Friday, February 21, 2014

Remembrance of Toys Past

Maybe it's time for a break in the high-falutin' Glass Bead Game that I've been building.  It's been a while since I've done a fun picture post.  I've also been puttering around airports and hotels with free wi-fi for a few days now, so what's better to pass the time?  :-)

A few days ago, I was distracted by some unexpected search-engine hits that brought me back to the 1970s... the land of my childhood.  There are some games and toys from that period that everyone seems to remember, but there are some (that were special to me) that just don't seem to show up on the "I Love the Seventies" TV specials.  Here, they find a home.

The above was standard issue for the nerdy kid growing up in the post-Watergate, Trek-rerun era.  I'm pretty sure the mini-sized phaser, tricorder, and communicator didn't come pre-assembled, and there was airplane glue involved.  (Contrary to the cliche, I thought that stuff smelled horrible... no apocryphal buzz could make up for it!)

I'm sure you've heard of the 8-track tape machine, but did you know that some of them came with a snarky AI that insulted you if you answered one of its questions incorrectly?  2-XL was billed as a robot that quizzed you and was responsive to your answers.  Actually, there were 4 parallel audio tracks that you switched between by pressing the buttons.  I remember letting them all play through, on each track, just to hear all the funny quips.  Gotta get ones' money's worth, even if means slogging through lots of "Oh, you chose the wrong answer" responses!

Another entry in the "ooh, it's robotic" craze of the late 70s, Big Trak actually let you program in a series of motions, turns, sounds, and light flashes.  The trick was getting it to go from one room to another, without bumping into walls, to pester other family members with its boops and pew-pew's.

I didn't ever own the game Dark Tower, but many of my friends had it.  This was a surprisingly sophisticated combination of a board game and video (ish) game.  It's display was only red LED lights and a rotating screen with little painted images on it (see above), but it kept track of lots of things that made each game a very different experience.  Play it online if you dare!  Most people assume it piggy-backed off the popularity of D&D in the late 1970s, but I think it owes a much more specific thematic debt to Ray Harryhausen's movie epics -- Sinbad, Jason & the Argonauts, and so on.  It's just got that feel.

Well, here's one that lots of people probably remember.  Merlin was a handheld computery device that let you play games, test your memory, and create short programs of musical notes.  (A few posts ago, I mentioned that its list of suggested tunes included my first exposure to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony!)

Micronauts was a franchise in search of a story.  At the time, though, we didn't care about who they were or what their motivations were, we just thought their translucent robotic parts and spaceships were super cool.  Marvel Comics later created a story around them -- they were put into a tiny subatomic world that (somehow) sometimes interacted with our own -- but it was nowhere near as awesome as what we dreamed up.

I'm not sure if the French card game Mille Bornes was a 70s fad or not, but cards of the above trippy vintage happened to be around when I was a kid, and I was fascinated by their colorful iconography.  I don't think I ever played the game as it was supposed to be played.

I remember almost nothing about the rules of Pokeno, but I remember playing it -- along with Yahtzee and, of all things, the Mad Magazine Game -- with my Mary Poppins-esque grandmother back in the day.

Oh, Battlestar Galactica.  Yes, I know you were a cheesy rip-off of Star Wars, dressed up in creator Glen Larson's murky view of some strange Mormon traditions, and marketed to kids my age until the proverbial cows came home.  But you were mine.  Especially after sending away for, and receiving, this cardboard Colonial Viper cockpit simulator.  That silly thing was truly the gateway to the stars for me.  A few years ago, I found it, mildewy and decaying, in my parents' basement.  In the state it was in, it was right to throw it away, but I did my best to photo-document the heck out of it before that...

Is it silly to be focused on nostalgia like this?  In moderation, I don't think so.  The D&D blogosphere deals a lot with the products and experiences of the past, but I think they tend to keep one foot looking forward, too.  Anyway, I hope this little trip down memory lane was fun for you!


  1. I remember that stupid little Battlestar Galactica simulator! I sent away for it and never got it. I also sent of for a similar looking Space Shuttle one (it might have even been the exact same thing with different graphics) and never got that one either. It created a near life-long distrust of the post office in my mind. To this I still would rather FedEx something (and pay more) to make sure it gets there.

    I wanted one of those Big Traks so bad. It looked too cool.

    1. Never got it?! Oh, that's crappy. I had my own experience with mail fraud, too. Right after Empire Strikes Back came out, a book called "The Teachings of the Force" was advertised in the back of Starlog magazine. Money sent into the void. The P.O. Box was actually in a town about 45 minutes away, and my Dad (who worked in our town's post office) drove me over there to ask some questions. No dice, though -- the perps skeedaddled. :-(

  2. Merlin! I'd totally forgotten about that--a true blast from the past! As for this,

    'I'm sure you've heard of the 8-track tape machine, but did you know that some of them came with a snarky AI that insulted you if you answered one of its questions incorrectly?'

    learn something--or lots of things--new every time I visit. :) This was a super enjoyable post, Cyg.

    1. This post was super enjoyable to put together over the past few (stressful) days... thanks. I went looking for some clips of the snarky AI, but all I could find was a slightly cringe-inducing TV commercial. :-)