Remember Merlin, the retro electronic game that looked like a phone?

Vintage Merlin handheld gaming console from the 70s and 80s

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In 1978, Parker Brothers introduced a handheld electronic game toy called Merlin. At the time, there was nothing else like this little gaming device, which had been invented by a small team led by a former NASA employee.

The red telephone-shaped toy used buttons, lights and sound effects to let kids play a variety of simple games, either by challenging the Merlin console itself, or by playing against another person (by handing the device back and forth).

But Merlin could do more than just play typical games — you could also make beautiful music (okay, well, music anyway). Have a look at the instruction manual below for some tuneful how-tos!

Merlin: Six electronic games in one (vintage commercial from 1980)

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Parker Brothers’ Merlin vintage handheld toy & popular games (1980)

Merlin puts memory, melody, and a little bit of magic in the palm of her hand.

Parker Brothers believes that an electronic game should do more than entertain your child. It should make a child think creatively. So when we developed Merlin, we made sure that it turned out to be much more than a lot of lights and noise.

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The six completely different games in Merlin ask a child to use memory, creativity, and reason in varying amounts. She can outwit a computer in Tic-Tac-Toe. Compose a song with Music Machine. Make the most of mathematics with Blackjack 13. Accomplish feats of memory with Echo; or of deduction with Mind Bender and Magic Square.

Because Parker Brothers put a lot into Merlin, everyone in the household who plays it can get a lot out of it — and have a handful of fun at the same time.

All this, and magic, too. Watch your child at play with Merlin. Watch her eyes. That’s the little bit of magic that happens every time she turns Merlin on.

Parker Brothers Merlin electronic game toy(1980)

Parker Bros. handheld electronic games (1980)

How to awaken young minds with blips and bleeps and blinking lights.

Simple sounds and lights add a whole new dimension of entertainment to games. But electronic games made by Parker Brothers do much more than blip and blink.

Parker Brothers believes that an electronic game should stimulate the mind — even while a child is at play. So our games ask a child to remember, to plan, to think, to react, to create. But most of all, to have fun.

Parker Bros Merlin and Split Second electronic handheld games (1980)

Merlin awakens minds by putting memory, melody and a little bit of magic into the hands of a child.

We put six completely different games in Merlin that give a child the opportunity to choose among outwitting a computer, composing a song, solving a puzzle, or achieving a feat of memory.

Because we put so much into Merlin, everyone who plays it can get a lot out of it.

Parker Brothers builds electronic games so that children like yours can have fun. And we take care that our games are as exciting to the mind as they are to the eye, the ear and the hand.

We are in the business of fun. But the most fun of all is that special feeling you’ll have as a parent watching the fun happen.

Vintage Parker Brothers Merlin electronic handheld games (1980)







MERLIN The Electronic Wizard – from Parker Brothers. For 1 or 2 Players. Ages 7-Adult.

Vintage Merlin toy game manual from 1978 (2)

MERLIN is a remarkably intelligent computer. Through light and sound, he plays six different games of chance, strategy, memory, logic and skill. You can even teach him to play music!

As you compete with him, you’ll discover that MERLIN is very talkative. He speaks with a unique vocabulary of 20 electronic sounds. With these sounds he challenges you to a game, responds to your moves, and tells you when you’ve won, lost or tied. It won’t take you long at all to become familiar with each of MERLIN’S sounds.

Lights are part of the action, too! As you play, you’ll see that MERLIN uses lights to keep track of your moves, to show you your score, and to remind you, when you’ve finished playing, that you haven’t yet turned him off.

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Are you ready to match wits with MERLIN? Here are the games he plays:

1. Tic-Tac-Toe. MERLIN’S aggressive tactics will keep you on your toes in this famous strategy game.

2. Music Machine. Teach MERLIN to play a tune of up to 48 notes and rests.

3. Echo. Repeat a tune of random notes that MERLIN teaches you.

4. Blackjack 13. MERLIN is the dealer in this computerized version of the classic card game.

5. Magic Square. Try to form a square of 8 lights. This electronic puzzle changes constantly as you play.

6. Mindbender. Discover the computer’s mystery number. This game of logic is the ultimate challenge — to win you’ll have to read MERLIN’S mind!

Technical information about Merlin – How to play Tic-Tac-Toe


OBJECT: To be the first to occupy three squares in a row — horizontally, vertically or diagonally*.

PREPARATION: Press NEW GAME. Then press#1. The #10 light will blink, indicating that the game is on.

PLAYING: You and MERLIN take turns occupying one square at a time. Either of you may make the first move.

a) To occupy a square yourself, press any unlighted square from 1 to 9. The square you choose will blink.

b) MERLIN will take his turn when you press COMPUTER TURN. The square he chooses will shine steady.

WINNING: The winner is the first to occupy three squares in a row. If you win — with three blinking lights in a row — MERLIN will make the WIN sound.

If MERLIN wins — with three steady lights in a row — he will make the LOSE sound.

If neither of you wins, MERLIN will make the TIE sound.

CONTINUING: To play Tic-Tac-Toe again, press SAME GAME.

* In this classic strategy game, your opponent is MERLIN, not another person.

Vintage Merlin toy game manual from 1978 (1)

How to play Music Machine (and how to use buttons to play songs)

OBJECT: To teach MERLIN a tune and then be entertained as he plays it back to you.

PREPARATION: Press NEW GAME. Then press #2.

PLAYING: Buttons 2-9 are the musical scale: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti, do.

Button #1 is low “sol”- one octave lower. Button #10 is high “re”-one octave higher. Button is a rest-each time you press it, MERLIN will pause 1 beat. (Because it’s a rest, this button makes no sound when you press it.)

MERLIN can learn a tune of up to 48 notes and rests. While you’re composing, however, don’t worry if you can’t remember how many buttons you’ve pressed. MERLIN will let you know — with the LOSE sound — when you’ve pressed a total of 48 buttons.

After you’ve finished composing a tune, press COMPUTER TURN and enjoy your music.


a) To play the same tune again, press COMPUTER TURN.

b) To compose a different tune, press SAME GAME and start again.

c) After MERLIN stops playing your tune, you can then continue that tune yourself by pressing the appropriate buttons. The extra notes that you play will not become a part of the tune that you just taught MERLIN to play.

Here are some tunes that you can teach MERLIN to play. Press the buttons in the order in which they appear.

How to play Merlin Music Machine game

Vintage Merlin toy game manual from 1978 (4)

Vintage Merlin toy game manual from 1978 (5)

DON’T MISS: Look back at the original classic Nintendo Entertainment System/NES from the 1980s

Directions for the Magic Square game

OBJECT: To form a square of eight lights by lighting buttons 1,2,3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 9. At the same time, you will have to turn off button #5 — the middle button.

PREPARATION: Press NEW GAME. Then press #5 and watch the numbered buttons closely. MERLIN will very briefly show you the Magic Square. Then you’ll see a random display of one or more blinking lights.*

PLAYING: Press buttons 1-9, in any order, until you’ve formed the Magic Square. When you succeed, MERLIN will flash the Magic Square and will make the WIN sound.

MERLIN’S Secret Code

As you play Magic Square, you’ll see that the nine numbered buttons affect each others’ lights in certain predictable patterns. Each time you press one of the buttons, certain lights always come on and other lights always go off.

To form the Magic Square, you’ll find it helpful to understand these patterns — MERLIN’S secret code.

EXAMPLE: Button #1 always affects lights 1, 2, 4 and 5 in a predictable pattern. That is, when you press button #1, it reverses these lights: the ones that were off will go on and the ones that were on will go off.

In this same way each of the other numbered buttons reverses other groups of lights. After you’ve played a few times you’ll discover which buttons reverse which groups of lights.

Vintage Merlin toy game manual from 1978 (6)

Vintage Merlin toy game manual from 1978 (7)

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. I still have my Merlin and it still works! Thank you for including the instructions in the article, I didn’t remember how to play all the games.

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