Friday, May 18, 2007

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK # 62: MERLIN, "The Electronic Wizard" (Parker Brothers)

I wrote about "Blip" earlier in the week, and my renewed fascination with pre-video game era (1970s) electronic games. So today, I want to highlight what was probably my favorite of these items as a kid, a toy I remember receiving as a present for Christmas late in the disco decade. Actually, my sister and I each received one, as I recall. (And my next door neighbor and friend received its biggest competitor, a game called Computer Perfection).

The toy in question, is, of course, MERLIN. The trademark date reads 1978, on this item, and the back of the box asks: "Can you outsmart MERLIN? He's remarkably intelligent. With lights, a powerful computer brain and a vocabulary of 20 different sounds he challenges you to beat him at these six games of strategy, memory and skill:"

The box then goes on to list the games MERLIN plays, which include:

1. "TIC-TAC-TOE: MERLIN's aggressive tactics keep you on your toes in this ever popular strategy game.'

2. "MUSIC MACHINE: Here's your opportunity to compose music. Teach MERLIN a tune of up to 48 notes and rests. Then be entertained as he plays it back to you."

3. "ECHO: Test your mental agility by repeating a sequence of notes played to you by MERLIN. You can make this game easy or tough by selecting the length of the sequence."

4. "BLACKJACK 13: MERLIN deals and keeps score in this computerized version of the classic card game. The object: to acquire the higher hand of 13 or less."

Form a square of 8 lights by breaking MERLIN's secret CODE. This electronic puzzle changes constantly as you play."

6. "MINDBENDER: Discover the computer's mystery number. This game of logic is the ultimate challenge - to win you'll have to read MERLIN's mind."

Merlin is a red, hand-held device, with three distinct sections. The top is the speaker for the "computer vocabulary," the middle is the keyboard, the 11 notes you can hit in each above listed game. And the bottom section is the game selection, re-start functionality board. Options here are "New Game," "Same Game" "Hit Me" and "Comp Turn." Looking at the toy, it resembles the tricorder from Star Trek: The Next Generation (which came along in 1987).

Designed for 1 or 2 players, Ages 7 to adult, MERLIN is described in his instruction manual as "a remarkably intelligent computer." The same instructions also note that "as you compete with him, you'll discover that MERLIN is very talkative." Unless you remove his batteries...

The next section of the instructions notes about how to properly care for MERLIN. These words of warning sound like the rules about Mogwai: "Take care not to get MERLIN wet" (!) and "Don't drop or jolt MERLIN." And never, ever, feed MERLIN after midnight.

Featuring 6 electronic games, his vocabulary of "space age sounds" and useful portability, MERLIN was truly the cutting edge of game technology in 1978. How many of you X'ers had one of these in your childhood? I know I spent many hours in the car (on trips and long drives...) entertaining myself with MERLIN.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


The best show on television just got canceled. That's right, the CW just axed Veronica Mars after a tumultuous third season.

I have two thoughts. One is obviously, bummer. The other is that now I have no reason whatsoever to watch the CW. Methinks I need a period of mourning to get over this. And that period of mourning won't consist of any CW TV watching, that's for dang sure.

What am I going to do without my weekly fix of Veronica Mars snark?
Man, this just...blows. Oh, and CW renewed Supernatural.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Hey guys, dig this!

I found this clip on YouTube and simply couldn't resist it. Now, please - I implore you - watch the whole video. It takes a while to get good. And then it gets REALLY good. I'm posting this for my friend and DP, Rick Coulter, because I know he will appreciate it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Maddrey Misc. Reviews Horror Films of the 1980s

Good morning, gentle (and not so gentle...) readers,

I wanted to direct your attention today to a piece amusingly entitled "Die Yuppie Scum," a review of my book Horror Films of the 1980s by TV writer/producer and fellow horror scholar, Joseph Maddrey. I hope you've been visiting Maddrey Misc. lately, because Joe's blog has been looking at a lot of interesting stuff, particularly our 21st century, "culture of fear."

Here's a clip of the critique, but please read the whole piece, because it's a great review whether it happens to be about my book or not:

The fact that the author goes to such great lengths to explain his evaluations of the films, and to remain consistent in his responses, makes it easy to gauge one’s own response to a film based on his reviews – regardless of any differences of opinion. It is never difficult to understand where Muir is coming from or why, and that allows the reader to make careful selections from among these 328 films, and avoid some of the pitfalls of the casual viewer. I, for one, am grateful to have a guide through this extremely varied lot of films – from top (The Thing, 1982) to bottom (Home Sweet Home, 1980) – since I’d rather read about some of these films than have to sit through them. I have no doubt that 2006 was a trying year at the Muir household, as John and his valiant wife Kathryn burrowed through the muck, but I’m glad they did it so that I don’t have to. Horror Films of the 1980s has already steered me clear of a few turkeys, made me watch and re-watch a few gems, and even forced me to reevaluate my opinions of one or two…. I have always considered the ending of Wes Craven’s film Deadly Blessing (1981) to be a cop-out, but John’s reading puts it in a different context than I did, and has made me see the film with new eyes… That’s exactly what good criticism is supposed to do!

The book also contains a series of scattered interviews with filmmakers whose work deserves to be plucked from relative obscurity: Thom Eberhardt (Sole Survivor and Night of the Comet), Lewis Teague (Alligator, Cujo and Cat’s Eye), Kevin Conner (Motel Hell), James L. Conway (The Boogens), Richard Franklin (Road Games and Psycho 2), Tom McLoughlin (One Dark Night and Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives!), and Ken Russell (Altered States and Gothic). These friendly interviews in addition to Muir’s wry, incisive commentary make this a must-have for horror fans. Like the decade it depicts, Muir’s analysis is both complex and amusing – in final analysis, more entertaining than many of the films themselves.

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK #61 Blip; The Digital Game (Tomy)

It's difficult for me to believe that this toy, Blip. The Digital Game is thirty years old! It was released by Tomy (No. 7018) in 1977, at the dawn of the Atari age and was advertised as a good alternative to new-fangled video games. The box blares: "Take it Anywhere. NO TV set is needed."

Designed for ages 6 and up, Blip, an electronic game, originally sold for 9.99. The back of the box reads: "Blip is the TV type game that you can take with you anywhere. It's player against player when you BLIP it with a friend."

Hey, I want to BLIP it with a friend...
Seriously, the game box offers a detailed diagram of the playing console, a sort of electronic tennis court in a sense, and shows a "Permanent Light Emitting Diode (L.E.D.)," "Numbered BLIP buttons," an "Automatic Timing Mechanism," "Individual Serve Buttons," "Automatic Digital Scoring" and a "Game Selector Switch."

The description on the back goes on to report how to play BLIP. "Now, press the serve button and watch the light emitting diode (L.E.D.) come at you. But don't watch it too long. To win, your hand must be quicker than the BLIP."

My hand is always quicker than the BLIP...

"Quickly press one of the numbered BLIP buttons to send your L.E.D. back where it came from. If your opponent misses, it's score one for you on the automatic digital scoreboard."

The box also admonishes us to "Take BLIP anywhere. On boats, trains, cars, rocketships and planes."

The back of the console also features instructions for 2 players. It warns you that "if you choose the wrong space" (to hit back a BLIP), "or push the button too late, the ball will stop on your side of the court." The object of the game is twin, to score up to 10 points.

In other words, this electronic fun is clearly a prehistoric Game Boy, no? And clearly, it's also a variation of Pong (a four-letter word like BLIP), a game that was very, very popular in 1977.

I owned this game as a kid and loved it. It really seems antiquated today, but I'm just fascinated by these pre-video electronic games. I wonder, would a kid raised on video games still find BLIP fun? I'm going to find out. As soon as Joel is old enough, I'm MAKING him play it.

When he's bugging me. I'm going to say "Joel, go play with your BLIP."

"But Dad..."