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Learning, logicand laughter

THE LOGICAL JOURNEY OF THE ZOOMBINIS. Age group: 8 plus. CD-Rom for Macintosh and Windows. Pounds 29.99

Broderbund, PO Box 63, Hartlepool TS25 2YP. Tel: 01429 273029

The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis grew out of several years' work at an education research centre in the United States. In the course of developing computer-based tools for learning, they experimented with a variety of visual approaches that made sorting, classifying and logic accessible, interesting and fun.

In this saga, the Zoombinis' island home has been taken over by ogres and they must flee to find a new town in a distant land. Travelling in small bands, they encounter obstacles, each of which embodies a mathematical problem. The first places they come to after crossing the sea are the "allergic bridges".

Zoombinis are small blue creatures with no bodies distinct from their heads. They have one of five kinds of hairstyle, eyes or ear wear, nose colours and feet or footwear. They do look cute, but in their mathematical structure they can take part in many processes related to data analysis, algebra and logic.

At the bridges, you find that one will allow a particular Zoombini to pass but not another similar-looking one. You have to deduce what facet will allow it to pass successfully, and you only have a limited number of attempts.

There are 12 such puzzles in all and, as successive bands pass through, you can play the puzzle in a different configuration. As you become more proficient, you progress through four levels.

The key to solving Zoombinis is to find the best way to organise the available information according to traits or combinations of traits. Reasoning, valid choices and systematic testing do not sound particularly exciting but, in this game, that is what you are doing.

This is the best cerebral game I have come across since Lemmings in terms of trying to resolve the paradox of a game with educational goals. Rather than trying to bribe pupils with rewards on successfully completing a mathematics problem dressed up as a game, it has the more synergistic approach of putting a game element into the mathematics.

There is a demonstration CD-Rom of Zoombinis available, if you are not convinced. Do please get it and see why it won a British Interactive Multimedia Association award last week.

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