Max Maven The

In 1998, Max Maven spent many weeks in Canada, taping 26 episodes of The MAXimum Dimension,a series of half-hour shows aimed at overcoming math phobia among young kids, using interactive games and puzzles to explore the mysterious and fun side of mathematics.

The series has been airing on the SCN and TVO networks. In the Toronto Sun, TV critic Claire Bickley wrote that she was "blown away" by the show, hailing it as "an addictive, fun format."

Clearly, viewers agree: The serieshas been placing among the top six highest rated shows on TVO.

Recently, Magic magazine, a leading trade journal for magicians, covered the series for their international readership. The article is reprinted here, with permission of editor Stan Allen and reporter Mac King.


By Mac King

Max Maven has a kid show. Nope, you read that right -- Max Maven has a kid show. Actually it's a weekly Canadian TV series aimed at children seven to eleven years old. So far, they've taped 26, which is two seasons worth of programs. I watched a few episodes, and I liked them. Actually, that's not quite true. I thought they were great. Max was charming and cute (perhaps not words that immediately come to mind when you think of Max), the show was educational without being dry and dull, and it seemed to me that kids would really enjoy it. But, I'm getting close to 40 years old (not exactly the target age the show is aiming for), so what do I know about a show for kids?

So here's what I did. I arranged to screen one episode of the show to Ms. Grubaugh's fourth grade class at Selma Bartlett Elementary School here in Las Vegas. I wanted to know what real ten-year-olds thought of the show. I arrived at 1:30 on a sunny Tuesday afternoon (which I believe is the time the class normally spends studying blackjack strategy).

I gave them the little speech I had prepared. "I'm here today to show you a TV program that airs in Canada. Does anybody know what state Canada is in?" They thought I was an idiot. "The star of this TV show is a magician, and I'm a magician who has been charged with writing a review of this TV show for a magazine for other magicians."

A girl's questioning hand shot up. "Why are they charging you to write for them?" she asked. (This is completely true.)

"Okay, I'll quit trying to be funny," sez I, "and we'll get right to the video. It's about 25 minutes long. When it's over, we'll take about 15 minutes for you to write answers to a few questions about what you thought of the show. Then we'll talk about the program a little bit, and you'll be free to go."

The episode that was shown that day, begins with a "come up and touch your TV screen " kind of interactive game that has become associated with Max's many TV appearances in the United States. Having already watched the show, my attention was primarily focused on the kids and their reactions. When Max invited them to come up to the TV and touch the screen they all remained seated at their desks, but extended their arms and hands out toward the television.

MAXimum Dimension Season 1

MAXimum Dimension Season 2
(top) The first season featured actors
Patrice Goodman and Chris Ross.
(bottom) The second season featured
actors Kevin Robson and Alison Heiberg.
It was a pretty cool sight to see this room full of kids pointing together at the diagram of X's and O's on the screen. Max gave them instructions on how to make each move, and I watched as their hands counted and made minute movements across the air. After each step, Max eliminated one or more of the unoccupied spaces. Of course, the idea was for Max to take away only spaces that the kids were not occupying, or in this case, pointing at. Each time there was a elimination of spaces on the screen, there was an audible gasp from the entire classroom. And when Max made the final elimination and every kid had ended up on the same square, they all literally cheered.

There are four characters in the show: a boy named Benjamin, a woman named Samantha, a translucent, floating, digitally animated, talking sphere named Pi, and Max Maven. Max is like a kind, but slightly eccentric, uncle who's always dispensing droll advice and brain teaser fun to the other two human characters.

Each of the shows is loosely built around a plot designed to illustrate a particular mathematical principle or "theme." This show's theme was introduced in that first interactive sequence. The remaining 20 minutes contained brain-teasers and puzzles designed to explore various aspects of this mathematical principle. The kids continued to be riveted to the screen right up to the end of the program. Before Ms. Grubaugh could stop the tape, the beginning of the next episode started. Seeing that there was more than one of these shows on the cassette prompted one kid to say, "Can we watch one of these every day?" At first, this seemed to be a ringing endorsement for Max's show, but then I realized that watching these programs is simply easier than studying blackjack odds.

After the show, I asked the students to write down the answer to four questions. What did you like most about the show? What did you like least about the show?

Did the X/O (interactive) game work for you? How do you think the X/O game worked? Their answers were most enlightening.

In their answers to my first question, the kids all indicated that they loved Max and Pi. They thought Max was really funny, which I guess makes sense. He's always had a kind of cartoonish quality about him, and his raised eyebrow and bemused look seem strangely suitable here in the kid show genre.

The answers to the second question of what did you like least, most of the kids liked Samantha the least. But in this particular episode, she was supposed to be doing something annoying to drive the plot along, so it seems unfair to say they didn't like her.

The answers to the third question I found to be very fascinating. When Max seemingly guessed correctly where they were on the X/O gameboard the kids expressed it as "I won," instead of "Max won." This is, to me, a very important distinction, indicating that they didn't feel themselves to be in an adversarial relationship with Max.

As for the fourth question (how the X/O interactive game worked), these answers were my favorites. They ranged from oddly correct, "I thought it worked because they set it up so you had to move a certain way"; to the not quite as probable, "He might just have read your mind."

After writing their answers to my questions, I asked the class if they had any questions for me. The most popular question was: "Are they going to make this show in this country?" Which is all the validation I needed of my assessment -- kids would really enjoy this show.

Text copyright 1999 by Mac King and Magic magazine.

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