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Cracking Open the legendary Merlin

All lined up

The DS of 1978, the PSP of 1978, the Merlin.

Actually, Mattel Football probably fits that bill better, but the Merlin was definitely a way-cool handheld of the time.

Merlin was released in 1978 by Parker Brothers and was one of many handheld electronic games released in that time period. It sported 6 individual games to play, Including an unbeatable tic-tac-toe ( isn't tic-tac-toe unwinnable anyway? ). Fun for the whole family as they said in their ads.

At the end of the ad, note the disclaimer for "6 penlight batteries - not included". When was the last time you heard of AA's referred to as penlight batteries?

When I heard that the Merlin was next up on Cracking Open, I felt a rush of nostagila. That game, that I had spent hours dawdling with, had completely fallen off of my radar until then. I Googled it and found this great Java Merlin emulator.

...A sound like none other. And that "laugh" when Merlin wins!
So here we go - busting open my beloved Merlin and taking a look at what makes it go. I have to say that I didn't expect to see any technolgy breakthroughs, but I also didn't expect to see something that I could have, in those days, built from a kit. Our specimen comes with a manual, even. We'll have a look at that soon enough - good stuff in there.

Notice the "futuristic" box with the mercury hand.

17 comments
PromptJock
PromptJock

The original function of "AA" cells was for powering small 2xAA (3V) flashlights that, literally, one carried in one's shirt pocket like a pen (they actually had a "pocket clip" like a pen!). If you're lucky, you can probably find one at a hardware or "electric/electronic" store (they use the "PR2" type incandescent bulbs).

Win3.1
Win3.1

Rev 'F' it says on the contact membrane. I wonder how many revisions there were on Merlin?

dewey56
dewey56

What it's called is a "membrane type switch matrix", similar to what is used in computer keyboards, commercial electronic dart game machines, phone keypads, etc.

ross0906
ross0906

Just as information,I still have Merlin and it still works great. Very interesting ,to see what's inside. Thoughly enjoyable. Thanks Russ

dcolbert
dcolbert

More sophisticated inside than I would have thought. The ribbon connector between the MB and the LED panel reflects the design of a modern notebook. The touchpad is called a "flex circuit". This thing looks a LOT like the notorious Atari 5200 controller inside. As a matter of fact, I think the cable on that joystick connected the wires to the flexpad with the same sort of ribbon connector, as well. I'd like to see a original Merlin cracked open. I suspect yours is a later model and probably doesn't resemble the earlier models inside. Oh... and the close up image of the red LEDs surrounded by the silver disk and the square, geometric design of the case... TOTALLY made me think of the era of Buck Rogers on TV and Roller Skating Rinks with a few video games along the back wall... The basic design of the Merlin is totally evocative of that time period.

rockisland
rockisland

And I'm talkin' the original, full-size Lynx, designed with help from some of the original guys from Amiga, Inc. The Amiga was the development platform, to boot - much to Jack Tramiel's chagrin.

drew.mcbee
drew.mcbee

I only had a few handhelds, and this was one of them. I also had a AD&D LCD game (as any respectable geek would).

tlm550
tlm550

Penlights are the skinny, pocket flashlights. They aren't the batteries. Those AA cells used to be called "penlight batteries" when that was about all they were used for. Just like 9-volt batteries used to be called "transistor batteries" because they were mostly used in a small 'transistor radio' back in the 70s.

CaryG
CaryG

I still have one of those in a box at home, although it hasn't been used in a few years. Tried to replace it 5-6 years ago on eBay with the more compact Lynx 2.0, but the one I bought was none functional, so back it went. Mu old, full-size one still works though, as long as it is plugged in using a DC adapter.

drew.mcbee
drew.mcbee

I remember that - that was the game to have back then. Very expensive as I remember - I worked at Toys R Us in those days, and that was one of the first of the handhelds as we know them today.

techrepublic.jh
techrepublic.jh

It had a big red fire button and a three-position joystick. The Cylons would come down from the top of the screen and you would move left and right and fire to intercept them. This was the last Mattel Electronics handheld I remember getting, after Football, Football II, Basketball, Baseball, and Soccer. I don't remember which of those I actually owned and which ones I borrowed from friends. I do remember hiding under the covers and trying to muffle the speaker so I could play them when I was supposed to be sleeping!

sjtrudo
sjtrudo

You had to find out where the dragon was and shoot him from another room. Very cool for it's day. Antoher one was Hold-Up! (Tandy) You had to keep the tellers from ringing the alarm. I think I still have these somewhere...

ray.menzel
ray.menzel

About the size of an adults hand. A great handheld from the mid to early 70s. One or two player games and there is drippling too! Each player has 30 seconds to make shots and there are 4 quarters to a game. My handheld still works today and is challenging.

Vette95
Vette95

It was a bit large to be considered a handheld. But when I was bored with Merlin, I always had Simon to fall back on for entertainment.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler moderator

When I was a kid, my grandfather had the Mattel Football and Mattel Basketball hand-held games. They were great on road trips. I still have them both, and they work just like they did back then.

kristindewey
kristindewey

I have a Merlin still from my young days, somewhere in my parent's house still. This was very interesting, so now I can keep mine intact and keep it around forever. Wish I still had the box and instructions though. I was spoiled because my 4 older brothers never got this game, only me, and I wouldn't let them play with it. Ahhh, brings back old memories!

drew.mcbee
drew.mcbee

I had a fried who had football ( before head to head ) and we did quite a few sleepovers, etc. where we would play that all night it seemed. bleeeeep - bleeeeep all night...