fauxklore (fauxklore) wrote,

Access Granted

The title is what it says on an entry ticket for the International Spy Museum.

Since we'd gone to see Get Smart, I suggested to Robert that this would be a good way to spend Saturday afternoon. Before going to museum, we had lunch at Kanlaya, a reasonably good Thai restaurant in the area. He liked the summer rolls a lot but wasn't crazy about a noodle dish with beef he ordered. My ka pow tofu was good, though not any better than I've had at other places. Still it was convenient and it is better than the other Thai restaurant I know of near there.

As for the museum, it's a bit pricy at 18 bucks a head. We didn't really have time to do their interactive Operation Spy, which Robert probably would have balked at anyway. I'm glad they control how many people get in at a time, because it would be uncomfortably crowded otherwise. When you go in, you're told to select a cover and memorize the details for it. Inside, you can go to a computer and test how well you'd remembered and see if you arouse the suspicions of border agents. At the end, there's another computer quiz (where you really have to guess some of the answers). I aroused the suspicions but not enough to be detained, while Robert was held for questioning. It's a bit silly, but still fun.

The exhibits are organized into several sections, primarily divided between tradecraft and history. The tradecraft area includes things like surveillance, lock picking, and bugging. There was a very interesting description of a bug that the U.S. placed in the Soviet embassy during its construction. It was put in a drainpipe and an explosive was used to open a parachute for initial placement. The water flowing through the drainpipe moved it into its final position. Very clever, in my opinion. By the way, a couple of bugs are placed in the museum so you can pick up headphones and listen to them.

There are lots of exhibits of hardware, from bugging devices and hidden cameras to weapons. The former had a transmitter that was placed by Russian agents in the shoe of an American diplomat. Not quite a shoe phone, but the idea is similar. The most interesting of the weapons was the notorious Bulgarian umbrella, used to inject ricin into a Bulgarian diplomat in London.

Overall, the museum is aimed at family entertainment, rather than education in depth. For example, I thought the treatment of codes and cyphers was rather superficial, but I guess if you wanted more details you could always go to the National Cryptographic Museum in Maryland. Similarly, I can't say I learned much in the history sections. Still, they covered a wide range of topics (from ninjas to Berlin during the cold war) at a good general level. They also had a fun set of film clips from movies and TV shows about spies.

The museum website claims most people take 2 hours to go through the exhibits, but it took us about 3. That meant we didn't have a lot of time to browse the museum shop before heading to the ballpark. We looked enough to see that there's a very comprehensive selection of books, as well as t-shirts, toys, and gadgets. I'd have bought a DVD or two of Get Smart, but they were sold out of the first two seasons.

Overall, I'd say we got our money's worth. I would recommend, however, that people go on a weekday if they could, since that would likely be far less crowded.
Tags: food pornography, museums, washington d.c.

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