“Chinese Cubes Starter Pack” is $149 from ChineseCubes.com or free in a limited version for iPad/iPhone. It’s a system of learning Chinese by moving blocks, each of which has a Chinese character, a meaning in English and a simplified way of writing the word or phrase. Using the blocks in various combinations can produce 2500 phrases.
The starter pack comes with a webcam– something nearly every computer has these days — but the program won’t let you go on until you plug it in their web cam. This is unfortunate, because their web cam doesn’t always recognize the blocks you place in front of it. If you keep doing it, however, the instructor built into the software will finally acknowledge that you got it right.
In the early stages, the instructor shows you exactly what to look for; it’s just a matter of going through a pile of 45 blocks. Then you practice pronunciation and use a writing pad to draw the characters.
We couldn’t find any reviews for this learning system, so Joy spent several hours with it as her obligation to promote understanding between nations. (”Char siu” means barbequed pork.) She thought it was fun, despite the frustration when the webcam couldn’t distinguish the blocks. (Bob says he knew a guy who had a Chinese friend write out a note in Chinese characters that he could hand to waiters at restaurants. It said: “I’ll have what the people at the next table are having.”)