Merlin was the Gameboy of its day and Parker Brothers moved 5 million of these in their initial run. It was a pretty simple gaming device. A simple field of dots on which you could play one of six games:
1. Tic Tac Toe
2. Music Machine
3. Echo, a game similar to Simon
4. Blackjack 13
5. Magic Square, a pattern game
6. Mindbender, a game similar to Mastermind
I loved Echo and Music Machine as a kid and would spend hours sitting in my yard pounding glowing red dots. The thing was a power hog and I scavenged all of the AA batteries from our house in a week. By the end of the week my parents had a drawer full of dead batteries and a Merlin-addicted kid begging for money for AA batteries every morning. Eventually they invested in a 9V adapter, but I still liked to play it outside, so it mostly went untouched.
I am sure a huge swath of Northern New Jersey has been rendered barren because of all the batteries I dumped out of the back of this little red electronic crack pipe.
It is the type of thought that makes me feel like planting a tree or something. Although I am guessing a single tree probably would not cut it. I would need a forest with all the cheap batteries I played through.
Merlin has a very cool “secondary play-mode”. Once I got tired of playing the 6 games I would carry it around and pretend it was a phone. It was a pretty sweet looking phone and in a pinch made a good pretend walkie talkie.
This awesome commercial is what sold me on this bad boy. To this day I can still sing-a-long.
The Classic Commercial for Merlin
Merlin was created by Bob Doyle, a Harvard PhD. and inventor who had previously worked with NASA. Merlin took the form of a rectangular device about eight inches long and three inches wide. The play area of the game consisted of a matrix of eleven buttons; each button contained a red LED. The array was encased in a red plastic housing, bearing a slight resemblance to an overgrown touch-tone telephone. Four game-selection and control buttons were also placed at the bottom of the unit; a speaker took up the top section. Supporting electronics (including a simple microprocessor) were contained within the shell of the game. Parker Brothers later released Master Merlin with more games, and the rarer Split Second, where all games involve time with a more advanced display, sporting line segments around the dots. Both of these share the same general case shape, and came out a few years after Merlin.
You can still pick up a Merlin on eBay for under 30 bucks. I lost the instructions for mine many years ago and the battery plate is held on with tape so I might pick one up myself. Of course if you aren’t into the old school version you can pick one of a newer versions from Milton Bradley.
The new Merlin has really huge and chunky buttons. They look a lot easier to push and New Merlin actually looks MORE like a phone than old Merlin. Plus it only takes three AA batteries instead of 6. Now I can play twice as much! Unfortunately they also stopped making this Merlin, so new Merlins now go for closer to 70 dollars.