LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. - Hundreds of horses, cows, pigs, goats, sheep and even llamas will face the judges - and the public - when the 2012 Minnesota State Fair begins its run Thursday.

The brand new AgStar Arena will be open for its first Great Minnesota Get-Together since replacing the fair's dingy old judging barn. Fair officials expect 4-H, FFA and other farm families showing off their livestock will love it, while the new facility will provide a friendlier environment for city folk.

Other new exhibits connecting with the fair's agricultural roots include Minnesota Wine Country, serving locally produced wines from 13 wineries, and the "Land of 10,000 Beers," hosted by the Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild, which offers samples from more than 20 of the state's breweries. For the kids, it sells root beer.

The lowdown on the 2012 Minnesota State Fair:

NEW FOODS

As always, a mix of deep fried, impaled calorie bombs, and maybe even something healthy. They're too many to mention but include: bacon ice cream, beef tongue tacos, eggplant tacos, eggplant fries, breakfast sliders, camel burger sliders, Ragin' Ankles smoked pork shanks in a pineapple-habanero barbecue sauce, chicken nachos on a stick, walleye rolls, cranberry wontons, poutine, lamb chop on a stick and red velvet funnel cakes. For the daring: Mideast lamb testicle fries.

NEW ATTRACTIONS

The Great Big Sandbox gives kids a place to dig, scoop, pour and burrow their toes. The Lasertainment Laser Hitz Show and Luminarium are harder to pigeonhole. Pianos on Parade and its "artistically transformed" piano for all to play and enjoy in Baldwin Park. Twelve Artists, Twelve Hours, Twelve Days will give fairgoers a window into the world of 12 different working artists for 12 hours on each of the 12 days of the 2012 fair. The Boy Scouts Adventure Summit will let boys and girls 5-15 test their rope-climbing skills and ride a zip line. Minnesota Wine Country and the Minnesota Craft Brewer's Guild will showcase Minnesota-made wines and beers. Traditional livestock shows and the new Minnesota High School Rodeo Cutting Horse Competition will take up residence in the new AgStar Arena.

NEW RIDES

On the Mighty Midway: the World of Wonders Palace of Illiusions and Bubble House Fun House. OK, they're not rides, but they're on the Midway. For real rides, the potentially stomach-churning Flipper, Freak Out, Fun Factory, Orbiter, Sizzler and Stratosphere are hard to describe briefly. See them and ride them if you dare. At Kidway, the Jumping Jumbos flying elephants and Down on the Farm Tractor Ride shouldn't scare the little ones.

OLD FAVORITES WITH NEW TWISTS

The Department of Natural Resources exhibit has been spruced up, while the DNR's main message this year will be stopping invasive species. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture will be teaching visitors how to protect themselves against the scourge of bedbugs. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Eco Experience will have new exhibits on saving energy and water, green and renewable home products, healthy local foods and farmers markets, and bicycle maintenance.

GETTING THERE

The parking lot at the closed St. Paul Ford Plant has been added to the stable of park-and-ride lots for the fair, with more than 800 parking spaces and free shuttle buses, while four new express bus stations have been added.

GRANDSTAND SHOWS

Bonnie Raitt with Mavis Staples. Alan Jackson with Jamey Johnson. Blake Shelton with Sunny Sweeney. Anita Baker. The Happy Together Tour. Demi Lovato with Hot Chelle Rae. Kiss and Motley Crue. Rascal Flatts with Little Big Town, the Eli Young Band and Edens Edge. MN Music on a Stick with Semisonic, the Jayhawks, Dessa and Jeremy Messersmith. Journey with Pat Benatar, Neil Giraldo and Loverboy. The 40th Annual Minnesota State Fair Amateur Talent Contest Finals. Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller with Big K.R.I.T.

MORE INFORMATION

Minnesota State Fair web site: mnstatefair.org.