- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 2, 2001

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

The Secret World of Santa Claus explains a few mysteries about the jolly fat man while offering more than 150 different holiday-themed games. With 60 jigsaw puzzles, 60 coloring pages, 60 sliding puzzles and a fun memory challenge, this rich world starts with a 45-minute animated cartoon adapted from a French TV series.

The animated effort tells the story of Santa and his magical elves Thoren, Jordi and Guilfi, as well as Balbo, the great white polar bear, and the flying reindeer, Blitzen, Donner and Rudolph.

Gruzzlebeard, a larger-than-life lumberjack gone bad, and his sidekick Dudley, an elf without any magical charm, add the drama when they try to prevent Santa from delivering gifts, putting them both firmly on the naughty list.

One fun aspect of the cartoon is the ability to stop it at any time and transform the still picture into a new puzzle or black-and-white outline for coloring.

The work really begins after Santa's travails are over. Snowman Billyball acts as narrator and guides children through the numerous activities, ranging from a Decoration Workshop that provides instructions for making cartoon-themed home and tree ornaments to a karaoke area. This musical stop features a singalong with four different songs "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Good King Wenceslaus," "Silent Night" and "Jingle Bells." Karaoke provides not only the words and music, but also accompanying animations.

The Secret World of Santa (Montparnasse Multimedia, $29.99) Cross-compatible with Macintosh or Windows operating systems.

The world has gotten a lot more complicated, and a child's curiosity about countries and geography can be satisfied quickly through the Explorer Globe from LeapFrog. This multiple-award winner looks like the standard classroom sphere, until the "magic pen" and electronic base are used. Education then becomes an aural and visual experience as the child turns the base dial to an informational category, touches an area on the globe with the pen and listens.

In the Atlas mode alone, students will learn about the seven continents, 224 countries and territories, 76 states and provinces and 50 bodies of water. They also get a lesson in capitals, regional music, national anthems, currency and peoples of each area. Other handy helpers include a world clock, which not only tells time of one's current area, but also gives the time anywhere on the planet; a measurement feature, two pen clicks give the distance between two places; and a comparison option, choose two areas to see how their statistics stack up.

The globe can even play games. Turn the dial to the "Eureka Challenges" and, with the clock ticking, find as many locations as possible. Up to four players can participate in the challenges, which offer several categories, including states, capitals, continents, countries, country capitals and a free for all.

Explorer Globe (LeapFrog, $99.99) Stand-alone unit requiring four C batteries.

ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia edutainment. Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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