- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 3, 2000

In a world of ultraviolent video games, where dexterity of the thumb and index finger is infinitely more important than the flexing of the cerebrum, there must be a place for children and their parents to interact and actually learn something from that overpriced multimedia computer/ gaming system. Take a deep breath and enter the ROMper Room, where learning is a four-letter word cool.

Star Wars Math: Jabba's Game Galaxy (Lucas Learning, $29.95) plunges 6- to 9-year-olds into George Lucas' favorite cosmos via Tatooine, where they face familiar friends and enemies while playing four math-based games of skill and strategy.

I had a hard time deciding which was the title's most impressive feature. The visually stunning graphics were a real treat; underwater views and holograms explode off the page in 3-D clarity. But the unique game construction that slyly teaches basic arithmetic concepts addition, subtraction, multiplication, strategic thinking and equivalency skills in a totally fun way also made me smile.

Star Wars Math requires real luck and skill, from rolling the dice, to knowing which direction to move a playing piece. A big difference between this title and other educational games is the feeling that one actually plays against another being.

For example, in "Diggito," opponents find Teemto, a four-toothed, speckled fellow who loves games of chance and challenges players to come up with the lowest, highest or target number using droids wearing digits.

My favorite game was "Ratts Race." Players wind their way through a board, solving problems while trying to find five colored puzzle pieces. The host, Ratts Tyrel, will tickle the funny bone through an extensive repertoire of quick quips and encouragement.

No matter what age, the most intriguing activity has to be "Holochex." This game strengthens strategic thinking skills in a round of holographic checkers against the rotund Jabba the Hutt.

By winning any of the above challenges, players earn credits to rebuild a customized ship with parts "purchased" from the conniving Watto. Once a vessel has been built, players take off in a flying simulation to rid the galaxy of space junk.

Star Wars Math: Jabba's Game Galaxy (Lucas Learning, $29.95) Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows systems.

The futuristic Intelli-Table (Fisher Price, $69.99) exposes infants as young as 9 months to interactive learning through technology Microsoft uses in hand-held computers to inspire adult productivity.

The 14-inch-tall, table-shaped device contains three interchangeable rings that allow for self-directed exploration. Each ring has a smart center that lights up with simple, flashing graphics, while playing songs and animal sounds to reinforce new experiences. Around each smart center are toggle switches and concept-shaped buttons, such as a musical instrument or bright yellow school bus.

The first ring module presents basic skills from "ABC" and "1, 2, 3" to spatial concepts, such as near and far. It also includes animal names and sounds, nursery rhymes and more than 50 words to encourage an early vocabulary.

The music ring features ways for children to create their own tunes as well as 30 sing-along songs. This module uses five instruments the tuba, violin, piano, banjo and trombone and five musical styles classical, jazz, bluegrass, ragtime and big band.

The game ring offers eight diversions that allow children, and even parents, to practice memory, matching and creativity skills.

Intelli-Table (Fisher Price, $69.99) Stand-alone device requiring 4 "AA" batteries.

Hard-copy versions of encyclopedias and their CD-ROM brethren seem a bit irrelevant in the age of the information highway, but the 2001 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (Grolier Interactive, $49.95) still packs a formidable educational wallop for students.

This year's edition not only offers multitiered learning (three age-specific reference resources), but also combines 150,000 text and media entries into 12,000 concise topics for the ultimate homework helper.

Additionally, 50,000 editorially specific World Wide Web links make surfing for answers more efficient than aimless.

One extremely helpful feature, the Research Center, incorporates core subject areas such as science, math, history and literature into 140 Research Starter modules. These modules give the student an exhaustive overview of the subject matter and include hints, questions, article links and reference lists.

So when little Johnny needs help with geography, he not only learns plenty about cartography, but he also can quickly view information on the Azande, an African people who live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I am still not sure I would drop $50, but for parents who need a reliable encyclopedias source for their children, Grolier delivers.

2001 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (Grolier Interactive, $49.95) Hybrid for Macintosh and Windows 95/98 systems.

ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia "edutainment." Calls, letters or faxes about a particular column or suggestions for future columns are always welcome. Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (joseph@twtmail.com).

Double delight

These multimedia entertainment items are for children 5 years old and older.

Play With the Teletubbies, by Knowledge Adventure (For PlayStation, $19.99) Those bizarre beings have infected the family gaming console through a 3-D adventure bound to captivate the family's younger members. Join Tinky Winky, Laa-Laa, Dipsy and Poo as they enjoy 11 activities in Teletubbyland. Even 2-year-olds can participate as simple challenges range from playing a magic drum to creating a mess with Tubby Custard. The mind-numbing interface allows children to press any button on their controller to get a reaction or just watch the insanity.

The Tigger Movie by Walt Disney Home Video (For DVD-enabled computers or entertainment centers, $29.99) The bestest, braverest and bounciest of the 100-Acre Wood gang gets his own tale, teaching children the importance of friends and heritage. While familiar characters Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Roo, Rabbit and Owl prepare a suitable home for their buddy Eeyore, Tigger's incessant bouncing causes the gang to request he look to others of his kind to appreciate his talents. Thus begins a emotional journey as Tigger searches, only to learn the many ways one can be a part of a "family." DVD extras include a very slick storybook a child can read or have narrated, a trivia and matching game, and the instructions on how to make a family tree.

The adventure looks spectacular, but I have two questions. Why release a story set in the winter at the end of summer? It would be a much better movie for the snowy holidays. And must Disney's cartoons be so darn heartwarming? I spent more time passing out tissues than popcorn.

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