2-XL was a tiny robot overlord for tykes

07/09/2012

Welcome to Mecha Mondays

Update: Mecha Monday has been discontinued as a regular feature, but I will still showcase the occasional awesome robot when I have the chance. /DA

Mecha Monday will feature a new robot, cyborg, automaton, mechanical humanoid analog, droid, or the like every week. Don’t get too hung up on the word “mecha” — it’s alliterative not literal. Which is to say, please don’t leave long nerdy-rage comments about the distinction between a robot and a mecha. I know already. And I will just laugh at you and tell you to get your own blog. The mecha in question can be real or imaginary, rendered as a drawing or a CGI video. Whatever gets our geeky heart pumping in robot lust is fair game.

Today’s Featured Robot

When I was grown up I wanted two things: a robot and a computer. As a kid, robots and computers defined science fiction for me. They defined the future. You have to understand the state of consumer technology back in the 70s. If you wanted a computer, first you bought a soldering iron and then you called Radio Shack. If you wanted a robot — you put a small man in a metal barrel and called it a day. What was a kid to do?

Mego rolled the dice on a very expensive electronic toy, and lucky me — I became the proud owner of my very own robot/computer.

Meet 2-XL, the smarty-pants robot that sat on it’s big fat rear and constantly reminded you that it knew everything and you didn’t.

I was in love.

First of all, 2-XL was just the right size — a kind of pet robot. It had big buttons that gave a satisfying clunk when you punched them. The eyes lit up. And it talked and made awesome computer chirping noises when you plugged in the 8-track tape program.

Oh. Yeah. 8-track tape. That’s how you “programmed” the robot.

I won’t pretend to understand 8-tracks. They were reaching the end of their “usefulness” when I was a kid. Basically, they were a cartridge that held music that you couldn’t rewind, and pressing one of the four track buttons (whence the other four tracks? who knows) seemed to randomly select a song — usually the middle of a song. They were big and bulky and were terrible for music but had just the right feel for robot computers. I felt like Spock, plugging in those little colored rectangles into his science computer on the bridge of the Enterprise.

I was so happy.

Now you too can enjoy the awesome experience of interacting with 2-XL. Hop on over to the 2-XL simulator now.

Having done a bit of research for this post, I realize now how incredibly expensive this toy was. We were not a family with money to burn when I was growing up. 2-xL retailed for about $50…in 1978. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $175 today. Someone remind me to thank my mother.

Sadly, my own 2-XL went the way of most childhood toys. I lost track of him over several moves and many years. At some point I probably decided I was too big for it anyway. Feeling a pang of nostalgia, I recently did what most sad old men do eventually and re-bought a piece of my childhood on eBay. Interstingly, my new 2-XL is French Canadian and has dual-language button labels.

I like to think my own little 2-XL is still out there somewhere, making someone else happy, perhaps reuniting an aging geek with the excitable, innocent, robot-loving boy he used to be, one 8-track tape at a time.

Featured Image: 2-XL in the 1978 Montgomery Wards Catalogue via World of 2-XL