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Now Where’s Merlin?
Merlin was the Game Boy 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:
Tic Tac Toe
Echo, a game similar to Simon
Magic Square, a pattern game
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 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 the 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.