The recent death of Andre Cassagnes, the electrical technician who came up with the idea of using the response of aluminum powder to an electrostatic charge to create a drawing machine, has kicked off a wave of Etch A Sketch nostalgia.
For me, Etch A Sketch wasn’t a drawing tablet—I had drawing tablets (that is, paper and ink), that were a lot less frustrating for an eight year old. Instead, it was my first game machine. I spent hours and hours twiddling the knobs to create complex labyrinths. Then, I would challenge myself or a friend to navigate the stylus through the labyrinth without hitting the sides. I always included a nasty section of tight hairpin turns designed to trip the player up.When first introduced to a “real” video game, Pong, I was pretty good at twirling the knobs, thanks, I’m sure, to those hours with my fingers on my Etch A Sketch. (Like the creators of Pong, the manufacturers of Etch A Sketch went with dials for controls, though Cassagnes original version used a joystick.) By the time my kids were ready for Etch A Sketch, the toy was available in a miniature version that came with transparent overlays that turned the gadget into, yes, a video game. Guess I wasn’t the only one who had discovered Etch A Sketch gaming. I had been holding back on introducing my kids to electronic games,and was quite happy to hand over a shiny new Etch A Sketch at the beginning of a long plane ride instead of a Game Boy.
So thanks, M. Cassagnes. And this weekend I’ll see if I can dig up an old Etch A Sketch and challenge my kids to a maze game. I bet I can still beat them.
Photos: The Ohio Art Company, the Pong Museum, Klutz
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.