Programs put user in detective's clothes to make learning geography fun


May 13, 1991|By PETER H. LEWIS | PETER H. LEWIS,New York Times News Service

School is nearing adjournment for the summer, and some parents have asked about computer programs that might compete with Nintendo or Ninja Turtles for the attention of America's future leaders.

For parents who lament the sorry state of geography (students would lament the state of geography, too, especially if they were asked to find it on a map), there is "Bushbuck Charms, Viking Ships & Dodo Eggs."

The program costs $49.95 for IBM PCs and compatibles and is available from PC Globe Inc. of Tempe, Ariz.; telephone (602) 730-9000.

Surveys regularly reveal that American students, more so than their counterparts in other countries, have great difficulty in finding other cities, states and countries on the map.

Sad to say, a large percentage of American high school students

have difficulty pointing to the United States on the globe, let alone Belize, Sierra Leone and Oman.

For years, parents and teachers have relied on the "Where in (the World, the U.S.A., Europe, Time) Is Carmen Sandiego?" series of programs from Broderbund Software Inc., which combine the elements of a detective search with elements of geography.

A student-detective must chase assorted crooks, led by Carmen Sandiego, from city to city. In the process, the student learns a little about locations and local customs.

Carmen has been the inspiration for a number of other educational programs, most of which have copied the concept without carrying it forward. "Bushbuck Charms, Viking Ships & Dodo Eggs" is also a Carmen clone in the sense that it combines detective work with geography lessons, but it goes far beyond Carmen in its level of detail.

Carmen's maps are very simple and the destinations are limited. You won't find Carmen hiding in Kiribati, for example.

Players using Bushbuck Charms, etc., are contestants in a global scavenger hunt for a variety of exotic items, including amber buttons, cricket balls, bombachas, Dance of the Terrifying Deities masks, ancient battle axes, chocolate eclairs and cannibal forks.

Aided by clues and a few dozen airline tickets, they must seek the items in any of 206 cities in 175 countries. (We didn't even know the world had 175 countries.) Our searches took us to such places as Tuvalu, Togo and Trinidad.

The maps show mountains, rivers, vegetation and other geographical features, although not in the same detail as other PC Globe programs, which are intended for more advanced studies.

The drama is supplied by the evil Otto von Slinkenrat and his goons, Pierre LeDroop and Natasha Derooshki, who are after the same objects. Also, storms occasionally batter the seekers' planes, damaging items and forcing alternative itineraries.

There are three levels of play, which make the program suitable for a wide range of students. Adults will find Bushbuck challenging as well, and parents can play along with their kids.

The object of the seminal computer geography hunt, Carmen Sandiego, appears to have undergone some plastic surgery.

Those who are already familiar

with the program will be impressed with the Deluxe Edition of "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?" at $79.95 from Broderbund Software Inc.; telephone (415) 492-3900.

The new edition puts some hefty demands on the computer, including a fast 286 or 386 microprocessor, at least 640 kilobytes of memory, a hard disk with at least six megabytes of free space and a VGA color monitor. Anyone who has that kind of equipment will be able to show it off spectacularly.

To take full advantage of the program, one might also consider adding a sound-enhancement board, like the Adlib, Soundblaster or Tandy. Such boards cost about $100, but they make a dramatic difference when the user loads a program that takes advantage of them.

Although the basic structure of "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?" is the same, there are some fancy touches in the Deluxe Edition that may rekindle even a jaded student's interest.

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