Keeping the Mind Young, Strong

Article excerpt

Byline: Joseph Szadkowski, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Here's a look at a science-themed game and a Web site to help stimulate the noggin:

Brain Age, from Nintendo for Nintendo DS, rated E: content suitable for ages 13 and older, $19.99. Nintendo's magical hand-held gaming system celebrates the work of Japanese neuroscientist Ryuta Kawashima by engaging owners in a series of hands-on exercises geared to giving their gray matter a rigorous workout.

Users turn their dual-screen DS system sideways to view the presentations as if reading a book. Mr. Kawashima makes an appearance (as a gregarious, disembodied talking head) to explain his theory that just as muscle mass decreases with age, so does brain function, and only by performing certain types of mental activities each day will we keep our minds young and in tiptop shape.

Tuning the prefrontal cortex involves using the DS' microphone and touch screen to perform nine timed activities centered around simple reading and mathematical problem solving.

Once users save some personal data, they measure the current age of their brains using the Stroop Test. A series of colored words is flashed on both screens, and the user must say the color of the words. Speed and proficiency indicate a lower brain age. Users can test their age every day and watch the graphics and statistics for improvements as Mr. Kawashima encourages them.

That first-day testing point leads to a daily regime of activities that take about 10 minutes to complete and theoretically sharpen brain function. Exercises include making quick computations with addition, subtraction and multiplication by writing the answer on the touch screen; memorizing a sequence of numbers that pops up in boxes; and touching the boxes to review the sequences; remembering a series of words and writing them down on the touch screen; reading out loud; and counting syllables in passages from famous books.

The exercises easily convert to party games with up to four save files on one cartridge available to keep track of multiple brains or the option to send a demo version of an exercise to friends owning a DS, enabling up to 16 players to battle and see who can solve math problems the fastest.

The simulation even includes a robust version of Sudoku, the popular number puzzle that has pleasantly perplexed the world.

I cannot vouch whether Brain Age will keep brains sharper, but the challenges all were very stimulating and easily woke me out of a hump-day haze. …