Retro Tech: Mego's 2-XL

Mego's 1978 trivia robot with a personality, 2-XL

When I was growing up, the closest thing we had to artificial intelligence was something called 2-XL (if you're younger than 30, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about). We've always had trivia games--what made this one interesting, especially to a generation that's just seen Star Wars, was that these trivia questions were asked by a plastic robot.

In 1978, when I got my hands on 2-XL, I was ecstatic. It was the it toy back then. 2-XL was a trivia robot created by Michael J. Freeman, an inventor with an interest to educate as well as entertain, hence the name 2-XL (To Excel). He not only created 2-XL, but he was also the voice behind it. 2-XL used 8-tracks (also known as Stereo 8) tapes as cartridges.

For those too young to remember, it was a quarter inch tape that looped and had four tracks you could choose from to listen to. Each track was in stereo, thus, 4 tracks x 2 channels = 8 tracks. But the Mego 2-XL didn't take advantage of the stereo part; it assigned each track to a button (Q was track 1; A was track 2, etc.) This way a 2-XL tape would have the same program recorded on all four tracks, with the changes only made in the parts of the tape where 2-XL would give you an answer. As the years went on, Freeman got more and more ambitious with playing multiple tracks, to the point where 2-XL could have up to three programs on the same tape.

There were quite a few 8-tracks available for 2-XL including General Information, Wonders of the World, U.S. Presidents, and Science Fiction. It also played regular music 8-tracks.

The Mego version of 2-XL was produced for four years, 1978-1981. Then in 1992, Tiger Electronics reintroduced the new look 2-XL. However, Instead of 8-track tapes, the new version used cassette tapes that were twice the length of the 8-tracks and had better sound quality.

For those who are nostalgic for the old, simple, yet great fun times, there are 2-XLs out there on eBay that need a home. They, too, would make a great addition to your collection of classic technology.

Try 2-XL for yourself, thanks to the 2-XL simulator.

About the author

When not juggling the dual demands of parenthood and playing basketball, Joseph is a life-long Manhattanite who can be found testing the latest tech in the CNET Labs and developing new benchmarks and testing methodologies.

 

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