With the rise of the computer in the 70s, the toy industry scrambled to introduce a number of electronic devices that utilized this emerging technology. While most sought to create toys that allowed children to merely play, Dr. Michael J. Freeman had other ideas. He recognized that entertaining and educating needn’t be exclusive. Enter 2-XL, the robotic 8-track player geared toward both fun and learning.

Corporate mucky-mucks (as they are sometimes wont to do) resisted the idea of an educational toy. Seeing potential in a child’s impetus to willingly learn, however, the Mego Corporation (who had already made a name for themselves with a spiffy line of action figures agreed to produce 2-XL in 1978.

Freeman’s concept came to life in a small 8-track tape deck encased in hard, brown plastic. 2-XL had all the trimmings of a late-70s robot: the flashing, yellow light bulb eyes, the blocky shape identified with computers at the time, and the electronic voice (brought to life by Freeman himself). In fact, throughout the project, Freeman remained hands on, designing almost every facet of the toy wonder himself.

2-XL’s genius manifested itself the moment the specially-made 8-track tapes were inserted into its midsection. With the push of a conspicuous button on top of 2-XL’s head, the foot-tall robot would come to electronic life with the words “Thank you for turning me on. I am 2-XL.” Subjects such as Challenges of General Science, Guinness Book of World Records, or Wonders of the World, would then follow as blips and bloops and other sound effects gave the impression of an engaged and enthusiastic electronic friend.

Featuring a series of four buttons in his chest, 2-XL allowed the child to interact according to his questions. The farthest button to the left was the “question” button, followed in sequence by Yes or True, or More Info, or No or False. On many tapes, these buttons would change thanks to specially made overlay cards.

As one can imagine, 2-XL would quiz each child with multiple choice, true-false, or yes-no teasers and brain-benders. Not that a kid minded. 2-XL’s humanistic voice and friendly-manner, not to mention his harmless wise-cracks, could engage a child for hours. With every answer, 2-XL would whiz and whirr and inform the child if he/she was correct or not, and supply additional information. Near the end of each tape, however, 2-XL’s endurance would wane and it would wrap things up with a final question and a polite request to “please turn me off now.”

Expanding beyond the informative and into the competitive, Freeman’s designs allowed users to challenge 2-XL to mind-honing games such as tic-tac-toe and checkers. If a child should want 2-XL’s company without the mental stimulation, that prerogative lie simply in inserting any normal music tape into the robot, which also acted admirably as an 8-track player.

Although Mego’s 2-XL only lasted for about four years with total of fifty tapes released, the concept has seen innumerable reincarnations in toys and computer software. Tiger Toys even resurrected a newly designed 2-XL in 1992 that used cassettes instead of 8-track tapes. The legacy of 2-XL is the very name that Dr. Freeman created for his wonderbot: 2-XL was not just a generic numeric robot ID, but a lofty goal to which all children could aspire to excel.

If you spent a few hours being challenged by 2-XL back in the day, we welcome your thoughts and memories in our comments section. Meanwhile, a tip of hat is due to our electronic friend and his dedication towards educating the young masses.

4 Responses to “2-XL”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Jennifer says:

    2XL and I spent a HUGE amount of time together during my childhood. There are still bits of trivia that I have in my head that play out in his voice. I played checkers with him and he taught me stuff. I really believed in my 6 year old mind that he was somehow autonomous from the programming forced into his belly via 8 track. I totally want one of these for my kids. Except my oldest is almost 18.. Maybe it is too late for that now. LOL

  2. Jenny says:

    My family and i used to enjoy 2-XL all the time.. Whether it was with the tapes or regular 8tracks. I still have the robot from mego and he works.. Do you know if any place where i can get his old tapes for my children…thank you.. Jenny

  3. I love 2-XL, a wonderful toy that I got in about 1988 and used frequently as both a game system and an 8-Track player until I left for college. It was a blast, and over the year’s I’ve had two other 2-XLs, including one I recently bought from eBay.

  4. Lou Bowman says:

    Our daughter is 42 years old. We bought her the 2-XL in 1978. Cleaning out the attic this week (3 19 2014) ran across it all boxed up. Plugged it in, turned it on, stuck the tape in and Oijla, it works. I’m 71 years old and I just spent 2 hours playing with it. Can’t wait until I see the grandkids in a couple of weeks. They’re gonna love it.

Leave a Reply to Lou Bowman Cancel reply