06 August 2015

An Early Digital Clock

Last week, in 'The Chips Are Down!', I used USCF product catalogs from the 1990s to illustrate the state-of-the-art in chess computers circa 1995. After looking at computers, I started to wonder about digital clocks. When were they first introduced into the USCF catalog?

I found the first mention of a digital clock in the '1996 Official Spring/Summer Catalog'. Shown below, it was called the USCF GameTime and was sold to members for $99.95.

It turns out there was another story here. The earliest thread in rec.games.chess (rgc) was

  • 1996-07-21: Advice Needed • 'I thought I would ask the readers for their opinion as they have been very helpful uncovering the USCF Gametime fiasco.'

Fiasco? What fiasco?

  • 1996-07-10: USCF GameTimer • 'I have recently received a GameTimer from USCF and wondered if anyone else has had a similar experience with it. [...] I believe the problem is with shoddy manufacture.'

In the same thread, other rgc fans recorded similar problems, while more positive opinions were expressed about other digital clocks, e.g. Chronos & DGT. A few weeks later, a new thread appeared. It started, 'I received the following letter today':-

  • 1996-07-29: USCF GameTime Recall • 'You recently purchased one of the first 400 new US GameTime clocks with special delay features. We appreciate your order, but we have an unusual request. We would like you to ship your clock back to us. [...] Excalibur Electronics, manufacturer of US GameTime, has notified us that...'

The USCF continued to sell the GameTime for several years, eventually adding a Saitek model and, shortly afterwards, the FIDE Digital Game Timer (DGT). As so often happens with new technology, the first horse out of the gate was not the eventual winner.

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