You can play Tetris on some old oscilloscopes—who said electrical engineering is never any fun?

You can play Tetris on some old oscilloscopes—who said electrical engineering is never any fun?

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For this week’s instalment of ‘did you know you can play a game on that’, I present to you the humble oscilloscope. The voltage graphing instrument used to chart electrical signals over time may sound like the worst way to spend a Friday night but 1) it’s pretty neat, actually, you could learn something, and 2) some older models have Tetris built-in.

I recently stumbled across a TikTok account that’s been great for learning all about how to use certain electrical measuring instruments such as oscilloscopes and multimeters—my TikTok feed really has me nailed down. The account’s called a_l_ejo (Jandro) and they cover the basics of how an oscilloscope actually works really well. It’s worth a watch. 

What caught my attention, however, was one of their more recent videos. In which they look at their first oscilloscope, a Hewlett Packard 54601A. Beyond looking fantastically analogue (I believe this oscilloscope had some digital features) and reminiscent of the targeting computer that proved pretty useless for Luke Skywalker when trying to destroy the Death Star, this snazzy ol’ scope also has a hidden feature.

As shown in the video embedded below, if you hit the Print/Utility button, press the second and third buttons beneath the screen together, wahey, Tetris. If you don’t skip ahead, you might also learn a little more about how to set up and read one of these older scopes.

@a_l_ejo

♬ original sound – Jandro

See, manufacturers of oscilloscopes still know how to have fun. It’s also a great example of games popping up where they don’t usually belong, like how you can run Doom entirely within a motherboard BIOS, or the teletext TV information service. Or even on a pregnancy test. You’ll notice it’s usually Doom that shows up these days, simply because it’s highly portable, the code is freely available, and it will run on a potato, literally. 

In case you were wondering, Doom hadn’t come out when this oscilloscope first appeared. That was around 1992, if my research is correct. Doom wouldn’t show up for another year. An old brochure I found for this scope suggests it cost a whopping $2,895 at the time, too, though Jandro says theirs cost them a couple hundred bucks when they bought it second-hand.