Is this the first D-pad?

Jason Torchinsky is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Jason has a book out now, Ad Nauseam: A Survivor's Guide to American Consumer Culture. He lives in Los Angeles, where he is a tinkerer and artist and writes for the Onion News Network. He lives with his partner Sally, five animals, too many old cars, and a shed full of crap.

To a certain group of dedicated dorks, videogame controllers and their history is fiercely interesting, even to the point of having dedicated T-shirts. It's to those folks I present this discovery: this looks like it may be the first product (image from a 1977 ad) with a joypad-like device, used for user input (enlargement mine):

Ah, the CALCUPEN. Now, I know Gunpei Yokoi usually gets credit for those little 4-way rocker switches first used on the famous Game & Watch series, but it sure looks like our little Calcupen has five of the things running up its nerdy spine there. Granted, they're used for numerical input as opposed to direction control, but it's essentially the same device. I bet, if one was lucky enough to find one, a Calcupen could be wired to act as an old Nintendo controller!

Maybe the Calcupen is really that missing link between nerd productivity culture and nerd time-wasting culture. I smell a dissertation.


  1. Looks more like you have to press a given button multiple times to get a particular number than a directional pad.

  2. I used one of these, back around 1977. I was in 4th grade or so, and another student had brought his Dad’s pen in. It had, IIRC, the weird property of overheating after a few minutes of use and displaying “—-” or “EEEE” or some such. You had to turn it off to let it cool down before you could use it again. Strange!

  3. I had one of these, I can close my eyes and remember playing with it in my dad’s office!!

    Thanks for the momentary wayback moment!

  4. It must not work. $19.95 is not 1/2 off from 39.95.
    Half off would be $19.975. So they’re screwing themselves out of 2.5 cents!

  5. What?! There’s no web site on that ad! How am i going to find out where to buy one?
    I net someone in marketing’s gonna hear about this one!

  6. There is plenty of machine equipment from the ’40s and ’50s that have joysticks and D-pads, so something from the ’70s definitely doesn’t qualify as “the first”. Unless you want to limit yourself to D-pads that control something electronic? (As opposed to hydraulic like the aforementioned machines)

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