Forget the 2010s being the harbinger of “smart toys.” In the late 1970s (and again in the early 1990s), there was the original “smart toy,” and his name was 2-XL!
Robots As Educational Toys
The fascination with toy robots is something that has spanned the years and generations. While many were supposed to be aliens from other planets, others served an “educational” purpose, especially as the demand for toys of a more educational nature became a trend. About 90% of the toys I had growing up disguised learning as fun (I learned “Frere Jacques” and counting to three in Chinese, Spanish, and French from Around the World with Cricket as a four-year-old), but there really were some legitimate educational toys out there.
And one of those was not only a robot, but a talking toy!
2-XL was a talking toy robot/educational tool manufactured twice – 1978-1981 by Mego Corporation, and 1992-1995 by Tiger Electronics (makers of those really awesome Dear Diaries that said “What a hunk!”). The original concept of 2-XL was created by someone whose toy I looked at last week – the Electonic Talk’n Play!
The common bond with these two “learning disguised as fun” toys was Michael J. Freeman, a University professor, as well as a business and government consultant. Freeman’s specialties are trend analysis, advanced behavioral systems, programming of smart toys, cable television, robotics, and telephony.
Freeman in 1978. Image: Cybernetic Zoo
Freeman licensed the first 2-XL to the Mego Corporation in 1975, with the company producing his robot from 1978-1981 (Mego Corporation went bankrupt in 1982, ceasing in 1983).
Freeman even provided the voice of 2-XL. It was synthesized, but still, this was his voice!
2-XL worked by pressing the “yes” or “no” buttons to change the tracking on the special 8-track tapes. Sounds a bit primitive, but in 1978 (and later on in 1992) this was technology at its finest!
See all that he can do in this 1978 commercial!
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That’s right – not only was 2-XL ’78 an education toy for the younger set, he was a groovy 8-track player for parties…
and he also helped mom lose weight!
He was family friendly, as long as the kids surrendered him long enough to serve his purposes.
Eh, well, they take naps and have bedtimes.
In 1980, 2-XL received a design upgrade, complete with eyes that flashed (and got brighter) in response to 2-XL’s voice, the speaker was changed to a more traditional round one (as opposed to the original’s hexagon shape), and the plastic was more glossy.
For it’s time, it was a great toy, and quite in demand during its production life. However, like any great trend, 2-XL proved to be just that…a trend. Production was discontinued in 1981 amidst declining sales. Mego later went out of business in 1983. It seemed 2-XL was merely a relic of the 1970s – a glorified 8-track player that was so much more.
Until 11 years later…
Tiger Electronics (they of the aforementioned Dear Diary and electronic handheld videogames that we all had, and were pretty crappy even then) re-released the 2-XL in 1992, with Dr. Freeman returning to provide his voice. This time, story games took on licensed characters, where young players would answer questions in a story-based game.
The design of 2-XL was brought up to modern-day standards, which also meant a cassette tape player where an 8-track once belonged.
The cassettes had four channels on them – one for the left and right channel on each side. The tape head in the player could play any of the four tracks contingent on which button was pressed. And much like the Talk’n Play, putting in the tape on the opposite side caused the tape to play backwards.
Much like 2-XL ’78, his eyes lit up, but – new and improved! – his mouth lit up too!
And of course, I remember this commercial like it aired yesterday…
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And this one…
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AND this one!
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The younger brother had all his brains in his finger!
And could answer the questions BLINDFOLDED!
He’s a true master of SMARTNESS!
Forty-five cassettes were produced for 2-XL ’92 between 1992 and 1994, before production on this version ended in 1995. With this ending, the 2-XL officially went into retirement. But his legacy spanned two different generations, and paved the way for the very smart toys of today…many years before the term “smart toy” was commonplace!
These kids loved it!
But Did Allison Have 2-XL?
Short answer: no.
Not every toy I remember or write about sat in my room and gave many happy memories of playtime. In my experience, the toys I saw advertised on television or played with at a friend’s house provided an equally abundant number of memories. And even though I didn’t own this (or ever play with it), I remember those commercials well. And fondly. This looked like a great toy sitting on the shelf at Toys R Us. If this had been released maybe a few years earlier (I was ten years old in 1992), it would have been appealing to me, and we likely would have asked for one.
Some people in YouTube Land do have 2-XL in its two different forms, and they’re all too happy to show off its abilities.
Watch with me, won’t you?
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Oh, and to answer the important question in the one commercial…
Click HERE for the answer!
What do you think, I just give snippets of this information away?
She can be found at allisonveneziowrites.com.You can follow her blog on Facebook (facebook.com/allisonswrittenwords) and on Twitter @AllisonGeeksOut.