Ode to the Brain Baffler (Mattel, 1979)

So Mr. Wonderful and the three kiddos go off to the library rummage sale.

In addition to books (mostly comic), they came back with a red, lanky puppet, which is actually kind of awesome, in a Muppetty rip off kind of way.

And the Brain Baffler.

Made by the forward thinking people of Mattel in 1979, the Brain Baffler is “the Electronic Mind that plays games with human minds!” I know because it says so right on the back.

It plays eight games. See?

We were desperate for entertainment in the late 70s. Search for four numbers? What fun!

Also, it has a picture of a family enjoying the Brain Baffler to a degree not fully understood in our experience. This picture is disturbing to me on many levels.

The people posing as the happy family, you see, were paid to let people take pictures of them. Let that sink in for a minute. The man posing as a father and looking remarkably like William F. Buckley Jr., was paid to be in this shot.

Not only that, he presumably competed with other specimens of male perfection and beat them out. Out of the, let’s guess a hundred or so, models that showed up for the call, he was the most embodying the masculine ideal of the up-to-the-minute, scientifically-aware, yet fun as bananas dad the ad agency was trying to conjure.

Observe the look of sheer adoration Mom is giving Dad for his decisive and masterful pushing of a button on the Brain Baffler. She is clearly anticipating the moment they put Junior to bed (snuggling his Brain Baffler, no doubt) and she can take Dad upstairs and let him baffle more than her brain, if you get my drift.

The look Junior is giving Dad is nothing less than unadulterated hero worship. The Brain Baffler is no match for Dad. Is there anything in this universe or the next he can’t do? Soon, technology would ruin this special relationship. In a few short years, this boy will have to program Dad’s VCR for him. He will have to set the auto turn on on the coffeemaker and eventually explain the Tevo. One day, of course, this child will patiently download Dad’s Rod Stewart and Donna Summer compilations on to Dad’s iPod and doggedly explain to him, with a longsuffering smile, how to access his playlists.

But in in 1979, Dad was the master of his technological domain, lord of all buttons.

The late 70s were a magical time.

Furthermore, this picture disturbs me because these people actually wanted their hair to look like that. They had people working, with the best tools and products available at the time, to make their hair look like that.

On purpose.

That Princess Diana in the front, smooth bowl cut in the back  thing on the little boy with the airplane wing shirt lapels? On purpose.

The saucy curl on Dad’s forehead? On purpose.

I have the same cognitive dissonance whenever I see Luke Skywalker or Han Solo. There was someone, probably a team of people, whose whole job it was to ensure that Luke Skywalker’s hair always looked EXACTLY LIKE THAT.

 

 

 

 

Anyway, back to the Brain Baffler. We would have been thoroughly confused when we turned the Brain Baffler on and it malfunctioned by not turning on, except there was reassuring and bold print instructions on the back of the Brain Baffler itself.

I can’t. I can’t even. You win, Brain Baffler. My brain is baffled.

New battery inserted, we switched the Electronic Mind on.

It made a disturbing whirring noise, almost sinister. Then it said:

GAME NO.

But, GAME YES was what we were looking for.

After punching buttons at random (JDONFKDKCNODKYEKDNGODKAYFNDKOWNGDYHC, said the Brain Baffler), someone thought to check the extensive manual that came with the Brain Baffler.

Ahhh.. Game Number. Got it.

So we punched “1” for Anagrams, or as we call it in modern times, Word Scramble.

The Brain Baffler gave us the following letters to unscramble: “FFFFJFFFJ.”

Um, Fiji?  Without the I’s?

Then, the Brain Baffler said this:

 

I guess we lost.

Unfortunately, the sinister whirring sound continued. Occasionally when we pushed a button, the Brain Baffler emitted a high screaming sound that made the dog come running.

I guess her brain was baffled too.

I want to explain to my kids that the 70s and 80s weren’t as weird as they seem in retrospect. They were an innocent time in which we paused from hitting trees with sticks long enough to be fanatically grateful for any electronic mind that was willing to give us the time of day.

I mean, Pong was awesome. Can I get a Dy-no-mite?

But the Brain Baffler proves me wrong. We were deeply, deeply weird.

About Rebecca Cusey

Rebecca is a lead critic and editor of entertainment at Patheos. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey


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