Viva Las Vegas, Seriously

Last week, I requested your suggestions for things to do with 24 spare hours in Las Vegas. This is what’s known as a bleg — i.e., using your blog to beg for something.

You were so smart and generous with your suggestions that we’ve decided to try out the bleg as a regular feature, though probably not quite in the way you’re thinking. Details will follow in the near future.

In the meantime, let me thank you for the Vegas tips. I obviously couldn’t exploit all of your suggestions, but I did tackle a few, and as a result this was the best trip I’ve ever had to Vegas. Here’s a brief report:

Penn and Teller: Quite a few of you recommended this show, and you were all right. Penn and Teller are a perfect team, and individually they are great performers. Teller’s sleight-of-hand is masterful: I loved the coins and goldfish, and the saxophone/dancing tissue bit is utterly beguiling. Penn is so good at so many things that it’s easy to overlook how damn smart he is; his patter alone (it’s pretty libertarian) is worth the price of admission. What I loved most about the show is that it’s a tribute to old-fashioned stagecraft. The emphasis is on the act; there are no diversionary explosions or lights or even music. You have to be really good to do this kind of show, especially in a day and age in which audiences are accustomed to bombast. Years ago, back when the duo lived in New York, Penn ran a little midnight-movie club that met every Friday night at Howard Johnson’s in Times Square. I went a couple times — we had a mutual friend — and it was one of those gangs that seems to only convene in New York: quirky, erudite, ambitious, old-fashioned, querulous. The Penn and Teller show, I am happy to report, successfully transplants that same vibe to Las Vegas. I’m also happy to report that it looks like Penn and Teller will submit to a Freakonomics Q&A, probably in the spring when their new season of Bullshit is ready for Showtime.

The Gun Store: Following the advice of several readers, I took time to visit the Gun Store and do some shooting. I grew up around hunters and other folks who liked guns, but I haven’t done all that much shooting myself. I had a fine time at the Gun Store’s indoor range with a Beretta pistol, and I shot an Uzi for the first time. There were nine paper targets to choose from. I chose Osama bin Laden for the Uzi (it just seemed the right thing to do). You don’t have to be a very good shot to achieve your objective with an Uzi, and boy did I. The shredded bin Laden target is now hanging on my office wall.

Hoover Dam: I am a sucker for “engineering marvels,” and this one was astounding to see, not just for the engineering but for the sheer visual beauty. The underground tour wasn’t really that interesting, but you can see and learn from aboveground most of what you want to know. Most impressive is the fact that the project was completed two years ahead of time. A concrete highway bridge is currently being built across the dam, and it will probably end up taking longer to build than the whole dam itself. How is this possible? How did a massive construction project like the Hoover Dam get completed in such a relatively short time more than 70 years ago, with so much less technology than we have today?

One answer is that safety wasn’t as much of a concern: according to my tour guide, more than 90 men died during construction. It takes a lot of time (and money) to build things safely; the regulatory and insurance environments are also obviously very different today. Still, it does make you wonder.

The concrete dam itself is incredibly thick, and I couldn’t help wondering if it was perhaps vastly over-engineered and overbuilt since it was created without a computerized model. This thought came to me because of a passage in Alan Weisman‘s The World Without Us (a fascinating book despite a tone I found anti-human), which discussed how the decades-old bridges of New York City would outlast nearly everything else around them:

“These bridges are so overbuilt, traffic’s like an ant on an elephant,” [said Jerry Del Tufo, who managed the bridges for the Port Authority]. In the 1930s, with no computers to precisely calculate tolerances of construction materials, cautious engineers simply heaped on excess mass and redundancy. “We’re living off the overcapacity of our forefathers. The [George Washington Bridge] alone has enough galvanized steel wire in its three-inch main cables to wrap the Earth four times. Even if every other suspender rope deteriorated, the bridge wouldn’t fall down.”

Flamingo Casino: In response to my bleg, I got an e-mail from Chris Tam, a bright young guy who works in marketing at the Flamingo. He offered a backstage tour; I took him up on it, had a good time, and learned a great deal about not only the gaming floor, but various operations in the casino. Thanks, Chris.

And thanks again to all of you for the generous responses to my Vegas bleg. Keep your eyes open here for our upcoming bleg project.


I think we all know the REAL reason that the Hoover Dam is overbuilt: .


No Blue Man Group? It's a hilarious way to spend part of an evening. If you like loud music (especially percussion) and some really funny stuff that even gets the old farts in the audience involved, you really should see it. BTW, the rock band that backs up the blue guys is really, really good. Most of the show is a riff on rock concerts and the silliness that accompanies them. For those that take themselves waaaay too seriously, don't bother going - you'll have a terrible time...


Hey - You took both of my suggestions (P&T and Get them to do a Q&A - can't wait for that!)
Where's my schwag?!?!!?

Seriously - Hoover dam is balls cool (I'm an engineer I HAVE to lie this stuff, it's part of the job). I wish I had a better camera when I was there. Standing at the bottom looking up is dizzying.

Zachary Pruckowski

Seriously, please write about the Flamingo Casino. I think it's a guaranteed hit for a post, and a great learning experience (and I'm sure they'd love the publicity).


Seems to me you had a great time. You saw a show to satisfy your curiosity and then went outside and did things. You went shooting which did sound cool. Not as cool as taking a sports car and taking it for a ride, but I am glad you did not go gambling and drinking whiskey. The backstage tour was a great idea. I wish I got one when I was in Vegas.

Sounds that you had a fun time.


Bleg is a stupid made up word that bloggers use to make themselves sound important. The rest of us do just fine asking questions.


Well I guess this blog is pretty popular now. Every other comment is snarky drivel that adds nothing to the conversation!


Did you see Hoover Dam at night? The lighting is art-deco eeriness at its zenith.

Thomas E

When reading about the over-engineered and overbuilt bridges in New York, I could not help thinking about the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. It makes you wonder about the differences in design. Have computers actually made it possible that we will see dangerous collapses like this where we would not have before? Are we under-engineering in the name of saving resources or due to computerized modeling techniques? I am sure there is a blog somewhere in all of that.


I am heading to Vegas twice this year, so I definitely enjoyed the responses left by other readers. I think that I am opting for the gun store, Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, and Meteor Creator.


Hm, for that matter, "blogger" is a stupid made-up word, too...


I saw you comment on safety or lack thereof during the Construction of the Boulder Dam.

I was going to comment that the construction hard hard had was invented during the construction. For example see this Nevada history site

but further checking shows this claim to be disputed

"When his son, E.W. Bullard, returned from World War I, he combined his understanding of customer needs and his experience with his doughboy army helmet to design a protective headgear for miners. This "Hard Boiled" hat, introduced in 1919, represented the first of many innovative designs that have led Bullard to its prominent position in head protection for industrial and emergency response applications."

Anybody out there know the real story?


Maggie - what words are not 'made up'?



Yes, please, please, please write about the beind the scenes visit to the Flamingo. Love to hear about the inside view. When is Vegas going to realize that a insiders tour is the next revenue generator for them?

Chip Overclock

It took my wife some doing to talk me into going to Las Vegas the first time. For years now we've gone every year for a long weekend around our anniversary. It's worth the trip just for people watching. But I concur with other suggestions: Blue Man Group, Hoover Dam, The Gun Store, etc. For a place whose focus is to take your money, there's a surprising nunber of free or at least inexpensive things to see and do. We walk our feet off every day, and cap off nearly every night with Krispy Kremes at the Excaliber food court.


You were right on with the Gun Store on Tropicana, Penn & Teller, and the Flamingo.

On your next trip, visit the Playboy Comedy Club tour at the Palms (its only held one or two weekends a month), Red Rock Park on the west side of Vegas with its awesome panoramic views and rocky desert landscape, and Zumanity at New York New York for that over the top upscale sexy show that Vegas is famous for.

and remember to gamble at the Playboy Club at the top of the Palms Fantasy tower... watch the cards, and not the cleavage!

language police

Getting answers via querying your blog readers instead of doing your own research is more popularly referred to as using the "lazyweb" by a margin of 2 to 1 according to my unscientific google searching (931,000 results for "lazyweb" vs. 465,000 for "bleg").

Lazyweb also has the added bonus of not sounding like you are tossing your cookies or doing other such unseemly things :)


Vegas sounds fun! Maybe I should rethink that Vegas wedding ;-)

How do those silly snipity comments get approved anyway? Can we can vote them off the island?


But the real question is: did you give in to adultery as the commercials for Las Vegas would have you believe everyone else does?


P&T good??? I found myself looking at my watch 5 minutes into the show and every five minutes thereafter thinking "Is it over yet?!?!"

It was like a long car trip with no bathrooms.