Originally created 08/05/99

Mind-Gym exercises the old gray matter



If you write notes as memory aids and find yourself forgetting where you put the notes, maybe it's time for Mind-Gym, a program from Simon & Schuster Interactive that might help strengthen that muscle between your ears.

Mind-Gym is a series of mental exercises delivered by a "personal trainer" with an amusing, sarcastic attitude and a British accent. (The program won the British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for best comedy CD.)

First stop is the Changing Room, where a series of challenges are posed to assess your mental strengths and weaknesses. I need to be more open-minded, the software decided (apparently on its own, since there was no evidence of contact between my wife and Simon & Schuster Interactive). It also rates you on accepting or challenging information, experimental inclinations and being pro-active and empowered.

That assessment in hand, the software offers three areas for mental exercise: the Pool of Ideas, Think Tank and Game Room.

The Pool of Ideas has five areas that encourage creative thinking. The Think Tank focuses on implementing ideas. And the Game Room hones memory, word and number skills, and visual and spatial skills.

The Personal Trainer comments -- and not always favorably -- on your performance, in the approximate tone of a teen-ager explaining life to a parent. The temptation is to dismiss the exercises as mindlessly easy, a temptation that promptly disappears after you see your first performance review.

The program prompts you to log in, and each subsequent session is different from the first, with more difficult challenges.

The graphics in Mind-Gym are nicely done, and the user interface is clean and intuitive. Installation was easy enough, although the developers chose not to have the CD auto-install, a mental lapse that surely would draw acid comment from that "personal trainer." The developers did include an uninstall program module, so they get points for that. (Yes, Windows has add-remove software, and sometimes it even works, but having the program uninstall itself usually works better.)

System requirements for Mind-Gym are very modest: a 486 chip, doublespeed CD-ROM drive, eight megabytes of RAM, 16-bit sound card, 256-color SVGA display and Windows 3.1.1, 95 or 98. (Anything new that runs on Windows 3.x is pretty rare these days.)

The software is rated for teens and older by the Entertainment System Review Board, but the raciest thing about it is the cover art, which features a balding nerd type, eyeglass frames taped together, who is sitting in a locker room in his briefs. So don't worry.

The estimated street price of Mind-Gym is $29.95. Simon & Schuster Interactive products are widely available at retail.