The Pong Clock

Back in 2005, a company called Sander Mulder built and sold an LCD clock that displayed the time as an automated game of Pong. The right player's score showed the hours, and the left player's score showed the minutes. The ball was batted back and forth by two paddles constantly (just like the actual game...only without players), and the appropriate "player" missed the ball when the time on its side needed to increment. Then, the ball was served again and the "game" continued. It was incredibly cool. Unfortunately, I didn't find out about the clock unitl all 200 that they built were sold.

I kept checking their site again and again, hoping they'd build more, but to no avail. As I understand it, there might have been some copyright issues involved...but, at any rate, they never produced any beyond the initial 200. I kept an eye on e-Bay and other online sites hoping that one of the 200 would show up but, on the rare occasion that they do, they sell for thousands of dollars. Way beyond my budget.

About six months ago, on one of my Pong clock searches, I came across a different Pong clock called the Monochron--one that was available as a do-it-yourself kit. At the time, I didn't have enough confidence in my soldering skills to attempt a project of this sort, but I kept eyeing it up every few weeks nevertheless.

Then, I got up the courage to re-cap the monitor in my NBA Jam machine, and it actually went well! Bolstered by my new confidence, immediately ordered the kit. And, after about four hours of soldering, I had a Pong clock of my very own! It's actually an open-source, hackable clock. The ROM is pre-programmed with the Pong display (which works just like the Sander Mulder clock), but you can hack it and reprogram it for other displays should you feel the need to do so. (I don't...it's already doing exactly what I want it to do.)

There's really not a lot to tell on this one. If you want to see what's involved in building the clock, there are excellent step-by-step instructions (with lots of pictures) linked to the Monochron page. There are several sites that sell the kit, but I bought mine from AC Gears for $79.99. (It's pretty much the same price everywhere.) Both AC Gears and the Monochron page show videos of the clock in action. The soldering is a little tricky at times (some of the components are pretty small), but I was able to complete it with only a couple of mistakes--and was able to find and correct the bad solder points with relative ease. You also have to own (and know how to use) a multi-meter. Honestly, for me, the hardest part was assembling the enclosure. It would probably help a lot to have a second person available to hold it together while you tighten the screws. I managed to muddle through it alone, though.

One final note--this is not a wall clock like the Sander Mulder clock. There's no clear sense of scale in any of the pictures I've seen (or the one I took of my clock...silly me). The finished product is about the size of a bedside alarm clock, and the screen itself is a little smaller than an iPhone screen. Still...it's a pretty cool toy, and it goes well with my arcade decor.

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