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National Geographic's 'Brain Games'

Dr. Amir Raz holds an ice sculpture of

Dr. Amir Raz holds an ice sculpture of the human brain in the Minus 5 Bar in Las Vegas. Photo Credit: NGT and Jeff Boedeker/Jeff Boedeker

DRAMA PREMIERE "Brain Games"

WHEN | WHERE Sunday, 8-11 p.m. on NatGeo

REASON TO WATCH It's fun playing along with cool on-location activities staged to test attention, memory and perception skills. See how smart your brain is (and your mind isn't).

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Wanna shake someone out of their I-can-too-text/talk-and-drive conviction? Wanna see cocksure crime eyewitnesses recall nearly every detail wrong?

"Brain Games" delivers three distinct and equally mesmerizing hours of cleverly staged exercises demonstrating how the brain does its job. You'll have great fun playing. Even when you learn just how (sigh) pathetic your own average performance has been.

And that's after playful narrator Neil Patrick Harris gives us every opportunity to try again. (He even tells us how to do it.) Thankfully, NPH also explains why our minds betray us.

"Watch This!" is up first, exploring perception. Optical illusions work because our brain makes assumptions, based on past experience, about how things look and behave. The "rubber hand" experience can fool us into screaming in pain when a mallet mashes on a piece of plastic our brain has come to "believe" is part of our body.

"Pay Attention!" sprinkles 12 play-along challenges amid expert riffs from the likes of magician David Copperfield and sleight-of-hand artist Apollo Robbins. Turns out the human brain is wired to focus, not to multitask. It prioritizes information, filtering out what doesn't, or shouldn't, matter. Better pay close attention. At hour's end, there's one last game showing how many show details you missed. Drat!

"Remember This!" stages a crime whose 20 eyewitnesses can't seem to recall any details correctly, and welcomes a "brain athlete" who memorizes a deck of 52 cards in no time. He swears anyone can learn to do it.

MY SAY Thank goodness NPH is forever saying after these interactive games, "Don't feel bad" or "It's actually normal" to completely bomb out. Making it truly OK is how entertaining these brisk hours are, and instructive, too, with animations of various parts of the brain doing their thing. Keeping it lively are engaging guests -- professors, detectives, sketch artists, movie sound-creating Foley artists. They're filmed in stimulating locations (many in New York) that encourage us to, yes, pay attention.

BOTTOM LINE Come in cocky, come out humbled. And smarter. So, remember -- watch!

GRADE A

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