Super Bonus GeekDad Retro Gaming: DataMan

Geek Culture

I really appreciate all the email and comments regarding my look back last week at some early electronics games — I knew there’d be a good size group of geek dads that would remember Stop Thief, Dark Tower, and Electronic Detective. And after just reading Jenny Williams’ writeup on the Number League app, it inspired me to go digging into my archive one more time. Thirty-odd years ago, back when application likely applied only to medicines and makeup, there was a great little toy that was released to help kids with math — it was called DataMan, and it was 100% awesome. (And the fact that it looked like a Cylon from the original Battlestar Galactica didn’t hurt.)

It was a small handheld device powered by a single 9V battery — the blue LED readout screen was cutting edge. Dataman had keys like a regular 9 digit calculator (no decimal point or exponential calculations… just mutliplication, division, addition, and subtraction) but a few extra buttons on the front of the device would launch special math games. Most of these games were timed; you raced against the clock to answer as many math problems as possible, for example. But there were a few that involved guessing a number between X and Y and another Hot Potato-like game where you compete against others to answer the question before handing it off to the next person… when time runs out, the person holding the Dataman is out.

In addition to the handheld device, the kit also came with a manual full of additional games that you could play using the DataMan toy. The book told the story of DataMan and his battles with AntiMath, an evil wizard from a dark star who has the mysterious power to cloud the minds of his victims and steal away the fun and excitement of mathematics. DataMan is given missions from Commander NumberFun and these are documented in the book.

One of the best built-in games was called Missing Number. Running the game would allow you to choose a format of 4×3=[?] or [?]x3 = 12 or 4 x [?] = 12… and you also selected multiplication, division, addition, or subtraction and the complexity. I played this quite a bit and have no doubt my math skills were ahead of the class simply because of all the practice. I remember my teacher also loved this little handheld and wished all the kids could have had one.

In addition to the built-in games, the manual also had mini-boardgames that incorporated the Dataman device. They were silly and extremely simple, but at age 7 or 8 I remember playing all of them and enjoying them.

One final thing came with the kit – an iron on decal! And I found it still stuck in the pages of the manual. It’s got the DataMan logo against a starry background on an eight-sided polyhedron. I’m amazed it’s survived all these years.

You can still find the DataMan device on eBay now and then. It’s certainly no where near the level of fun and complexity that the newer learning apps possess, but back in 1977 it was bleeding edge technology for kids. As far as I knew, there was only one release version of this product, but looking at some of the photos from this DataMan link tells me I was wrong; these photos don’t show the book or decal but instead some small boards (for 5 games) plus some cards. Not sure if this was the UK version of the toy or a different US release… maybe someone else knows?

Again… thanks for joining me in a walk down memory lane with all these retro electronic games. There are many more that I remember playing but never owning, and even more that I’ve simply forgotten about or can’t recall the names. So, I need your help! At the top of this post you’ll see a small envelope next to my name — click on it and email me a photo or two (or a link where I can get an image) along with a short description (1 or 2 paragraphs) of an early electronic game that you played, own, or recall. If I can get enough of these, I’ll collect them in a follow-up post in a few weeks or so. (Please also specify whether you want me to include your name with your submission and specify first name/last initial or first and last name.)

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