Don’t even think of reaching for a calculator - use your head. What’s 15 plus 27 plus 49 multiplied by 17??? A bit tricky? Do you ever get the feeling that we rely too much on calculators? When I went to school, it became compulsory to buy a calculator in the third year - very exciting; we all got one of those Casio scientific models with loads of buttons that I never quite worked

There’s no doubt that we do rely quite heavily on our calculators. I always have one lying around, and the number of times that I reach for it when I could really work it out in my head is well incalculable.

This is the theory behind Abacus/TheBasics 3.0 - designed to be a “stimulating and enjoyable way of addressing this subject by taking advantage of up-to-date-technology”, the software is primarily aimed at children aged seven and upwards, but can really be used by anyone wanting to scrape the rust off their mental arithmetic skills.

##How it works

The idea behind the program is as follows. A grid of numbers is displayed on the screen (10 x 10) and a number is ‘randomly’ chosen, to be the right hand side of an equation. You then have to find a combination of numbers from the grid that solves the equation in the header row. You first select the numbers, and then the combination of plus, minus, multiply and/or division signs needed. The rules are that the numbers have to be in a straight, connected line, and the number of factors in the equation has to be filled - this may be two, three or four depending on the level of difficulty selected. Another rule is that the rules of mathematics apply - for instance you can’t divide by zero.

There are different modes and difficulty levels - a single player can either play against the clock or a certain number of times on the counter. And there’s a great multiple-player mode that lets up to four players be assigned their own hot keys (quiz-show buzzer style); the number is displayed, the first person to see the solutions hits their key. Great fun!

##Final Verdict

This is a clever idea, that really does force you to do a lot of mental arithmetic in the course of using it. There are also various progress reports that can be used to keep an eye on how much you (or your child) improves. The key as to how successful the software will be, will depend on how much your child likes using the program. You would therefore be advised to let your child try the program first - isn’t that what shareware’s for? The trial version will give you a full month to try it out. We tried the software on three different people - two of them were ‘adults’ (legally at least) and one nine year-old child. The result? The child loved it, and the adults found it surprisingly challenging - and I do believe that regular use of this program can only improve your mental arithmetic skills.