The 7 Creepiest Old School Robots

#3. Tipu's Tiger

In the 18th century, Tipu, King of Mysore (located in modern-day India), spent the majority of his rule battling British invaders from the East India Trading Company.

The rest of his time was spent looking like a giant baby with a mustache.

Tipu was intrigued when he got word that a young man named Munro, son of one of the British generals, had been dragged off by a tiger and mauled to death while hunting with friends. Tipu, you see, was obsessed with tigers: Everything he owned -- from his guns to his throne to his army's uniforms -- was decked out in tiger print. Being such a big fan of their work to begin with, Tipu saw the attack as divine retribution against the invaders, and became so enamored with the story that he commissioned a mechanical automaton to recreate the events. So hey, here's a life-size machine built to recreate a savage animal attack. Don't say we never gave you nothin'!

"I like to hear the screams. It's better than a charity single."

Turning the handle on Tipu's Tiger causes the Munro-bot's hand to demurely cover his mouth, as if to say "Oh my, isn't this mauling business terribly droll?" While the tiger seems, if anything, rather unenthusiastic about its repeated throat-tearing.

But if you do find all of this boring, you can always just whip open up the robo-tiger's side, where you'll find a full keyboard powered by a bellows inside the body. You know, just in case you want to fulfill that one wonderful fantasy we've all had at some point: Rocking out on a fatal animal attack.

If this isn't already in a Danzig song, it will be soon.

#2. Marie Antoinette's Mini-Me

For the stupidly wealthy French upper class, the pre-Revolution era was a time of lavish celebrations, ridiculous garments and ... robots? Apparently? "La Joueuse de Tympanon" ("The Dulcimer Player") was one such "musical android," created somewhere around 1780 for Queen Marie Antoinette. Check it out:
In 1797 the automatons gained sentience and started playing what they damn well wanted.

Unearthly pale chicks sitting silently in the dark just not doing it for you? Well, Japanese horror and fans of the Cure beg to disagree, but OK -- let's find out what sort of jolly melody it plays:

The song starts at about 1:00 in the video. Your genitals clench in apprehension at about 1:13, when the disturbingly fluid movements suddenly flip on, and you forget how to love at about 1:50, when the automaton turns to look at you with a faint smirk that you swear wasn't there before. The automaton can play eight different songs (here's another one) by changing the cylinders under the seat, and oh yeah, remember how this is supposed to look like a miniature version of the queen herself?

automates-boites-musique, Wikipedia
"Let them have soulless robot doppelgangers!"

Toward that end, the robot was built using Marie Antoinette's real clothes and hair, making La Joueuse the world's first (and we hope only) cybernetic voodoo doll. La Joueuse was badly damaged during the French Revolution, but it was restored in the 1800s and finally brought back to life, and it now sits in a museum in Paris. Waiting.

Waiting to play you her song.
It ain't "Stairway to Heaven."

#1. The Turk

"The Turk," an 18th century chess-playing robot that faced, and usually defeated, live opponents, is probably the most famous automaton ever (after the pooping duck, naturally). But after touring the world for over 80 years, it was ultimately revealed to be at least partially a hoax -- albeit one so impressive that it managed to fool such shrewd historical figures as Napoleon, Catherine the Great and Benjamin Franklin.

He's clearly Azerbaijani, not Turkish.

The Turk was constructed by Hungarian inventor Wolfgang von Kempelen in 1770. Before each game, von Kempelen would open the doors in the robot's cabinet to show the mechanism inside and prove there wasn't a person hiding in there. The Turk would then raise the pieces on the board with its own hands and react to its opponent's movements. It even had a bit of a temper: If the other player took too long, it would move its eyes and tap its hand on the table in exasperation. When Napoleon Bonaparte repeatedly attempted to make an illegal move, the Turk eventually lost its patience and knocked the pieces off the board.

After it stared at him with those dead eyes, Napoleon would never maintain an erection again.

And it could do all of those amazing things because there was totally a person in there after all. One common theory at the time claimed it was secretly operated by a legless Polish officer that von Kempelen had smuggled into Russia inside the machine. How anyone arrived at the bizarrely specific details of that story is anybody's guess, but here's a picture of a tiny half man reclining in his private study located inside of a robot anyway.

If you're ever unsure of what's going on, just assume tiny legless men live inside of it.

Others believed that the Turk was possessed by evil chess-playing spirits. The truth is slightly more mundane, in that there was a completely normal, leg-having chess master sitting inside the thing (though his identity remains unknown) who simply moved around within the cabinet and hid behind fake pieces of machinery when the interior was displayed. The player was able to follow his opponents' movements thanks to a magnetic board on the ceiling, and from there he could use some levers to operate the robot's hands and move the pieces.

There is no limit to your profits when you shut a man inside a small cupboard.

You might think the Turk doesn't belong here because it's not an automaton, but remember we said earlier that it was "at least partially a hoax." That's because most of the robotic mechanisms it employed were real, and crazy advanced for the time. But if you think the Turk doesn't belong here because it's not creepy enough, we suggest you really contemplate the fact that even the most logical and reasonable person on Earth at the time thought that there was an amputee genius/dwarf piloting this machine from a little box inside of it -- like a twisted, abusive, archaic battlemech. If that idea is indeed less terrifying than the concept of an intelligent robot, we would like to submit that it is only marginally so.

Ashe recently wrote a short story for a charity book that you can buy here. For more of his stuff, check out Weird Shit Blog and Bad Metaphors.

Maxwell Yezpitelok lives in Chile and likes to waste his time writing back to scammers or making stupid comics.

For more things from the past that should terrify you, check out 8 Terrifying Instruments Old-Time Doctors Used on Your Junk and 7 Songs From Your Grandpa's Day That Would Make Eminem Blush.

And stop by LinkSTORM to cleanse your soul of the terror.

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