Tech giants Google, Microsoft, and eBay all use blue, yellow, red, and green as their logo colors. But those hues made an indelible mark on consumer tech 40 years ago with a product from Milton Bradley, a board-game company with roots stretching back to the Civil War. The colors differentiated the four wide plastic arcs on the face of an electronic party game called Simon.
Named after the classic children’s game “Simon Says,” the new toy tested players’ memories by making them repeat progressively longer patterns of lights and associated sounds by pressing the four colored buttons. Pressing the wrong button or failing to press one in time yielded an insulting raspberry sound. Simon sold for $25–about $92 in today’s dollars—and became a phenomenon that holiday season.
Despite Simon being protected by a U.S. patent, it soon attracted plenty of competitors. Einstein had an uninspired, rectangular design and a commercial featuring Gong Show mainstay Bill Saluga as “Raymond J. Johnson, Jr.” Atari, creator of the 1974 Touch Me arcade game that inspired Simon’s gameplay, would release a handheld electronic version of that game–its only dedicated handheld–bereft of Simon’s light-show pizzazz. An octogonal offering from Tiger Electronics exuded irony by carrying the name Copycat.
Competition also came in the form of electronic toys that included multiple games. These included a pattern-repetition option within Merlin, a Parker Brothers electronic game that looked a bit like a red Motorola MicroTAC cell phone from a decade later. Another was Mego’s Fabulous Fred, a larger 10-in-1…