The Time Mr. Wizard Took Apart An Atari Computer
By The Professor on September 21, 2014
Do you remember the time Mr. Wizard took apart an Atari computer? For whatever reason, the scene of Mr. Wizard taking apart an Atari 1200 XL, gently explaining its workings and making it all understandable, always stood out for me as one of the most memorable moments from that show.
Who didn’t love Mr. Wizard growing up? As Mr. Wizard, Don Herbert engaged the minds of generations of kids, introducing them to novel concepts and creating new ways of making Science cool. His television programs spanned five decades and influenced countless shows to come, including Bill Nye the Science Guy and Mythbusters.
Herbert’s television show for the ’80s Mr. Wizard’s World is probably the most identifiable of his works among the Atari generation. Seventy eight episodes were produced from 1983 through 1990 and ran three times a week on Nickelodeon.
In an early episode Mr. Wizard sat down with a child to explore the world of home computers and what made them tick. In classic Mr. Wizard style, he made the complex understandable and engaging for kids. Together, they partially disassembled an Atari 1200 XL computer and joystick, and discussed the functionality of the different components.
The angular lines of the Atari 1200 XL were sculpted by industrial design legend Regan Cheng. It succeeded the 400/800 in the 8-Bit computer line and set the tone for Atari design moving forward.
And what a cool retro environment, with the multiple screens embedded in the wall playing Pac-Man, and the Vectrex lurking in the background.
At one point in the segment, Mr. Wizard disassembled the Atari joystick revealing the dome contacts and has the student play Pac-Man as one would on a directional pad. It’s interesting to note that the student struggled to navigate Pac-Man around the maze because the world was so used to the joystick, although this type of control would soon become the industry standard.
This article was penned by The Professor.