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Ghost peppers and gourmet butter

With a new theme and a new year, the state fair is also bringing in new rides, entertainment and food in an effort to reel in more than 200,000 visitors this year.

The fair has 500 spaces for vendors and, like last year, will be full, said Joni Kiple, vendors and concessions coordinator.

While traditions such as the popular wine pavilion and older country acts are important, State Fairgrounds Manager Jerome Hertel said he sees positive responses by mixing new faces among the regulars.

"It's very important that we have a variety of stuff every year," Hertel said. "A lot of people do like to come to the fair, and we like to have some of the same traditions they've had in the past."

The variety starts with the brainstorming of the theme. This year's theme, "Starry Nights & Midway Lights," was chosen to highlight the carnival, which was given more space than ever this year so it can add new rides.

"It's kind of a more whimsical theme," said Candi Hettinger, marketing and events coordinator.

Hot peppers, gourmet butter

Among the new vendors are a multitude of new food options, and a few twists on old traditions.

The fair normally has a roasted nut vendor, but this year's vendor is heating up the mix by adding Ghost Peppers, which holds a record as the world's hottest pepper.

"That's a different twist on the nuts," Kiple said. "You don't normally see that."

Kiple chooses vendors from a list of about 175 each year. There are 500 spots at the fair, but because different vendors take up different amounts of space, there are not 500 vendors. When she has to fill an empty space, she looks for something different.

"I really like it when we can get some different types of foods in here," Kiple said. "With food, you definitely want to add some variety."

Chef Shamy, a vendor that makes gourmet butters, is also new to the fair this year, along with a vendor who creates gourmet syrups.

Most of the vendors who sell gourmet or unique food options will be located inside buildings, as opposed to having space in the food court.

Contests, thrill show

The Youth State Talent Contest will be held at the fair for the first time. Youth qualify at their local county fair, and the winners will compete at the state contest.

Following a national trend, the fair is adding the State Fair Funnel Cake Showdown. Vendors will be challenged to bake a basic funnel cake and will add their choice of toppings.

At the campgrounds, the theme for the 2013 Decorated Campsite Contest is "Fall Into Fun At the Fair."

The new competitions will join the South Dakota State Fair Strongest Man Competition, beef cook-offs and Jack's Campers Chili Challenge. Vogel's Exotic Animal Petting Zoo, Pig Races and Camel Rides are also set to return.

The soccer derby is a demolition derby where cars push around a 6-foot-tall metal ball in an attempt to get the ball into a goal. It will be followed by a more traditional demolition derby, which started last year.

Pirates of the Sky, a stunt show, will replace last year's jousting act. The thrill act consists of performers completing stunts from a giant aerial anchor 50 feet in the air. The show, which has a plot revolving around pirates, runs Thursday through Monday at 10:30 a.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. every day.

"It's definitely something different," Hettinger said. "We haven't had a thrill show at the fair for years."

Charitable effort

On Friday, fairgoers can bring canned food to the admission gates from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. to receive $2 off admission, and funds will be collected among vendors. Food and monetary donations from the drive go to Feeding South Dakota.

Last year, the fair collected close to 2,000 pounds in food.

"We were able to help out a lot of people with that," Hettinger said.

This year, the fair is hoping to turn the tradition into a larger effort.

The food drive is expanding this year as the fair takes part in the International Association of Fairs and Expositions' Dream Big initiative. The program is urging fairs and organizations to utilize the large crowds the events draw to collect food and funds for local food banks.

"Actual dollars can go really far," Hettinger said.