If you’ve ever been yelled at by someone in authority, you already know what it’s like to feel very small. But now, thanks to a $40 million tourist attraction in Times Square, you can become very small forever.
It’s called Gulliver’s Gate, and its strange and quixotic mission is to reproduce the world at 1/87th scale. The model makers have used every trick in the book — laser cutting, CNC milling, 3D printing, and regular handwork — to create 300 miniature scenes depicting 50 countries.
These vignettes include Big Ben, the Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, and so on, spread out over 50,000 square feet. When I visited recently, a cool-looking miniature airport, complete with planes that taxi and take off, was under construction.
These aren’t just static scenes. Using an elaborate system of radio waves, ultrasound, and software, Gulliver’s Gate brings its cities to life. A thousand trains and 10,000 cars move constantly through the tiny cities. Millions of tiny LED lights twinkle. The locks of the Panama Canal actually fill with water, empty, open, and close, and container ships actually move through them.
In the control center, you can watch the technicians in action and ask questions. Each miniature country in Gulliver’s Gate was built by artists in that country—the Russian scenes were built in Russia, for example—but an on-site repair and maintenance model shop is also visible, and you can also speak to the model builders there.
When you enter, you’re given a tiny, shiny chrome key (which you can keep as a souvenir). It fits into special keyholes at each scene; when you turn it, a hidden RFID tag in the key triggers an animation in that scene. In Iceland, you can make Santa’s sleigh and eight tiny reindeer fly overhead (on wires, of course). In London, you can make the Queen exit her palace and get into a tiny limousine. In Scotland, you can trigger an appearance by the Loch Ness Monster. In Greece, you can summon a lightning storm by the gods of Mount Olympus.
Here and there, the model makers have planted tiny Easter eggs—little jokes—for you to find. If you look closely, for example, you’ll find Spider-Man crouching atop the Brooklyn Bridge, or a bull holding the red cape in a Spanish arena, or police helping out a woman who’s dropped her purse onto the subway tracks in New York City.
You can spend hours in Gulliver’s Gate; it’s vast, alive with sights and sounds, and awe-inspiring. It is not, unfortunately, cheap; an adult ticket is a gulp-inducing $36.
What may be the coolest part, though, is even more expensive: the full-size Cobra 3-D scanning booth, studded with 128 Canon SLR digital cameras—one of only three such booths in the world. In a split second, it can capture you in a pose, digitizing you in 3D. The scan data is sent out to a 3D printing company, and in a few weeks, you get back a perfect, colorful, resin scan of you, in your choice of Small ($130), Medium ($190), or Large ($290).
As part of that package, you also get a second 3-D print of yourself — at 1/87th scale, just like the rest of the attraction. There’s not much detail in this half-inch plastic statue, so you’ll have to trust that it’s you.
You’re invited to place your tiny MiniMe into one of the Gulliver’s Gate scenes, your feet pinned down with SuperGlue, joining the 100,000 other micro-people and becoming part of the tiny world forever.
For my tiny replica, I chose a spot along the water at Chelsea Piers, where I can gaze out to sea forever. I can face the future proudly, knowing that, in a very small way, I’ll never leave New York.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Gulliver’s Gate is the size of a city block. In fact, it is 50,000 square feet. The error has been corrected.
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David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes nontoxic comments in the comments section below. On the web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email.