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FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. - Hundreds of horses, cows, pigs, goats, sheepand even llamas will face the judges - and the public - when the 2012Minnesota State Fair begins its run Thursday.

The brand new AgStar Arena will be open for its first Great MinnesotaGet-Together since replacing the fair's dingy old judging barn. Fairofficials expect 4-H, FFA and other farm families showing off theirlivestock will love it, while the new facility will provide a friendlierenvironment for city folk.

Other new exhibits connecting with the fair's agricultural rootsinclude Minnesota Wine Country, serving locally produced wines from 13wineries, and the "Land of 10,000 Beers," hosted by the Minnesota CraftBrewer's Guild, which offers samples from more than 20 of the state'sbreweries. For the kids, it sells root beer.

The lowdown on the 2012 Minnesota State Fair:

NEW FOODS

As always, a mix of deep fried, impaled calorie bombs, and maybe evensomething healthy. They're too many to mention but include: bacon icecream, beef tongue tacos, eggplant tacos, eggplant fries, breakfastsliders, camel burger sliders, Ragin' Ankles smoked pork shanks in apineapple-habanero barbecue sauce, chicken nachos on a stick, walleyerolls, cranberry wontons, poutine, lamb chop on a stick and red velvetfunnel cakes. For the daring: Mideast lamb testicle fries.

NEW ATTRACTIONS

The Great Big Sandbox gives kids a place to dig, scoop, pour and burrowtheir toes. The Lasertainment Laser Hitz Show and Luminarium are harderto pigeonhole. Pianos on Parade and its "artistically transformed" pianofor all to play and enjoy in Baldwin Park. Twelve Artists, TwelveHours, Twelve Days will give fairgoers a window into the world of 12different working artists for 12 hours on each of the 12 days of the2012 fair. The Boy Scouts Adventure Summit will let boys and girls 5-15test their rope-climbing skills and ride a zip line. Minnesota WineCountry and the Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild will showcaseMinnesota-made wines and beers. Traditional livestock shows and the newMinnesota High School Rodeo Cutting Horse Competition will take upresidence in the new AgStar Arena.

NEW RIDES

On the Mighty Midway: the World of Wonders Palace of Illiusions andBubble House Fun House. OK, they're not rides, but they're on theMidway. For real rides, the potentially stomach-churning Flipper, FreakOut, Fun Factory, Orbiter, Sizzler and Stratosphere are hard to describebriefly. See them and ride them if you dare. At Kidway, the JumpingJumbos flying elephants and Down on the Farm Tractor Ride shouldn'tscare the little ones.

OLD FAVORITES WITH NEW TWISTS

The Department of Natural Resources exhibit has been spruced up, whilethe DNR's main message this year will be stopping invasive species. TheMinnesota Department of Agriculture will be teaching visitors how toprotect themselves against the scourge of bedbugs. The MinnesotaPollution Control Agency Eco Experience will have new exhibits on savingenergy and water, green and renewable home products, healthy localfoods and farmers markets, and bicycle maintenance.

GETTING THERE

The parking lot at the closed St. Paul Ford Plant has been added to thestable of park-and-ride lots for the fair, with more than 800 parkingspaces and free shuttle buses, while four new express bus stations havebeen added.

GRANDSTAND SHOWS

Bonnie Raitt with Mavis Staples. Alan Jackson with Jamey Johnson. BlakeShelton with Sunny Sweeney. Anita Baker. The Happy Together Tour. DemiLovato with Hot Chelle Rae. Kiss and Motley Crue. Rascal Flatts withLittle Big Town, the Eli Young Band and Edens Edge. MN Music on a Stickwith Semisonic, the Jayhawks, Dessa and Jeremy Messersmith. Journey withPat Benatar, Neil Giraldo and Loverboy. The 40th Annual Minnesota StateFair Amateur Talent Contest Finals. Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller with BigK.R.I.T.

MORE INFORMATION

Minnesota State Fair web site: mnstatefair.org.

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