Top Picks: Brainteasers, 'Invizimals,' 'Radioactive,' and more

PBS specials on scientific wonders, a PlayStation game that projects monsters, a book on Madame Curie, and more recommendations.

Courtesy of Powderhouse Productions
Gregg Allman's 'Low Country Blues.'
Lauren Redniss's new biography 'Radioactive.'


Tune into the smartest night on TV Feb. 9 when the PBS science show "NOVA" offers three brainteaser programs in a row. Beginning at 8 p.m., "How Smart Are Animals?" looks at surprising new findings about the furry, finned, and flying creatures around us. "Making Stuff Smarter" at 9 p.m. examines startling new inventions, including "smart" clothes. And at 10 p.m., "The Smartest Machine on Earth" peeks inside IBM's supercomputer, which will face off with human brainiac and "Jeopardy!" superstar Ken Jennings.

invisible monsters

Train and battle monsters – with your bedroom as the arena. "Invizimals," for the PlayStation Portable, uses a camera to scan your home for "invisible" monsters that only your PSP can detect. The game, out now, is a charming dip into augmented reality – the idea of layering computer graphics atop real-time video. For a less boys-will-be-boys example, "EyePet" projects a cuddly critter that reacts to your motions.


Few voices in American roots music are as distinctive and convincing as Gregg Allman's. "Low Country Blues," his first solo turn in 14 years, finds him in fine, growling form as he teams up with the ubiquitous producer T. Bone Burnett for a collection of vintage blues. With a quiet, reverb-drenched backing band laying down the grooves, Allman steps up and delivers on classics like Muddy Waters's "I Can't Be Satisfied" and Skip James's spooky "Devil Got My Woman." Georgia's native son knows his blues.

A life of drama

"Any Human Heart," a lush new British series based on the bestselling William Boyd novel launches on PBS's "Masterpiece Classic" Feb. 13 and runs for three weeks. Three notable British actors (Jim Broadbent, Matthew MacFadyen, Sam Claflin) play the lead, a fictional novelist who pursues his career amid the great events of the 20th century, from Paris in the 1920s to the Spanish Civil War and cold-war spying. The story is framed by his passionate affairs with a series of women, making it a mature-themed but still classy drama.

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The glow of radium

Much like Marie Curie herself, Lauren Redniss's new biography "Radioactive" has no use for convention. Part history, part artwork, this unique book recounts how Mme. Curie discovered the beautiful yet deadly element radium and how her passionate personal life seemed equally incandescent yet toxic. While well written, Redniss's prose is often outshined by her cyanotype prints, an eerie, luminescent style that in fact resembles the faint blue glow of radium.

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