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ROMper ROOM: Trainer improves math skills

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It's all about the serious business of crunching numbers in the hand-held brain exerciser Personal Trainer: Math (for DS, Nintendo, $19.99).

I'll go out on the limb here and state that, besides reading, the ability to manipulate numbers and solve equations is the most critical skill a successful person must acquire. This simulation brings the point home by drilling players on their addition, subtraction, division and multiplication aptitude with escalating difficulty and increased pacing.

Much like Nintendo's wildly successful Brain Age, a real expert becomes a caricature of himself and acts as a muse and instructor for the player.

In this case, it's Hideo Kageyama, a Kyoto professor and pioneer of the "hundred-cell method" for improving basic arithmetic skills. In my day, his method was called filling in a math table, but whatever it's called, it's a solid way of memorizing through repetition.

With the DS held like a book, the slew of problems is presented on the left-side screen and the player draws the answers using a stylus on the right-side touch screen.

Players choose from a daily test, the Kageyama Method and practice exercises, all with the potential to earn medals based on improvements in speed.

The 40 practice exercises range from the intriguing "missing number multiplication" to filling in a numerical sentence to building descending number ladders by solving a stack of vertical equations.

The most complex is the Kageyama Method. Chose a grid with 10, 30, 50 or 100 spaces with numbers running along the top and left side and a function symbol in the corner. Now, fill in each blank as quickly as possible by applying the function to the two numbers intersecting at each space.

From a pure fun factor, the bad news is Mr. Kageyama's on-screen personality and antics fall far short of bubbly professor Ryuta Kawashima in Brain Age. In fact, the dry, boring presentation will make younger students feel like it's just another homework assignment rather than a clever challenge.

Also, there are no epiphanies here folks, just a methodical reinforcement of basic math. I'm fine with that. Nintendo wields an incredible amount of power in a child's life these days and if the company can ease a youngster into a world where not everything is a wacky piece of entertainment, that's great.

Better yet, adults will find the problems a great way to keep their brain active, especially as the difficulty level increases and they try to beat their best times.

However, what Personal Trainer: Math lacks in charm it really delivers through communal learning. Up to 16 players armed with a DS can work off of a download from one game cartridge and can compete wirelessly to solve a 100-cell quiz. Teachers will be frothing at the mouth at the potential of students using their gaming devices for mass educational moments.

Send e-mail to jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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