Thursday, 14 May 2009

It's all done with mirrors - and magnets...

Anyone remember the Magic Robot Quiz game?

I do, from my nines or tens, perhaps a little earlier. I think I first played it at my Auntie Kate’s with my girl cousins Lindsey, Judy, Alison and Sue. It was made by Merit games and it fascinated me - it must have for me to have happily played with all those girls. I don’t remember exactly when I got my own Magic Robot but it has to have been some time in the sixties, so mine was a very early version. It probably had questions about the Empire, steam locomotion, and ‘old money’ – ‘What percentage of the globe is coloured pink?’ – ‘Which is the faster train: The Flying Scotsman or The Mallard?’ – ‘How many shillings are there in a guinea?’…

It was all so different back then as you can see - just take a look at those children on the lid of the box.

Which ‘Aliens have taken over the planet in the bodies of small humans’ sci-fi, ‘B’, movie did they come out of – ‘Children of the superbly coiffured hair’? Nice teeth though and plenty of them – particularly the older boy - bet he needed a brace in his teens. I also bet that the girl did ballet… ‘Crippled in a terrible pony trekking accident, would poor Mary Fontaine (‘Fonty’, as she was known at the orphanage where she’d been placed by her wicked stepfather) ever dance again?’ Of course she would - and overcome her disability to become Prima ballerina at Covent Garden – and discover that her mother wasn’t dead at all, but merely a little forgetful where crippled daughters were concerned… And why is the other boy, the small one whose mother probably tells his games teacher that he has ‘a weak chest and a tendency towards migraines’, giving the Magic Robot THE finger? Come to that, what is the goofy boy doing with his hands – ‘Here’s a church, here’s a steeple, open the doors, and here’s the people’? I hope so - I don’t like the overexcited look on his face, nor the over-familiar way that the girl is touching his shoulder.

Were we really like that? I don’t remember wearing school uniform ALL of the time. I bet the older boy grew up to be a second hand car dealer, the girl married an ex-RAF pilot who bought a country pub - then proceeded to drink all of the profits, and the younger lad - the cheeky one with the dubious hand signals - became Julian Clarey.

I remember placing the silvery grey plastic Magic Robot in the tray in the centre of the 'Questions' section – then turning the Magic Robot by his head until his pointer was pointing at the question I wanted answered. It was a sort of an early trivial pursuit for kids with eight sets of fourteen questions. I must have learnt all the answers within a week or so – can’t really remember what they were now though.

Now, here is the magic bit… when you lifted the robot from the question area and placed in the centre of the answers area he rotated himself until he pointed at the correct answer! There was a 'mirror' in the 'answers' section (both questions and answers were in two circles each with half of the board), you stood the robot on the mirror and waited for him to point at the right answer. I used to think the mirror was the secret - that it was full of some powerful force energy that moved the robot to point – as it said on the box, the robot ‘ALWAYS gives the RIGHT answer’.

Wow! How Magical is that? It was incredibly magical to me at the time and I spent hours trying to get the robot to answer a question incorrectly – he never did of course, he was 100% right all of the time. But, even though I found this slightly annoying, I must say that never at any time was I tempted to give the Magic Robot the finger, make odd gestures with my hands whilst thrusting out my front teeth, or put on a blonde wig and dress in a gym slip – well maybe this last one just a little.

Merit also released a "World of Sport" version in the seventies - I think that had an Olympic torchbearer to point to the right answers instead of a robot.
Sport? An Olympic torchbearer?

How… dull.

Of course the mystery has been destroyed by the internet… it tells me that it was all done by magnets. The Magic robot wasn’t magic at all - just a single magnet in the plastic robot and two magnets in the cardboard board. The question area simply set the correct offset on the robot's magnet, and then the robot was allowed to freely rotate in the answer area until the magnets aligned - thus giving the right answer.

How… un-magical. How… scientific. How… very mechanical.

Oh well, what else do you expect from a robot – even a magic one?

By the way, I’m bidding for one on e-bay… can’t quite work out why though.


  1. People think they are so clever don't they. It's not magic, it's magnets. But that's no answer. How do magnets work if not by magic? They move things without touching them - if that's not magic I don't know what is.
    Next time some smart @rse tells you that rainbows are just refracted and reflected light, asked them why it's curved. Magic.

  2. You are so right - there is magic in everything if you take the trouble to look.

  3. ooh, ooh, that game rings a bell with me but I can't put my finger on it - must have belonged to some lucky child that I knew.