New York City’s Interactive Spy Museum

New York City’s Interactive Spy Museum

Spyscape Review: Espionage in NYC

When Spyscape opened its doors in midtown Manhattan earlier this year, it was publicized as an interactive museum. Now, there are varying degrees of interactive, and in my experience, in most instances it means that you can push buttons on a video display. Happily, Spyscape is very different. From the moment you walk in you feel as if you have entered another world… the secretive world of covert operations and espionage. It’s not only interactive, it’s immersive. Read on for my Spyscape review.

Welcome to the World of Spies, Double Agents, and Hackers

From the minute you enter the building, you can’t help but feel like you’re about to go into a secret place. It’s sleek and modern, yet eerily quiet. (I arrived there shortly after opening. It might not be as quiet at other times of day.)

At the lobby welcome desk, you receive a ribbon wristband with a small cardboard tag on it. It’s more than just a cheap souvenir – it’s your ticket to unlocking some of the most interesting interactive features of the museum. But more on that later…

The museum has a free locker area, so you can stow any items you won’t need and retrieve them at the end of your visit. What a great feature! After we stashed our stuff, we headed to a really big (room-size) elevator that played a video as we ascended to the upper level of the museum. I honestly can’t tell you what they said in the video because I’ve forgotten, but it really set the stage for our entrance into the museum proper. We were so overcome by the creepy-cool ambiance that we were almost afraid to go to the rest rooms, located past the gift shop and down a long, empty corridor.

And speaking of the gift shop… it was really cool and sleek too.

Spyscape Review: Even the gift shop was sleek, modern, and secretive-looking.

Encryption

Spyscape Review: The Encryption area of the museum explored ways to encode (and decode) messages.

The first area of the museum we explored was the Encryption area. We got to see the costumes that Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley wore in The Imitation Game, a movie about Alan Turing’s efforts to crack Nazi codes during Word War II.  Among the other displays relating to the movie was an actual Enigma machine:

Spyscape Review: The Enigma section of the spy museum included an actual Enigma machine from World War II.

We also had a few encryption exercises at a large illuminated table. We were given a statement in code that we had to decipher, and then a response that we had to put into code. At the time, I didn’t realize that there were actually several different tasks, so I only completed the first one and then moved on.

The encryption area led into a corridor that examined the life and espionage activities of double agent Robert Hanssen, who worked for the FBI and the KGB simultaneously over a period of 22 years.

Spyscape Review: Robert Hanssen was a double agent of the KGB and FBI for 22 years before he was caught.

Hanssen’s story made for the perfect segue into the next section:

Deception

Here we learned the nuances of lying. We learned about body language and certain “tells” that might indicate someone was not speaking the truth. Touching the nose, looking up and to the side, pursing their lips, and other subtle clues can help you discern if someone is telling the truth. But the question is, how observant are you?

Time to put our new knowledge to the test! We went into small dark booths, and watched short videos of people making statements. We decided whether they were telling the truth or lying. Happy to say that I aced this one with a perfect score!

Surveillance

Our next stop was the Surveillance room, a huge circular area surrounded by video screens. Visitors wore special head sets and were prompted to answer questions about people and activities on the screens. It was surreal, standing in that area and spinning around to look for specific details. I decided I definitely do not want to work as a security guard, ever.

Spyscape review: The Surveillance Room tests how quickly you can make observations from camera monitors.

We saw a lot of Edward Snowden items in this room. My daughter didn’t know who he was (she was 11 when he became a household name), so I filled her in on the basics and we watched the Snowden movie a month or so later. What followed were some thought-provoking discussions about personal privacy and government surveillance of its citizens.

Spyscape Review: Edward Snowden-related items were on display in the Surveillance room.

Special Ops

The next area was one that got our blood pumping. In Special Ops, we individually entered another small dark room. This one had light up discs from floor to ceiling on both walls, and green lasers criss-crossed paths from one side to the other. The object was to turn off as many of the discs as possible without bumping into one of the laser beams. It was surprisingly difficult! Here’s my daughter in action – I was watching on the monitor outside the rooms.

After the lasers were turned off, you had your second test, which was turning off as many discs as you could in a set period of time. Again, more challenging than you might think!

Hacking

In this day and age, espionage and technology go hand in hand. So naturally, hacking and cyber-security were a component of Spyscape. According to one exhibit in this section, the development of a computer virus called Stuxnet to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons program in 2005 was the beginning of the cyber warfare era.

Spyscape Review: This infograph implies that Stuxnet opened the Pandora's box of cyber warfare which we continue to battle today.
Stuxnet opened a Pandora’s box of computer hacking that continues to evolve even today. There are white hat hackers, who look for weaknesses in computer systems so they can be fixed, and black hat hackers, who look for weaknesses in order to exploit them.

A display case of smirking Guy Fawkes masks worn by the hacking group Anonymous was an eerie reminder of how many people are actively working to hack into computer systems around the world.

Spyscape Review: Anonymous' Guy Fawkes masks, some of which were signed by hackers in the infamous group.

Testing Stations

This was not a specific room or exhibit of the museum. Throughout the building, visitors can test their skills in three areas: personality, brain power, and risk. All we had to do was step up to any kiosk and wave our wristband in front of the reader. Once it registered who we were, our name appeared on the screen and we could choose which assessment to take.

Spyscape Review: Visitors receive personalized test results.

Debrief

A former Head of Training at British Intelligence helped develop Spyscape’s profiling system, which takes the results of your activities and compiles them. From those results, it chooses your most likely espionage-related career.

My Spyscape Review

Our adventure at Spyscape was nothing short of fantastic! We had so much fun, and I couldn’t help but notice that it really could appeal to many groups. Since I’m a history geek, I found the evolution of espionage fascinating. Kids of any age will love the interactive, high tech elements. Even the two teenagers I traveled with (one of whom is staunchly anti-museum) loved it there.

My final word is that Spyscape is a great attraction for families who want to do something that everyone will enjoy. That’s quite a rarity, so be sure to check it out the next time you’re in New York City!

NB: This is not a sponsored post; I received no compensation. All of the opinions expressed above are my own.

Spyscape Review: Travelasmuch.com's review of Spyscape, the new spy museum in New York City
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Review of Spyscape Interactive Museum in New York City
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Review of Spyscape Interactive Museum in New York City
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A review of Spyscape, New York's interactive museum dedicated to the world of spies, double agents, and hackers.
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TravelAsMuch.som
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