Tying the State Fair of Texas' 2010 "super-sized fun" theme to the upcoming Super Bowl in Arlington was no-brainer.
From the Tom Landry exhibit to the newest college game in Fair Park -- Texas Tech/Baylor -- football will be a front-row attraction during the 24-day run.
Of course, scoring a seat for one of the three college games scheduled to take place at the Cotton Bowl during the fair can take a super-size wallet. And even if you give the gridiron a miss, the cost of rides, fried foods and stuffed pandas can make fans lose their appetite faster than a trip on the Crazy Mouse.
But visitors can start saving money by purchasing tickets online instead of paying full price at the gate. And once through the turnstiles, it is possible to keep your wallet on a leash and still have a good time, despite the call of the corny dogs. Here's a no-frills guide to some of the freebies that can help make the whole event a pretty fair deal.
1 Everyone loves a parade
Catch the opening-day parade at noon Friday in downtown Dallas. Check the www.bigtex.com for the route.
2 Get revved up
Kick the tires at the auto show. They bill it as the biggest new car and truck show in the Southwest, and with 300,000 square feet of new vehicles, who can argue? Naturally, this being Texas, there's a special outdoors truck zone. No extra charge to get a whiff of that new-car aroma.
If you like vintage iron, there's also a rotating showcase of older rides in the Classic Corral, on the lawn behind the Museum of Nature & Science. The Lone Star Cougar Club is slated to be the star of Friday's show. The North Texas Mustangs are scheduled Saturday.Also on the schedule for corral appearances: Lone Star Jeeps; Lone Star Miata; United Lowriders and more. Check www.bigtex.com.
Or take a spin on the Chevrolet Test Track, where you can get behind the wheel of a new Cruze, Camaro, Equinox, Malibu, Silverado HD or Traverse in East Park Plaza.
3 Back to nature
Check out the Greenhouse on the midway. There's a Southern Living Speaker Series and plant collection, Texas Garden Railway and pumpkin-carving pro, plus the Mossy Rock Zydeco Gator Band, exotic birds and more.
4 Elvis has not left the building
At the 1956 fair, thousands of fairgoers saw a young Elvis perform. The King is gone, but standout Elvis tribute artist Kraig Parker, along with dozens of others, is lined up for a Main Stage appearance. In addition to the Pointer Sisters and Collective Soul, the Quebe Sisters, the Eli Young Band, Josh Abbott Band, Laura Belly Bundy, the Kildares and more are bringing free entertainment to the fair daily.
5 Craft works
Whether it is watermelon carving and sampling, a quilting demonstration or a Nokona baseball glove-making demonstration, there's something going on at the Food and Fiber Pavilion daily. Check www.bigtex.com for details.
6 Music to salute to
Attention, please. Straight out of Washington, D.C., comes the United States Marine Corps Drum & Bugle Corps. The musicians play afternoon shows at Marine Corps Square and in the evening parade, Friday through Oct. 11.
7 Field goals
Texas Hall of State has the "Century in the Making Pavilion ." It's about the greatest moments in the first century of North Texas football. Also destined to be a hit with football fans: "Remembering Tom Landry: The Personal Collection." The memorabilia illustrates the career of the iconic Dallas Cowboys coach. Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
8 Flight time
"Dreams of Flight: A Journey Through Air and Space" at the Women's Museum, takes a look at female fliers, from the pioneers to today's astronauts, engineers and space innovators. Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.
9 Exploring cultures
The African American Museum boasts a collection of African-American folk art said to be one of the United States' largest. Another attraction that is free with fair admission, Mundo Latino, is a celebration of Hispanic culture history, music, instruments and costumes. There's also the Mercado, open daily.
10 Best in show
You got your creative arts: ribbon-winners in more than 1,000 categories, from crafts to canning. Daily competitions and cooking demos. Did somebody say "Vita-Mix?"
11 Slick art
Butter sculpture. Umm...butter.
12 The emperor's getting new clothes
Check out Big Tex's sailor blue/canary yellow outfit. It's the last year for these togs, so capture that kitschy Kodak moment for posterity.
13 People who need (to see) people
Unequalled people-watching opportunities abound: cute couples on the midway; sugar-crazed children; you name it, it's here.
14 Animal farm
The Nigerian Dwarf and Pygmy Goats Costume Contest, the Barnyard Olympics and more await fairgoers at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Swine Arena. But don't worry if you miss it. There's a flock of livestock fun spread daily throughout the fair. You've got livestock breed displays with cattle, pigs, sheep and goats in Cattle Barn 1 and the Swine Building. You can't say neigh.
15 For the birds
Bird is the word at the free-flight Birds of the World showcases. Four shows daily in the Band Shell.
16 Everything's illuminated
Wrap up the day with music, water jets and pyrotechnics each evening at the Illumination Sensation along the 700-foot Esplanade reflecting pool. Speaking of reflecting, remember that you just saved a bunch of money by doing all this free stuff. Grab a corny dog on the way home and go out like the King.
John Austin, 817-390-7874