Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Crazy Machines: The Wacky Contraptions Game

Crazy Machines: The Wacky Contraptions Game

Spring 2006 Software
Ages: 10 & Up
Publisher: Viva Media
Price: $19.99
Platform: windows 98/me/2000/xp mac osx10.3+
The latest incarnation of a long line of “create-a-contraption” software (think Sierra's “Incredible Machine” in the '90s!), this game is like Mechanical Engineering 101 and well-suited to up-and-coming puzzle solvers who like to tinker with gears, pulleys, levers, dominoes, catapults and balls. It's all about positioning and combining objects in the right way to create simple, cause-and-effect machines that achieve a specific objective.

More than 200 Rube Goldberg-type challenges range from simple problems such as making a variety of balls drop into a box to more complex tasks that might involve a dozen of the 70-plus elements available (catapults and canons to electricity and air-pressure devices). Players can also piddle in their labs building their own unusual inventions.

This is intelligent fun, the kind of educational playground that's addictive to some youngsters. The designers created high-quality graphics that when set into motion abide by the laws of physics and act like they're real with convincing sound effects and visual responses. Even the music choices are sweet—our favorite approximating the mellowing, contemplative power of Pacelbel's “Canon.”

Note to parents: These mechanical machinations aren't for everyone. This game requires not only a basic interest in mechanics but patience as well. There's no hint button when you get stuck--and you do get stuck sooner or later. So all you can do is rely on your own wit and problem-solving skills. But, overall, this is a good learner—that engineers its own charms.

Don Oldenburg   ©2006 Parents' Choice
A former feature writer and consumer columnist at The Washington Post for 22 years, Don Oldenburg is the Director of Publications and Editor of the National Italian American Foundation, in Washington, D.C. He regularly reviews books for USA Today and is the coauthor of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lovers Companion" (Avalon Travel). The proud father of three sons, he lives with his journalist-author wife, Ann Oldenburg, in McLean, VA.

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