- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 13, 2007

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

Museum on the Web

Last year’s holiday hit “Night at the Museum” still maintains its top-10 box-office rank. Youngsters thrilled by actor Ben Stiller’s magical romp through New York’s American Museum of Natural History will find a Web site as active as the film’s exhibits.

The movie’s official cyber-stop (www.nightatthemuseum.com) begins with a screen showing a night guard’s desk and a digital clock that, when it is about to hit midnight, quickly dissolves to the entrance of the museum.

Once taken inside, visitors find Mr. Stiller’s character, Larry Daley, asleep behind the information desk while a Neanderthal sprays himself with a fire extinguisher and a statue of Christopher Columbus waves.

Also, a magnifying glass is found that, when clicked on, homes in on a radio-controlled vehicle to reveal a cowboy behind the wheel and the Roman Emperor Octavius riding in the passenger seat. It’s a clever trick found elsewhere on the site.

After actor Dick Van Dyke’s voice (he plays another guard) reminds visitors, “Don’t let anything in or out,” a piece of parchment opens with places to explore.

Specifically, within the museum, visitors can click to seven exhibit halls to find not only plenty of interactive options but even interesting facts.

For example, a stop by the Great American Railroad offers a picture gallery accessed by clicking on images attached to boxcars on a moving miniature train. A click on some cowboys presents a text box with a history lesson on famed cowpokes.

Over at the Neanderthal case, a click on an Easter Island head statue gets it to dispense gum. Toss some in its mouth to see it blow a bubble. Other options are to bring an ancient witch doctor to life or learn about prehistoric man with another pop-up text box.

In a hallway, visitors can chat with an angry Attila the Hun as anything typed in a message box gets translated into the barbarian’s grunting language, and his image, from the movie, comes to life to respond. I was slightly angry as any browser I tried crashed during this simulation.

The coolest feature is found at the Roman Diorama and has a visitor type in a message and send an e-mail to a friend. The message is then created on a desert landscape by Roman soldiers who form the letters. The received message takes the recipient back to the terrain, and a new message then can be entered and e-mailed to the original writer, which makes for very cool dialogue.

Additionally, among the best features of the very active site are the facts found with clicks on famous characters. These include: Attila the Hun died from complications from a simple nosebleed; the Roman army was the first to use body bags for its dead soldiers; and Teddy Roosevelt Jr. was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Also, for another level of interactivity, as visitors look around throughout the site, they can unlock a downloadable prize if they collect nine glyphs scattered within the various exhibits.

Video nuggets

Empire Zoom (www.empirezoom. com), a new broadcasting and publishing company, demonstrates its ability to create informative, short-form videos made just for the Internet with a pair of recently released sites.

First Joke of the Day (www.jokeofthe dayTV.com) delivers on its promise as host Kristine Blackport offers a minute-long ditty usually worth a chuckle. Unfortunately, her uneasiness at telling the punch line often leads to her committing the No. 1 faux pas in comedy — laughing at her own jokes. Where’s Shelley Berman when you need him?

Next, host Chris Grundy, a Second City veteran, fares much better as he offers a Fun Fact of the Day (www.funfactofthedayTV.com). Nuggets such as that fish scales are found in lipstick and American workers waste two hours out of an eight-hour day are offered with a very conversational feel and a bit of humor always thrown in.

Both sites load a new clip every Monday through Friday, offer an archive and the ability to view the video in Quicktime, Windows Media, MPEG-4 and RSS feed formats. Each also smatters other text facts or jokes on its pages, a nice touch.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message [email protected]

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