CARDboard Illustrative Aid to Computation

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A power of two program running in a CARDIAC emulator. The program outputs 1, 2, 4, 8, …, 512 and halts after 277 steps.

CARDIAC (CARDboard Illustrative Aid to Computation) is a learning aid developed by David Hagelbarger and Saul Fingerman for Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1968 to teach high school students how computers work. The kit consists of an instruction manual and a die-cut cardboard "computer".

The computer "operates" by means of pencil and sliding cards. Any arithmetic is done in the head of the person operating the computer. The computer operates in base 10 and has 100 memory cells which can hold signed numbers from 0 to ±999. It has an instruction set of 10 instructions which allows CARDIAC to add, subtract, test, shift, input, output and jump.


Front of CARDIAC device

The “CPU” of the computer consists of 4 slides that move various numbers and arrows to have the flow of the real CPU (the user's brain) move the right way. They have one flag (+/-), affected by the result in the accumulator.

Memory consists of the other half of the cardboard cutout. There are 100 cells. Cell 0 is “ROM”, always containing a numeric "1"; cells 1 to 98 are “RAM”; available for instructions and data; and cell 99 can best be described as “EEPROM”.

Memory cells hold signed decimal numbers from 0 to ±999 and are written with a pencil. Cells are erased with an eraser. A “bug” is provided to act as a program counter, and is placed in a hole beside the current memory cell.


CARDIAC has a 10 instruction machine language. An instruction is three decimal digits (the sign is ignored) in the form OAA. The first digit is the op code (O); the second and third digits are an address (AA). Addressing is one of accumulator to memory absolute, absolute memory to accumulator, input to absolute memory and absolute memory to output.

High level languages have never been developed for CARDIAC as they would defeat one of the purposes of the device: to introduce concepts of assembly language programming.

Programs are hand assembled and then are penciled into the appropriate memory cells.

Instruction Set[edit]

CARDIAC Instruction Set
Opcode Mnemonic Instruction Description
0 INP Input take a number from the input card and put it in a specified memory cell.
1 CLA Clear and add clear the accumulator and add the contents of a memory cell to the accumulator.
2 ADD Add add the contents of a memory cell to the accumulator.
3 TAC Test accumulator contents performs a sign test on the contents of the accumulator; if minus, jump to a specified memory cell.
4 SFT Shift shifts the accumulator x places left, then y places right, where x is the upper address digit and y is the lower.
5 OUT Output take a number from the specified memory cell and write it on the output card.
6 STO Store copy the contents of the accumulator into a specified memory cell.
7 SUB Subtract subtract the contents of a specified memory cell from the accumulator.
8 JMP Jump jump to a specified memory cell. The current cell number is written in cell 99. This allows for one level of subroutines by having the return be the instruction at cell 99 (which had '8' hardcoded as the first digit.
9 HRS Halt and reset move bug to the specified cell, then stop program execution.


Programs are run by first sliding three slides so that the number in the instruction register equals the number in the memory cell the bug is sitting in. Once that is done the bug is moved to the next memory cell. The user then follows an arrow which will then tell them what to do next. This continues for all of program execution.

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