Review by MartinIIIa
Simple lessons in how to do amazing math
Usually, the point of a review is to guide the reader through whether or not they should buy a product. With Mathemagics, this would be a bit redundant. You don't need a review to know that Mathemagics is rare as all get out, can go for three-digit figures, and consists of roughly an hour of short lessons from Arthur T. Benjamin, Ph.D. Nor do you need a review to know that you can purchase one of three DVD collections containing 12 hours of Benjamin's lectures for a little over $250 - a large sum, but obviously a much better value per dollar (or whichever currency you use) than the 3DO release, even without taking into account the massively superior video quality. Besides, if you're trying to keep expenses down, you can view many of his talks for free just by searching his name online. And heck, if you're interested enough in Benjamin's mathematics to seek out this 3DO rarity, why not go the whole hog and enroll in one of his classes at Harvey Mudd College? He still teaches there.
So why am I writing this review, when Mathemagics is obviously something only 3DO collectors should buy? Simply because not much seems to have been said about the release, and I feel that it must be proclaimed somewhere that Mathemagics, while not worth throwing away $100 on, is a very cool disc.
Mathemagics covers nine topics, each with four videos. For each, the first video is a short intro, the second shows Benjamin demonstrating his skill before an audience, and the last two are lectures explaining how you can perform the tricks yourself. The content is excellent, with only two topics drawing complaint from me: the number memorization technique, which is too tied into the way Benjamin's specific mind works, and the "calender trick", because Benjamin neglects to explain the mathematics of why the trick works. Other than that, this is good math presented to be easily accessible to the layman. (Plus, it was downright spooky for me to hear Benjamin explain in words the same technique I've been unconsciously using to perform mental math for nearly all my life.)
The presentation makes all this mathematics easy to swallow. Benjamin has a clear voice, a likeable personality, and a very straightforward way of explaining everything. Still, it's hard to grasp a mathematical concept just by hearing someone talk about it, and the developers can be applauded for accompanying Benjamin's explanations with mathematical animations which are simple, easy to follow, and perfectly in synch with what he says.
The one major downside to Mathemagics is the lack of a gaming aspect. While you can of course try out what you learn from Benjamin's talks in the real world, it would be nice if there were a way to test yourself without taking your hands off the 3DO controller. And really, how hard would it be to program a game engine to generate random arithmetic problems and tell the player whether or not his answer is right?
But while it lacks gaming mechanics, it wouldn't be completely accurate to see that Mathemagics is not interactive. First of all, you select each mini-lecture you want to view. This is a simple thing, but somehow the act of choosing to watch Benjamin explain something is more engaging than it would be to simply start up a DVD and leave it running. Second, you have all the standard DVD options like pause, rewind, etc.
Third, and most interesting, each video is accompanied by a feature called "TransporText". This consists of the video translated into text accompanied by audio, which is very handy if you ever find Benjamin is going too fast for you. In addition, key words are highlighted, and you can select them to view a definition or additional explanations.
All in all, Mathemagics is an excellent disc for anyone who would like to be a little bit better at math. And in the unlikely event that you stumble upon it in a yard sale for under $20, you should definitely buy it. Now if you'll excuse me, there are mathematics talks on the internet that I need to watch.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Mathemagics (US, 12/31/94)
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