The first time my children and I attended the Mini-Maker Faire, we were greeted at the entrance by two young men in silk vests and top hats. They doffed their hats and bowed with a flourish I have not seen since my last Renaissance fair a very long time ago.

As we walked further, we were greeted again by several robots–some that looked humanoid, others that did not, all blinking and beeping and talking and rolling around a large circle. One two-foot-high red robot was a real smart aleck, rolling right up to people, bumping into their shoes, and making wisecracks. The audience gathered close; the robot handlers stayed hidden in the crowd.

M hunkered down in the far corner for more than an hour to solder a digital clock circuit that became her alarm clock for years. Little Brother was mesmerized by the cannon that shot smoke rings into the air. HH and NN used centrifugal force to paint pictures and used a die cutter to cut a bronze butterfly. I was captivated by races between tiny robots made out of toothbrush heads and cell phone parts. We all danced in the laser light booth.

All the geeks in town seemed to be there. We ran into a lot of friends, and it was hard to tell who was having more fun–the adults or the children.

The next year, the Mini-Maker Faire expanded to fill most of the barns at the Washtenaw Farm Council grounds. Stalls that usually held lambs and pigs now held nerds and science experiments.

One group replicated the MythBusters experiment to see if ninjas can walk on water by re-creating the same non-Newtonian liquid they did–cornstarch and water–a compound whose viscosity increases as you apply force to it. Lines of children were running and squealing across the water-and-cornstarch mix, not sinking. A few older children (troublemakers or scientists) challenged the theory by walking slowly and sinking up to their ankles in cornstarch sludge.

In the far corner of the barns were corralled the robots from FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). These are constructed by local high school students in partnership with volunteers who are scientists and engineers. Children were allowed to toss balls into the corral, and the robots would go pick them up. The tasks seemed simple, but the robots were huge, an indication of the complexity of the tasks.

There were dozens of other projects–some incorporated art and science, some were easy, some were just one person’s idea. Much of it was hands-on. It was like going to a county fair for nerds.

The Mini-Maker Faire returns to the Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds on Saturday, June 4.