The microchip toy connection

Last month, Neil and Nic, the hosts of the excellent Old Gold Tech show talked about their childhood memories of the Big Trak toy (if you don’t know what that is, check out their site and vidcast immediately!).

Watching this episode and especially hearing the bleeps and bops come out of the speaker of this toy, it suddenly reminded me of my own first electronic “computer” toy.  No, it wasn’t a Commodore or a PONG console (wich I had in mind as being my first electronic game), in fact, I realized I had something long before I first enjoyed games and such on the TV screen: it was an electronic concentration game, made by LJN toys of Taiwan (many of these early cheap computer games seem to have come from the far east for that matter).
The object of the game was pretty straightforward: find matching pairs of numbers (or the letter “A”) that were hidden under the colored spots on the keypad.  Yes, computer games in the 70s were quite different from what we see now.

Now, the noise the Big Trak made apparently wasn’t the only similarity between this old computer toy and the giant on wheels…
Browsing through a box of my old stuff in my parent’s garage, I finally found the game.  It had suffered a bit from being years and years hidden at the bottom of a box (with the old AA batteries still in it).
Cleaning it up a bit and then finally removing the 3 small screws, it revealed its simple inner workings, governed by the Texas Instruments TMS1000NLL microcontroller.  This “beast” ran at 0.4 MHz and was a genuine 4-bit chip, boasting a further 64 x 4 bits of RAM and 1 KB of ROM and… it was also the microchip that resided inside the Big Trak (and apparently also in its Soviet counterpart the Lunokhod, which is Russian for Moonwalker – named after the first Soviet lunar rover, back in 1970).

An old electronic memory game from the 70s and a toy from the early 80s are connected through their microcontroller.
It would be just one example of the advent of the first real computer consoles and games.

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One Response to The microchip toy connection

  1. It was all about TI back then, wasn’t it? My first electronic toy was the Little Professor. I just looked it up; it used a TI TMS0975 chip.

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