Name that thing


[Alan] over at has been doing a “Name the Thing” contest where he occasionally posts an image and people try to figure out what it is. We’ve seen similar posts on some other web sites too. We usually don’t post them here because they’re not only not a hack, they’re usually not even projects. This one, however, caught our eye.

We apologize for posting this, without telling you what it is. The simplest explanation is that curiosity is getting the best of us. We were hoping that you guys could help out. What is this thing? Can we have two?


  1. yonsje says:

    Well it’s certainly an interresting contest this week.

  2. f8l_0e says:

    First guess, a calculator. Second guess, maybe a frequency counter. Sure does have a lot of nixie tubes though.

  3. Dan K says:

    A good source for nixie tubes?

    no? Herm, how about a frequency counter?

    Dan K

  4. ScooterSES says:

    Probably a 50’s era calculator.

  5. f8l_0e says:

    I think my first guess was right. It seems to be a Casio AL-1000 programmable calculator.

  6. BIOS says:

    Obviously some kind of weighted device for keeping your papers on your desk.

  7. localroger says:

    It’s a programmable calculator, probably ca. 1970 to 1974. My father’s physics lab had one of similar construction made by Olivetti, which was able to run little programs saved on magnetic cards.

  8. sly says:

    Whatever it is… it’s pretty :p

  9. Rampage says:

    A Boat Anchor???

  10. blizzarddemon says:
  11. localroger says:

    Ah, looking at the detail photos it could go as early as 1960; that circuit board they isolate is solid-state but doesn’t use IC’s. But it is definitely a programmable calc; that circuit board appears to be a small amount of core memory.

  12. localroger says:

    blizzarddemon wins!

  13. ACEdotcom says:

    that thing is so freakin sexy

  14. hrpuffnstuff says:

    Looks like something the mafia would tie a victim to and drop them into the ocean. Is that whats meant by being green?

  15. Michael V says:

    It is absolutely a Casio AL-1000 Calculator. I have worked with these extensively.

    The above link will direct you to a webpage all about the CASIO AL-1000 programmable calculator, created in 1967.


  16. blizzarddemon says:

    Too late Michael V, already way ahead of you. : P

  17. ktosik says:

    I think this is a pile of electronic scrap

  18. Bob says:

    It’s the tuning controls for a television.

  19. josh says:

    That is the most bad-ass calculator I’ve ever seen! I wonder if they’d let me use it on my Physics test… =D

  20. The Steven says:

    I’m thinking an electro-mechanical version of an Enygma Device

  21. Dub says:

    I think it’s an enigma

  22. PocketBrain says:

    1970s era telephone company clock/calendar display.

  23. tnt23 says:

    Looks very much like early Soviet nixie calculators. Check out this Iskra 12 one:

  24. Physic.dude says:

    Yup, it’s a calculator…
    look here

  25. Sam says:

    It doesn’t look much like the enigma machine. (Yes, I’m aware that it’s been identified above)

    The same picture is published in “The Codebreakers” by David Kahn which is mostly a history of encryption, but there are enough examples of actual encryption in there to learn from (like how to break some simple monoalphabetic and polyalphabetic ciphers).

    The book is actually quite old but it’s still being published. It’s a thick tome and absolutely fascinating. I recommend the book because of its value to hack-minded individuals.

  26. xrazorwirex says:

    Ah; I thought the mspaint spray that blacked out the obvious giveaway (keypad) was actually part of the device – like some black fuzz or something.

    Would have been way easier to blind guess if that was pointed out in advance… not that there was any problem figuring this one out…

  27. Patrick says:

    As someone who knows very little about electronic components, I must say that I am impressed with they general level of knowledge displayed regularly by you folks.

    It’s always enlightening to read the comments here.


  28. Dave says:

    I totally agree with Patrick. I love popping over to Hack a Day to see what new things the guys have found and what you have to say about them.

    “Enlightening”? Absolutely!

  29. polossatik says:

    IMHO you should have waited until the contest was over to satisfy your curiosity … you’re ruing the whole idea of that contest.

    But nice thing, never seen it seen it was out of date way before i started to play with electronics … :)

  30. arcnemisis says:

    12.3Kg (27lbs).

  31. tj says:

    Flux Capacitor

    It looks like some boring analog device used for signal conversion or modulation.

  32. JB says:

    An old Arduino prototype? :P

  33. Piku says:

    As others have pointed out, it most definitely is a Casio AL-1000. You don’t need to know anything about what one of those is. All you need is the ability to compare the photo at the top of this post with the third photo on this page, which has already been linked to in earlier replies

    “Guess the thing” competitions are only good if they’re photos of actual stuff the person setting the competition has, rather than random stuff found on the web.

  34. snorkle256 says:

    Looks like the device I use to count my sheep.

  35. tj says:

    It’s that Casio calculator or another close model line like those people said. It does look like a computer from the S100 period.

  36. jsngrimm says:

    i figured it was a calculator because of the nixie display and the wheel next to the keypad is the floating point ajustment (the ms paint spray is covering the keypad)

  37. jadon says:

    i knew it was a calculator
    and its so pretty so reparable so simple so large
    can i have it:)

  38. ChalkBored says:

    Can it handle a division by zero without bursting into flames?

  39. Alan Parekh says:

    Hey guys. Looks like there are lots of correct guesses here!

    Hi Piku, the contest last week was something that was cracked open on my bench. :)

  40. overlord00 says:

    binary calculator

  41. Roly says:

    14 Nixies! And I’ll bet they still work, too. Magnetic core is nice to work with too.

    I had the innards out of a calculating scale that looked quite similar, but I doubt it would be S-100 as most of these manufacturers used in-house arrangements.

    HP once made a similar desktop mini-computer like this that would still rip the trunk off a large elephant, weight and capability.

  42. jproach says:

    Does anyone know the answer to 104 posted by Alan above?

  43. Nixie display is very cool. But what about stroboscopic display?

  44. inginear says:

    i should have looked here before i entered the contest. since it has 14 nixie tubes i thought it was one of the old airport arrival/departure signs. although airport signs were alphanumeric. oh well, i’ll just have to enter the next contest that offers credit at adafruit.

  45. M4CGYV3R says:

    The close-ups of the magnetic core memory cells on the vintagecalculators page is really cool.

  46. sgf says:

    S100 is waaaaaaaay later. That’s microprocessor stuff. This thing is full of discrete components.

  47. Mic says:

    Yea the magnetic core memory is bad ass. stroboscopic display is also bad ass. The immense efforts it must have took to make theses machines back then. The AL-1000 must have cost a lot back then. “The portable 27lb calculator”

  48. silvershovler says:

    well since we know know what it happens to be. i still want to guess. is it the remote control for sputnik? Farnsworth doomsday device type 3? Polish cell phone circa 1955? Canadian easy bake oven? Iranian magnatron circa 2007? or my personal favorite, prototype for one laptop per child winner?

  49. Piero says:

    It is an old machine to scan rats. The rat would be placed on the metal pad. The cables underneath it would send electronic impulses through the rat’s body to scan it. This would make it possible to find out what diseases it might carry and if it ate your cheese. When all the little light bulbs had gone off, the process would be completed. The photo-scan would then remain impressed on the red slides at the back, which was handy for they could be ket in a folder for future reference on the rat’s health. Unfortunately, as a side effect the machine would fry the rat, as the picture shows. So it quickly fell into disuse.

  50. cgmark says:

    magnetic core memory is cool. It just takes up too much space. It was used to store data for the moon missions computers. They wired in the bits because things like eprom were not available. If the wire passed through a core it was a 1 , no core a 0 and the entire program the computers ran were encoded that way.

    Now imagine when you find a program error and have to rewire several thousand wires :)

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