inventions right out of the Rube Goldberg playbook, contraptions slapped together with more attention paid to ingenuity than practicality.

"It's really fun to see the variety of people who get involved," say AVAM founder Rebecca Hoffberger, who will be watching the race in what she describes as a "figure-flattering" chicken suit. "We've got some people from the Howard Hughes medical group in Virginia who put $24,000 into their 'Big-Brain' craft."

All that money, unfortunately, may not keep the Big Brain from sinking like a stone when it hits the water, Hoffberger says with an indulgent laugh. "They've only figured out the mechanics of floating and movement in (theory), not actuality."

The race begins at AVAM, 800 Key Highway, at 10 a.m. Saturday. By the finish (which is usually around 4 p.m. or so), racers will have propelled themselves past and through the harbor at Canton, along with mud pits and sand at Patterson Park, before heading back to AVAM.

"I love how the race caresses all of Baltimore," Hoffberger says. "Both the streets and the port, the side streets and the parks. And it's not who finishes first, it's the mediocre award, the one who finishes absolutely dead center, who wins the highest award. Anyone can finish first, but finishing in the middle — you can't fake it."

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