The Tinkertoy, Tic-Tac-Toe-Playing Computer


By David Ponce

Every now and then, it’s nice to look back, and see how far things have come. What you’re looking at is a computer made entirely from Tinkertoy parts, whose entire purpose was to play tic-tac-toe. Of course, the above image is not really there to emphasize that point, since even in 1975, when it was made, computers were already much faster and smaller than that… but I’ve spent the last ten minutes looking for an appropriate opening line, and that’s the best I could think of.

It was created by two college sophomores, who had already collaborated in a class project to build “something digital” from Tinkertoy parts.

“A Tinkertoy framework called the read head clicks and clacks its way down the front of the monolith At some point the clicking mysteriously stops; a “core piece” within the framework spins and then with a satisfying “‘kathunk’ indirectly kicks an ‘output duck,’ a bird-shaped construction. The output duck swings down from its perch so that its beak points at a number- which identifies the computer’s next move in a game of tic-tac-toe.”

The Tinkertoy Computer is now on display at the Museum of Science in Boston.

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