This is 2-XL, a futuristic robot from the 70s. I met him at the thrift store. Just look at those eyes, though hard plastic and robot-button red, they have a life-like emotive quality about them. Or maybe I’m going crazy. But among the unwanted Bratz dolls and generic RC cars, I could hear 2-XL’s eyes pleading, take me, take me home!
At home, I looked him up and down. I never heard of a 2-XL. I even laughed at him. This is what they thought futuristic robots would look like. How they always get the future so wrong. Where is my flying car? Where is my 3 course meal in a pill? Most importantly, where is that moving conveyor belt a-la Jetsons? I’m sick of walking everywhere.
As you can see, 2-XL has a large slot — a slot that could hold one thing — those bulky tapes from the past, 8-Tracks. And I believe I denigrated 2-XL by hastily attempting to play a Neil Diamond 8-Track in his tape player. I was so crass. I imagined myself having the ultimate one-up at hipster parties and dive bars. When people were talking about their vintage turntables while wearing their vintage tees, I’d say, oh yeah, well I have a robot that plays 8-tracks.
I had to do some research on this guy. What I found was the story of a beloved and innovative toy. Mego Corporation, a huge toy company for dolls and classic action figures in the 70s, also produced 2-XL. It was a revolutionary idea, combining toys and education; his name literally meant To Excel. 2-XL was like the original Teddy Ruxpin–he talked, told stories, and sang, all via special 8-track tapes. His tapes asked multiple choice questions depending on the subject/theme of the tape, and you pushed one of his corresponding YES/NO buttons, which would change the track of the tape. Crude, but a brilliant use of the technology available at the time.
2-XL’s tapes were created with care by the inventor, Dr. Michael Freeman, who did the voice of the robot himself. With the self-admitted awful singing and quippy personality, 2-XL was an original. Even more fascinating is that 2-XL was marketed not just to children, but to teenagers and adults as well. Teenagers could play their rock and roll on him. Adults could work out with 2-XL’s exercise tapes. Take a look at the commercial:
2-XL isn’t rare or worth much money yet. An in-the-box 2-XL can be found on eBay for as cheap as ten bucks. One guy I saw on eBay was selling 2-XL, each individual tape, and 2-XL’s AC Adapter, all separately. I can understand selling the tapes individually, but come on, it’s shitty to sell his freaking plug by itself. In the late 80s/90s, an updated 2-XL was released, newly-outfitted with a cassette player by Tiger Electronics. Tiger is a toy company that brings back memories for me.
If you’re my age, you may also recall another educational robot, Alphie. Produced by Playskool, Alphie I was a direct knock-off of 2-XL, but 2-XL informs me that he had the better looks. Alphie had an internal memory, not requiring tapes, and was marketed as a computer. Alphie II came out in the 80s, and this is the one that I had. You’ll see how he worked in the commericial. Wait for the end, where the kid goes “I got it right.” That was the “and I helped” moment.