March 14, 2011

Off Beat: Turn out the lights, the party's starting

You can mini golf in the dark or enjoy an indoor rock climb or a pell-mell battle of extreme laser tag at a couple of cool new spots at the Mall.

By Shannon Bryan
Staff Writer

I wouldn't recommend you play darts in the dark.


WHERE: The Maine Mall, South Portland (next to Sears)

WHEN: When school is in: 4 to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. When school is out: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $9 adults; $7 ages 5 to 12; $4 ages 4 and under; group pass (five or more), $8 each




WHERE: The Maine Mall, South Portland (in the former Linens 'n Things space)

WHEN: 3 to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $5 for each individual activity; $20 for four activities and one rock climb; $30 for seven activities

INFO: 888-938-6496 (888-XFUN4YOU)

Or shave with a straight razor. Or cut your own hair, learn to ice skate, chop vegetables, attempt to fix the garbage disposal, use any kind of power tool, wield a hammer or debone a chicken.

I wouldn't operate a plasma cutting machine without adequate lighting either, if I had my druthers.

But lowering the lights on some things can amplify their entertainment value. It's a fact most bowling alleys recognized years ago with the introduction of cosmic bowling. Hang a few black lights, add some glow-in-the-dark paint, and you've got yourself a winning activity.

And it's the one dimly lit place a parent doesn't mind sending her teenagers.

Turns out, a Kansas-based company took the same idea and applied it to another of America's favorite family-friendly pastimes: miniature golf.

Glowgolf has turned the lights off on putt-putt. Not all the way, of course. Complete darkness could quickly turn "mini golf" into "assault on shins." People could get hurt.

Instead, the folks at Glowgolf have painted the indoor course with lively orange, yellow and green glow-in-the-dark paint. The clubs are decorated in glow-in-the-dark tape, and the walls are hung with glow-in-the-dark tapestries featuring a friendly array of jungle life.

The golf balls are charged up with glow-in-the-dark prowess prior to each game. Should they begin to fade, players can pop them into one of the chargers, which will flash them with light and boost their glowing spirits.

While Glowgolf has already been keeping mini golfers in the dark in other states, it has just recently arrived in Maine. Next to Sears inside the Maine Mall in South Portland, to be exact.

The 18-hole course fits snugly in the former retail space. And while a friend noted the disparity between the jungle-themed wall decorations and the ocean-floor theme of the course obstacles, it was still entertaining to play a round of golf against competitors with glow-in-the-dark teeth.

The kids will get a kick out of it because the contrast of black and neon is, in a word, mesmerizing. And because most kids appreciate rare opportunities to whack things.

Nearby, mall shoppers looking for additional entertainment can head into Summit Adventures Extreme Adventure Center, located in the old Linens 'n Things space.

The center features a rock-climbing wall, extreme laser tag (complete with "fog, strobe lights, epic battle music and a labyrinth-style layout," according the center's website), a bungee trampoline and an air cannon arena. The air cannon arena has four "air cannon turrets which fire foam balls at your opponent."

But air cannons aside, the most intriguing element at the center are the two human hamster balls. The clear, inflatable plastic balls float in a small pool, so the occupants can run and tumble inside without really going anywhere. It's an entertaining exercise in futility, much like life itself.

And thus the Maine Mall is no longer just a place to buy pants and avoid eye contact with aggressive kiosk salespeople. It's a place where a fundamental amusement truth is celebrated: Life is better when it glows in the dark.

Oh, and also, life is pretty good from inside a human hamster ball.*

*Assuming the person inside it is inside it of her own free will and isn't permanently trapped within its plastic confines as retribution for a pet hamster incident during childhood in which the hamster may have accidentally rolled its ball down a short flight of stairs.

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:


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