Magical Merlin: Handheld Gaming, Circa 1980
By James Grahame
Parker Brothers started an electronic gaming division in 1977. Their first product was Code Name: Sector, but it was their little red battery-powered Merlin unit that really put them on the map. It went on to become the best selling electronic game of 1980, shipping over five million units.
Merlin looks rather like a circuit-bent telephone. Instead of numbers, it featured a matrix of eleven back-lit touch-sensitive buttons that were used to play six games including tic-tac-toe, blackjack, and music machine. It had a built-in speaker to produce a variety of bleeps and bloops, too. An updated version of the unit was introduced by Milton Bradley in the late 1990s, but it didn't have the charm and angular styling of the original. Several Merlin emulators are available on the web, if you'd like to experience this little beastie first-hand (hmm -- I seem to be in emulation mode today).