- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2006

Each week, the Browser features some pop-culture places on the World Wide Web offering the coolest in free interactive sounds and action.

‘Ice Age’ heats up

A cast of hilarious prehistoric creatures returns Friday in 20th Century Fox’s latest animated film, “Ice Age: The Meltdown.”

In preparation for the film, which finds the crew battling the soggy realities of melting glaciers flooding their valley, theatergoers can enjoy a lively Web site (www.iceagemovie.com) made especially for younger ‘Ice Age’ fans.

Watching the opening page load will immediately offer giggles as Scrat the saber-toothed squirrel impatiently waits for an acorn to emerge from its icy confines. When he’s able to grab it, he races across a lush green landscape peppered with more acorns, which lead to the site’s sections.

Before picking an acorn, however, I suggest learning about some of the film’s stars through six interactive cards located at the bottom of the screen. Scrat, Manny the moody mastodon, Sid the smooth-talking Sloth, Diego the saber-toothed tiger, Ellie the mammoth and the possum brothers Crash and Eddie are all available.

Each card pops open to a larger image of the character and offers a few audio clips, a feature to learn some facts about him, a piece of wallpaper and an instant-messaging icon. Visitors will learn that the possum brothers’ defenses include foaming at the mouth to look diseased and that Sid has two stomachs (one for fermenting food and the other for digesting).

Of the acorn sections from which to choose, I suggest the one closest to Scrat, which leads to the Arcade. Five of six games and activities were available at the time of this review, and all were well-crafted.

First, Bling My Sid has fashion designers dress the sloth after first placing him in locations synonymous with New York, London, Paris and Tokyo. Designers can mix and match from nine styles of clothing, such as lounge lizard, punk and hip-hop, as they drag-and-drop items on him. Completed designs can be saved as jpeg images, e-mailed to a pal or turned into instant-messaging icons.

Another activity, Draw a Scrat, lets artists illustrate a freehand version of the obsessed squirrel on a page using four pencil and brush sizes along with more than 20 colors. Finished masterpieces can be e-mailed to a friend, printed or posted to be judged by site visitors.

The games from the Arcade area include a ski-jumping competition with Scrat (Sid adds some propulsion), an acorn-collection exercise as the possum brothers must perform a balancing act to get the nuts to Scrat, and Scrat collecting more acorns in a platform challenge.

Visitors also may want to check out the sponsors page and click on the Chef Boyardee icon to enter a minisite (www.conagrafoods.com/ia2) providing instructions on creating a prehistoric origami animal, a recipe for mini-iceberg peanut-butter pies and more downloadable wallpaper.

Robotics

Complementing Tuesday’s premier of “The Great Robot Race” on PBS, the network’s “Nova” Web site has introduced a mildly interactive component (https://pbs.org/nova/darpa) to take visitors behind the scenes of a program highlighting a challenge of driverless vehicles held last fall.

The site offers nearly 20 clips in high- and low-bandwidth versions for QuickTime, RealVideo and Windows Media formats that cover background from the show and the 12 teams and vehicles competing on the 130-mile desert course.

Engineers will most appreciate the What Robots See section, which, using a slide-show presentation and text, reveals the technology behind the vehicles, including using sensors and scanners to build a rough 3-D model of the terrain and installing side-by-side cameras to create a form of stereo vision to detect and avoid objects.

Additionally, the entire hourlong program will be available online on Wednesday.

Have a cool site for the online multimedia masses? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington times.com). Joseph also writes a Web-exclusive column for the Washington Times Web site where he reviews educational software and family-friendly video games. Check it out at www.washington times.com/familytimes/ romperroom.htm.

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