Best Place to Disintegrate Your Friends 2008 | Stratum Lasertag | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix

Your friends have really been getting on your nerves lately. If they aren't ringing you up at all hours of the day or asking to borrow some money, these so-called buds like to stop by unannounced, raid the fridge, and swipe your DVDs. Enough is enough. It's time for some payback, big-time. Invite your pals to Stratum, where you can settle the score and take out your frustrations (without getting jail time) inside the facility's 13,000-square-foot laser tag arena. Get equipped with a futuristic laser pistol and high-tech sensor vest (which keeps track of how many times you've been hit) before heading into a darkened and obstacle-laden arena lit by black lights. Then, get ready for the kill. Smoke your freeloading friends, sniper-style, from atop a 20-foot tower or sneak up behind them for a clandestine kill. Games last about 20 minutes each, which is plenty of time to seek your revenge. Rates range from $13.99 for two games to $19.99 for four games (with unlimited play for $20.99 offered from 8 p.m. until midnight on Friday and Saturdays). Hey, at least it's cheaper than therapy.

We don't admit to much these days (other than occasionally fudging on our taxes or taking an extra helping of chocolate cheesecake), but we'll gladly cop to the fact that we're totally reliving our childhood whenever we go to Big Surf. Many a hot afternoon was spent during our pre-pubescent days riding the waterslides or getting sunburned while swimming in the Tempe institution's gigantic artificial wave pool (the nation's first, by the way). A lot of things have changed since the park first opened in 1969 — slides have gotten bigger, teenage ride attendants have gotten snottier — but we still love the thrill of barreling down a watery tube at full bore. Our current favorites are the "Tornado Twisters," a pair of side-by-side slides where we can race some young punk down to the pool below, and "The Abyss," an enclosed slide that sends riders on a terrifying trip through the dark. If you've got young ones, get your significant other to take 'em to the park's kiddy-themed attractions like the "Otter Slides" and "Captain Cook's Landing" while you get in touch with your inner child.

The Pointe at South Mountain wasn't too shabby, but $52 mil can buy some killer upgrades and an awful lot of water. That's why the remodeled luxury hotel, now called the Arizona Grand Resort, was a shoe-in for the best pool in town. Actually, calling the Arizona Grand's Oasis Water Park a pool is a bit like calling the Desert Botanical Garden a nice yard. There's an eight-story tower with three water slides, a huge wave pool with waterfalls, and a faux river perfect for inner tubing. Order a frozen margarita at the swim-up bar or relax in the 25-person hot tub while the little ones play beach volleyball in the kid-friendly Wild Cat Springs. The only downside is that Oasis Park is for resort guests only, so you'll have to sneak in, splurge for a romantic local getaway, or schmooze your way into a company freebie.

If you're the adventurous type, but also kind of lazy (and we are both), the Verde River/Verde Hot Springs camping area is the perfect weekend getaway. Only 127 miles from the Valley, it's an escape from city life. And though it's certainly popular (there's no fee to camp), 45 minutes down a rocky, unpaved road tends to keep the killjoys out (if you know what we mean).

Though you're not supposed to stay longer than six days, it seems plenty of people ignore that rule by pretty much living there. But these are extra-friendly river folk who will share their beers if they think you're cool.

The real attraction here isn't the local color, anyway; it's the springs. They're a bit of a walk from camp, but if you go, just follow the river and keep your eyes peeled for two out-of-place-looking palm trees. History lesson: The springs used to be part of a hotel that, before it burned down, was rumored to be a hideout for Al Capone. Thus, palm trees.

This one goes out to those of you who remember the romance of necking in cars, or actually may have been conceived in a car — not that there's anything wrong with that. We would suggest that local possibilities still remain for exercising your lips (we refuse to endorse anything more), and some of the Valley's finest "parking" sites can be found out near the magnificent resort and golf club in north Scottsdale.

What's left of the desert out here is stunning, and finding a quiet nook to pull into as millions of stars twinkle overhead can be a little bit of Heaven. The city seems so far away — it's about 30 miles to downtown Phoenix — and your date seems, well, so close. And with nearby street names such as Dynamite, Happy Valley, and Pinnacle Peak, how can you go wrong?

This ain't your granny's bingo. Far from the dark, crowded, stinky bingo halls of yesteryear, Reflections Bingo is a blissfully smoke-free building with a snack bar, card room, and video bingo. Specials and hours change throughout the year, but most nights there's traditional bingo at 7 p.m. The game is the same, but the players have changed. Bored singles and stay-at-home moms get out their aggressions by pounding a blotter onto books of numbered boards. Don't discount the old biddies, though. That 70-year-old who reminds you of "Gram" will elbow your cards onto the floor to beat you to the Round Robin or Full Card — and a few hundred bucks.

Before Tom Cruise became a maniacally mindless automaton of L. Ron Hubbard, the Risky Business star was kind of the shiznit. Whether he was working a pool table in The Color of Money, zooming around a racetrack during Days of Thunder, or shooting through the skies for Top Gun, everyone dreamed of being a blockbuster badass like Cruise. In fact, we're betting many of the folks who sign-up for the thrills and chills of Fighter Combat International are wanna-be Mavericks. (Hell, FCI's Web site even declares, "Be a Top Gun"). Potential pilots can head to Phoenix/Mesa Gateway Airport and sign up for various packages (lasting anywhere from half a day to five days). There, they are clad in flight suits, briefed on tactics, and flown into the wild blue yonder by veteran sky jockeys.

Inside two-seat Extra 300L high-performance aerobatic planes, they wage an aerial battle against combat professionals with simulated weapons. (You even get to buzz the tower at the end, just like Maverick). For more peacenik types, FCI offers aerobatics programs in which you can experience loopty-loops, inverted flying, spins, and other stomach-wrenching maneuvers. You'll need a Hollywood-size budget to live your dreams, as these thrill rides aren't for the thrifty, with combat packages running from $729 to a whopping $3,669, with the amount of dogfights and flight time varying ($469 to $1,574 for the aerobatic program). We're sure Tommy Boy would approve.

All go-karts are not created equal. It takes just one trip to F1 Race Factory to learn this.

For starters, the go-karts at F1 peak at about 45 miles per hour and handle like mini-Porsches. Racers don aerodynamic helmets, racing jumpsuits, and gloves. Once they're suited up, racers can choose from two air-conditioned indoor tracks, which occupy about a third of the 113,000-square-foot warehouse facility (actually the carcass of a former Sam's Club).

You know a kart-racing operation is serious when the very professional employees give Breathalyzer tests to racers who've been throwing back booze at the trackside bar and lounge. If you do get pulled over for racing under the influence, though, you can enjoy yourself at the restaurant/bar — complete with barstools built from automotive wheels and more than 30 TVs screening ESPN and the SPEED channel. You can also burn some time perusing the collection of retired racecars, climbing the rock wall ($5) or playing in Race Factory's decent arcade.

F1 Race Factory sits on a peninsula of land between Loop 202 and State Route 143, on the Tempe-Phoenix border. Unfortunately, the adage "you get what you pay for" holds true. And at $25 per racer per race, F1 Race Factory ain't gonna be a first date for cash-strapped teens.

Insiders say you should rent the entire facility (which includes unlimited racing) for a large party and split the cost. Each kart is electronically timed and ranked on a TV screen, making the competition and rivalry, well, addicting.

Real bowling alleys have a little grunge to them. They're not too slick, not too clean, cavernous but friendly — the kind of place where Walter and Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski might feel comfortable bellying up to the bar and knocking down some pins, where the pizza, fries, and wings are just-right greasy and the beer is good and cold. We think the Dude would approve of the lanes at Indian School and 30th Street. We think he'd like the fact that on a Saturday night, the feel is more small-town than big, and you can find some actual teenagers, unplugged from their electronic devices and communicating with each other directly over a game. We think he'd like the Sunday-morning bowlers — the little boy and his grandmother who come almost every week, the single dad herding his offspring — and especially the raucous Thursday-night bowlers, including a bunch of arty types.

But, hell, we've introduced this place enough. In the immortal words of Walter Sobchak, "Fuck it, Dude, let's go bowling."

Miniature golf really is the perfect sport. It requires more luck than skill, people of all ages can play together, and it's fun even if you suck at it. Tilting at windmills against a golfing pro can be annoying though, which is why we love Fiddlesticks. The park has two 18-hole courses; one is an easy course with traditional cute-ass castles, and the other is a sports course with red-rock waterfalls and simulated sand traps. If you've got one seasoned player, you can always ship him off to the sports course or the on-site driving range, which is outfitted with misters and lights for nighttime driving. And if dad the 8-over-par golfer insists on playing without giving you a handicap, you can just pray he'll run into a few water hazards.

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