The crowd of kids stood on tiptoe, pressing toward the front, hands flailing in the air, begging to be chosen. Each apparently was desperate to be slimed.
That's right. Slimed. From head to foot. These kids -- my older two among them -- were vying for the honor of being doused with a green gooey substance that looks like lime Jell-O that hasn't quite hardened.
Welcome to the world of GAK. For the uninitiated, GAK is the edible, non-toxic (parents are assured) stuff used to drench contestants on many of Nickelodeon's game shows. The shows are produced here inside the 444-acre Universal Studios complex at the sprawling 90,000-square-foot headquarters of Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, Fla. -- it's big enough, you're told, to hold two 747s. Any kid will tell you Nickelodeon lives up to its billing as "the world's only television network designed especially for kids."
When the actual invitation to be slimed was extended, we were in the midst of Nickelodeon's comprehensive studio tour, standing in front of the studio's nondescript GAK kitchen where our amiable guide told us they make hundreds of pounds of the stuff all of the time in orange as well as green. Nine-year-old Matt and 7-year-old Reggie are fascinated, listening more intently, I confess, than they usually listen to me describe anything.
They were equally fascinated to get a glimpse of the sound stages where such shows as "Clarissa Explains it All" and "Welcome Freshman" are produced. And they loved watching a sound engineer create the effects for cartoon characters Ren and Stimpy.
But the tour can't compare to the chance to take part in the year-old Game Lab, where kids and willing parents can participate in stunts and help refine new games for such Nickelodeon shows as "Double Dare." The day we were there, for example, the kids tossed rubber chickens at a couple of hapless parents who were trying to catch the faux fowl inside the huge clown pants they'd put on. They played other games, too. It was silly and fun and the kids, sitting in bleachers under studio lights, were thrilled to feel a part of a television show, albeit a working lab.
At the end, one grinning little girl (not mine, luckily) gamely sat in a kiddie pool where she was covered with GAK. The kids all applauded. The parents shuddered.