In a crime spree that spans continents and centuries, master thief Carmen Sandiego and her villainous henchmen have stolen the Statue of Liberty, swiped Queen Elizabeth I's tea service and made off with every panda in China.
Kids all across America are in hot pursuit, using computers, televisions and video game decks with full parental and teacher permission.
First as a computer game and now featured in a popular, public service television quiz show and fast-selling Nintendo game, Carmen Sandiego is providing fun and education at the same time.
" 'Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego?' is a program we recommend highly, something with lots of sound instruction,"
said Joyce Johnston, a curriculum specialist for the Fort Worth Independent School District in Fort Worth, Texas.
"Using the game or watching the television program is an authentic learning experience for children."
"Carmen" was originally a gleam in the eye of Broderbund Software, which publishes "Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?" and its similarly titled "Where In The USA," "Where In Europe" and "Where In Time" computer game sequels.
"The 'Carmen' game has been visually superior as well as educational," said Bill Pierce, an editor of Playthings magazine. "Kids like it because it's fast-paced and interactive. Parents are pleased because kids are learning while playing a game."
Besides a software disk, the Broderbund "Carmen" package includes "The World Almanac and Book of Facts." Kid detectives trying to capture Carmen and win the game must follow clues through continents or time, depending on the version being played.
Questions aren't easy. Young sleuths might be asked the dates of the first Crusade, or to identify a country based on clues about its exports, capital or famous leaders.
"That's where the 'Almanac' comes in," Mr. Pierce said. "Kids look up, research their answers. They think they're playing, but they're learning, too."
Parents interested in bringing "Carmen" home will find both computer and Nintendo versions readily available.
Computer "Carmen" is usually priced between $30-$35; Konami's "Carmen" ranges from $45-$60.