What: Arcade racing through the Windy City. Details: Microsoft evidently sold enough copies of the motorcycle racer Motocross Madness last year to warrant another 3D accelerator-required game. Midtown Madness provides drivers with a choice of 10 street vehicles, which range in size from a new Volkswagen Beetle to a city bus. Players can terrify pedestrians throughout a highly-detailed, virtual Chicago in different game modes that let you try options from tooling around and exploring the town's accurately reproduced nooks and crannies to playing cops and robbers with other drivers over the Web. Not a bad time, overall, but this game requires way too much memory and processing power, in addition to the 3D accelerator requirement, to run smoothly on most computers. If you've got sufficient horsepower under your computer's hood, though, there are probably enough options, modes, streets and highways to keep you diverted until the next sequel comes along, which will likely feature another metropolis, and -- this is just a guess here, folks -- require even more processing power. Bottom line: Not a bad drive, but only if you're holding the keys to a well-equipped PC.

-- John Gaudiosi

Win 95-98, $40


What: Kids' edutainment title. Details: The weird Fripple creatures who have littered previous Thinkin' Things titles get the starring roles in this thought-promoting collection of four problem-solving activities. The best starting point is the open-ended play of Fripple Skate Park, where players create spirographic skate patterns in the "ice" by directing the Fripple skater with certain mathematical sequences. Sounds complicated, but kids will try this over and over -- and eventually, after creating a few dozen cool and colorful designs, they'll start to figure out the relationship between their randomly chosen numbers and the visual outcome. Fripple Flags, more design-based play, is equally energizing for developing brain power: Kids help the Fripple flag maker create banners to satisfy finicky customers who demand certain design elements. Fripple Cookies challenges kids to work backward from increasingly complicated cookie designs to re-create the recipe -- including the tools used, the decorations and the sequence of steps. Last and least is Fripple Deliveries, in which kids direct

a delivery truck through the streets of Frippletown, following written directions; the payoff seems less inspiring and tangible. Except for Fripple Skate, all of the activities get more difficult as a child gets the hang of it, and parents can set the "grow slide" higher for older kids. Bottom line: Sizzle, sizzle -- this is your child's brain on Fripple.

-- Don Oldenburg

Win 95-98/Mac, $30, ages 4 to 8

CAPTION: Madness in the middle of our street.