The best pool parties bring just the right mix of pool design, people, and creative energy. In a Valley where cool pools abound, Talking Stick pool parties reign supreme because they bring people together through not just water play, but also with music that ramps up the summertime vibe. It's all about the synergy they create by showcasing different musical styles every week — with international and local DJs spinning tunes that transform these pool parties into dance parties or sing-alongs. It's just the right mix for long summer months, where just doing the club scene gets old, and people want to enjoy a bit of off-the-beaten-path escapism.

As anyone rocking a SNES Classic Edition or Sega Genesis Flashback could tell you, retro gaming is big. So big, in fact, that it rakes in hundreds of millions of dollar each year for the video game industry. And the folks at CollectorVision Games certainly are getting a slice of that pixelated pie. Since 2008, the indie developer, which is partly based in the Valley, has released more than 100 homebrew titles (or independently created games designed to mimic the classics) for vintage consoles like the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision, complete with period packaging and manuals. They’ve been a big hit with old-school gamers, especially such popular releases as Ghosts 'n Zombies (a clone of Ghosts 'n Goblins) and Space Raid (an homage to Zaxxon). In more recent years, CollectorVision has put out several titles in its addicting Sydney Hunter series, which are side-scrolling adventures in the vein of Indiana Jones and 8-bit favorites like Castlevania. They’re playable on systems both retro and modern (including the Nintendo Switch) and are bound to give you more nostalgia than an entire season of Stranger Things.

Admittedly, Electric Bat isn't the biggest arcade around (it measures around 14 feet by 40 feet). Nor does it have an enormous array of games (14 pinball machines and seven arcade titles dot the room). But what it lacks in size and selection, Rachel Bess' tiny arcade attached to Tempe's Yucca Tap Room makes up for with its cool factor and groovy atmosphere, which mixes horror-movie macabre with a rock 'n' roll twist. A poster for The Munsters and the covers of various pulp sci-fi and monster magazines decorate the walls, as do photos of rock stars like Debbie Harry and Elvis Presley playing pinball. The games also complement Electric Bat's aesthetic, and include pinball machines inspired by both horror flicks (Creature From the Black Lagoon, Bram Stoker's Dracula) and hard rock bands (including AC/DC, Metallica, and Iron Maiden). Plus, the sound of live bands performing next door at the Yucca Tap fills the air, adding to the atmosphere. Rock on.

As an old-school arcade, StarFighters in Mesa has it all. The 4,000-square-foot joint features enough joystick classics to delight any gamer, young or old, as well as such nostalgic touches as neon art, '80s action figures on display, and a jukebox playing throwback rock anthems. And, oh yeah, it also has the biggest selection of pinball in the Valley. More than 40 machines are available at StarFighters, ranging from the games your parents used to play (Genie, Pinbot, and Haunted House) to more recent hits like the ultra-popular Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast. They see plenty of action when StarFighters opens its docking port every weekend, Friday through Sunday, and the crowds have only gotten bigger since pinball began experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Thankfully, owners Steve Thomas and Mike Lovato keep every machine in perfect working order, so you never have to worry about broken buttons or fubarred flippers when you're going full tilt. StarFighters also host weekly and monthly tournaments, in case you'd like to demonstrate your pinball wizardry like Tommy.

Lone Butte Casino

The Gila River Indian Community's Lone Butte is low-key as far as casinos go, and that's what we love about it. Plotted on a relatively desolate stretch on Chandler's west edge, the quaint gaming establishment whispers to the modestly dressed, casual, and quirky gambler: Come breathe our oxygen, hear our slot machines ding. And of course, try your luck. However small, Lone Butte has what you're looking for: blackjack, plus electronic roulette and craps. Slow day? Hit up one of its slot machines. You're going to have a good time.

Practical Art

Art classes can be intimidating and expensive. But that's never the case at Practical Art, where art classes are casual gatherings without pressure to conform or be perfect. Art should be fun, and your art should be your own. That's exactly what happens at Practical Art, where frequent, affordable classes make it easy to explore making different types of art. They're taught by some of the Valley's best-known artists, including Jake Early, Christopher Jagmin, and Laura Spalding Best. On one occasion, Alexandra Bowers taught a class in woodworking; another time, Ann Morton showed people how to make a bouquet of flowers using only recycled materials. It's an added bonus that you can usually see an exhibit or shop for artist-made designs while you're there.

In school, your teachers probably told you not to throw things, which helps to explain why the city is filled with repressed people who simply can't find fulfillment without throwing an ax or two. Leave it to Lumberjaxes to make throwing things socially acceptable, assuming you're playing nicely and following all the proper protocol. You can throw axes at 16 targets at its Tempe location, which opens up a whole new world of possibility for date night, family time, or co-worker bonding. Walk-in hours every day of the week assure the recreational axes are always there when you need them. And if you're the competitive type, you can try out-axing other ax aficionados. Just tell your former teachers you're working on your upper-body strength. Wink, wink.

Anyone can go to the movies or out to dinner, but you won't find someone named Devotchka DeLarge racing round and round a roller track at a theater or a restaurant. Nor will your favorite eatery offer WhoreChata, who is one of Arizona Derby Dames' superstars and not a spicy condiment, or Nikki BadAzz, who inspires crushes in men and women alike as she whips around in ever-faster circles on a suspended roller track. The Derby Dames used to be a flat-track league, but in 2010 they became the only banked-track team in the state, meaning they play on a curved, elevated surface. And, oh, how they play. When they're not competing, they're training young girls in a junior league called Minor Assault, where girls ages 10 to 17 learn how to compete in this most popular contact sport, because (as the Dames say) it gives them life lessons in how to be strong women who can take charge.

The typical "get locked in with your buddies and solve a bunch of riddles before the time is up" escape room is so last year. At Escape Narrative, it's all about the story. Puzzle-lovers and mystery aficionados alike will enjoy this experience, and will be completely sucked into the storyline in no time. Add activities like searching for clues on the computer and checking your voicemail, and you'll feel like a modern-day detective uncovering some serious secrets. It's lots of fun for a group or even as a date-night activity. If you're not a fan of a scary story, this might not be for you.

Octane Raceway

There's a rule at our house: No one gets their driver's license until they do laps at Octane. And we've stuck to that rule. Once at Octane, no further rules are required, or words needed to describe general success or failure. You either keep your car off the walls or you slam into them. You run with the other bulls, (meaning the Indy 500-aspirants who were typical teens before strapping into one of Octane's dart-like electric race cars), or you're the logjam creating nightmare traffic scenarios. Once the would-be driver manages the basics, which is possible after the first session of 14 laps, a second session will hone driving skills enough to compete and maybe even beat the other drivers. Nobody's saying this is like school: Octane's a place of fun, principally, and offers laser tag, beer and wine in its bar, burgers, and a room full of video games. The races are reasonably priced: $38 for two adult sessions, plus $7 membership fee, and the same price for "junior" sessions, which include two 10-lap sessions in a slightly less powerful car. Good for Saturday thrills, good for a lifetime of safe driving — that's why we love Octane Raceway.

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