Old Educational Computer Games

I’m hanging out with my brother (and sister-in-law and their newborn twins) this week and in some of our downtime my brother Anthony and I were reminiscing about some of the old computer games we played as kids. We had a Macintosh SE as our first family computer in the late 1980s. There were a bunch of educational games that we played and some non-educational as well.

We both remembered playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego1, Dark Castle, Crystal Quest, Tetris (of course), Shuffle Puck, and a few others. But there were two games that we couldn’t quite remember the titles or full descriptions of. Anthony remembered a race car game that had something to do with math and I remembered a quiz/trivia type of game that had something to do with castles. Anthony thought that maybe there was a trophy room in the trivia game where you would be able to over time fill up the room with awards in the game and that sounded right to me as well.

We spent a few hours last night looking online, Googling different phrases, going through image searches of screenshots of classic Mac games, trying to find these two games. We spent most of our effort on the trivia game because I didn’t really remember the race car one. We had no luck. Lots of dead ends. We spent a lot of time on Macintosh Garden, a website that specializes in abandoned and old Macintosh games. We scrolled through all 402 “educational” games on the site and didn’t see what we had vaguely remembered in our brains.

This afternoon we continued the search in between feeding the twins, and we thought we almost found it at one point. We saw NumberMaze2 and it seemed so familiar! We definitely had the game and it matched a lot of what we had both remembered about the game. It is basically a maze that you go through (as a mouse) and you answer simple math problems to go through boundaries in the maze. Sometimes you have to get a key in the maze first to unlock later doors. At the end of each maze you get a trophy that goes into a big room. Success!

But it seemed like there were still some missing parts. Although the problem-blocking-access-to-the-next-room mechanic seemed right, I didn’t think it was just math problems. I really thought that it was a trivia/multiple choice kind of game with lots of different topics. Also, there was a key missing element: we both remembered that in between problems there were funny/clever/annoying quotations and sayings to either cheer you on or taunt you for getting things wrong. And that was totally missing from NumberMaze which was definitely geared at younger audiences that should not be taunted for wrong answers.

We were pretty excited about getting this far and finding at least one of the mystery games from our younger days, but we were both frustrated at not being able to find the exact game we were thinking of.

Then….later….I thought of something. I remembered one of the annoying interstitial sayings. It was actually one of those dumb jokes that has stayed with me long after playing the game: “even a broken clock is right twice a day”. So I added that phrase to my Google search and voila on the first page there was a link to a reddit page with someone looking for the same game. We clicked and sure enough, it was the game we were also searching for! It turns out that it was MindMaze from an early 1990s version of Microsoft Encarta3. It had the trivia questions I remember, the choices between which doors in the maze to go through next, the annoying sayings, and was set in a castle. We found it!!

Later in the day Anthony remembered a key phrase from his race car game as well and using our new-found Google skills, we found his mystery game as well: Turbo Math Facts. It was another math game where you answer simple math fact questions to gain money to buy cars to put into a drag race. It is mostly memorable for the “oh no! OH NO! OH NO!” voice that announced the beginning of each drag race. Also, it is a great example of how you shouldn’t make an educational game.

  1. I think that the Carmen Sandiego typewriter noise will always instill a sense of adventure (or maybe just problem solving enthusiasm) in me. 
  2. NumberMaze was made by Great Wave Software in 1988. 
  3. Yes, I linked to the Wikipedia page about Microsoft Encarta. Encarta was amazing in the 1990s and once in a while I miss it, but Wikipedia, while not always reliable, is way more convenient (and has a broader knowledge base) than a CD-ROM you had to spin up to look up anything. 

Author: cynthiadangelo

I am a researcher, working on educational games, science education, and data visualization. I like photography, soccer, traveling, and teaching my dog new tricks.

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