Welcome back to "the Animal House." I'm Sam Litzinger. Disney and Facebook have collaborated on a new Internet game that connects hundreds of thousands of kids with animal conservation and wildlife philanthropy. Here to tell us more is Jinny Gudmundsen, Kid Tech columnist with USA Today and editor of the Internet magazine, Computing with Kids. Jinny, glad to have you with us in "The Animal House."
Nice to be here, Sam. Thanks for inviting me.
So the game is the Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers. What are the basics? What do we need to know about this thing?
This is an unusual game because unlike most video games which play on consoles, this one plays from within Facebook. You're solving hidden object puzzles, but you're doing it for the purpose of actually earning currency that you need so that you can build your own game preserve. So it's an ecology environmental game all about saving animals and their habitats.
Walk us through a little more. Okay. Suppose I log -- and by the way, this is a Facebook exclusive, right?
This is a Facebook exclusive, and because you have to be age 13 to have a Facebook account, this is a game for teens and adults that enjoy animals. So you come in, you start this game, and you immediately become a new member of the Global Wildlife Research Team. And as a consequence, you are -- your role is to help this team when they get an alert that something is wrong in a certain area in the world, and then you travel to that world to solve the problem.
And the way you solve the problem is to do the hidden objects puzzles. What's interesting is the things you're searching for are camouflaged animals. And so that's where you get a whole aspect of learning about animals, as well as plant and insects and birds, and they are so accurate, and they're going so deep into the knowledge of animals that, you know, I mean, you may see a scene where there's 13, 14 different kinds of monkeys, and, you know, they're asking for a very specific one for you to find.
So to that extent, it can be challenging, and it's also educational in the sense that it's going to teach you what those different kinds are. But it also has some really good built in aids in the sense that there's on any puzzle you can click on what looks like a magnifying glass, and it's going to help you find an item. Or you can click on a binoculars, and that's going to all of a sudden highlight as you move it across the scene, it's going to -- certain things that you need sparkle. So you can get some help about what you're looking for.
Is it free to play?
It is free to play, and I say that with just a little bit of an asterisk by it, because as with most of these free Facebook games, there's an aspect about it that sort of encourages you to maybe spend some money. So the term is, it's a Freemium game. You can play it without paying any money, but it will take longer, or you're going to have to wait for certain things to happen until you get a certain amount of currency before you can do the next thing.
Are you convinced, based on your reporting, that there really is an educational aspect to the game, that is, it is didactic in a good sense of the word?
Yes. I am very much aware that players who experience this game are going to have a better awareness of the different kinds of animals, the different kinds of habitats, and some of the issues that are happening across the world with animal habitats.
And finally, Jinny, I must ask, how did you do with the game?
Well, I found that I was searching through my friends to find out who else might be interested in this game and play it with me since I needed some help. So I actually did manage to convince some of my friends to come play it, and I really enjoyed it.
The game is Disney Animal Kingdom Explorers on Facebook, if you would like to check it out. Our guest has been Jinny Gudmundsen, editor of the Internet magazine, Computing with Kids, and Kid Tech columnist with USA Today. Jinny, thank you very much for being with us in "The Animal House."
Thank you so much, Sam. I enjoyed it.
You'll find many animals with special talents at the Smithsonian National Zoo, but one of them has an artistic flair normally associated with humans. WAMU news reporter, Sabri Ben-Achour tells us more.
So here's some music.
And this is also music. It's from a Pygmy celebration in Eastern Congo.
But what about this?
That last ditty is by Shanthi. She's kind of new. You might not have heard of her because...
Shanthi is our 36-year-old Asian Elephant.
That's National Zoo elephant keeper, Debbie Flinkman. Shanthi plays, slash, plays with the harmonica.
She's just so interested in finding ways to make interesting noises. If a lock makes noise, she'll flip the lock repetitively. She will blow across the top of toys that we have drilled holes in.
Flinkman ended up fastening a harmonica to a wall in Shanthi's enclosure and Shanthi would play it.
It's not usually a long ditty, but it always ends in this really big sort of fanfare at the end, this big blowout.
So let's take the idea of the beat. The beat, the beat, the beat. Human babies can keep a beat. Most music has a beat, but most animals have no rhythm, like Gibbons. These are monkeys that do kind of sing to mark their territory.
But researchers tried to train these guys to just tap their finger in time to a metronome.
Four hours a day they practiced for a year. The Gibbons could not do it. And then there's this guy.
That's a Cockatoo named Snowball, and he's dancing, like straight up dancing, keeping time, bobbing his head, kicking his feet, no problem keeping a beat.
Species that do this seem to be species that do vocal mimicry.
That's Greg Bryant. He's an assistant professor at UCLA's Department of Communication Studies. Cockatoos don't dance in the wild as far as we know, so there's no evolutionary reason why they would have evolved to keep a beat but they can. The birds evolve vocal mimicry and it just so happens that helps with keeping a beat and dancing.
And so that might be the evolutionary origins of our ability too, since we also can do vocal mimicry.
Back at the zoo, Shanthi loves to makes sounds. Is it music? Elephant keeper Debbie Flinkman says it sounds like more than just playing around to her.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so I figure, you know, a song is in the ear of the listener. So I think it's music.
Dan Levitin is a professor of psychology and neuroscience McGill University. He thinks Shanthi is just basically playing around, but...
I think that music is, really falls along a continuum. There are things that are music like, where you put the dividing line I think is subjective.
After all, we can hardly figure out why we even have music, let alone whether Shanthi does. I'm Sabri Ben-Achour.
GPS, global positioning sea turtle? This is Sandra Tsing-Loh with the Loh Down on Science saying yes. Newly hatched Loggerheads swim northeast from Florida catching clockwise currents to feedings grounds in the Atlantic. Later, they head southwest to ride the circular currents back home. But how do they know where to meet the currents? Geomagnetism, say biologists at the University of North Carolina. Different spots on Earth vary in both magnetic intensity and angle. Angle? Yes.
If a compass needle wasn't pinned down, it would tilt to match the local magnetic field's angle. The UNC team put wild hatchlings in two specially magnetized pools, matching locations off Africa and Puerto Rico which have similar magnetic intensities and latitudes. But subtle angular differences. Results? In the Africa pool, hatchlings swam southwest to get home. In the Puerto Rico pool? Northeast. Meaning the little guys knew which side of the ocean they were on.
The Loggerheads combine intensity and angle sense to navigate. Wow. Wouldn't baby turtles look cute on our dashboards? Yeah. I think I'll stick with GPS.
The Loh Down on Science online at lohdown.org. Produced by 89.3 KPCC and the California Institute of Technology, and made possible by TIAA CREF.
Dr. Gary Weitzman is standing by with answers to your questions about pets in "The Animal House."
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