Typewriter as I/O; lets you play Zork

Okay, for many the fact that this typewriter plays Zork on paper instead of a CRT is the fascinating part of this hack. But we love the implementation that makes the keys of the device an input and output.

The electric typewriter has been fitted with a solenoid for each key (wow, that’s a lot of work). In the image above you can see they are housed on plywood platforms behind the typewriter and connect using a piece of mono-filament fishing line. This flexible connection means the solenoids have no adverse effect when you want to do the typing instead of the Arduino which drives the solenoids. [Johnathan M. Guberman] took advantage of this, adding a resistor for each key. When depressed the key completes a circuit with the resistor, acting as the input. In this way, you can play Zork with a piece of paper as the monitor, typing for the input, and watching the typewriter magically pound out responses. See it happen after the break.

[via Laughing Squid and Make]


  1. Addidis says:

    filed under “How to kill trees at an alarming rate”

  2. xythobuz says:

    That’s so awesome, I’m out of words…

  3. thesmoke says:

    Wow, thats one way to show off your big GEEKENES.
    133T points to you. Just needs to be smaller. Portable, finished, and for sale in mass quantities.

  4. andrew says:

    I’ve been looking for solenoids like that for a while — does someone have an idea where those came from?

  5. lee says:

    This reminds me of Fringe!

  6. Tam says:

    Now let’s play nethack!

  7. mike says:

    Meh, Maybe if it played amnesia.

  8. Trollicus says:

    Warning, if you play this in the dark you might get eaten by a Grue!

  9. rmiller021 says:
  10. rmiller021 says:

    One thing to note, the pistons are not attached.
    the author appears to have solved this, with
    the raised lip in front them to stop the pistons from flying out when the electromagnet releases.

  11. Of course this is really just a return to what terminals used to be — before video monitors, computer terminals were teleprinters.

  12. James Lewis says:

    This totally makes me think of 50s and 60s era Science Fiction (like Star Trek.) Whenever a computer would output, it always sounded like a fast-typewriter.

    It makes sense. At the time people probably imagined automating the existing typewriters similar to how this hack works.

    Very cool to watch.

  13. Mikey says:

    Waaaay to slow. Printer terminals is what I was thinking too, but I thought they were faster!

  14. mjrippe says:

    I remember being a kid and using my Mom’s account on the Dartmouth College Timeshare (DCTS) network via an acoustic coupler modem and a wide carriage printer terminal – y’know with the green and white bar tractor feed paper? I used to spend hours playing text based games and then bring the printouts home to re-live them offline! This project is a nice return to the days of yore…

  15. Luke says:

    Back in the early days of micro-computers, converting an IBM Selectric typewriter was a high-end alternative to the old ASR teletype as an I/O device. They didn’t need any solenoids; the hack was to tap into the circuit and fire the type ball directly (e.g. http://books.google.ca/books?id=ZD0EAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA13&lpg=PA13&dq=selectric+conversion+printer&source=bl&ots=aa4MoXHNlD&sig=-BU4bQ6w_u-lsiVVYhb1oPfrWV4&hl=en&ei=OD_PTLHnEtDTngf-6aDlDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CCMQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=selectric%20conversion%20printer&f=false )

    In comparison, I can’t say I’m too impressed with this hack.

  16. techbender says:

    Anyone else planning a haunted type-writer/ghost communicator for next Halloween?

  17. Me says:

    @James Lewis, that reminds me of what Henry Ford is supposed to have said: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

  18. r_d says:

    Is anyone else reminded of Fringe?

  19. Aviator747 says:

    Actually I was reminded of a old tv program called “read all about it”.

  20. Zom-B says:

    Bummer. When I read ‘Typewriter … lets you play’ I thought playing music, not a long-deprecated game.

  21. mowcius says:

    Luke, I love the advert on that page:
    64K static RAM, low power (2 Amps), $995

  22. Drewbacca81 says:

    . . . now if it played the old Infocom Hitchhiker’s game. . .

  23. cyplesma says:

    reminds me of an 80’s panasonic typewriter I used to own, it had a rs232 port on it so you could use it as a printer. printed quite a few resumes on it that was saved on an APPLE IIc. No you didn’t want to use the dot matrix printers of the day to print a resume.

  24. phire says:

    Hmm, I have an electronic typewriter that I’ve been planning to mod some day.

    This sounds like a great idea.

  25. James says:




  26. Keith D says:

    If this typewriter conversion is available for sale, email me at densmore@kaponline.com

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