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Freerice.com is this "great, addictive" Web site, said the e-mail from a friend and expatriate all the way from the United Arab Emirates.
Log on to freerice.com, and what appears is a multiple-choice vocabulary game. Up pops a word followed by four definitions. The task is to pick the right definition. After three correct answers, the player graduates to a higher vocabulary level.
Addictive, yes. But here's the "free rice" part. Each correct answer results in the donation of 10 grains of rice to help feed the hungry around the globe. Perhaps that qualifies the game as a good addiction.
John Breen created the site and launched it last month. He's a computer programmer in Bloomington, Ind., concerned about global hunger, although he wasn't inspired by a dramatic personal experience or, say, an epiphany.
"I just find it disturbing that there are so many people dying of hunger and living in poverty, and it's something that can fairly easily be solved," Breen said. "For me, it's the most important cause."
Breen, 50, has developed other sites around the issues of hunger and poverty, including a site he launched earlier this year, poverty.com. It bluntly explores and depicts a U.N. finding that 25,000 people a day die from the effects of hunger and provides visitors a means to lobby government officials to spend more on solving hunger. That's the real solution, he said.
But Breen imagined he could draw even more people to the issue with a new Internet pastime _ one with redeeming qualities, something that's, oh, didactic and edifying.
First he considered a math quiz but, thank goodness, decided on the vocabulary game instead. He was inspired by his sons' school vocabulary lessons and preparations for the SAT.
Game warning: There are 50 vocabulary levels, and advancing to the upper reaches is no snap. Try irksome, exasperating, maddening. In fact, hardly anybody gets beyond level 48.
A wrong answer puts you back a level, but remember, the next correct answer wins another 10 grains of rice. The screen shows a running total of the amount of rice you've had a hand in donating that session.
During the game, names of advertisers appear along the bottom of the site. Their fees are donated to the United Nations World Food Programme to pay for the rice earned by each correct answer.
Ten grains of rice is a tiny amount, Breen acknowledges, but the numbers add up. On its first day, Oct. 7, the site donated just 830 grains of rice. As of Tuesday, more than 850 million grains of rice had been donated.
"It's much bigger than I thought it would be in a month," he said. "I've gotten lots of nice notes and encouragement from people, but ultimately they are the ones driving it. I hope it keeps growing."
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