The year was 1978 and I was going to be turning eleven in May. I had kept seeing a commercial on television for a new toy coming out and I was so excited. It was a talking robot by one of my favorite toy companies Mego, and it was called 2-XL (as in “to excel”). This toy at the time sold for just over $50 and because it used 8-track tapes, each of which was a different topic, I honestly did not think it was something I would ever be able to have.
I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was my birthday. The family and I were sitting around the kitchen table ready to celebrate with cake and gifts. Now in my house, the first floor bathroom was off of the kitchen and as I sat, full of anticipation and loving every minute of being the center of attention, my mom slipped into the bathroom. I don’t even remember her doing it but she did. All of a sudden I heard all of these weird noises coming from the bathroom. I had no idea what it was. Then I heard a voice; one that I was very familiar with. It was the voice that I had heard on television of 2-XL. I couldn’t believe it! I went into the bathroom, smiling ear to ear, and there he was…2-XL…sitting on the toilet waiting to teach me the wonders of the world.
For those of you unfamiliar with 2-XL, it was an educational toy that used 8-track tapes to talk and interact with you. Each tape was a different topic and they covered all kinds of subjects. The tape that came with him was entitled “General Information” but I also received a few others such as “Strange But Is It True?” and “Monsters, Myths & Legends.” The front of 2-XL featured four buttons (a Question button, an A button for yes or true, a B button for More Info and a C button for no or false). As he would ask you questions you would push A, B or C and the tape would go to the responding track on the tape. If you were right he would congratulate you, perhaps with a joke. If you were wrong he would usually make fun of you, reminding you that he had the superior intelligence.
This toy was truly ingenious. To think that an 8-track tape could be used in this manner is unheard of and it worked so well. I can’t even imagine the thought that went into preparing each of these tapes to make them work and appear responsive. Some tapes even came with a card that fit over the buttons on the unit with responses that would coincide with the topic, so that you could interact in different ways. It was even mentioned at the end of each tape as well that if you answered questions differently each time, it increases the likelihood of being asked new questions. This is a toy that you could play with for hours and believe me, I did.
2-XL was invented by Michael J. Freeman, who licensed and patented his creation. Freeman also did the voice, using a synthesizer to give 2-XL his unique personality. Playthings magazine voted it as one of the most important toys ever developed. Though essentially a regular 8-track tape player shaped like a robot, by utilizing unique, clever and patented mathematical decision tree programming methods, over 20 interactive modes of operation were achieved. It seemed to most people like a computer which had enough information and interactive questions to entertain and educate a child (or adult) for up to two hours per tape.
In the end, over thirty different tapes were released, some of which came with a board game. The first actual game that was released though was one called TRI-LEX, a sort of Connect 4 game that you could play with 2-XL. The game board attached to his chest and of course came with an 8-track tape. The game board featured slots that went in front of the four buttons so that as you made your move, inserting either a black or red checker type piece, it would push the button in. The objective of the game was to create either a line or a triangle of three checkers of whatever color checker you were. You would also insert 2-XL’s checkers into the slots that he asked for his move. Again, the design of the tape with the four tracks must’ve taken a lot of thought as the game never got messed up and you always seemed to have as much of a chance of winning as losing.
2-XL will go down for me as one of the greatest toys I ever had as a child and my eleventh birthday was by far the best birthday I had as a child. I don’t think I had ever been so excited, and appreciative, of a birthday gift. I never thought an educational toy could be so much fun and one that to this day, makes me smile to think about. I am going to have to pull him out of storage and have a TRI-LEX re-match with him.
Don’t forget to check out other entries in my BASEMENT TOY BOX series!