The 60s are most often remembered because of flower power culture and the landing of man on the Moon, among other things, but if you’re not a (very hardcore) nerd you probably wouldn’t think of associating them with the Digi-Comp, a toy calculator that executed basic mathematical operations using marbles.
A cool, “larger-than-life” reproduction of the Digi Comp II was presented this year at Maker Faire, a festival held by Make Magazine which is a gathering point for DIY-enthusiasts and as such, provided the perfect setting for the exhibition of this huge, “genuine functioning, binary, mechanical computer”. The people behind it are California-based Windell Oskay and Lenore Edman, who jointly materialize creations under the alias of Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories. As the name suggests, all their work -including the computer that concerns us right now- has a marked scientific approach to it but also a healthy dose of playfulness and fun.
The original Digi Comp II was a relatively small toy (the box can be seen on the vid above) consisting of a double-decked platform made of masonite, an inclined plane and a series of plastic flip-flops and switches. The platform released a stream of half-inch marbles that rolled down the mini-ramp and moved the flip-flops in order to carry out simple arithmetic procedures such as adding and subtracting. What Windell and Lenore have basically done is build a giant version of the toy.
Their Digi Comp is approximately 4×8 feet in size and it works just like the small one, except it uses 8-balls instead of marbles. On the vid it can be seen in all its glorious, billiard-balls-bouncing-on-wood noisy action. Recreating an already existing item on a larger scale may not seem like much on paper, but on close inspection the build of this computer is actually amazing and I can’t imagine how much time and effort it must’ve taken.