Number Munchers

There were four staples of school computer labs in the early 90's. One was your run-of-the-mill typing tutor; we had something called PAWS in which a nitpicky orange cat would frown at you if you misspelled "He had jell." Whatever that meant.

There was Oregon Trail, which I covered on another page. For creative time, there was the voice-sample-heavy Kid Pix. But the undisputed favorite took our least favorite subject--math--and made a kickbutt game out of it.

We controlled a froglike character with an appetite for numerical symbols through an endless amount of boards until we made enough mistakes to end our game. We could kill the Muncher by feeding him a number that didn't match the current board's theme (prime numbers, factorials, etc) but he could also fall victim to any one of his natural predators, the Troggles.

Reggies appeared the most often, and were the easiest Troggles to avoid, as they travelled in a predictable straight line from one end of the board to the other. Troggles also complicated your completion of a board as they often stood on a number you needed, or exited a square leaving a new number there. That might imply Troggles poop numbers, which would explain the game's entire ecosystem...
Exactly whom these Fraggles are helping is unclear. They do nothing for you, but they do nothing for other Troggles either. Helpers are badly named, as they actually only care about themselves. They find nothing more delicious than correct answers, and though that may help you clear the boards quicker, you're not on a time limit and your points system is based on how many numbers YOU eat.
You have to be really stupid to get eaten by a Bashful, as their movement is based on maneuvering away from you, not toward you. Typically that was a mistake made by either the ugliest girl in the class or the boy with the headgear, prompting more cruel laughter directed at them.
All Workers are concerned with is changing the numbers around while walking in no particular direction. This doesn't mean they won't eat you if you give them the chance, it just means it isn't their whole life mission.
Smarties, named after a candy I'm still convinced the school board created out of unused chalk sticks, are the most annoying of the Troggles. Their intelligence is debatable, actually, as the only proof the game provides of their being smarter is that their vision is sharper than three inches ahead of them. Once they get on the board, they know exactly where you are, and they won't rest until you're their dinner.

This is the game board. The three Munchers denote how many lives you have left, and the square with the smaller squares in it is a "safe zone." A Muncher can take refuge in it if things get too hot, but if a Troggle tries stepping inside, he's vaporized. Everything has a balance, though. The safe zones frequently change location without warning.

This is actually a screen from the demo mode; you would not normally be doing multiples of Freakin' 19 on level four. There is no end to Number Munchers, however, and if you play long enough on some modes, you'll get to levels that are advanced enough to drive full-grown adults insane.

Like I could know that off the top of my head. Who do I look like, Danica McKellar?

The AI of the game holds one secret...Troggles will not only eat Munchers, and the occasional number, but themselves. If two Troggles run into the same space, even if they're the same species, one will devour the other. And that is just awesome.

But not as awesome as the best part of Number Munchers: the cartoons. What kept us going was that every three boards, we would get one of six short films entitled "Great Moments in Muncher History." YouTube was at least fifteen years away, and the concept of watching a "moving picture" on a computer, no matter how crude, was fantastic.

Sure, the old gag about carving your own face in Mount Rushmore has been done, but Number Muncher did it with style...

As fun as reminiscing about Number Munchers is, it'd be criminal not to provide you the chance to replay the game itself, so munch away!