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2-XL was an educational toy in the shape of a robot that was introduced in 1978. 2-XL was the brainchild of Dr. Michael J. Freeman, who felt that toys should be both fun and educational. The toy was interactive, playing various tracks from a magnetic audio tape depending on the user's actions.
The toy was released in two different time periods. The 1978 release was produced by a toy company called Mego Corporation, and used 8-track tapes. It was brought back in 1992 by Tiger Electronics in a version that used cassette tapes rather than 8-Track.
Mego Corporation version
The original 2-XL (see image to right) was made of hard brown plastic, with white plastic on the front.
The toy had two yellow light bulbs for eyes that flashed at various moments while the 8-track program tapes played, and he had four red push buttons on his stomach:
- "A or Yes Or True"
- "B or More Info"
- "C or No or False"
There was also a volume and power on knob found on the lower right portion of the unit. At the bottom was a large slot where an 8-Track tape would be inserted.
The toy was essentially a regular 8-Track player, with each button operating a different track. It was powered by a common 9-volt AC adapter with a 3.5 mm mini-plug tip.
Michael J. Freeman had a hard time convincing companies of the benefits that his toy would provide. Many companies turned down the idea, saying it was just too expensive and not practical to invest so much into an educational toy when kids are typically reluctant to buy educational items. Finally, Mego Corporation decided that it fit in well with their company. They were makers of action figures based on popular TV shows, many of which were sci-fi related.
Freeman was involved with all phases of the toy's development, including how the internal mechanism worked. The Mego version of 2-XL was produced for four years, 1978–1981.
The mold and look got a minor change in 1980:
- The eye lights became red
- The louder the volume was turned, the brighter the lights would flash
- The speaker in the back of the unit was changed from a hexagon shape to a more traditional round speaker shape.
- The plastic was shiner and glossier looking
All told there were about 50 program tapes made for the Mego 2-XL. It was highly popular in its first years, but it faded into obscurity after the turn of the decade. The toy will often show up on auction sites and in used toy stores. They aren't rare by any means, but aren't in mass quantities either. Some of the tapes can be harder to find; the last year tapes are rarer due to the decreased popularity of the toy in its last year on the market.
The 8-Track tapes focused around a robot with a New York accent, (voiced by creator Dr. Michael J. Freeman Ph.D. himself) who would speak as if the listener were right there with him wherever he happened to be in the storyline. He would ask multiple-choice questions based on the subject of the tape, and the user would answer the question he asked by pushing the corresponding button. A right answer resulted in 2-XL congratulating the user on his knowledge, while a wrong answer would result in a razzing as 2-XL explained what the proper answer was. In between questions, there would sometimes be a story going on that the user was involved in, with the answers to the questions corresponding to the storyline. Other times 2-XL would crack a bad joke and laugh at his own humor with a crazy-sounding laugh that was one of the many running gags that would be found on almost every tape in the series.
Originally the programs were very basic. There was just one general story line. Each track flowed through the same time length, differing only by telling the user if he was right or wrong. Eventually, Dr. Freeman started to take advantage of the four tracks found on a tape to have up to three different programs on one tape.
There were some general themes to each tape. The first was 2-XL's bleeping and buzzing sound effects as it turned on, as if the user was activating a huge robot (although he would often refer to its size as only a foot or so tall). He would always introduce himself in the same way, saying, "Thank you for turning me on. I am 2-XL..." . The voice did not sound robotic, and was pretty much Michael's voice only a bit slower speaking and more sophisticated sounding. There would always be a moment where the user had to push the Question button, as that went back to track one, which is where the main talking took place. There was always music or beeping sounds while the user would think, or while the new questions were loading, to make the program space out properly. Towards the end of the tape 2-XL would give the user a warning that he was getting tired and that it was time to wrap things up with one last question. He was always very friendly and acted very human, as if he was a new buddy that wanted to help the user learn in the most enjoyable way possible. His humor was silly as were his wisecracks, but the same themes were found throughout the various tapes, getting more and more creative as the future tapes were introduced. He would often say "Please turn me off now" and often relate the reason he had to go somehow to the topic of the tape.
2-XL came with one tape, titled "General Information", which touched on various topics such as sports, movies, and pop culture. Each of the various other program tapes was sold separately and most came with a separate activity book that could be used as well while doing the activity with 2-XL. Some also came with faceplate cards that could be placed over the various buttons that had different words on them that were specifically to be used for that certain program tape. Not all of the tapes were educational, some told stories that the user would just listen to able to answer a few questions about them afterwards. Not all tapes were focused around 2-XL either. Other voices would appear on them depending on what the focus of each tape was. But somewhere 2-XL's voice would show up to keep everything in the same universe. There were also two-tape sets that would continue on with the theme of the first tape after the user finished it.
Tiger Electronics version
In 1992, Tiger Electronics re-introduced 2-XL. 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. Freeman again provided the toy's voice. In addition to eyes that would light up, the toy now sported a circle for a mouth that could light up as he talked. The toy could now run on batteries and had a headphone jack.
Instead of the buttons simply switching tracks on the 8-track tape as in the old version, the cassette version took advantage of the fact that a cassette has a total of four tracks - one for the left and right channel on each side. The tape head in the player could play any of the four parallel tracks, based on which button was pressed. Playing a 2-XL tape in a standard tape player would result in different audio on the left and right channels, and if the reverse side was played (which was typically marked with the words "Wrong Side"), one would hear the other two tracks played in reverse.
As with the previous version, the cassette version could play any standard cassette tape, but the user needed to first push the "Question" button (or the "2/A/No" button would work as well, playing the right channel). Pressing the 3 or 4 button would play one of the channels on the reverse side of the tape backwards.
Newly released tapes were branded with comic book and cartoon characters, including Spider-Man, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, X-Men and Batman. 2-XL games would allow the user to go on an adventure with various superheroes, deciding their fate by pushing one of the buttons.
The second version was on the market from 1992 through 1994, and about 45 tapes were released in total. The final inventory was sold in 1995 bundled with the Power Rangers tape. It was one of the most popular toys, in terms or market revenue, sold up through 1995.
This version of 2-XL got even more exposure due to it being used on a kids TV Game Show at the time named "Pick Your Brain". A 10-foot replica of the Tiger Electronics 2-XL was used on the set to ask questions and offer extra information on the topic being talked about. Freeman was asked to do the voice of 2-XL but declined. The show was hosted by Marc Summers and 2-XL on this show was voiced by Greg Berg. This show had a high success in its first year, but was ended when the production of 2-XL ceased.
One of the last tapes released for the Mego Corporation version of 2XL was "Tri-Lex", a complete board game designed to be played by 2XL. The tape came with a board which fitted over the front of the 2XL unit itself, with the board in front of the tape slot. The game board consisted of an inverted pyramid shape, 4 squares wide at the top to 1 square at the bottom, with each row colored in a different color (Blue, Yellow, Green, and Tan), and 4 slots through which pieces (which 2XL called "checkers") could be dropped into the pyramid. The slots aligned with 2XL's 4 buttons, with the intention that dropping the checker would also press the appropriate track button on 2XL. The objective of the game was to create either a line or a triangle of 3 checkers of your own color. The game and tape design are interesting because they enabled the 4-track tape player to provide a passable simulation of a game-playing AI.
Several "tricks" had to be used: an additional set of "front" slots that did not interact with the buttons were provided, and 2XL occasionally told the player to "make a move in the front" so that the track would not change. 2XL would also ask the player to "remember a codeword" at certain points in the game, and to repeat it back later. Often the game would end before the tape did, meaning that 2XL would prompt the player with "please turn my volume down to zero", after which the player would have to wait for the remainder of the current game's recording to wind through before a track-changing "click" signaled they should turn the volume back up. (For this reason, Tri-lex was the only 2XL tape that did not say "thank you for turning me on" at the start, since the player was expected to play several games in a single session.) Finally, although the tape appears to loop after one game, it in fact has four games recorded on it.
The game itself is easily solved, and correctly played always ends in a win for the starting player. The tape was thus more valuable for teaching pattern recognition than as a genuine board game. On the tape, the player can in fact beat 2XL, but only on two of the recorded games (those where the human player goes first). The player can defeat 2XL by using the guaranteed win, or - on occasion - by using other strategies where 2XL "makes a mistake". 2XL does not use the guaranteed win strategy against human players.
The guaranteed win is as follows: first player plays Tan (forced, only space available), second player plays Green 1/2 (forced, only spaces available - which one does not matter, as the ensuing positions are mirror images of each other; continue following the moves on the appropriate side of the /), first player plays Green 2/1, second player plays Yellow 3/1 (forced, else first player plays it and wins with a line), first player plays Yellow 2, second player plays Blue (3 or 4)/(1 or 2), first player plays Blue (4 or 3)/(2 or 1) (forced, else second player plays it and wins with a triangle), second player plays Yellow 1/3 (forced, only space available), first player plays Blue 2/3 and wins with a line of three.
Kasey the Kinderbot
Kasey the Kinderbot was a toy designed by Dr. Freeman which was targeted at kids aged 3–7. Instead of tapes as with the previous versions, this toy used small cartridges that were not linear - the user was able to jump around to various sections at will. It was purely an educational toy with cartridges focusing on such subjects as Math, Science and languages. The cartridges were also color-coded to let kids know what group of subject it belonged to. The toy was first released in 2002 by Fisher-Price. It produced a total profit of over $70 million. Spin-off characters included Toby the Totbot, which focused specifically on teaching letters and numbers, and Fetch the Phonicsbot which was a dog-shaped robot holding a letter board which was aimed at the toddler age group.
- Talk 'n Play, a children's cassette player that also used the four audio tracks for "interactivity" with cassette/book sets
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