If you grew up in the latter part of the 20th century, you didn’t have the Internet we have today — or maybe not at all. What you did have, though, was Radio Shack within an hour’s drive. They sold consumer electronics, of course, but they also sold parts and kits. In addition to specific kits, they always had some versions of a universal kit where lots of components were mounted on a board and you could easily connect and disconnect them to build different things. [RetoSpector78] found a 200-in-1 kit at a thrift store that was exactly like the one he had as a kid and he shares it with us in the video below.
This was a particularly fancy model since it has a nice looking front panel with a few knobs and displays. The book shows you how to make the 200 different projects ranging from metronomes to rain detectors. The projects really fell into several categories. There were practical circuits like radio receivers, test equipment, and transmitters. Then there were games or circuits even the manual called “silly.” In addition, there were circuits to build simply to understand how they work, like flip flops or counters.
One selling point of these kits is they are solderless. Each component attaches to a spring. You bend the spring which leaves an opening between the coils. Stick a wire in the opening and release the spring to make a connection. Later, you can bend the spring again and pull the wire out. Super simple and easy to duplicate if you wanted to make your own. Each spring has a number and the projects call out which numbered terminals connect together.
One thing we didn’t like about the original manual is that it doesn’t show you the schematics for all the circuits. It shows you a pictorial of the device and a numbered netlist, at least, at first. Although the educational circuits are useful, the short write-ups that accompany them ought to be longer to better explain the operation to neophytes.
The old device had bad LEDs, so [RetroSpector78] did a repair and you get to see the insides of the device. Not that it isn’t what you’d expect. Lots of springs and wires with a few PC boards for the ICs and other components.
We were surprised to find you can still buy these new for about $80, to $90 but not from Radio Shack. The company that makes them — and other similar labs — appears to be Maxitronix.
We often refer to these kits as analogous to FPGAs — a bunch of uncommitted components you can wire up to make different things. Of course, that analogy only goes so far — FPGAs don’t have ferrite core antennas and transformers on them, at least not yet, anyway. The spring terminals are sort of a macro version of a common breadboard.