Rare 1969 book for making a Paper Computer

(Own pics. Publisher Aulis Verlag)

From coin to computer. Not a real one, but a rare 1969 book for making a paper computer for learning.
There are other paper computers turned out to be just sheets. This one has a casing, a display and levers. I mentioned this before, but as this seems to be rare and I only found a poor pic, I upload some pics and make a review.
Sorry, I can’t scan the whole book. I don’t have the time and it also would ruin it. And it’s in German.

It is ~10x15 cm and has 92 pages. The first 30 pages are an introduction and the patterns for the parts. Someone has to upscale them either by scanning and printing out or by drawing it himself. You need thick cardboard or better thin wood. The base should be (at least) 17x30 cm.
But someone not only has to build the computer but also the input+output sheets for every “software”. As this is too much work and I only had thin cardboard, I never built one.

Some selected software:
Weather forecast,
language translator
Get into a labyrinth
Guessing your job
Computer can store images

Vintage and funny. But I wouldn’t recommend it. As said too complicated to build and you can’t learn much about computing although some mathematical software. But someone can expand it.


Splendid! So this is (or rather, acts as if it is) a machine with an instruction set, an accumulator, some memory?

No, there’s no instruction set and the memory is that what you’ve written before. But it is versatile. It’s rather mechanical
I bought the book some years ago and have to re-read it.

You have 4 levers, 3 have 2 positions, the 4th lever below has up to 6 positions and probably moving the output sheet. That has up to 2 rows of 7 answer fields. But it all depends on the software. Most decisions have to be answered by yourself.

One of the better examples: The computer translates binary to decimal (000-111).
So you enter the binary code with 3 levers. The 4th is obviously unused here. The software sheet (below) looks like this

0 1 __ 0 1
___0 1

The answer sheet above looks like this and displays the correct answer.

1 7 0 6
3 5 2 4
I have to check if there are smarter programs.

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Ah, so it’s a kind of lookup table, made for each application?

I have quickly read most parts of the book.
The upper lever (0 1) is optional and used for a mask of the display to double it to 24 output fields.
The 2 levers on the desk are selectors, sticking out of slots. Below they are part of a larger sheet with different arranged windows, masking out the wrong parts of the display. One is rectangular (vertical), the other has 3 windows arranged as a triangle. The lower lever is the storage lever as assumed moving the L shaped tray with the output display.

Some games make use of external playing fields or diagrams. Pictured on the cover is the program computer drawing a picture. With an external matrix field 3x4 by default you can paint the picture, the computer has.

The computer can be enhanced to 72 bits by dividing up the questions sheets up to 3 (guess my job).
The concept is simple. But rather for keeping kids busy.

Maybe someone could make a virtual computer simulation. So nobody has to build it.

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I did some searching and managed to find a couple of links that offer this book in English in PDF format. Unfortunately, they all led to a dead link. I found a couple for sale on Amazon, but I’m not sure about prices.

I don’t think that this book was (officially) published/translated in English.
Probably the PDF sites are fake sites (those with faked feedbacks?).

Do you want to build one? (I can’t recommend it.)
Or do you want to write a simulator?
If you want the book, you could buy it. At least it is available.

Today, I tried to build the computer, but mainly the inner parts to show them. Sorry for the poor pics.
1st pic on top: The 2 selectors with the levers below, then the lower tray with lever 3. On top the display with an output sheet (2x7), has to be fold up. And below the base with the display holes on top and the slots for the levers below.
I haven’t made a casing nor an input sheet, nor the optional monitor doubler.
Pic 2 showing selector 1 on the base, the selector 2 (both would be underneath) masking out the other hole, so that there’s just one answer.

The best would be a casing maybe by a 3D printer, wood or acrylic glass. But it should be a simple paper computer and it even works as it is.
The best is the software and someone can image how it would be displayed.

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Well, I remember this book. I actually did build this ‘computer’ when I was a boy! : - )

There is a sheet of 7 x 2 cells with the answers. This can be moved into one of six positions so that the output window shows a square with a subset of four cells. The two other handles each select two of these four cells so that in the end one of the 14 possible answers becomes visisible. (The fourth handle just allows opening and hiding the window to add a bit drama.)

Even as a boy I had the strong feeling that while promising in a way, the machine is just a bit too limited to stay fascinating over time – most of all, because the author falls a bit short in providing interesting ‘programs’, he often does not even make use of all three handles.

I think it should be easy to enhance this thing a little bit to allow a bigger set of answers, making the results less predictable. What it needs were some really thought-thru ‘programs’, I would say.

The book itself seems a bit of an unobtainium today. I see it rarely, and usually for, well, unrealistic prices.


Yes, the machine is very limited. And hard to build. So that’s why I haven’t build it. I bought the books some years ago.
But I think the author did his best to write interesting programs. Not sure if he invented it himself. Probably based on the toy computers, I mentioned here

I think most boys in the 70s had other thing in their minds than paper works. So maybe just for geeks.
The book was in a series, another one was about making a radio. Another thing that was outdated as there were TVs.
The main goal was obviously to keep kids busy and they should enhance it themselves.
We also have to remember the 70s education style.
Yes, the prices are too high. But in case for large sellers it’s just an algorithm. Or maybe someone wants to push up his inventory for the tax.

A nice video demonstrating how to use paper computing.


Nice animation at the end too.

I did an implementation of the LMC some time back - in BASIC (because why not!)

It has a visual representation of the memory but not as animated…



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A few additions.

(1) Two Alexander Stuler Books
“Wir bauen einen Computer” was #4 in the publisher’s series ‘Kleine Experimentierbucherei’, but the same author wrote a second book “Eine kluge Box” (‘a clever box’), published as #7 in 1972. Meanwhile the ISO Standard 2108 had introduced the ISBN, and this book got the ID 3-7614-0161-2.

This second book is a lot harder to find today. But as far as I can tell, this project has much less potential than the #4 computer. From what I know it seems to only allow a selection between eight answers. Most people would have expected an advancement after a few years, but this one was not. This seems strange; was the author perhaps a bit talked into this project and could not deliver any better? Did he just give them a precursor project? – Just assumptions, of course without real knowledge of the background.

(2) Computers in 1969
What could have led the author to call a combination of paper and cardbox, that just allows a fancy way to select one of a dozen answers a ‘computer’? – I remember very roughly that in the sixties and seventies you sometimes could get a data collection which was not organised as a list or a matrix but as a cardbox construction. I vaguely remember two concentric circles where you had to align an inner entry with an outer entry to then see a result in a cutout. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volvelle. I can imagine these things were more common in those times, and Stuler may have thought of a more generic construction of that type.

The principle to have to adjust a few sliders to actually select one of a dozen prepared answers is a bit close to the Kosmos Logikus construction kit (see discussion here), which appeared one or two years later. Yes, computers were very much in fashion at those times. I remember a popular scientific series in the German national TV that tried to familiarize the audience with this topic, it’s signature tune was a 1968 pop hit of France Gall, “Der Computer Nummer 3”. Whow, that were hopeful times!

(3) but…
Given the astonishing success of pop-up books and the ready accessibility of cutting plotters, the preconditions for a new development should be much better today than at Stuler’s times. It is fun to fantasize a bit of an enhanced 2.0 version, but in fact the strong limitations are really obvious. Seems like the world has changed a lot since.

This is starting to trigger some memories. In the US a car might have a ‘trip computer’ - not cardboard, admittedly, but not a computer as we’d know it. At school in the late 70s I did a project about the ‘Automatic Electronic Digital Computer’ if I remember rightly - those qualifiers being needed (according to my sources at the time) to make the meaning clear, that is, a computer as we’d know one today.

And aren’t those slide rules for pilots called computers? In essence, a computer being something which operates on information.

The traditional one is the CRP-1 Flight Computer… It’s a circular slide rule with all sorts of stuff on it to calculate things like fuel density and wind/compass direction vectors (on the reverse)

(I did the PPL thing many years ago and had to use one!)

You can still get them today - e.g.


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In the video about using a rubber band to build a circular slide rule (posted in another thread, here) they show a picture from an episode of the original Star Trek where Mr. Spock is using this device.

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Yes, I already mentioned that this is a book in a series.
The other books are mentioned in the book, but they are from other authors and not about computing (radio, electronics, chemistry).
I also mentioned the Kosmos Logikus and other toy computers in the Jouets rationnels link above.
“What could have led the author…”
What do you expect for kids in 1969 and out of paper?
I think it shows the binary functions (even a program of converting binary codes) and is similar like the toy computers.
And even today an interesting retro thing.
And the design is also not that bad comparing to other paper computers with plain sheets.

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