June 1955 Popular Electronics
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
I remember seeing advertisements for the
Electric Brain" in technical magazines like Popular Electronics,
Mechanix Illustrated, Popular Science, etc., back in the 1960s
and 70s. Even then it seemed like a hokey attempt to pitch a mechanical gizmo as
an honest-to-goodness computer. Personal computers were still a decade or more away
and only multi-million-dollar mainframe computers were available, so the opportunity
for Joe Sixpack to own a "problem solving" computer was a real temptation. No, I
never bought one; my first computer was a second-hand
Timex Sinclair 1000* with a membrane keyboard and a cassette
tape deck as a program storage device. Anyway, when I found this article in a 1966
issue of Popular Electronics, I figured maybe other people of my vintage
would enjoy reading about its inner workings.
* Thanks to
Mr. Wilson Roe, a former electronics repair
shop and sales store owner on Tilghman Island, Maryland (from whence my mother's
family hearkened), whom I later worked with as an electronic technician at Westinghouse
Electronic Oceanic Division in Annapolis, Maryland (next to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge),
who generously gifted his Timex Sinclair 1000 computer to me sometime around 1985.
Interesting kit builds circuits that solve problems and play
Cynthia Scott (Mrs.) and Marlene Saunders (Mrs.) - "two jealous wives" - eye
each other with suspicion while awaiting Geniac signal. Circuit warns wife if husband
has been unfaithful.
"Electric brains" that work in much the same manner as giant computers can now
be built quickly and cheaply by the novice using the new Geniac Construction Kit.
One of the most remarkable kits ever introduced to the public, the Geniac kit
provides material and instructions for building 33 separate circuits for operating
as many "brain machines." Among the devices that may be built are logic machines
for comparing and reasoning; cryptographic machines for coding and decoding; games
such as tic-tac-toe and nim; arithmetic machines for both decimal and binary computations;
puzzles such as "the space ship airlock," "the fox, hen, corn, and hired man;" and
miscellaneous devices such as a burglar alarm, an automatic oil furnace circuit,
In addition to a complete assortment of all necessary parts is a carefully prepared
instruction manual which explains in detail how to wire each circuit. The 63-page
manual also furnishes basic information on the application of symbolic logic to
circuits, which is the basis of the Geniac kit.
The kit is completely safe for anyone to use. No soldering is required, and every
circuit operates on one common flashlight battery.
Oliver Garfield, president of the Toy Development Company, Inc.,
which developed Geniac, explains its workings to Tim Scully, 9, who assembled a
circuit unaided, following kit instructions.
This diagram shows how Geniac solves "the problem of the hall
light." Verbal statements are broken down into algebraic symbols which, in turn,
indicate the number and type of circuit components required.
The Geniac circuit shown above represents a robot watchman. It
warns the farmer when his corn is in danger of being eaten by the hen. It also warns
him when the hen is in danger of being devoured by a fox. Circuit takes into account
the possibility that the hired man may not be present at all times to prevent trouble.
This ingenious circuit also informs the farmer when all is safe.
By the use of ingeniously designed parts, such as a new type multiple switch
and special circuit jumpers, the kit provides circuits that "act out" or "prove"
the truth of verbal statements about certain situations. One of the most popular
of these circuits is the machine for the two jealous wives, illustrated here. In
this problem, a "brain machine" must be devised that will inform either or both
wives of unfaithfulness on the part of their husbands.
Mathematical basis for the Geniac circuits is the application of "Boolean algebra"
to circuit design. George Boole, a nineteenth century British mathematician, evolved
a system of logic in which symbols represent specific possibilities of things happening
one way or another, such as A and B, or, A or B, etc. Certain types of information,
when stated verbally, can be analyzed and reduced to simple statements. These statements,
or "elements," are, in turn, expressed in symbols. The symbolic statement or "formula"
then represents the verbal statement. From the symbols, it can be determined what
circuit components are needed and how, to a large extent, they must be arranged
in order to provide a circuit that "acts out" the original statement. The gigantic
computers that solve complex problems in the twinkling of an eye are based, in part,
on these principles.
A good illustration of how this system works is the problem of the hall light,
one of the circuits included in the kit. The problem, stated in normal language,
is this: a man wants to turn off or turn on a hall light either from downstairs
or from upstairs. A circuit must be devised so that if either switch is turned the
light will go off if it was on, and will go on if it was off.
This is a practical problem and involves a kind of wiring that may be familiar
to many readers. It implies a switching arrangement in which either of two switches
may be "off" or "on" in any position, depending on the relative position of the
The circuit solution to this problem evolves logically from stating the problem
in Boolean symbols. U represents the upstairs switch in one position, and D represents
the downstairs switch in the same relative position. U-D represents the two switches
in series and in positions that permit the flow of current to light the bulb. U'
and D' represent both switches in their respective opposite positions. Thus, U'-D'
also represents a flow of current. U'-D and U-D' both represent the switches in
such relative positions as to break the circuit and permit no current to light the
Stating this in Boolean symbols: U-D v U'-D'. The "v" stands for an expression
similar to "and/or" and implies a state of parallelism between the two expressions
it connects. Thus, the formula tells us that two series switches are needed in parallel
with each other. Since each switch must perform one of two possible functions (the
"either -or" element), each switch must be a double-throw switch. The diagram and
schematic shown here illustrate this reasoning process.
In every application of Boolean logic to a verbal statement, the circuit must
prove the truth of the statement. In this case, the final circuit fulfills the requirements
of the man with the upstairs and downstairs halls. In other circuits which can be
built with the kit, a similar proof is achieved.
For instance, the kit may be used to construct an electronic version of tic-tac-toe.
Now, anyone who has played this game knows that if you make the first move, regardless
of what your opponent does, you must either win or draw, provided you make the best
possible move following each of your opponent's moves. In other words, the player
who goes second cannot win unless the first player commits an error. The Geniac
circuit for this situation is a complex one, but once constructed, proves infallible.
In a word, you can't beat the machine!
The underlying principles of the Geniac kit have been in development and research
for a number of years. One of the best known pioneers in this country in the application
of algebraic analysis to the problems of telephone circuitry is Dr. Claude Shannon
of Bell Telephone Laboratories, whose "magnetic mouse" was described in the May
issue of Popular Electronics. Another noted mathematician, Edmund C. Berkeley, has
contributed largely to the development of the Geniac kit. Mr. Berkeley, an exponent
of symbolic logic, is the author of the instruction manual that is furnished with
the kit. Production of the kit, and the solving of the problems involved in putting
it together, is largely the work of the Toy Development Company, of which Oliver
Garfield, scientist and teacher, is the head.
In addition to its value as a source of amusement and education, the kit exhibits
certain technological features that may have widespread implications in other areas.
The switches themselves are designed for simplicity and economy. Where the equivalent
of several banks is needed, which ordinarily requires a multi-deck or multi-wafer
switch built up vertically, the Geniac method uses a single wafer. Contacts on this
wafer provide the equivalent -laterally - of what conventionally ganged switches
do. This single wafer unit is an exclusive Geniac development, on which patents
Speaking for the Geniac project, Mr. Garfield is quite optimistic regarding its
future. New developments may see an electronic I.Q. tester for professional use,
as well as improvements in data analysis machines. For additional information, as
well as to order kits, write to The Geniac Project, 29 St. Marks Place, New York
3, N. Y.
Posted August 12, 2019