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.


  1. Anonymous8:46 AM

    I had completely forgotten about this thing. As soon as I saw the photo, I had a flashback to me sitting with my cousin on the couch at my grandmothers playing with this thing. I never thought about these flashback blog entries as creating actual flashbacks. Cool. This also now reminds me that I tossed this thing in the back room, ala Woody the cowboy, when I got my 2600.

    rc the dp

  2. Anonymous8:52 AM

    I didn't own one myself but had a friend who did, and I spent a lot of time playing with it at his house, ignoring him and whatever he was doing as I was sucked in to the blinkie lights...

  3. Thanks for posting this! I had one of these when I was a kid. I mainly played the "Echo" on it... but for some reason I was fascinated at how it worked, so I took it apart to see... I never really did figure it out! LOL

  4. I loved my Merlin even though in hindsight the games were kind of lame. I do remember the weird recessed keys had a tendency to fail over time from repeated pounding.

  5. geraldo15@excite .com4:54 PM

    I have one but there is no sound.Bummer.

  6. Anonymous6:19 PM

    Still have mine and my 10 year old loves it!

  7. Anonymous9:47 AM

    My brother had this and I had Simon


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