(The Board) Games People Play: #19, Magic Robot

You will like this, not a lot…

Wednesday 12 January 1983

This morning, the Careers Advisor came to school from Ashton Careers Centre (the office next to Presto). Tricia said she fancied working with the mentally ill – either for Tameside MBC Social Services or at Tameside General Hospital.

I said in future years that robots would replace a lot of the jobs she showed us. Firstly, the recent unemployment figures make for grim reading. Secondly, no robot can replace the likes of Brian May, Chris Squire, or – as my Genesis loving mate says – Mike Rutherford. She wasn’t too impressed though she suggested going to Tameside College of Technology for music and drama themed courses. “Not bad” I thought “Yeah, I’ll go for that”.

Speaking of Tricia, we shall be heading to the George Lawton Hall for its teenage disco night tomorrow. I am excited.

Back in 1935, robots were used to sell a quiz game.

Magic Robot

Today’s robots are less likely to be inspired by the Cadbury’s Smash aliens or 1950s Sci-Fi movies. They are more likely to be invisible. Programmed to for example, deliver our shopping, or power East of the M60. Yet coded by human beings.

In 1935, Magic Robot gave players the right answers, by standing on one end of board then pointing to the right answer on the opposite side. The robot has one magnet underneath its feet whereas the board has two magnets at the opposite end. A chain links the two magnets with a mirror on the answers base.

The board is made up of two circles. Firstly, the robot is positioned in the circle which has the questions. Then it is placed in the circle with the answers. By coincidence it delivers the right answers every time. Typically there is four question boards with sixteen questions and answers on each one. Merit’s Magic Robot looks like something that Georges Braque would have concocted. At around the same time he drew the stylised flying birds (seen on Supertramp’s 1987 album Free As A Bird).

The best way to play Magic Robot and its friends is by answering the question correctly first of all. Then by checking with the robot in the answer wheel.

Beware of cheap robotic imitations?

There has been countless variants of the Magic Robot concept. Merit, who made the original version, also did a World of Sport themed version. Which, alas, had nothing to do with Dickie Davies. Nor its first presenter, Eamonn Andrews, who put his name to The Great Marvello variant (a prototype Obi Wan Kenobi with the look of a young hoodie in red).

It has also been known as Atomic Robot in Italy, El Super Robot in Spain, Gordon in Germany, and Confucius Say in the USA. In one version, the robot has been replaced by the Old Wise Owl. There was even a Snoopy version used for telling riddles. Besides Merit’s version, one of the most recent takes was Magic Teacher. Published by House Martin Toys around 1987, it replaced the robot with a stereotypical teacher (with mortar board and cane).

How does it work?

Here’s a YouTube clip by MeMyselfMax. Yes, we were really impressed by this trickery in the pre-iPad era.

S.V., 19 December 2017.

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