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Head games 

Lezlie Lowe checks out the latest trends in cognitive exercise.

Does fooling around with numbers make you math-savvy?

It must. I convinced myself—a grade 11 honours student—I just “couldn’t do” math. I’ve been using a calculator ever since and now, guess what? I actually can’t do math.

My multiplication tables have been erased to make space for information I access more often (Dharma Sushi’s phone number, mostly—though I can scarcely calculate tips).

Maybe I should get Brain Age for Nintendo DS. That’ll make me smarter.

Wait a minute! Arrghh! That’s just what Nintendo wants me to say!

Brain Age, software for hand-held Nintendo DS, was launched in North America April 17; it’s been a blockbuster seller in Japan since it hit the streets there last summer. Brain Age—which strings you through a series of calculation, counting, reading and other puzzles, rates your “brain age” and entices you to play more to improve the number— sells for $24.99, the guy at EB Games on Young Street told me Saturday over the rat-a-tat-tat of a shooter game demo and the “duuude-check-it-out”s emitting from a small flock of 20-something men.

Twenty-five bucks is a small price to pay for intelligence, which is exactly what Nintendo is selling when it reminds viewers in its Brain Age promo vid: “cognitive exercises stimulate your mind through increased blood flow to the brain.”

Plus, smarts have almost as much appeal as gold tooth grills these days. Consider the current worldwide buzz around make-you-brainy Sudoku puzzles. Pencil sales in England increased 700 percent in the past six months, all, according to The Associated Press, thanks to Sudoku, and British Airways has ordered cabin crew to refrain from working on Sudoku during take-offs and landings.

Sudoku—for which I’ve just written and deleted 15 different and equally confusing explanations—is a number placement puzzle. It hones patience and logical ability. Prevents brain rot, they say. In theory, Brain Age keeps the sparks clicking upstairs too.

If you’re a non-gamer who’s mulling over shelling out 160 smackers for a Nintendo DS gaming console so you can play Brain Age and increase your cognitive function, I have a big question: have you considered reading books? If not, perhaps balancing your chequebook? Turning off MuchMoreMusic’s Listed?

No? Then let me ask you another question: what segment of the population doesn’t buy video games? Or, if you prefer, what people are least likely to pour puddles of cash onto the counters at gaming stores (at least, when they’re not under the thumb of some pre-pubescent gamer who’s convinced them Lara Croft’s tits have nothing to do with Tomb Raider)?

The answer: women over 30, baby boomers, the elderly. And who’s Brain Age for? Yes, yes, I see your cognitive sparks lighting…

Already in Japan, an April 19 Wired.com story says, Brain Age has lured “literally millions of dads, grannies and other non-gamers” to its digital glare.

“Baby Boomers and test-prepping school kids alike want to challenge themselves and find ways to stay sharp,” says Nintendo.com. Here’s the translation: Hey! Middle-aged desk jockeys! Kids who actually spend time studying instead of spending hours playing video games! We got the rest of the world. And we’re going to get you too!

You don’t need Brain Age to make you smarter. You need to read a book and have a conversation about it. And I don’t even need Brain Age to tell me that.

How do you train your brain? email: lezliel@thecoast.ca

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