How about a Nixie chess set?

12/30/2013 – Cold-cathode or "Nixie" tubes, introduced in the 1950s, were among the first digital displays ever built. There are still small stockpiles left, and the tubes are experiencing a comeback in nostalgia driven displays, clocks and even watches. And now you can get a chess set as a DIY kit, or fully assembled, with pieces that glow on the squares. But hurry: the world is running out of Nixie tubes.

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The Nixie Chessboard

The cold-cathode tube was developed in the 1950s as an electronic device for displaying numerals or other information using glow discharge. A glass tube filled with neon gas enclosed a wire-mesh anode and multiple cathodes, shaped like numerals or other symbols. Applying power to one cathode surrounded it with an orange glow discharge.

In 1954 Burroughs Corporation started building cold-cathode tubes they called "Nixie" tubes. They quickly found their way as a digital display in high end test equipment, frequency counters, military applications and research projects. Soon Nixie tubes were used as the very first electronic digital display in consumer products like calculators, and the very first digital clocks.

This Classic Nixie Tube Clock is still available (at Amazon) and costs $360. It is intended primarily for people who were there at the time and who can't forget the warm golden glow of actual formed numbers one through zero changing before your eyes!

Nixie tubes have even been used to build watches: here is Steve Wozniak
showing off his Nixie watch and explaining how it works.

Inspired by the nostalgia of modern gadgets built with retro technology a company called Lasermad has produced a DIY Nixie tube chess set. It requires a bit of work, with the components costing around $340 – but the set can also be bought fully assembled for around $760.

The lights on the chess pieces are made from ex-Soviet Nixie gas display tubes, and the board
uses induction coils to power the lights through the top of the board, so that no sockets are required.

The pieces have vertical displays that can be seen from the top

The board (during construction) viewed from the bottom

All components – many hundreds of them – come in a package like this

You can get an impression on how you must proceed with the diodes and capacitors on this instruction page. And the board itself is no walk in the woods either: check this instruction page and decide whether you are up to it. The makers admit: "This is not a project for beginners – it makes extensive use of surface mount components. The circuits are not complicated and are laid out with plenty of space between parts where possible but you will still need to be confident soldering small parts. Expect to spend up to a week of your spare time on it depending on experience and patience."

You can see how the initial the piece setup works in this video...

... and a game being played here

Very, very neat. The Nixie chessboard is now on version 1.5, and for 2.0 we would like to see two important modifications: the black and white squares should be of different shades, as with all chess boards; and dump the non-standard piece names (A = Alfil for bishop, V = Vizier for queen, M for knight, m for pawns), which are confusing and unnecessary.

Maybe it would be possible to use full figurine tubes, like those depicted here. However they would have to be manufactured, and we are not sure if that is a feasible option. But hey, wouldn't an inductive Nixie chess set like the above be super cool?

You can buy a regular Nixie chessboard as a DIY kit or fully built at Lasermad.


Topics Chess sets
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