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All aboard the body bus

Roger Frost enjoys a sanitised trip around the human body.

The Magic School Bus explores the human body, Microsoft Home, Multimedia CD-Rom (age six to 10) for Research Machines and IBM and compatible computers. Around Pounds 50 from most software outlets.

Well, here's a real blockbuster - a CD-Rom about a shrunk-down school bus exploring the human body that's full of colour and cartoonery, a zillion scene changes and bags of humour. The quality of the production, because that's the only word for it, is gobsmacking.

Want an adventure? Pop in this CD-Rom and drive the kids and their teacher Miss Frizzle around the body. Want a song? "Ride on the magic school bus. Magic school bus (repeat). Raft the river of life."

But there's a semi-serious side to this. As you visit the heart, the lungs, the gut or the kidney you'll take in some local action. You'll see comic white cells attacking germs, nutrients disappearing into the gut, and red cells being scrubbed-up in the kidney. And even, would you imagine, enzymes tearing apart food saying, "Gotcha!"

Wherever you go there are some weird mini-experiments to do, such as varying the gases in the air and seeing the subject, your classmate Arnold, cough or turn blue. Or changing the length of the intestine and seeing how much stuff gets absorbed. Or dropping food in the stomach and watching it churn and fizz to nothing.

And there's more and more: raise the temperature and see Arnold's sweat glands spurt forth, stimulate his brain to make him jump, itch or eat. Give him chemicals to smell or food to taste, or even tickle a hair in his nose to make him sneeze. Beware the large intestine - give him certain foods and he makes noises. These the program calls "farts". I didn't say it.

If that's not fun there are games. Some seem almost educational: Chatterbox, where Miss Frizzle might say, "oesophagus", and you have to arrange her mouth shapes in the right order. So get it wrong and she says, "so-gus-ha-oe". Or play Air Combat in the lungs and shoot down invading bugs. Then there's Tetris - a derivative where you arrange blocks of food and digest them layer by layer.

There's a problem about having this in school. Sure, there are memorable facts and animated descriptions. Sure, it has some special touches. But it's so diluted. A couple of eight-year-olds were well occupied for hours and they could have done a whole day; they learned a bit, but you can have too much fun. Thankfully, they never found or spent time on Splat - a painting canvas where they could make foot and brain prints or nose and gut splats, complete with juicy, visceral sounds.

Still, as a parent you'd be happier letting six to 10-year-olds loose on this than the murderous Doom. Take care in recommending this to a sober parent in case you get some rude noises back. Do see it, though - it's a landmark.

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