Fancy water parks are fun, but can be pricey. We'd rather head to Chandler's aquatic facilities, which offer similar features at a pittance. You'll find thrilling slides, high dives and lap pools for all ages, spraying toys and smaller slides for younger swimmers, beach chairs, shade and grass and even affordable snacks for everyone.

The admission prices are 50 cents for kids and $1.50 for those 18 and older; during certain times, admission costs drop further: $1 for a whole family, 25 cents for seniors and zip during free swim times.

Call before you drag out the swim fins. All pools don't operate on the same "season" and are only open certain weekends throughout September and May. Coming in May 2001: a cool new pool at Arizona Avenue and Ocotillo Road featuring a "Water Vortex" that spins and sprays kids, and a "Current River" for lazy floating.

Readers' Choice for Best Free Kids' Fun: Encanto Park

You know how it goes at baseball games: A chip shot off the bat. A beer-soaked scramble in crowded stands. And the biggest dog comes up with the ball.

But during autumn Fall Ball, kids can hunt and gather all the stitched orbs they want. The stands are rarely more than half full. Most of the crowd seems to be slow-moving retirees or the players' families and friends. Errant balls are sometimes so abundant that we've seen bigger kids sharing their many with smaller kids who have none.

And when the youngsters aren't hunting balls, they can watch the best in up-and-coming baseball talent from major league farm teams. Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra are just two of the players who've stopped here on their way to the majors, not to mention last year's best-named gamer Milton Bradley. The league has six teams, playing at five Cactus League stadiums. The season runs from October 3 through November 19.

Last year, the award in this category went to the city of Tempe's official Web site, which offers wide views of Mill Avenue -- about the only street in the Valley where one regularly witnesses both foot and vehicular traffic.

This year, one Mill Avenue worker bee whose office affords an unobstructed view of the intersection at Fifth Street and Mill Avenue has one-upped 'em with a camera closely focused -- 24/7, updated every 30 seconds -- on a bench just outside Cold Stone Creamery ice cream and sweet shop.

Chow down, Tempe! You're on candied camera!

Poor Dave wasn't very Smiley the day we tuned in to the New Guys morning show and heard him turn on the waterworks while reading a "Dear Dave" e-mail his girlfriend sent him. Not since the Hindenburg crash has such tear-drenched humanity dripped out over the airwaves. On hand to catch his deposits of grief was the nauseatingly reassuring Love Doctor, a Tuesday morning regular who told him it takes a strong man to cry on radio where no one can see you.

It did make the morning drive more riveting than the hackneyed "wacky" fare that he and his partner Greg Simms usually dream up (like polling listeners for "kissable news anchors," for instance), but frankly we're too cynical about radio in the year 2000 to think Smiley's weeping was anything but crocodilian in nature, especially since he snapped back into his "professional" voice so quickly you'd think Don Pardo just walked into the room.

Maybe a marketing group told him the only way to beat Dave Pratt and Howard Stern in the morning ratings was to get disaffected female listeners by becoming a sensitive weeping jock. Or maybe someone just shoved the latest Arbitron numbers under his nose and let the teardrops fall.

Best Place to Get a Cake With Your Kid's Face on It

Fred Meyer

Novelty birthday pastry has come a long way since the days of a cupcake decorated to look like a clown's head. If you doubt it, check out the computer-cake technology that now allows you to serve an iced facial replica of the birthday boy or girl.

Every bakery department in the Fred Meyer chain is now equipped with a computer program capable of reproducing your favorite photo in edible ink on completely digestible rice paper, which is then placed atop a decorated cake of your personal choosing. They can even blow up one of those wallet-size school mug shots of your child and transform it into cake covering.

And if Donner Pass-style dining on a photo of your kid's face doesn't excite you, there are always those Polaroids you've got hidden in your underwear drawer. Your crumby creation is limited only by the twistedness of your own imagination.

For one week each year, the already sex-soaked cable network MTV becomes MT&A, letting it all hang out for Spring Break, shot at some exotic location and featuring nubile college students humping and grinding and sometimes frolicking in nothing but shaving cream.

Suddenly, this year's fun in the Mexican sun was interrupted by an abstinence-only public service announcement approved by the Arizona Legislature, produced by the state Department of Health Services and funded with our tax dollars.

The ad featured head shots of a half-dozen Jennifer Aniston look-alikes, taking turns delivering the following lines:

"To all you guys out there who see me as just another sex story to brag about to your friends: reality check. You know that thing between your legs? That is not what makes you a man. Not now. Not ever. But don't worry. There's a solution for guys like you. It's called a blow-up doll. Personally, I'd rather keep my self-respect than sleep with you."

The commercial ended and the screen filled again with writhing, near-naked coeds in Cancún. Earth to Arizona Legislature: "Come again?"

Best Place to See Truly Baffling Performance Art

Barlow & Straker Gallery

Would you expect anything less than bizarre from a gallery named after two vampire antique dealers from a Stephen King novel?

Opened in early 1999 by fledgling art czars Ryan McNamara and Andy Guzzanato, Barlow & Straker is the ne plus ultra of local performance spaces -- and it rarely performs below expectations with a lineup that's wild, weird and wacky -- but rarely fathomable.

Take, for example, last year's "Squeak and Clean," a performance by Phoenix artist Angela Ellsworth and collaborator Tina Takamoto. While Ellsworth exercised for two straight hours on a NordicTrack in a gigantic exercise ball hooked up to vibrating massagers (attached to large bars of soap, no less), Takamoto simultaneously scaled a gallery wall in rock-climbing gear and made gestural drawings with her feet.

Well, maybe you had to be there. We were -- and we're still trying to figure it out.

Welcoming you to downtown's favorite live theater is a most unusual sight. There you'll find an even dozen men, women and children having a great old time dancing their days and nights away. And not a stitch of clothing on one of 'em. It must keep them young because they've been doing it for decades now and they never get any older. Since 1974, as a matter of fact. "Dance" is an installation by John Waddell that was originally in the courtyard of Phoenix Civic Plaza before moving to its current home at the Herberger. The statues are a particularly joyous bit of public artwork. They appear to be having a blast. But isn't it about time someone got them some sunscreen?

Just let other cities try to brag about theirs. Boston's ain't nothin' but beans. Philadelphia has a little tinkling bell. New York? Only a shriveled-up old apple core.

When you are talking balls, you are talking Phoenix. Not just any balls, either. We are talking big ones. Three feet tall and just as big around. And made out of solid concrete to boot. Strong enough to stand up to a desert summer without breaking a sweat.

Yup, right out in front of BOB for all the world to see. Along the corner of Fourth Street and Jefferson you'll find almost a dozen stone baseballs welcoming you to the home of the Diamondbacks. A perfect spot to grab a photo of the baseball-loving young'un on the way into the game. Are you man -- or woman -- enough to straddle 'em?

The charm of the Mex, as longtime patrons call it, is that it comes without noisy gimmicks and distractions. There's a stash of wind-up toys for children to take to the tables, and a lineup of hand-crank gumball and candy machines to keep their minds on finishing the meal. Waitresses are relaxed and swift enough to get the simple Mexican fare to you faster than it takes most kids to really turn on the squirm. Yet the real delight is the way the little beasts sink into the sedative of the cushy vinyl booths and begin chowing like contented little lambs.

Readers' Choice: McDonald's

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of