Speak & Spell, Speak & Math And Speak & Read (Texas Instruments)


I don't recall having any "educational" toys as a kid, and I'm fine with that because educational toys are stupid. There was nothing worse than hearing people say, "Want to go to the toy store?" and then they go to Zany Brainy. Ugh....Awful.

As a result of only having cool toys, I don't know much about the various ones designed to teach children, but I do recall one specifically. One which was featured in the blockbuster Steven Spielberg film, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Texas Instrument's Speak & Spell.

Even as I put this post together, I was stunned by how many variations had been released between its inception in 1979 and today. Not only that, but by how many different "branding" versions there were. I never knew until I started looking into this that there was Math, Reading and (UK Exclusive) Writing versions.

For today's post, I'm going to be looking at the 1979 to 1988 era, and for the most part, just the actual devices, and not the the cartridges. However, in doing so, I will be focusing in specifically on 1982.

Speak & Spell was launched in 1978, and with it came a slew of modules for use with the basic unit. These included, but again, are not show, Vowel Power, Super Stumpers 4 - 6, Super Stumpers 7 - 8, Basic Builders, and Mighty Verbs.

In addition to its United States, or  North America  release, the basic unit also got distributed in the United Kingdom. However, only two of the modules were distributed for the latter; Vowel Power and Mighty Verbs.

The "console" became such a successful educational tool that by 1980, Texas Instruments began expanding on the product. They not only reissued the original Speak & Spell, this time with a red banner at the top left of the package, but also included all new modules; Homonym Heroes, Noun Endings, Magnificent Modifiers, and Vowel Ventures.

Texas Instruments also branched out into two all new units in the "speak" series with Speak & Read, and Speak & Math.

Though the units served their purpose as educational toys during these noted years, 1982 would bring it to the forefront in a big way, when it was not only featured in the blockbuster film, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, but utilized heavily to advance the story.

Now obviously, E.T. is a stupid movie that is ultimately pointless thanks to the gaping plot hole in the film. I've talked about it before, but I'll sum it up again. When E.T. lift's Elliot's bike into the air for the iconic flying scene, the entire weight of the film comes crashing down. If E.T. could fly, why did he stand on the ground to be left behind by the very slow ship lifting off at the beginning? Just fly up to it, pop open a hatch, in, gone, done.

Despite the poor film writing, Texas Instruments made sure to cash in on the Speak & Spell's cameo appearance. This first began with a sticker being adhered to boxes in noting that this was the toy as seen in the film.

What's interesting about this is that Texas Instrument also slapped the label on the Speak & Read and Speak & Math, neither of which were in the film.

Texas Instruments would then double down on this advertising opportunity by releasing not only an E.T. boxed basic unit, but also a module, which I will show, entitled, E.T. Fantasy Module.

I don't honestly know if this helped to sell more Speak & Spell's in 1982, but if nothing else, the boxes are cool, and nostalgic E.T. fan's dream come true for fun and unique products to hunt down.

TI followed up this release with the redesigned Speak & Spell Compact, however the unit didn't sell well, and was ultimately recolored and shuffled off to the UK, where the majority of the stock was sold.

In addition to this, the UK also saw the exclusive release of the Speak & Write Compact. France also received the exclusive Speak & Math Compact. However, due to their limited releases, I was not able to obtain a sufficient photo of the boxes to post here.

There wouldn't be a "new" package design for the Speak series until 1984, when Texas Instruments released these very colorful iterations. It's funny how they incorporated a bunch of children on the box with the unit, as if it were some form of group activity, or video game console.

What's interesting to note is that if there were any new modules released during this time, nobody seems to have a list of them. Did TI really try to float these based on just the original ones? I honestly don't know.

The 80's saw one final release for the Speak & Spell, this time with the newly designed Super edition.

Super Speak & Spell, released in 1987, featured all sorts of upgrades, such as all new buttons and a new display. Additionally, the unit was designed with a flip cover, making it more sleek and mature. There was however one drawback to this. The new design also featured slimmer module cartridges, meaning all the older ones were not compatible with it. A Super Speak & Math followed this release in 1990.

Since then, Texas Instruments has released classic versions of their Speak & Spell unit throughout the past decades. However, in this growing age of digital learning, Smart devices and other such handheld items that many children have at their fingertips, I can't help but feel that it's more so as a nostalgic nod, aimed at the adult collector, versus a child. Much like the calculator, there's really no reason for its existence other than to serve as memories of a time long gone.

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Retro Spins: Newcleus - Space Is The Place

Jam On Revenge, the first album from Newcleus, was an album I really enjoyed. Mainly because it was so different from what I was accustomed to listening to. However, even with that said, I didn't nab more than one song from the record.

Still, hearing it got me pretty excited to hear their follow up album, Space Is The Place. I had picked up the two albums at the same time, but because I was listening to other stuff, I didn't get around to it right away.

With this year's theme being all about before and after albums, I thought it was an appropriate time to swing back around to them.

Space Is The Place is on par with Jam On Revenge. It's enjoyable, but at the same time, it also doesn't produce singles. It's one of those albums which are best enjoyed from start to finish because each song fits into its intended place. Unlike JoR, the tracks are not intertwined with sound effects, which does make it easier to know when a new track is starting.

I did end up grabbing one song off of the album for my shuffle. Track five, Cyborg Dance. Again, it's not that the other songs were bad. This one just stood out the most for me.

Track six, I Wanna Be A B-Boy, did get me a little nostalgic excited around the four minute thirty second mark because I heard the distinctive scratching of Herbie Hancock's Rock It. Coincidence? I'm not sure. But I enjoyed it immensely.

Overall, it was a good album, but it's not one I'm going to be listening to often. Mainly because I have so much music I'm trying to get through, and I really don't have time to re-listen to full albums - With the exception of the best of the best which have been ingrained in my head since the 80's. Still, I can see myself getting back around to this one, and Jam On Revenge, some day.

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Marvel Swimsuit Special (Marvel Comics)


I had to move some posts around from last year's schedule in order to fit in my ten posts related to cartoons of the 80's. As a result, I have several posts which got shifted into 2022, and those are going to be coming at you for the next several weeks. So for now, back to the old format.

Marvel Swimsuit Special
Marvel Comics

They'll never do this again.

The 90's were an exciting time for comic books. The industry was at an all time high, talent was surpassing the actual books they were working on, and prices were skyrocketing on issues that just hit store shelves the week prior. Variant covers, gimmick covers, mini-series, crossover events, a newly founded independent label and more were turning the industry upside down, and fans across the world were all enjoying the ride.

Between 1992 and 1995, Marvel released a series of swimsuit issues that featured some of its most popular characters of the era. There's no doubt in my mind that the publisher was aiming for a more mature audience with these over the top provocative issues. Naturally, as a fifteen year old boy, I was all over the 1991 and 1992 magazine size issues when they first came out.

With the current direction of Marvel Comics, I can't help but think that something like this would be completely frowned upon. It's just not socially acceptable to objectify women like this anymore - Or so I hear. Additionally, from what I've been seeing from the "talent" in recent history, they use their books to fulfill political agendas, as well as to protest and publish activism. So something like this would be out of the question.

Marvel Illustrated
Marvel Comics

Though it's obviously in line with the above, and some collector's consider it to actually be the first issue, Marvel initially released a swimsuit issue in 1991 entitled, Marvel Illustrated: The Swimsuit Issue.

Time line wise, it would make sense that this was the first issue, making 1992 - 1995 issues two through five.

Basically, what you get from any of these magazines are pinups of some of your favorite Marvel characters, guys and girls, clad as skimpy as possible, and drawn by some of the hottest artists of the era. What's not to love?

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Retro Spins: Falco - Wiener Blut

Falco is one of those singers I really wish would have done better in the 80's than he did. He struck American shores hard with his hits Rock Me Amadeus and Vienna Calling, but then sadly couldn't recreated that success with any of his follow up albums. Even for me, his tunes are pretty hit or miss. I find they're either really good, or just bad.

Today, I'm taking a look at his 1988 album Wiener Blut, or Viennese Blood, as it translates to in English from German. At least I hope it's German, and not Dutch, because then it would translate to wiener broke.

Wiener Blut didn't produce any hits for the signer, and as a result he unfortunately continued to struggle with waning popularity, declining sales and as a result, personal issues. Falco wanted so badly to recreate the lightning in a bottle he found with Falco 3, but sadly never could.

Admittedly, and I'm sorry to say this, the album really isn't that good. In my listening session, I pulled three tracks for my shuffle. Whoever, with eleven songs in total, that's a pretty bad ratio of good to bad. Now, with that said, the three songs I did enjoy, I really enjoyed. They're up there with some of my favorites from "3" (the album). Those were, Wiener Blut, Untouchable and Garbo.

Hearing the record also made me want to dig a little deeper into the singer's past albums to see if those would be worth picking up too. Unfortunately, after a quick peruse on Youtube to see what I'd be getting myself into, I didn't hear anything that I enjoyed. As such, I passed.

You just kind of have to take it for what it is. Falco had his fifteen minutes of fame, which is more than most of us get, so you really just have to enjoy it for what it was. It would have been great if Falco was a break out artist who produced hit after hit, but he didn't. What more can you really say?

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Snow And Chili!


When the world looks like this...

It's a good day to hunker down with this...

This chili was made with three pounds ground beef, three diced onions, four different beans (navy, cannellini, kidney, and black), two cans diced tomatoes (15 ounces each), one can tomato sauce (15 ounces), and my homemade chili seasoning - Recipe "HERE". I used about eight tablespoons, and seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. Just put it all in the pot, and simmer over low for four to six hours.

My ritual for chili has always been this: eat two bowls of it over two days, make chili dogs the next, and chili mac the following to finish it off.

UPDATED PHOTOS in the life of chili.

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Hasbro G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero Cobra Commander (Metal Helmet)


Cobra Commander
Code Name: Enemy Leader

Primary Military Specialty: Intelligence
Secondary Military Specialty: Ordinance (Experimental Weaponry)
Birthplace: Classified     Grade: Commander-In-Chief

Absolute power! Total control of the world...its people, wealth, and resources -- that's the objective of COBRA Commander. This fanatical leader rules with an iron fist. He demands total loyalty and allegiance. His main battle plan, for world control, relies on revolution and chaos. He personally led uprisings in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and other trouble spots. Responsible for kidnapping scientists, businessmen, and military leaders, then forcing them to reveal their top level secrets.

"COBRA Commander is hatred and evil personified. Corrupt. A man without scruples. Probably the most dangerous man alive!"

*Above text from the original 1982 / 1983 file card.

When I picked up my first ten G.I. Joe figures as an adult collector on July 1st, 2017, I didn't fully grasp the Pandora's box I had just opened. This was probably because up until July of the following year, my figure buying for the series was sparse, picking them up a few at a time as I visited each consecutive Dave Hart Show. Even then, the roughly thirty figures I had obtained up until that point remained in their bags in a box, with me pretty indecisive of what I actually wanted to do with them. Did I want to collect Joe's? Or was I just fleshing out my buying experience with a couple iconic figures here and there? At first I thought it was the latter.

By December of 2018, I discovered that I was only missing a handful of figures to complete the entire Cobra Team spanning 1982 - 1987. By this point, I had accepted the fact that this was indeed the plan I was aiming for. However, in doing so, I told myself, "Self, there are a lot of figures in this line. Please only limit yourself to the Cobra team." Sure, I had purchased three Joe team figures up until this point, but I had decided I wasn't going to buy any others.

Then I ran out of figures to buy. With a job well done, I set up all my figures in year order, and never bought another one.

Yeah, right...

By March of 2019, I was headlong into all things G.I. Joe figures. With how seemingly easy it was to complete my original goal in two short years, I now set my sites on Joe team figures. At this point, I was also branching into 1988 and beyond for Cobra ones too. All things would come to a close in June of 2019, as in record time I completed an entire set of the Joe team from 1982 - 1987. With this job well done, I set up all my figures in year order, and never bought another one...


With no figures to buy, I went back to focusing on 1988 and beyond. I completed a set of the Cobra figures from 1988 through 1990, and even branched out into 1991 and beyond, picking a select few. Being less focused on the Joe side of things, while I did grab several from 1988 and beyond, I never completed any specific year in its entirety, nor do I intend to. As the pandemic took its toll in 2020, prices on Joe figures started rising to astronomical prices, and I finally decided enough was enough, and tapped out. My days of spending $100+ on a single vintage figure are behind me.

However, this grand journey goes all the way back to that Summer of 2017, when I took my first steps into Timonium, Maryland, attending my first Dave Hart Show. It was here that I picked up my very first G.I. Joe figure as an adult (and nine others). In my hands, I held a helmeted Cobra Commander figure that I found at a dealer's table who I would subsequently work with to build up the majority of my collection. With a fifty dollar price tag, I found myself at a crossroads. Do I do it? Or do I leave it here?

Initially, I walked away, deciding it just wasn't the right time. Then I stumbled upon another table of G.I. Joe figures. At this point, the lure was too much. Seeing all the classic characters I never had as a kid, but wanted oh so bad even back in the 80's, I finally couldn't say no any longer. I went back to that original table and picked up that helmeted Cobra Commander, and then grabbed several more. Believe it or not, prices weren't bad for these things in 2017. I don't think I paid more than fifteen to twenty dollars for any of the other figures. Mind you, they were all 100% complete.

I'd never had a helmeted Cobra Commander as a kid. In fact, I had never owned any of the figures I got that day. However, there was something that just felt right about starting my collection off with the main villain of the series. It was just the natural order of things.

Cobra Commander is an iconic character, a must have figure if you're collecting G.I. Joe figures, and just a lot of fun to hold your hands or look at. If you'll excuse me from this post, I'm actually going to go stand in front of my shelves and just take them all in visually.

Regrettably, I've found that these posts are rather time consuming, so I'm not too sure that this particular format is going to work for me. I'm also in the process of moving, which means I'm boxing everything up anyway.

Fortunately, I have several posts from last year that had to get shuffled into 2022 to make space for my end of year series based on 80's cartoons. So for the next several weeks, The Toy Box is shifting back to the original format for Monday posts. Hope to see you there as we look at a great nostalgic series.

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Homemade Veal Marsala


With the cold days here, it was time for some winter goodness. I'm talking a meal that sticks to your ribs, and warms you from the inside.

Today, I'm making veal Marsala.


1 to 1 1/2 Pounds Thin Sliced Veal
1 1/2 Cups Marsala Wine
3 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Fresh Thyme
8 Ounces Mushrooms (any kind)
1/2 Cup Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Pepper
Olive Oil 

How thin should your veal be? You want about twelve slices in a pound and a half. So basically, four slices per half pound. Not a fan of veal? No worries. Substitute thin sliced chicken, or even a nice thick cut filet steak. For chicken, just follow this recipe. For steaks, simply cook to your preference on a grill, and finish it in the sauce.

For my side dishes, I'm making some roasted asparagus and mashed potatoes. So first I'm going to do a bit of prep work, and actually get the sides going, as they're going to take the longest.

In a measuring cup, I have 1/2 a cup of olive oil, two tablespoons of lemon juice, and some salt and pepper (to taste). This is going to be drizzled over my asparagus before it goes into the oven.

I'm also going to pull all my fresh thyme off the stalks, and set that aside.

These are going to go into the oven on 350 for about forty-five minutes. As I put them in, I'm then going to start peeling potatoes, slicing them, and throwing them in a pot of boiling water that has some salt and pepper in it.

I talked about how I make my mashed potatoes in this post, which coincidentally is also a veal dish, and was also accompanied by asparagus.

With asparagus in the oven, and potatoes boiling on the stove, it's time to focus on the main course.

I'm starting by mixing my half a cup of flour with my 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.

Mix this together, and dredge your veal in it to coat both sides. Set this aside, and in a large skillet add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. You're looking for a shimmer of a coating, but not enough (by any means) to deep fry.

Add your meat, and brown each side a bit over medium heat. Add more oil as necessary, and it will be necessary, especially as you take pieces of meat out and add more to the pan. It will probably take you three to four batches to cook a pound of thin sliced veal.

Because you're not going to clean the pan when done, you need to avoid two thing. Number one is having too much oil. Only add enough to keep that shimmer at the bottom. Number two, keep your heat on medium because things will stick, and that's a good thing, but you don't want it to burn.

Additionally, you're not looking for well done meat. The reason being is that this is going to continue to cook in your sauce, and you want to ensure it stays tender. So look for slightly brown, slightly pink, as shown in the photo above.

When all your meat is "cooked", set it aside on a plate to rest, and remove the pan from heat. This will ensure that all those golden brown bits at the bottom don't burn up on you.

Pre-sliced mushrooms are ideal, but if like me, you go to the store on the one day they don't have them, whole mushrooms are just as fine. All you have to do is give them a good washing, and then slice them up.

Add them to your pan, and return it to low heat. You want these to get a little tender, while maintaining all those golden bits at the bottom, which you're going to gently start to scrape off. Don't worry if they won't cooperate. The wine will de-glaze the pan soon enough. Speaking of which, get this all measured out, and ready to go.

While the preferred wine for Italian Marsala dishes is sweet Marsala, you can easily use a dry variation if that's all you have access to. It will change the flavor slightly.

Add your wine to the pan, and then two tablespoons of fresh thyme. Give this all a good stir, and raise the temperature to medium / high. You want to bring this to a simmer, and let the liquid reduce by 1/3.

Once the liquid has reduced by 1/3, add three tablespoons of butter, and stir this around to melt. Once melted, add your meat back to the pan, and simmer it for five minutes. This is where you want to introduce your steak to the party if you opted to not use veal (or chicken). Just toss it in your sauce though, as you don't want to overcook it beyond your desired temperature.

In the interim of all of this, balance your time with your mashed potatoes, getting them drained, mashed, and ready to go.

Scoop up a pile of potatoes, and make a well in it with the back of the spoon. Fill this well with some of the Marsala sauce, and then place a few pieces of meat and mushrooms on top. Drizzle this with a bit more sauce. Having some delicious rolls on hand to clean up whatever doesn't stick to the potatoes is good eatin' practices. You can sub pasta for the mashed potatoes, but I'm personally not a fan. Noodles don't absorb all that delicious sauce like mashed potatoes do.

Now you know what's up. Get you a fork, and get to digging in!

Even the most harsh food critic will love this one.

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