Carmen Sandiego Strikes Again

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Over the past 13 years, Carmen Sandiego has infiltrated the computers of more than 6 million kids around the world with her wily tricks and devious schemes. "Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?" and "Where in the U.S.A. Is Carmen Sandiego?" have won more than 70 awards and are the top-selling software used in elementary schools.

Now Carmen has taken her criminal activities beyond geography and into the realms of history, math, and the language arts with three new titles that encourage children to use their skills and powers of reasoning to solve "puzzles" that will foil the elusive villainess's most dastardly plans ever.

Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego (Brderbund) is the most closely related to the series' prototype. Not only do players track Carmen and her V.I.L.E. henchmen around the world, they also follow a trail through time to recover some of the world's most cherished treasures and help put 3000 years of history back on course. The beloved Chief sets players up with 18 different cases in which they meet and help some of the most important figures in history complete their appointed tasks.

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A working knowledge of history is helpful but not necessary. Players are aided by a friendly guide, whom they can periodically ask questions. There's a bit of trial and error involved when clues are not immediately apparent. It can get tedious for adults, but children, for whom the tactic is a natural part of learning, don't seem to mind. The software is tailored for ages 9 and up, but my eight-year-old is already a pro and my four-year-old (with Mom's help) finds it thoroughly engaging.

Carmen Sandiego Word Detective and Carmen Sandiego Math Detective, for ages 8 to 14, work a little differently. Each has fledgling detectives explore a variety of hideaways to find the keys that will release 12 agents Carmen has captured. The locations and hiding places get repetitive fairly quickly, but the framework is merely a clever, lively guise to draw kids into three levels of challenging puzzles even adults can enjoy.

"Word Detective" requires a solid grasp of reading and spelling - even the simplest level may require the intrepid third-grader to use some trial and error tactics. Similarly, "Math Detective" assumes a pretty firm grasp of three-digit addition and subtraction at even the basic level, graduating to a host of pre-algebra functions, from geometry to percentages. But kids with an appetite for these kinds of games will find hours of pleasure and challenge - not to mention the satisfaction of giving the ever-cunning Carmen a run for her money.

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