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ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast

hosts: Randy Kindig, Kay Savetz, Brad Arnold
twitter: @AtariPodcast
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Jul 14, 2020

Tracy Frey, Atari Birthday Girl

There's an article in the New York Times, dated April 9, 1982: "8-Year-Old's Birthday Party in a Computer Center." The story, written by Barbara Gamareklin, is about the birthday party of Tracey Pizzo — now Tracey Frey — which took place at the Capital Children's Museum in Washington, DC.

Quoting the article:

Tracy Pizzo decided that Chunky’s Cheese Pizza Parlor was not the place for her eighth birthday party after all. She chose the Future Center of the Capital Children’s Museum, where her 13 guests were able to try their hand at the video games on 20 Atari 800 microcomputers.

Without waiting to remove their coats and jackets, the girls, most of them 6 to 8 years old, rushed toward the glowing multicolored screens. In no time they were engrossed in computer games — from Asteroids and Find Hurkle to Lemonade Stand.

"Go, Megan, go!" cried 6-year-old Enid Maran, who was still wearing her black kid gloves. "We have to explode those little stars." Megan Thaler worked her control lever and sent a stream of blue and red simulated antiaircraft fire across the screen in the direction of a small green airplane.

Tracy’s mother, Peggy Pizzo, said that Tracy’s older sister, Cara, had been to the Future Center on a school field trip "and Tracy got so excited when she heard about it that she insisted we have a computer birthday party.” ...

"Tracy said the reason she wanted to come was because her friends liked to push buttons," said 11-year-old Cara, who had baked the white birthday cake with pink frosting that had "Eight" spelled out in strawberries.

"What is your name?" the Birthday Banner computer asked. "And how old are you now? Are you a boy or a girl?" As Tracy typed in the answers and her friends serenaded her with “Happy Birthday,” a five-foot computer tape slowly emerged from the machine, reading in letters six inches tall: "Happy Birthday Tracy."...

Tracy, aided by her friends, Katherine Herz and Annamaria Hibbs, tried out her entrepreneurial skills at Lemonade Stand. ... Tracy played Hangman with her father, Dr. Philip Pizzo. She said, "Make it hard, but not too hard," as she closed her eyes and her father entered the word "Christmas" for her to guess, each incorrect guess slowly forming a hangman’s noose on the screen....

Asteroids is the only noneducational game offered in the computer room...

Computer birthday parties cost $5 a person, with a minimum of eight in a party...

As for Tracy Pizzo, as she and her friends filed down the hall to the balloon-festooned party room for ice cream, cake and presents, she pronounced the day "just perfect."
(end quote)

In 1981, Atari donated 30 Atari computer systems to the Capital Children's Museum. The contribution allowed the museum to establish the Future Center "computer learning environment", to put computer programs in exhibits, and to create a software development lab.

By the way, the Capital Children's Museum still exists — it's now called the National Children's Museum, but there probably aren't any Atari computers around to play with anymore.

This interview took place on June 26, 2020.

NYT — 8-Year-Old's Birthday Party in a Computer Center:

Picture of Tracey and her friends:

National Children's Museum