- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2002

In a world of violent 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.

The relationship between design and number is explored in a breathtaking way in Art and Mathematics. Through a simple encyclopedic interface, older students are exposed to the stunning history of creators indentured to geometric theory, colorful animations, interactive demonstrations and behind-the-scenes numeric conundrums that allow artists to create masterpieces.

Organized into nine modules Spiritual Geometry, Knots and Links, Magic Squares, Regular Polyhedra, Perspective, Divine Proportion, Ambassadors, New Geometries and Fractal Geometry the engaging presentations trace the use of mathematics and its artsy side from the father of algebra, Islamic mathematician Al-Khowarizmi, to the cubist movement to current computer configurations.

A very dry text layout appears on one side of the screen with the colorful goodies tightly fit into rectangular boxes to the right. A stop at Divine Proportion, for example, explores the Renaissance and the influence of the early Greek and Roman mathematicians.

Students can learn about Luca Pacioli and his rediscovery of the rhombicubocyahedron (complete with a 3-D animation of the multifaced crystal), Fibonacci numbers (a sequence of numbers in which each is the sum of the previous numbers which ultimately can be shown to create a neat logarithmic spiral) and the inspiration of Leonardo da Vinci.

I readily admit I can't draw a straight line, and after trying to read some of the difficult concepts, I'm not sure my math skills are as sharp as I thought, either. Users learn about tessellations, dodecahedrons and Julia set fireworks while seeing the work of Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein the Younger and Laurent de La Hyre.

Being a math geek and art connoisseur, I loved the program and was completely sold on the pair of cheesy 3-D glasses thrown into the mix. Suddenly, my ability to virtually tie torus knots jumped from the screen, and, like a magician, I astounded members of my family as they passed by. Unfortunately, trying to explain the theory behind my design may take a master's degree.

Art and Mathematics, Virtual Image, distributed by Tool Factory, $49.99, for PC systems only.

Stuart Little 2 borrows some of the biggest challenges the little white mouse faces in the current movie and translates them perfectly to the computer screen. Spoiler alert: Those who have not seen the movie will not need to bother after reading the following paragraphs.

The title features five games based on key movie action scenes: Daredevil Driving, which has Stuart maneuvering his little red coupe convertible; Drain Escape, in which Stuart braves the dark and slimy depths of the kitchen sink to retrieve Mother Little's diamond ring; Balloon Jump, which takes Stuart on a ride to the top of the Pishkin Building to save Margalo; Roof Skate, in which Stuart pulls off some skateboard tricks; and Air Dodge, in which players have to help Stuart or Margalo escape Falcon and return home with Mother Little's ring.

All are fairly basic driving, flying and maze-exploring challenges, but the beautiful graphics complement the on-screen action so games such as Air Dodge take place in a lush green Central Park with the New York City skyline in the distance.

Children can choose to play in Story Mode, which sequences the games to follow the movie, or Free Play, which allows players to enjoy their favorites in any order.

The most difficult game, Balloon Jump, has Stuart ascending the Pishkin Building. Players must help Stuart jump from balloon to balloon, floating ever so slightly higher before the balloons lose helium, causing Stuart's parachute to open and gently float him back to the sidewalk, where players must begin again.

Action requires basic keyboard commands and usually little more than being able to click on the right or left arrow, sometimes giving the space bar or enter key a click.

Children should rack up points quickly, giving even the youngest of players a feeling of accomplishment while honing reflex and puzzle-solving skills. When a player finishes a game, he is rewarded with a special Bonus Gallery from the movie. After all the pictures are collected, a certificate of completion can be printed out and displayed.

Stuart Little 2, Infogrames, $19.99, for PC systems only.

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 ([email protected]).

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