What's new up, down and off the strip

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LAS VEGAS -- When someone says they haven't been to Las Vegas in years, or even months, I cringe at the thought of recounting the changes that have taken place since their last visit.

This is a place that's continually reinventing itself -- day by day.

It's not easy keeping up with the municipal equivalent of a perpetual-motion machine, but let's try.

JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort, Spa & Golf

Vegas pop quiz: Because everything is bigger, better and over-the-top here, what resort holds title to the longest name in town?

The answer, it seems, is slightly complex -- and with a history, of course.

What was originally the Resort at Summerlin and then the Regent Las Vegas is now the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort, Spa & Golf.

That massive moniker actually represents a beautifully appointed, upscale resort and spa -- with a diverse assortment of restaurants -- located only 20 minutes from the Strip.

JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort, Spa & Golf has a diverse assortment of restaurants, and it's located only 20 minutes from the Strip. Word has it that in 1999, during its original incarnation, the hotel's marketing team practically ignored locals, which is a surefire way to a quick demise for any off-Strip property.

After Marriott assumed hotel management duties, casino operations and some food and beverage concessions went to local operator Rampart Casinos.

The casino was revamped to improve foot traffic, and Rampart loosened up slots and developed moderately priced restaurants to draw local clientele.

Those improvements, coupled with Marriott's name recognition and marketing muscle, are powerful incentives for clients seeking a deluxe getaway in a serene, desert setting.

Featuring oversize, luxurious rooms, beautiful grounds and a full-service spa, the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort Spa & Golf is a Scottsdale-like, Southwestern resort, with all the cachet that the comparison implies.

Restaurants run from the de rigueur buffet to an Irish pub to the standout Carmel Room -- a fine-dining oasis just a beveled-glass door away from the casino.

At night, the lights of the Strip glitter in the distance, beckoning guests to make the short drive away from tranquility into the crush.

Contact 800-228-9290 or visit www.marriott.com.

Penn & Teller at the Rio

Calling Penn & Teller's new show at the Rio "edgy" may be an understatement on the caliber of calling Las Vegas a "lively place."

To put it bluntly, these two characters are alternately hilarious and outrageous while performing some amazing illusions and lightning-quick sleight of hand.

Their mix of magic and comedy, which often involves debunking their own act, has entertained and shocked audiences for years.

The duo currently is in the midst of a long-term engagement at the Rio's Samba Theater. Tickets cost $65 plus tax.

Throughout the 90-minute show, they goof on each other and the audience while mercilessly skewering other Vegas acts with biting wit.

And as talented as these guys are, it's refreshing to note that they don't take themselves -- or magic's old-line fraternity -- too seriously.

According to Penn Gillette, the lure of performing here is that Las Vegas "serves as a sort of artistic gymnasium" where "the demanding nature of the audiences forces us to keep sharpening the old tricks and coming up with new, more spectacular stunts."

After all, who but Penn & Teller would agree to have their signing bonus -- 25 tons of quarters -- dropped on them from a crane in the Rio parking lot?

The amazing "Magic Bullets" finale -- performed with twin, loaded 357-magnum revolvers -- epitomizes Penn & Teller's brand of dangerously crazy, in-your-face magic.

When further pressed about whether performing in Vegas allowed the team more creative latitude, Penn Gillette grinned broadly and replied, "We can get away with anything here." And they do.

For tickets, call (888) 746-7784. For details, visit www.riohotelcasino.com.

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