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I guess I just like liking things

When I was in high school I had a watch I could play Q*bert on (this site has some pictures of it). I loved that thing. Every cube had room for four bits of LCD: Q*bert, Coily, a ball, and a “hopped-on” cube. The Q*bert LCD was hollow so if he hopped onto a cube with a ball on it, the ball would show in the middle of his stomach – an ingenious bit of planning to take advantage of the limitations of LCD “animation.” I remember it cost $25, which was a lot for me. I don’t remember how I earned the money to buy it.

The highest score you could get on the game was 1999. It used the clock area as the score area, and it must have saved them some money to not add the extra five LCD lines on the leading one to allow for higher scores. I got so good at playing on this watch that I could get to 1999 without dying once, so to find a new challenge, I started playing it upside-down (with the control buttons at the top, not with the screen turned away, just to clarify!). I got to the point where I could get to 1999 points that way, too, and started playing it sideways, which was a lot more difficult.

Here’s a video of a fellow demonstrating the gameplay:

This is what passed for high tech in 1983, folks!

You hear that beep that happens with every keypress?  There was no way to mute that, and watches like this were made to played during class. In my first-ever modding attempt, I opened the back of the watch and broke off the metal contact that supplied the sound. Good: now the game wouldn’t beep. Bad: now the alarm function on the watch was useless. If I had been a smarter kid, I’d have used electrical tape to stop the contact rather than damaging the watch, but I didn’t know much other than “beeps keep me from playing this in school, I must stop the beeps.”

Honestly, as a timekeeping device this watch was pretty much worthless. Pressing on all four control keys at the same time caused the watch to reset, losing both the current time and the high score. That second part didn’t matter because it was rare that the high score wasn’t 1999, but resetting the clock all the time was a pain. And I do mean all the time, because when friends learned that simply pressing all four keys would reset the watch they did that all the time. Jerks.

I somehow lost the watch around the time I lost my first “serious” high school girlfriend. That relationship ended badly, and I still remember the pain of it, but it’s intertwined with the pain of misplacing that watch, so the overall effect was even worse.   I’m not a guy who generally loses things, so it’s still strange to me that I misplaced something I liked so much.  I came to understand that losing the girl was a good thing in the long run, but you’ll never convince me that losing that watch was.

There are a few of the watches available on eBay, running from $35 to $284. I can’t bring myself to bid on them, though. Part of it is my general mistrust of eBay, but part of it, I think, is that I know I wouldn’t be any good at the game any more.  Q*bert was always a difficult game, but the watch version was something I was good at – any other version I’ve ever played I have been bad at. Not being good at the watch version any more would be another reminder of times and abilities gone by, and I have enough of those reminders, thank you very much.

I haven’t worn a watch in a long time. I graduated from a Q*bert watch to a calculator watch that would store phone numbers (40 of them!), and then moved on normal/regular watches (always digital, though, because reading a “face clock” takes me too long and I still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea) and then to a cell phone in my pocket. I can get hundreds of games on that cell phone, but there’s still no version of Q*bert available.  Sometimes technology marches on and sometimes it just says “nertz to you.”


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