The Cryptographic Capability of the Barbie Typewriter

In 1998, Mattel began selling the electronic Barbie Typewriter to replace the earlier mechanical typewriter in the Barbie line, thus continuing the toy industry habit of introducing young children to technology that is 30 years out of date. Nonetheless, it could keep children busy learning to read and write away from your word processor. But the typewriter had a secret. It was manufactured by Mehano in Slovenia, which already made other children's typewriters. Mehano took an older model and made it pink and purple for Mattel. The base model they used had a wonderful secret capability that was sadly never included in Mattel's marketing.    

Apart from a range of typesetting features, such as letter-spacing and underline, this children's toy was capable of encoding and decoding secret messages, using one of 4 built-in cipher modes. These modes were activated by entering a special key sequence on the keyboard, and was explained only in the original documentation.            

When the E-115 was adopted by Mattel as an addition to the Barbie™ product line, it was aimed mainly at girls with a minimum age of 5 years. For this reason the product was given a pink-and-purple case and the Barbie logo and image were printed on the body. As it was probably thought that secret writing would not appeal to girls, the coding/decoding facilities were omitted from the manual. Nevertheless, these facilities can still be accessed if you know how to activate them.

As a former girl, I can assure you that secret writing would have been the main draw of this toy if customers had known about it. If you happen to have one of these typewriters sitting around, you can find the instructions for using the crypto codes at Crypto Museum. -via Metafilter


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