Thursday, April 2, 2009
There were two words every 90s child eagerly anticipated in their elementary school classrooms. No, they weren't "No Homework" or even "Snow Day".
They were "Computer Lab".
Hearken back to a day when computer use was a novelty and not a supposedly integral part of our day-to-day existence. In the 90s, elementary schools began installing state-of-the-art computer labs bursting with educational games galore. It was the ultimate educational experience, as both kids and teachers felt like they were getting away with something illicit; as kids, we couldn't believe we were out there playing games during the middle of our school day with no one vetoing our enjoyment, and teachers couldn't believe that we were actually buying into this emphatically educational experience. Everyone was a winner at computer lab time.
That is, unless you were bad with prime numbers.
Enter a little game that went by the name of "Number Munchers". It sounded innocent enough, but it was enough to boil your blood with rage when those pesky Troggles came to gobble up answers and stymie our most earnest of munching efforts. For those of you unfamiliar with the Troggle genus and/or phylum, they came in a variety of kooky colors, shapes, and sizes. Our friends at the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (the company that produced the software) used their ultimate computer nerdiness to develop complex scientific names and traits for the respective Troggles. Our software designer (dorkius maximus) provided us with a virtual rainbow of Troggolicious nemeses.
My favorite were the fuschia Reggies, or Trogglus Normalus. Sure, they tried to eat me and scramble my equations, but by God were they adorable. The most irritating Troggle had to be the game-foiling Helpers, Trogglus Assistus. They would appear innocently enough, looking like an adorable clone of my green munching self. "Oh!" I thought to myself. "Another little Math Muncher incarnate here to partner amicably with me and win me truckloads of munch-earned points!" Not so, childhood self. These malevolent munchers were up to no good, stealing my correct answers and taking my potential high-scoring points with them. How was I supposed to immortalize myself in the game's Hall of Fame? What good was this game unless kids who had Computer Lab time later in the day could bask in the radiating glow of my newly canonized position amongst the greats?
Number Munchers was essentially a school-sanctioned version of beloved classic Pacman game, but with an underlying element of solving math problems to avoid sudden death. Sure, every once in awhile a "safety square" would appear, but they were pretty fickle. It was all about finding the correct answers and dodging the ever quickening omnipresent Troggles and collecting a great bounty of points along the way. However, it wasn't all just fun and games; there were periods of passive entertainment as well! Imagine, Troggles and Munchers alike would gather round the screen to entertain you with their crudely animated antics. During these short scenes, our mainstay muncher would somehow elude the colassal but dim-witted Troggle's plan for our demise. Think you can light my muncher mansion on fire? Think again, Trogglus Smarticus. My muncher's got a fire extinguisher.
If this account has yet to jog your memory, perhaps this illustrative video will put it in running gear. Though it depicts a slightly earlier version than the one I played at school and eventually begged my way to owning at home, you will probably get the general idea:
We loved this game with a near religious fervor. The only problem was, I was terrible at math. I still am. In fact, I was dabbling in the free online version of the game here and I just realized I don't even know what a prime number is. How am I supposed to confound Troggles without a basic grounding in elementary math? Fortunately, the good people at MECC software came up with an alternative perfect for those of us dorky enough to adore playing Number Munchers, but not smart enough to derive multiples of 16 without consulting some sort of a chart.
All hail the mighty Word Munchers, redeemer of self esteem for right-brained children everywhere. Word Munchers was essentially the same concept and game construct, but addressing English class standards such as phonics, grammar, and parts of speech. Do I know what part of speech "she" is? You bet I do! Can I identify rhyming words? Absolutely! Recognize antonyms? Piece of cake! Whew, for a second there I thought I was doomed to Apple II excommunication for lack of math ability.
Number Munchers or Word, one thing was for certain. In the ultimate battle of Muncher vs. Troggle, you would give anything for Muncher to be the triumphant victor. Just to see that venerable animated sequence of me, the once lowly Muncher, beating the once all-powerful reigning Troggle to the top of the Math or Word mountain to plan my victory flag (conveniently marked "M" for Muncher). We put that flag in, it's a done deal.
Hall of fame, here we come.
Oh how the mighty have fallen:
View the world's most frightening computer game illustration on the cover the current version of the renamed "Math Munchers" It appears that our old friend Muncher has morphed into a frenzied math addict, eager to get his hands on a quick division-sign fix.