Remember the WOPR from WarGames? The fictional supercomputer that went toe-to-toe with Matthew Broderick and his acoustic coupler was like a love letter to the blinkenlight mainframes of yesteryear, and every hacker of a certain age has secretly yearned for their own scaled down model of it. Well…that’s not what this project is.
The [Unexpected Maker] is as much a WarGames fan as any of us, but he was more interested in recreating the red alphanumeric displays that ticked along as the WOPR was trying to brute force missile launch codes. These displays, complete with their thoroughly 1980s “computer” sound effects, were used to ratchet up the tension by showing how close the supercomputer was to kicking off World War III.
Of course, most us don’t have a missile silo to install his recreated display in. So when it’s not running through one of the randomized launch code decoding sequences, the display doubles as an NTP synchronized clock. With the retro fourteen segment LEDs glowing behind the smoked acrylic front panel, we think the clock itself is pretty slick even without the movie references.
Beyond the aforementioned LEDs, [Unexpected Maker] is using a ESP32 development board of his own design called the TinyPICO. An associated audio “Shield” with an integrated buzzer provides the appropriate bleeps and bloops as the display goes through the motions. Everything is held inside of an understated 3D printed enclosure that would look great on the wall or a desk.
Once you’ve got your launch code busting LED clock going in the corner, and your illuimated DEFCON display mounted on the wall, you’ll be well on the way to completing the WarGames playset we’ve been dreaming of since 1983. The only way to lose is to not play the game! (Or something like that…)
But don’t worry, the WordClock-1 knows more than just the bad words. Rather than using an array of illuminated letters as we’ve seen in previous clocks, this one uses six alphanumeric LED displays. So not only can it display the time expressed with words and numbers, but it can show pretty much any other text you might have in mind.
[Mitch] is partial to having his clock toss a swear word on the display every few seconds, but perhaps you’d rather have it show some Klingon vocabulary to help you brush up. The lack of extended characters does limit its language capabilities somewhat, but it still manages to include Spanish, Italian, French, and Croatian libraries.
The ESP32 powered clock comes as a kit, and [Mitch] has provided some very thorough documentation that should make assembling it fairly straightforward as long as you don’t mind tackling a few SMD components. Additional word databases are stored on an SD card, and you can easily add your own or edit the existing ones with nothing more exotic than a text editor. The clock itself is configured via a web interface, and includes features like RGB LED effects and support for pulling the time down from an external GPS receiver.
We recently featured an entertaining project here, a digital clock with a variety of different retro display technologies forming its numerals. Among those was an extremely unusual device, a rear-projection display with an array of bulbs each able to shine through a different letter or numeral slide. There was such interest in this device that its owner [Suedbunker] subjected one to a teardown for all to see.
The displays came from an organ which he suggests may have been manufactured around 1900. We suspect that may be a rather early estimate due to its use of a printed circuit board, but it is no less a fascinating device for it. A rectangular enclosure secured by twist-tabs opens to reveal a matrix of small filament bulbs on a PCB and supported by a stack of resin boards, in front of which was placed a slide with a letter or number for each one. Before that lies a sheet of glass, and then a molded plastic lens assembly which provides an individual lens for each of the 12 bulbs. When a bulb is illuminated with these in place, the letter or number is projected on the screen at the front of the unit.
It has the advantage of simplicity, no need for a high voltage, and high-quality characters and flexibility in displaying alternatives through different slides, though at the expense of quite a bulky package. The bulbs are quite energy-sapping, so for his clock he replaced them with LEDs. We like it as one of the more practical retro numeric displays, but its size means we probably won’t see a comeback.