Spy Toy or Find: Barbie ™ Typewriter

    In this review article, we continue the topic of the art of encryption and all kinds of espionage inventions. Video cameras and audio recorders mounted in key rings, pens with cameras, ashtrays with voice recorders - they just didn’t come up with. The time has come for such harmless things as children's toys. At first glance, a toy typewriter from Barbie: all so pink, girlish cute, puppet. But if you dig deeper, we have a real electronic crypto machine.

    The typewriter Barbie, aka E-118, an inexpensive electronic device, was developed by the Slovenian company Mehano. Later, the invention was acquired by the famous American company Mattel (Barbie, American Girl, Fisher-Price, Hot Wheels, Monster High, MEGA, UNO). The E-118 was the latest model in the product line and was the successor to earlier purely mechanical models. For all the time since the start of production, there have been few changes inside the device, all the innovations have affected the appearance.

    Well, this is a toy, which consists of a plastic case, a keyboard with 49 buttons, a plastic carriage for ordinary sheets of paper, and a rotating wheel that looks like a camomile. For children from 5 years old.

    While earlier models were battery-powered or powered by an external power supply unit (PSU), the later models E-117 and E-118 did not have a battery compartment. The first was the E-115, it was sold directly by the manufacturer Mehano.

    Here is the appearance originally was from an electronic typewriter from Mehano. True, the case in the original version was gray, and the regulators are blue.

    This children's toy is quite capable of encoding and decoding secret messages using one of 4 built-in encryption modes. These modes were activated when a special key was typed on the keyboard.

    The target audience of the typewriter is girls of 5 years old, so the body also received its pink-purple color with a Barbie doll sticker. It is unlikely that little girls would print secret letters, and therefore in the manual for the toy there was no chapter on the activation of the encoding / decoding functions.


    The E-115 is the first model in the Mehano typewriter line-up, launched in 1998. It was originally gray, after buying Barbie it was pink and purple with white buttons on the keyboard. Inside is a well-designed circuit board with all components, including a 24-pin microcontroller (Swiss company EM Microelectronic). There is an assumption that not all versions of the machine had a hidden encryption / decryption function.


    In the image above, the Mehano variant E-116. It is very similar to the E-115, the same case design as its predecessor. There is still a battery compartment, but it is not used, since there is a complete absence of contacts.

    This is the French version of E-116, in which cryptographic functions are not available. It is still unknown how to activate them and in general whether this is possible.


    Although the E-117 looks different than the previous cars, everything is almost identical inside. In order to save, the EM microcontroller is directly soldered to the PCB. The machine has 4 program codes that are activated when individual combinations are pressed on the keyboard.

    Coding: The first 4 programs were used to enter text. The encoding function was disabled by pressing the combination of SHIFT + LOCK + 12.

    The following key combinations on the keyboard activated the decoding function.

    If the encoding / decoding functions were turned off, the machine could be used as a regular printing device. In the encoding / decoding mode, the LED on the left side lights up.

    The E-117 keyboard also consisted of 49 buttons: 48 letters + space. The maximum allowable paper width: 210 mm (DIN A4 format), the line fit 68 characters. Dimensions of the device: width 320 mm, length 370 mm, weight was 1400 grams (we do not take batteries into account).


    This is the latest model that is still on sale. The design was slightly improved, given modern forms.

    In order to save money, machines are manufactured in China, and the printed circuit board consists of cheaper components. The quality of the circuit board is lower than that of earlier models. There are several versions of the device for different languages.

    Encoding and Decoding Modes

    Although there are many variations of Barbie typewriters for different countries, the encryption / decryption functions appear to be present in all electronic models. Access to the cryptosystem can be obtained by pressing SHIFT + LOCK in combination with one of the buttons on the keyboard.

    The Barbie machine uses a mono-alphanumeric wildcard cipher (MASC), as mentioned earlier, with 4 different keys. To start coding, it was necessary to simultaneously press three buttons on the keyboard:

    After selecting a key, a text message was entered on the keyboard, and encrypted text was printed on paper. After that, the document was sent to the recipient by mail (in paper form). The recipient, in turn, had to choose the appropriate key for decoding using the appropriate key combination shown below:

    Cryptomuseum materials were used , Original Mehano E-117 User's Manual (German)

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