Inside The Leap Frog Alphabet Pal

Beaked Fuckapede 2.0

by Austin

For better or for worse, it seems that many people’s favorite toy that I have circuit bent is the Leap Frog Alphabet Pal, aka the Fuckapede.  It is the the only toy that I have bent that has seemed to spark enough interest in other people for them to decide to write about it and it is almost always the favorite of people newly introduced to circuit bending.  This toy, despite being one of my less musical bent devices, seems to strike a chord with people. I think the cute and unique design of the toy itself, the demented make-over I gave it, and its simple bend interface, not to mention its penchant for generating curses, appeal to the lay-person and benders alike.

Here’s the original Fuckapede in action:

To hear the swearing, go to 1:48

Leap Frog Alphabet Pal, Unmolested

This foul-mouthed toy created quite a stir when it was first released by Leap Frog in 1999. Though the toys were never officially recalled, as I understand, many angry parents returned these toys. When I first found a working Alphabet Pal in a thrift store, I was immediately drawn to its unique design; I had never seen a toy put together in segments like the ‘Pal and the individual feet buttons intrigued me.  It’s also disgustingly cute. I noticed the toy had three modes, Letter Names, Letter Sounds, and Colors. I began playing immediately in the Letter Sounds mode, as I thought those would probably be the toy’s most interesting sounds. Pressing A makes a short “A” sound, as in cat, B makes “Buh,” C “Kuh,” D “Duh,” E “Eh,” and F “Fuh,” etc. I then, like countless children across America, pressed F and C in succession to make it say “Fuh-K.” To my surprise, it actually said what sounded pretty close to “Fuck.” I knew then and there that I had to bend this toy. Little did I know, however, that this would be one of the more frustrating bending projects I would face nor that this toy had apparently infuriated enough uptight parents to be re-engineered several times since its initial release.

While researching the ‘Pal’s F-word fiasco, I noticed that there seems to be some confusion about this toy’s swearing. A lot of people’s online comments seem to indicate that they think the toy has some sort of filthy Easter egg phrase that some crafty toy designer programmed so that it says “Fuck” when you hold down some odd combination of keys. Others think that later versions of the toy says “Fuck You” when “F” then “J” are pressed.  There seems to be a lot of uncertain response videos on Youtube. The actual case is simply that a surprising amount of cuss words can be formed with the toy’s Letter Sounds function, provided you have the uncensored version of the toy; I sat down with my cousins one day and we figured out as many different dirty words as we could make it say. It has quite the naughty vocabulary, from expletives as simple as “Ass” to the more complex “Cocksucker,” if your fingers are nimble enough and expectations for clarity low enough (see video). Leap Frog corrected later versions of this toy by programming it to insert another phrase already programmed into the toy between any of the objectionable letter combinations… pressing F then K on these censored versions sounds like: “Fuh” – “Hyuh, hyuh, hyuh, hyuh… That Tickles!” – “K”

Just a side note, I feel like parents should be more annoyed with later verions of these toys, having to hear “Hyuh, hyuh, hyuh, hyuh… That tickles” over and over, every time their baby happens to hit “F” then “K” or “D”-“I”-“K”or whatever.

Here’s a short companion video to this article:

These toys are a real pain to bend for several reasons. There is a thin, easily-damaged plastic membrane that contains the leads for the buttons in the three rear segments of the caterpillar’s body; kink the membrane and you’ll lose more than half the toy’s sounds.  To gain access to the toy’s brains in the front segment, you’ll have to peel up cardboard and hot glue from the bottom of the circuit board. The plastic feet buttons easily fall out, there is not a lot of real-estate for adding controls, and if the toy’s speaker is disconnected, it messes up the sound. To top it off, there are a number of different (and less bendable) versions of circuitry within seemingly identical versions of these toys. But I know you people out there, you’re like me; you really want to hear this toy say “Fuck” in a James Earl Jones voice and you’re not going to stop until you do. Let’s get started.

The Original Fuckapede, circa 2006

There are several versions of this toy, so it’s critical to select the correct version to bend. The toy we are after will have a green, truly segmented body; the bodies of later models of the toy are made to look segmented but are actually one solid piece of plastic. The revised version of the toy is censored, as are some versions of the ‘Pals with segmented bodies.

This is easier to see than it is to explain, the pictures below show the original and revised versions of the toy.  The first toy pictured below has the body design we want.  There are really glossy plastic versions with this body design that are censored or partially censored.  You want one that is less glossy than the one pictured, at least I think, but really, there’s no way to be absolutely sure if you have the circuit that I’m writing about without listening to and opening up the toy (and probably several):

alphabet_do_want.JPG

These are later versions, they are censored, and I assume they are types we don’t want:

alphabet_pal_dont_want.JPG So, if you have a segmented ‘Pal, put batteries in the toy and hit “F” then “K.” If it says “Fuh-K” without saying “Hyuh hyuh hyuh hyuh… That TICKLES” between “Fuh” and “K,” that’s a good sign. The third potential indicator that you have the desired version of the toy is the Item Number. The Item Number is located on the bottom of the rear segment of the toy. The Item Number on the version we want for our nefarious purposes looks stamped or melted into the plastic.  Other versions have the Item Number Printed in black.  So far, I have only found the uncensored, surface mount circuit board in the ‘Pals with the stamped Item Number, though I have found other circuit boards in these as well.  If it’s green and segmented, open it up and compare it to the image below.  The circuit on the right is the one this article covers.

Bendable and Not-So-Bendable Alphabet Pal Circuit Boards

If your toy is uncensored but has regular-sized resistors on the board and its circuit board looks like the one on the left in the image above, you may not find any bend points (I didn’t find any good ones).  But I encourage you to try any way, if you have this version of the toy, and let us know if your results differ.

Now you’ve finally found the version of the ‘Pal that you want to bend (probably after buying and opening several) and you’re raring to go. Don’t get rid of those other caterpillars, they come in handy for spare parts. All I have done to the toy is add a simple pitch bend, but it still makes for good sounds. The Letter Sounds for T, C, K, X, P, and S are nicely percussive. H, M, R and U sound like weird grunts, groans, and sighs. For reasons I can’t remember, the first version I made uses several buttons and switches to connect different (and since forgotten) resistor values in parallel to a 500k potentiometer to create stepped pitch ranges which could be momentarily engaged or locked on (diagram 1).  The lettered resistors in the diagram refers to resistors in my added circuitry, the numbered resistors refer to the resistors on the ‘Pal’s circuit board.  Look at the ‘Pal’s circuit board so that the component labels read right; the solder points in the diagrams are determined by this orientation. I did no de-soldering on this project.

Diagram 1:

Diagram 1

I decided to simplify the bends by substituting body contacts for the buttons and switches for the new ‘Pal I cracked open and bent for this article. I find that body contacts are usually quite expressive as a general rule, but I think the reason I may have abstained from adding them to the first Fuckapede is that they are a tad touchy on the second Fuckapede. They seemed rather stable when I was first putting the second one together, but when I plugged it into my amplifier they caused the toy to crash like crazy. I couldn’t figure out what was causing this problem, so I tried a number of different audio output configurations to see if it would correct the problem. What finally corrected the problem was not changing my wiring but rather plugging my amplifier into a properly grounded outlet. Don’t ask me why this worked, I’m sure I’m breaking one of the cardinal rules of circuit bending by even plugging it into a non-battery powered amplifier, but it seemed to mostly correct the problem (though the body contacts do still seem to cause it to crash/reset from time to time, especially when the potentiometer is turned far to the right or left).

Leap Frog Alphabet Pal Bend Points

Leap Frog Alphabet Pal Loose Controls

Leap Frog Alphabet Pal Bend Lead Placement

Before I wrap up, I’ll add a few helpful hints about bending and decorating this toy. The first thing I did after opening up the front compartment, under the Alphabet Pal’s head, was disconnect the rear button membrane from the main circuit board; I found out the hard way that if you compromise this membrane, the rear buttons won’t work and you’ll have to find a replacement membrane from another Alphabet Pal.  Avoid this by detaching the rear three segments immediately from the front segment and setting them aside to reattach later.

I mounted the output jack in the first Fuckapede’s forehead, but it was a very difficult installation, as you have to entirely disassemble the head. Even though the jack looks really cool there, I had to heat and bend the light-up antenna assembly inside the head to accommodate the jack, and the cord still doesn’t quite insert all the way. If you absolutely must put the jack in the head, you might try mounting it in the side of the head or using an 1/8” or RCA jack instead of a ¼” jack.

Ubiquitous String, Out, 1/4? Audio Output Dongle, In

Another option would be to do what I did in the second version of the Fuckapede, which is to make a dongle for the audio jack. The Alphabet Pal has a string that protrudes from its chest which, when pulled, plays the alphabet song. The string is attached to a button assembly that presses a button on the main circuit board. The string’s handle is almost always broken or missing when you find a ‘Pal. I removed the string and wired the button leads to a normal push-button switch, now mounted to the left of the string hole. I made the dongle similarly to how I make the jacks for my Crème DeMentia Bottle-Cap Contact Microphones and simply ran the jack’s wire through the hole left by the removed pull-string. I coated the jack assembly and some of the cord with hot-glue and Plasti-Dip to give it the look of an organ popping out of the caterpillar’s chest. The eyes were painted using acrylic paint covered with clear nail polish.  The original Fuckapede’s fangs are plastic fork tines.  The new Fuckapede’s beak was stolen from a chicken toy and its tongue made from a rubber band, two zip ties, red Plasti-Dip and hot glue.

The green plastic seems to be very prone to collecting paint scuffs;  they can be removed handily with a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. There is space to mount controls in the rear segments, but make sure that you run your wires through the hole in the red connecting donuts before soldering them in place. I added a green lanyard to the rear of the original Fuckapede so you could hang it around your neck when playing it, but it’s still pretty awkward to play.  This toy automatically shuts off (and plays an annoying song before doing so) and the time before this happens gets shortened or extended if you have the pitch dial turned up or down, respectively.

Thanks for reading!