At the Sloomoo Institute, an interactive “museum of slime” in New York City, I confront a massive wall installation layered with fistfuls of colored slime. It looks like something Jackson Pollock might have done, if he worked in 3D, and in slime splotches.
After using mandatory hand wipes, I reach into a five-gallon vat, pull out a piece of party-pink-colored “butter slime” — the softest of 30 types offered — and place it on the installation. Each visitor to Sloomoo, of any age, is asked to contribute to the wall, “which is what you want to do when you’re a kid,” the museum’s co-founder, Karen Robinovitz, tells me. “This is our version of graffiti.”
Since it opened last October in SoHo — and before it closed for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic — more than 90,000 people visited this 8,000-square-foot, interactive slime utopia, paying $38 apiece to play with various types of malleable goo. The attractions include a DIY bar where you can design your own slime; a glow-in-the-dark slime room; and a “lake” filled with 250 gallons of slime, into which guests are invited to wade. If you want to have slime poured all over you, as in the 1980s Canadian TV show “You Can’t Do That On Television,” that can be arranged for an additional $30: Once you’re standing under the “Sloomoo Falls,” decked out in a custom poncho and goggles, two “slimetenders” pour slime all over you from 15 feet above.
I read a list of rules on the wall, one being “Don’t eat slime.” Noted. The others include no throwing slime, no running, and “have fun.”
The kids don’t need much encouragement for that. But as the rules suggest, Sloomoo invites adults to play, too — reclaiming their inner child, and possibly finding something more. This temple to a squishy, oozing, shapeless toy also embraces slime’s role as a therapeutic, stress-relieving tool — the kind of transformative substance that can help people through challenging times and museum-free social isolation. After all, Sloomoo’s very existence is a testament to slime’s power to lift people out of tough moments: It was started by two serial entrepreneurs suffering from depression.
In 2017, Robinovitz — who was then the co-owner of DBA, an agency that represents social media personalities — separated from her husband. A few months later, he passed away unexpectedly, without a final discussion or a goodbye. Her world collapsed.
“I fell into a crippling depression, a sadness I never knew possible. I couldn’t function,” she says. Nine months later, she lost a cousin in the Parkland, Florida shooting. “I hated the world,” she recalls. “I hardly left my house.”
One day, a good friend visited with her daughter. The teen brought purple slime, which she had purchased online from an independent “slimer,” as a way to amuse herself while the adults talked. Robinovitz asked to use it as well. Four hours later, she was still enthralled.
“This did something to me,” she said. “The more I played, the more I felt joy. I brought it to dinners, therapy, and found myself able to let go of pain while I was playing with it.”
Slime is known, in scientific circles, as a non-Newtonian fluid, because it doesn’t follow Newton’s laws of viscosity. Neither a solid nor a liquid, it’s a malleable entity made of glue and an activator solution, which binds the glue molecules to other ingredients — foaming soap, glycerin, lotion, fake snow. Mattel first produced a slime toy in the 1970s, and sometimes sold it mixed with rubber eyeballs, worms, and tadpoles. By the mid-2010s, homemade slime had become a massive fad and a YouTube phenomenon: Robinovitz notes that sales of Elmer’s Glue doubled in December 2016 due to slime-driven demand.
“The more I played, the more I felt joy. I brought it to dinners, therapy, and found myself able to let go of pain while I was playing with it.”
At the time Robinovitz discovered slime, her friend Sara Schiller, who worked in hospitality, was dealing with her own depression. Robinovitz, in an effort to lift her dear friend’s spirits, brought the only thing that had helped her. The slime was therapeutically contagious. Schiller became joyously obsessed as well.
A few weeks later they were talking on the phone, slime in their hands, marveling at the healing properties the shapeless item offered, when they realized their DIY therapy also had business potential. A year later, after partnering with slimologists and mental health consultants and ordering raw materials, they opened their inner slime sanctum. They named it “Sloomoo” after a social media trend in which you remove the vowels from your name and replace them with “oo” — it’s “slime” without the “i” and the “e.”
At Sloomoo, Robinovitz takes me to the slingshot exhibit, where two “slimetenders” help me stick a piece of yellow slime into a plastic pocket, pull it back as far as possible, and send it sailing. My target is Robinovitz, who’s standing behind a protective booth, recording a video of the slime coming at her. I feel silly — not to mention out of shape — handling the slingshot, but enjoy watching the slime smack the clear wall.
That feeling has roots in physiology, says Stuart Brown, M.D., founder and president of the National Institute for Play. All types of play trigger a host of beneficial physical reactions, he says: “A symphony of neurotransmitters and activity is triggered. Endorphins are released. Those produce a feel-good experience.” That goes for adults as well as children: In joint therapy sessions, he says, he has found that playing games helps couples rekindle their relationships and explore other forms of emotional intimacy. (As if to underscore the mind-body connection, Sloomoo even features an EEG machine, which measures patrons’ brain waves as they play with slime, and projects them on a screen above their heads.)
The joys of a toy as tactile as slime are particularly useful today, when so much play is mediated through screens, says Judith Joseph, M.D., a consultant at Sloomoo and practicing psychiatrist who teaches at New York University. “Fortnite, Minecraft, and Candy Crush are designed to be isolating and addictive and to make you want to reach a mark that’s not reachable,” she says. “The kind of play and results slime offers is different because there’s no risk ratio, there’s no winning or losing. There’s no end point. It’s creative freeform.”
Joseph says the slime experience can also help people avoid workplace burnout and technology overload. “Sloomoo offers immersive play that prevents you from being distracted entirely by devices,” she says. “It’s also an experience people typically share with others and when play is social, the benefits are even greater.”
Promoting mental health is important to the Sloomoo creators, who donate $1.50 from each ticket to three mental health charities: Love is Louder, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Sad Girls Club. But mainly, they wanted to create an emporium of fun. “We have a huge need for something that makes us innocent and to bring play back into people’s lives. Slime does both while activating and stimulating four of our five senses,” says Robinovitz, who has mastered the art of folding slime, ribbon-like, as if it were taffy. “It’s colorful and beautiful. Many have a soothing sound. Some pop or crackle. They smell like ginger ale, cake batter, or bubblegum, so it brings you back to memories. And as you touch it, usually with both hands, it’s constantly changing shape.”
With help from Joseph and other consultants, Sloomoo was designed to gradually increase the tactile experience as the visitor goes from room to room, sampling slimes with different scents and textures. In a hidden “kitchen,” a 4,000-square-foot space in the basement, five to ten hired slime-makers produce 1,200 gallons of slime each week.
“When I’m stressed, I want a beaded slime because I want it to make noise. The sound of the crunch lets me work out whatever is in my brain.”
“Making slime is like being a chef,” Robinowitz explains. “It’s about creating the right mix of ingredients for the perfect texture, scent, color, and composition.”
When I stop at the DIY slime counter, an unexpected nostalgia whooshes over me. I uncharacteristically choose a soft pink-colored butter slime as my base and cotton candy as my scent, with ladybug and cupcake charms. Sasha Pensanti, a manager in the kitchen, nods approvingly. Clearly she’s seen this metamorphosis before.
“When I give the adults a hand wipe, most say, ‘That’s OK. I’m not going to touch anything. We came for the kids.’ They end up touching everything,” she says. “By the time they’re by the lake, they’re sticking their feet in it and saying it’s the best part.”
Pensanti became a slime maker in 2017 as a way to pull herself out of a depression and earn additional income. Robinovitz, who found her on the web, was one of her customers. Sharing a passion for slime, the two became friends. Pensanti, ready for a full-time job, later accepted Robinovitz’s offer to work at Sloomoo.
Pensanti continues to use slime in her personal life, as well. To calm down during subway rush hour, she plays with butter slime, “which swirls and stretches,” she explains. “When I’m stressed, I want a beaded slime because I want it to make noise. The sound of the crunch lets me work out whatever is in my brain. It’s very tactile and makes my brain feel happy.”
Happiness permeates Sloomoo; you can tell by the way the place sounds. Every 15 minutes or so, music pulsates through the space as slimetenders do a five-second countdown, and two or three people decked out in plastic stand underneath a waterproof area, ready to be slimed. Bucketfuls of different colored slime fall over them; I watch their bodies drip with goo. Parents cheer. Kids scream. Everyone claps. This includes Sunshine Aboubaker, who has brought her four-year-old daughter, Olaniyi.
“This reminds me of when I was little and I’d take the glue and peel it off my hands, she says, her entire hand immersed in green goo. “We don’t play enough as an adult. At a certain age we are told to grow up and stop playing, and that’s wrong.”
Robinovitz says Sloomoo plans to re-open as soon as it’s safe, and is exploring “a handful of big cities” for an expansion. For now, I’ll have a takeaway jar of slime to hold onto, and a few other souvenirs. On my way out of Sloomoo, I scored a tie-dyed T-shirt with the museum’s mascot — a drop of slime personified — on the back, and a pair of black gloves without fingertips, a gift from Robinovitz. I looked at my watch before exiting and realized I’d been playing with slime for over an hour.
“Everyone says the same thing when they leave,” Robinovitz told me. “They can’t believe how much time has gone by, and that they had so much fun.”