According to the Free Dictionary, citing the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, a "stunt box" is "A device to control the nonprinting functions of a teletypewriter terminal." This answer here also mentions it using that meaning.

The CDC 6600 supercomputer also used a "stunt box" to handle transferring data between the many interleaved banks of RAM ("central storage") and the CPU. (Thornton, Design of a Computer: The Control Data 6600, p. 16.) It would handle things like holding a request that arrived while a memory bank was busy and delivering the request to the bank's memory controller once it became free.

How did the designers of each of these devices arrive at the name "stunt box"? Are there other devices also named "stunt box"? Is there some sort of similarity between these different devices that makes using this name make sense?

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    Just from knowing how I think, my guess - and it is very definitely a guess, with no sort of backing - would be that the name 'stunt box' was chosen more-or-less because it was 'doing a stunt' of performing some function that was available but expected to be used only under very limited and specific conditions, but the 'stunt box' was doing it when it was convenient, not under the intended conditions. Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 17:55
  • @JeffZeitlin Well, the problem with that idea is that on the Cray, operations such as reading instructions or data from memory were not really expected to be used under "limited and specific" conditions, unless those limited and specific conditions were, e.g., "the machine is running a program." :-)
    – cjs
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 23:41

1 Answer 1


This might be at least a partial answer, from a Teletype model 28 manual/brochure:

In the early days of printing telegraphy, "stunts" was the term applied to nonprinting functions. These functions were actuated by function or "stunt" bars in the function assembly of printing telegraph equipment.


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    I recall knowing "stunt box" from teletypes. And I imagine the Cray designers chose the name because they were familiar with the teletype usage.
    – dave
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 18:41
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    For an added bonus, the document linked in this answer describes an approach for a 'networked' coffee-pot. Eat your heart out, Cambridge University!
    – dave
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 0:18

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