Wrapping Up CD-ROMs

Computer gifts put everything from Sesame Street to Tolkien in your family's stockings

CD-ROMS grew up this year.

If last year's titles seemed like books spruced up with sound or video, some of this year's integrate text, sound, and video so engagingly they create their own category somewhere between books and movies.

These education, entertainment, and reference works would make great Christmas gifts. Make sure your favorite computer user has a CD-ROM drive, at least four megabytes of random access memory (RAM), Microsoft Windows, and an IBM-compatible computer. (An means a Macintosh version is available.) Prices listed are what you can expect to pay in a store or by mail-order. EDUCATION

3 TO 6 YEARS OLD

BusyTown (Paramount Interactive)

Richard Scarry's characters bring learning alive in this town. Kids can click anywhere and, for example, try to balance a seesaw by piling on characters of differing weight. Or they can help a gorilla through a maze, play delivery man, and so on. Music and graphics meld well in this DOS-format program. $27.

Ease of use: ***

Graphics: **

Content: ***

Sesame Street Numbers

(EA*Kids)

DOS-format brings the children's TV show to the computer. Muppets teach children how to count as they point and click their way through games and funny radio reports with Big Bird, Kermit, and the rest of the gang. $34.

Ease of use: ***

Graphics: **

Content: ***

6 TO 9 YEARS OLD

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Junior Detective Edition

(Broderbund Software)

The classic geography game works well in its junior format. Information is neatly interspersed with the game, so young sleuths on Carmen's trail learn as they travel around the globe. They may pick up clues in Egypt but they'll also learn that it is the birthplace of farming. $40.

Ease of use: ***

Graphics: **

Content: ***

The New Kid on the Block

(The Living Books/Random House-Broderbund)

Based on the children's poems of Jack Prelutsky. Words are highlighted and illustrations animated as a voice reads a poem. Click on a word, and a voice pronounces it. Definitions are sometimes written, sometimes illustrated and animated. Note to parents: Beware of the ``40 Performing Bananas.'' Its tune is so simple and silly you won't be able to shake it. $37.

Ease of use: ***

Graphics: **

Content: ***

9 TO 12 YEARS OLD

Counting on Frank

(EA*Kids)

If you want to interest a child in math, buy this CD-ROM. Henry and his dog, Frank, have to solve eight math clues to win a jelly-bean-guessing contest and a trip to Hawa**. Children who work through the clues with Henry and Frank may not get to Honolulu, but they'll move to the head of their math class. $34.

Ease of use: **

Graphics: ***

Content: ***

The Musical World of Professor Piccolo

(Opcode Interactive)

Any child interested in exploring music interactively, be it jazz, classical, or rock and roll, should consider this CD-ROM. It melds music ``matching'' games with looks at history and various instruments. Most interesting is the breakdown of songs, where each section is described and outlined. The graphics won't captivate the spaceship zappers but it might inspire the next Mozart. $45.

Ease of use: ***

Graphics: **

Content: **

TEEN TO ADULT

Microsoft Multimedia Strauss

(Microsoft)

This excellent blend of sound and text examines three tone poems by Richard Strauss (``Don Juan,'' ``Death and Transfiguration,'' and ``Till Eulenspeigel''). Play them straight through or examine segment-by-segment commentary. Compares Strauss to Wagner and Mahler and includes a test-your-ear version of the game ``Concentration.'' Also available for Mozart, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and Schubert. $53.

Ease of use: ***

Graphics: ***

Content: ***

Aviation Adventure

(Knowledge Adventure)

For aviation buffs of nearly all ages. Has flight simulator, film clips of famous and infamous moments in aviation history, a flight lab that explores the inner workings of several types of craft from a biplane to the space shuttle, a paper airplane factory that illustrates the principles of flight, and a glider game. (Take advantage of the heating vents for thermals and duck that bookshelf!). Other good candidates from KA: Science Adventure **, Space Adventure **, and 3-D Bug Adventure. $45.

Ease of use: **

Graphics: ***

Content: *** ENTERTAINMENT 3 TO 6 YEARS OLD

Putt-Putt Joins the Parade

(Humongous Entertainment)

For an older DOS-based program, Putt-Putt Joins the Parade holds up quite well against newer offerings. The use of music is particularly attractive as Putt-Putt, the car, goes in search of various things he needs to take part in a parade. He will enchant the smallest of computer users. $35.

Ease of use: ***

Graphics: **

Content: ***

Art Center

(EA*Kids)

Draw using colored blocks, image ``stickers'' to place against a predesigned background, freehand coloring, or pre-outlined ``coloring book'' pages. Software allows the user to turn kids' art into screen savers, saving the refrigerator door from Scotch tape markings. A winner with our child testers. $35.

Ease of use: ***

Graphics: ***

Content: *** 6 TO 9 YEARS OLD

One of our favorite titles of the year. What the computer game ``Myst'' is for adults, this interactive adventure game is for children. Sound and graphics meld wonderfully as Freddi and his friend Luther search for Grandma Grouper's kelp seeds. If your children like mysteries, they'll love Freddi Fish. 8MB of RAM and double-speed CD-ROM required. $34.

Ease of use: ***

Graphics: ***

Content: *** 9 YEARS OLD TO ADULT

A hands-down favorite mixing the fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien with the sleuthing of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. You land on a wharf, hear the waves lapping against the shore, and have to figure out where you are, where you want to go, and why you want to go there. Clues are cleverly hidden and obtuse enough that it will take days (or months?) to figure out. But no matter. You'll happily come back again and again. $48.

Ease of use: ***

Graphics: ***

Content: ***

SimCity

(Interplay Productions)

The CD-ROM of this classic game comes spruced up with video of several denizens of an emerging city. They'll tell you how you should build it, then complain when you do something wrong. Making the right moves brings in valuable tax dollars; the wrong ones lead to slums. The game takes time to learn. When you get the hang of it, you'll be ready to run as a real mayor. $47.

Ease of use: **

Graphics: ***

Content: ***

Eagle Eye Mysteries in London

(EA*Kids)

This DOS program should intrigue almost anyone, as Jake and Jennifer traipse through London to solve more than 50 cases. The mysteries, not to mention the castles and other London sites, were a hit with child testers. $35.

Ease of use: ***

Graphics: **

Content: ***

REFERENCE 3 TO 6 YEARS OLD

My First Incredible Amazing Dictionary

(DK Multimedia)

``Click on anything red to start.'' Now that's the way to open a children's dictionary. Kids explore by pictures or the 1,000-word vocabulary. Sounds and graphics are fun and realistic, but there's no video. Children who like words will like this program. $40.

Ease of use: ***

Graphics: **

Content: *** 6 TO 9 YEARS OLD

Macmillan Dictionary for Children

(Simon & Schuster Interactive)

This 12,000-word CD-ROM could be just the word-instructor children need to start school. It elegantly melds text lookups with voice pronunciation of any word listed. There are games too. The only drawback: Children can't cut-and-paste the definitions into other programs. $20.

Ease of use: ***

Graphics: **

Content: ** 9 YEARS OLD TO ADULT

Microsoft Encarta `95

(Microsoft)

Encarta has always had strong multimedia capabilities, and its latest incarnation adds strong text to go with it. Some 26,000 articles will take you to every corner of knowledge. The graphics and sound go beyond what book encyclopedias can do.

Users can listen to a clip of President Nixon's resignation speech, watch the animated diagrams of the changing battle lines at Gettysburg, view a video history of the building and the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and hear the song of the Yellow-fronted canary, for example.

Other Microsoft reference works are also winners: Cinemania `95 (movies), Microsoft Bookshelf (a powerful bundle of reference books), and Microsoft Dinosaurs (an animated children's guide). Encarta costs $89.

Ease of use: **

Graphics: ***

Content: ***

3D Landscape

(Books That Work)

This how-to program shines where others fail because it melds two difficult things: photos of sample landscapes and the animated designs of drawing programs. Whip out a plot of your own home, complete with elevation changes, then ``plant'' trees, shrubs, and ground cover where you want it.

The program's plant selector is abundant and detailed, allowing users to narrow their search to plants that fit the local soil and climate.

Other titles in the Books That Work series have not quite matched this one. $49.

Ease of use: **

Graphics: ***

Content: *** * KEY TO THE RATINGS

*** excellent

** good

* average

CD-ROMs with below-average ratings did not warrant Monitor recommendations.

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