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July 17, 2018

Barbie Cryptographic Typewriter


Who knew?

From CryptoMuseum:


Barbie™ Typewriter

Alphabet Substitution Cipher

The Barbie Typewriter is a low cost electronic typewriter, developed as a children's toy by Mehano in Slovenia (formerly Yugoslavia) and subsequently modified and sold worldwide by Mattel.

The E-118 (below),

E-118 -through 2015

which was still being sold through 2015, was the final model in a product line that started with the E-115 (top) in 1998.

These electronic typewriters was the successors to earlier purely mechanical Barbie typewriter models.

It is little known that most electronic variants have a hidden built-in cryptographic capability that allows secret writing.

Although the E-118 (above) is basically identical to the earlier models, the exterior has changed quite a bit over the years, probably to appeal more to young girls.

Furthermore, the interior, particularly the printed circuit board, has been simplified several times in order to cut down on production cost.

Whilst the earlier models were all made at the Mehano factory in Slovenia, latter iterations were assembled in China.

The E-118 consists of a plastic body with a 49-button keyboard, a plastic carriage that accepts common paper sheets, and a daisy wheel printer.

It is aimed at children five years and older.

Whilst the earlier models allowed the machine to be operated on internal batteries or an external mains power supply unit, the battery compartment was omitted from the later E-117 (below)


and E-118 models.

The first model was the E-115 (below) which was initially sold directly by manufacturer Mehano in 1998.

Original Mehano

The original version can be recognized by the grey color of the case and the blueish knobs.

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 four built-in cipher modes.

These modes were activated by entering a special key sequence on the keyboard, and were 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, it was given a pink-and-purple case and the Barbie logo and image were printed on the body (top).

As it was probably thought that secret writing would not appeal to girls, the coding/decoding capabilities were omitted from the manual.

Nevertheless, these facilities can still be accessed if you know how to activate them.

In all models, a simple daisy wheel printer is used, consisting of plastic parts, two solenoids, and a motor.

The electronics are on a small printed circuit board at the center of the unit.

In order to save on production costs, the micro-controller was directly bonded to the PCB in the later models.

July 17, 2018 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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