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Return with us now to those halcyon days of yesteryear when the hottest multicolored "manipulative" in mathematics class was Rubik's Cube.

In the early to mid-1970's, any math teacher worthy of the title was taking orders from students for that pliable plastic puzzle, with the aim of motivating children to study higher math.

How quaint. How unsophisticated. How 70's.

How little things change.

Hot on the heels of a craze among children for POGS, those half-dollar-sized cardboard disks used in a game similar to marbles, Minneapolis-based trend Enterprises Inc. has launched "Math Cap Madness."

Developed by a trio of math educators, the game is designed to harness children's POG mania in the name of education.

To play POG, participants take turns throwing a heavy stack of several disks, called a slammer, at a stack of POGS. Depending on the local ground rules, players then win either the disks that land face up or those that are face down.

Trend Enterprises says the activities in Math Cap Madness "support" the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' standards for math content by teaching problem-solving and higher-order thinking.

According to the generally accepted storyline, POG can be traced to the Hawaiian island of Maui during the Great Depression and to the Haleakala Dairy, which still produces a drink whipped up from the juice of passion fruits, oranges, and guavas. The acronym POG comes from the names of those fruits.

Milk caps, and the caps from bottles of POG, were substitute marbles for island children.

The game's current popularity frequently is traced to a teacher who resurrected the game for students at a school in Oahu in 1991.

Citing its allegedly unsavory aspects, including wagering, some California schools have banned the game.

But, "with Math Cap Madness, school principals will be glad that there's now an educational component to the milk-cap mania sweeping the country," said Paul Agranoff, a National Presidential Award-winning elementary school math teacher and a co-developer of the game. "Many kids even prefer milk caps over television."

--Peter West

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