Time Waits for No Engineer

A new computer game lets kids solve age-old engineering problems

How would you have arranged a radar array to protect London during the Blitz? How do you lower a drawbridge without crashing it, using only medieval technology? How can you build a pyramid out of massive stones using only sand, clay, and ropes? And how do you inveigle kids, 7 to 17, into tackling such questions?

Game designer Ray Shingler has solved all those puzzles with Time Engineers , a video game in which players ride a magnetic egg back in time to three eras. In each, players solve two engineering problems. As would-be electrical engineers, they create radar arrays; as mechanical engineers, they design a diesel submarine; and as civil engineers they build those drawbridges and pyramids.

Images: SoftwareKids

Time Engineers

US $19.95; Software Kids, Valparaiso, Ind.; http://www.timeengineers.com

Older kids can click to find mathematical formulas necessary to solve these problems as real engineers do. Coby, my 7-year-old, instead applied trial and error to the basic engineering principles provided. He does have the engineering mind-set though, at one point passionately insisting: ”We are in the desert. Sand is cheap!”

I argued for clay as a more cost-effective, sturdier ramp material. It would have less give and require fewer workers to pull stones up. Point one to Mom.

Coby did, however, work out faster than Mom how wide a radar sweep we needed to save London from an air attack. I nailed the number of engines and the speed required to move a submarine through enemy patrols on the first shot. It took us about an hour and a half to play the game through, and we wanted more.

Shingler says Time Engineers has been used by hundreds of high school teachers around the country in their classrooms and by thousands of parents--lots of them engineers who want to introduce their kids to the family business.

Sure enough, Coby now thinks engineering is cool, even though Time Engineers is not perfect. It’s too short, and the animations are dated. But it was fun and well worth both the time to play it and the US $19.95 it costs. Shingler says the money will go toward a flashier, longer version due out next year.

About the Author

Sherry Sontag is coauthor of the best seller Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage (Harper Perennial, 1998) and a regular contributor to Spectrum .

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