Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Republic Attack Cruiser

Behold...the Republic Attack Cruiser. The latest from the Brick Master membership is rated for 8+ and in case you're wondering...I nailed it.

If there was a speed build for this set, I would beat at least half of the 12-year-olds in my age group. The size of this one makes it deal for moving it around the office while making rocket ship noises. The effects of laser beams being fired is also a nice touch.

If you want to think of this ship as being destroyed by rebel forces, that's probably for the best. Sadly this set was scavenged for parts, shortly after this picture was taken.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Tune in to LAMLradio

For those of you who are not visual learners, today's offering is a podcast- LAMLradio. Over the weekend, I joined James Wadsworth and Aaron Andrews to talk about the LEGO news of the week and the book I'm currently writing.

LAML (LEGO And More LEGO) is a regular podcast from James that offers a MOC of the week and discusses the latest from The LEGO Group. It's a neat way to find out about new and interesting constructions and also get a sense of what people are talking about in the community.

You'll also want to see what James does with LDraw, it makes you want to be a better designer. At the same time, Aaron (DARKspawn) creates awe-inspiring vignettes, including a floating technique that allows him to "bury" objects in a SNOT ocean.

Photo by James Wadsworth.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy and Merry

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah. Wishing everyone a happy holiday and lots of LEGO.

Photo by Balakov.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The tale of Ron Eaton's collection

Ron Eaton was an adult fan of LEGO who died last Christmas; and this year his LEGO collection is going to Toys for Tots. It will be the highlight of many kids' Christmas mornings.

Ron's story was recently featured in The Everett Daily Herald. It's the kind of piece that makes you appreciate the joy of giving, but also feel saddened by loss.

In looking at his family's decision and Ron's life in the context of LEGO, it raises larger issues that I have heard from adult collectors, who are trying to figure out how they will parcel out their collection when they're gone.

The idea that Eaton's toys will go to the next generation of adult fans is a nice testament to the toys he loved- a group of children will have the chance to fall in love with the same sets and pieces that helped define the life of the retired software engineer.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Castle building

I'm in the middle of slapping together an entry for Classic-Castle's sixth annual Colossal Castle contest.

Colossal Castle Contest VI has 11 categories with sets as prizes and I've got my eye on the "Haunted Castle," vignette- where you're asked to create a haunted castle building or room.

I'm playing around with different surprises and one of the elements I think could be neat is pictured to the left. It is two wheel rims that have been attached to a Technic brick. I think it resembles the old oval portrait frames and might add something different to one of the walls inside my castle vignette. I could see a 2x2 brick with a sticker or several 1x1 rounds adding an image inside the "frame."

The entries are due next Wednesday and it's time to find a place for my glow-in-the-dark ghost.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Let the pieces decide...

With five sets in the books, I've ended up with a small Tupperware bucket filled with extras, random elements, and spare bricks from the different Creator options. And that means it's time for one of my favorite procrastination tools.

The random build. Most elements are one-offs, which rules out a lot of possibilities for creating a symmetrical MOC. I usually end up with a piece of abstract art, otherwise known as a..."I'm not exactly sure what it is..."

I justify the idea of building from a limited group of parts as another skills challenge. I'm honing my creativity, design sense, and brick knowledge in a zen moment of building. But in reality, I think it's just my way of avoiding sorting- a meta version of procrastinating via a procrastination exercise.

Photo by Craig Rodway.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Rock Lobster? Rock Monster!

It's day five of the five-day, five build challenge (which, incidentally has had five names in five days). And it was time to crack out the big guns, or drills.

Set 8960, Thunder Driller, which I didn't think I'd see until after Christmas just happened to be on the shelves of Target last night. And the 235-piece just happened to find itself in my cart. And I just happened to have a valid credit card to use at the register. Ah, the joys of purchasing toys as an adult.

"Do you need a gift receipt?" asked the sales clerk.

"No," I replied, leaving off the rest of the sentence: I never need a gift receipt.

But on to Thunder Driller, one of the new sets in the Power Miners series. The main vehicle in the set is outstanding, it features a rotating drill head and a set of head lamps that are cool enough to make you want to buy the set. The driller looks like a dune buggy mated with a Bond villain's mode of transportation. Personally, I'm excited that I'm starting to see how the base of a vehicle should be put together in order to make sure the dimensions work and the construction is sound.

What you see above is a rock monster (eating my finger). With a head that opens like a Pez dispenser, he's one of the cooler minifigs I've encountered. If I sound like an eight-year-old in my review, it's because the idea of a society underground is an imagination starter. So, those two brave LEGO minifigs willing to tunnel below the earth (one head appears to be scared, while the other is "covered" in soot), were going to be a hit with me.

Final Verdict: Some sets speak to boys and those featuring an oversized drilling vehicle and a cave-dwelling rock monster come close to topping that list.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Not quite a streak buster

Day four of the "Five Builds in Five Days" Challenge, and we needed a gimme to get through it. But just keep in mind, even Cal Ripken had a few games where he only played a couple of innings during his Iron-Man streak.

I'm a sucker for the impulse buy and the "3-in-1" CREATOR sets are the ultimate impulse buy. Set 4915, Mini Construction, is a 68-piece set that can be made into a mini crane, truck, or forklift.

In an effort to honor the challenge, I constructed all three variations and what you see pictured is my favorite- the box top art choice. After all, who doesn't need a tiny crane? As an added bonus, this is the first set my dad has built in 20-some-odd years. Minus a few pinched fingers, I think he was a fan.

Final verdict: These are great sets to become familiar with pieces and specialty elements. The appetizer of the kit world, this must be what it's like to use a nicotine patch when trying to quit smoking.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A pirate's life for me

Day 3 and we're under siege here at the Bender household. We are literally being attacked by Pirates. Fortunately, they're tiny pirates and we have members of the (British) armada to defend the land that is ours. But if the next blog post is vaguely cheeky or filled with "Arrs...", feel free to inform the authorities that we failed to hold the brig.

Set 6253, Shipwreck Hideout, checks in at 310 pieces with six minifigures. It's got a cannon that fires, snakes, a parrot, a fish, a rope bridge, and enough cutlasses to properly outfit a pirate crew.

While most men my age are beginning to think about hairpieces for themselves, I'm surprised to find that I'm starting to look more closely at the hairpieces for my minifigures. It's a little embarrassing to think that one of the reasons I bought this set was for the pirate wench, who has the same hairstyle as Agent Trace.

The build was not terribly difficult. It's the kind of set that you don't have to focus very hard while constructing. That's not always a bad thing- it's like burning through a Grisham novel on a plane ride. Call this one LEGO brain candy. Although I'm not sold yet on the three numbered bags that led to building in phases.

This one was ultimately about nostalgia for the old line that I never got to buy as a kid and a bit of fanboy joy at getting to own a part of my pirate/ninja/robot/dinosaur fascination in LEGO.

Final verdict: Find a nephew and build it together. This one feels like you should have a kid involved in the construction process.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A big rig parked on my ottoman

Day 2 of the national build challenge. I was hoping the idea of building five LEGO sets in five days would catch on in the same fashion as "Hands Across America." Even if we can't build enough LEGO sets to stretch across the country, I'm still praying that Chewbacca will show up in Columbus, Ohio again. It's been 22 years Wookie, the Ohio State fans need you.

Yesterday, the Big Rig (LEGO Creator 4955) was calling. With three choices, I opted for the model on the cover- it's why I bought the 550-piece set in the first place. And it didn't disappoint. Any general car enthusiast will love the amount of chrome included from the 1x2 grille pieces to the antennas at the corner.

This kit provides a nice foundation for understanding how to build a truck. The overlapping plates that create the frame give you an idea of where the next part is headed before you even turn the page. The detail work around the cab was most interesting with fully functioning doors and hinged seats that are ingenious in their construction. I called in my contract builder to help finish the hood and roof of the cab. Ice-T's performance on "Law & Order: SVU," demands my complete attention.

Final verdict: A leisurely one-day build, the kind that model car enthusiasts and children fascinated by big trucks will love. This one will stay together until I decide to go for the convertible, one of the alternate builds on the box.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Day One: Set 7884- Batman's Buggy

With the temperature dropping and the boxes piling up, it's time for a week of building. This not only limits the number of chores that can be achieved, but offers me the opportunity to improve my manual dexterity. In reality, this line of argument holds as much weight as the suggestion that video games and casinos are not a time/money suck.

The rules are simple: one set a day for five days. And in these hallowed (virtual) pages, you'll get my honest appraisal of the set building experience and what I learned. At 76 pieces, "Batman's Buggy: The Escape of Mr. Freeze," [Set 7884] seemed like the right set to tackle first.

"It's up to Batman and his high-tech pursuit buggy to track down his frozen foe and use his harpoon to reel in the crook's sub-zero speedster," suggests the Amazon description. While I'm not sold that Batman would utilize a buggy to fight crime, the flame action and wing (which feels like a Bionicle element) add some cool factor to the caped crusader's vehicle.

This set, like many others, is ultimately about the minifigs. Mr. Freeze comes with a bubble and a ice-fire dispensing gun, and who doesn't want a cowled Batman? It seems like there are some interesting parts as well. Batman's ride comes equipped with silver pistons, the kind that scream to be included in a LEGO-ized muscle car. Mr. Freeze's jewel container might be the hatch of a miniscale rocketshop or just part of a mad scientist's laboratory.

Final Verdict: This one is destined for the parts bin, despite the fact that's it not widely available.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Those aren't bookshelves...

When you get older, your tastes change. Without explanation I eat everything from tomatoes to lobster despite a healthy aversion to both when I was growing up.

But in this case, it's interesting to see two of my oldest loves clashing. This weekend I'm taking out two shelves of books from my office to make room for LEGO storage. It seems fair. I never stopped reading, while I took 18 years off from playing with LEGO. It is year of the brick after all (the 50th anniversary of the iconic 2x4 red brick and the 30th anniversary of the minifigure).

A potential compromise exists as I've amassed a fair number of LEGO-themed books on building, collecting, and the corporation's history. However those books, despite their value in my research, ultimately just make me want to run my hands through a tub of loose bricks. It is like watching "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," without having candy on hand.

In the end, reading is fundamental, but LEGO bricks are fun. And fun wins out over function every time.

Photo from moonlight bindery.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dwarves and headbands

Last evening, we opened the 10th window of the LEGO Castle Advent Calendar to discover an axe-wielding dwarf with a magnificent gold crown and delightful beard.

Above you see a modernized version of the medieval character. If a mine-working dwarf existed today, he'd be rocking a light blue Nike headband (in honor of Carmelo Anthony's 33 points in a quarter last night) and a few days of Brooklyn hipster stubble.

Obviously, his hair would neither be combed nor cut properly, mine-working dwarves can't be expected to sit still in a barber's chair. But he might make some compromises, likely trading in his pickaxe for a rock hammer, the kind used to polish and shape rocks. And he would be a hoarder; the kind of guy who creates towers of newspapers in his house that form the indoor equivalent of a corn maze.

For those stuck at home on a snowy Thursday, this blog entry shows you how to have fun with just a simple LEGO minifig and a headband. Either that or I forgot I was wearing a headband for the past two hours until I walked by the bathroom mirror, thus leading me to decide to share my amusement.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reasonably Priced Garage Parking

The Custom Car Garage arrived this morning. It's basically a home version of every engaging American hot rod show on the Speed network and Discovery channel.

It also happens to be the first set that I've ever heard about before it was released when I met one of the set designers, Joe Meno [editor of BrickJournal]. And since learning about it in March, I couldn't wait until it became available.

As cool as the custom garage sounded, It is even better in person. With translucent pieces, 25 cheese wedges, and all sorts of minifig facial hair- this is a set I'm looking forward to putting together. Congratulations to Joe and the other designers. And now it's time to build a muscle car.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

You're not sending me to the cooler

I had never treated LEGO minifigures as action figures until yesterday when I looked at a new Batman set (7884, Batman's Buggy) that featured the caped crusader and Mr. Freeze.

"It's about to get cold in here," I muttered in a vaguely Austrian accent that might have been Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. And yes I know I'm referencing Batman & Robin, but you were warned yesterday that left to my own devices I will put just about anything in the DVD player.

Minifigures were just accessories to start. The driver of a truck or guy behind a counter. Then they became interactive parts of the scene, where I was trying to pose them as they might be reacting to whatever was happening in a vignette. Now, I'm making them come to life and giving them presidential aspirations. If I could just figure out how to get their claw-like hands to type, they might even one day become a blogger.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Life lessons from Jamie Kennedy

When I am left to my own devices, I eat Chinese food and watch startlingly bad movies. Neither is particularly good for you. And so given free access to a host of cable networks and finding myself unable to go to sleep by myself, I clicked the channel to "Kickin' It Old Skool."

Jamie Kennedy plays a break dancer who awakens from a coma and attempts to reunite with his old dancing crew of the 1980's. Compelling elevator pitch, right? That's all you get for the description and solid hour that I spent being mildly disturbed by what I was watching.

However this movie had an interesting passage which made me wonder if I can't escape LEGO, no matter how far I run. In one of the climatic scenes of the movie, we find Jamie Kennedy's character, Justin, struggling with having never grown up...

Bartender: Why are you smashing LEGOs?

Justin: These are a lie. They teach you that life is all fun and you can make anything you want; but you can’t really make anything you want. You just get old, boring, and fat.”

Well, here's to proving Justin wrong.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Making the leap

Sports analysts talk about the leap. The moment when an athlete transcends their abilities and moves from being good to being great. Or a ballplayer finds that they'll have to up their skill level in order to compete at the next level.

Well with a dozen sets in nearly every major playtheme set to arrive at the Bender household in the next week, it looks like the time to make the leap is approaching. A bigger brick collection means it is time to expect more from myself as a builder.

It is also time to improve my element knowledge and organizational system. It's a bit early for New Year's pledges, but add those to the list.

Photo by Jonathan_W.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My friends the Google Alerts

Do you have people in your life that act like Google Alerts? They send you links/articles that they know you'll finding interesting.

Well before there was Google Alerts, there was my grandmother and her scissors. Nearly every envelope that arrived from Chicago contained a chopped up newspaper with pen pointing out the salient points of an article about the Cubs. It's a genetic predisposition inherited by my dad and myself. He still cuts and mails; I've gone digital. Despite my aversion to forwards, I can't stop myself from sending links about Calvados cocktails and small French children telling stories about an epic animal battle.

But over the past seven months, I've started to see pieces of my grandmother in a lot of people. While I get Google Alerts (sometimes twice daily) for the term "LEGO," it is often the work colleagues and friends in my life that send me the most interesting stories about LEGO right now. It is fun to watch the people in your life get excited and show a bit of the passion you're staring to feel for a little plastic brick.

Photo by monsterbrick.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

To the 1x5 in your life

Today is a travel day, so this blog entry will be closer to a Twitter update than a blog post; but sometimes you do more with less words.

During a discussion with several model designers at LEGO U.S. headquarters (more on the trip to Enfield,CT, to follow) I was taught a new term used by adult fans of LEGO. It is easily the phrase that has amused me most to date.

LEGO currently produces 1x4 bricks and 1x6 bricks (one stud wide by four or six studs long); but doesn't produce a 1x5 brick. If a LEGO enthusiast references a 1x5 at a convention, it's apparently a code for the arrival of a hot girl. Here's to all you 1x5s out there.

Photo by gizmocom.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The gift of LEGO

It's natural to want to share what's going on in your life with your friends; it just becomes more interesting when you're an adult. I suppose this is no different than handmade Christmas cards or homemade baked goods, but a lot of the friends in my life are going to be receiving LEGO this year.

The idea started small enough as most trends do. I gave a small set to a friend in Seattle back in October when I was visiting during BrickCon 08. It was the first time I had given LEGO as a gift to another adult and it was fun to watch him appreciate the differences between the sets today and those when we were kids.

Next, it was a series of LEGO basketball minifigures, which are as much about sports as they are about LEGO. These are great gifts for testing the water to see if you're totally off the mark with a given friend.

Ultimately this is partly altruistic and partly selfish. It would be fun to have more friends that were into LEGO. However the true motivation behind all of this is that I hope they get the hint and buy me LEGO in return.

Photo by

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Toy stores, ahoy!

"No, I don't need a gift receipt," is starting to become a mantra for me. While it's still weird to go into a toy store and shop for myself, I'm getting used to the idea because it is happening with greater frequency.

On the other hand, I could never leave home. I could be like Sandy Bullock in "The Net," and get my LEGO sets from LEGO.com and my Domino's pizza off my TiVo; but sometimes you want to pick up the box and see what you're buying before swiping your credit card.

I snagged the LEGO Pirates Shipwreck Hideout yesterday, which to the delight of my wife features a lady pirate. But with a trap door and shooting cannon, who can't find inspiration in this new set?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Channel your inner minifig

I've always been fashion forward, there is nothing I can do about the fact that the world sees fit to emulate my style trends. And so I am pleased to show off the latest item in my wardrobe.

A gift from my wife, it doesn't get much cooler than a t-shirt that turns your torso into that of a minifigure. On Saturday night, I rocked the red spaceman t-shirt, albeit under a tacky Christmas sweater for a party designed around that very theme.

I attempted to keep my facial expressions bare of emotion in an attempt to mimic the minifig head, but it's harder to be devoid of emotion than one might think.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Feel the rhythm

Feel the rhyme. Get on up...it's bobsled time. There are few mornings spent as well as catching the last 30 minutes of "Cool Runnings," on TBS.

The delightfully dated, slightly fictionalized story of the first Jamaican bobsled team is the inspiration for today's build. I limited myself to a bucket of the parts that were in front of me, which included a few interesting plates and tiles, but was mostly 1x's.

The result is a LEGO minimalist's bobsled that is three studs wide and meant to evoke the idea of a bobsled, rather than be an exact replica. A jumper tile acts as the nosecone while the runners are 1x2 plates with an edge (those used to make running boards on cars or gutters on roofs). It's probably 20 pieces total and while I wouldn't sell it as a Creator set, I think it is at least recognizable (as long as I am standing there to tell people it's a bobsled).

Friday, November 21, 2008

All set

When I used to buy a set, I would always build it. And then it would be up for display to remind me of a building technique or just because I liked the way it looked. Slowly over time I began to scavenge pieces from the sets, although I always looked to take a piece from the back or somewhere out of the way when possible. But I told myself I wouldn't destroy the set, I only needed a white 1x 2 tile or a few jumper tiles to help me try something new.

But then I stopped building sets and just started taking pieces directly from the bags to use on my own creations. I would flip through the instructions to see what could be built and how pieces were being layered, but I wouldn't actually snap the parts together.

Finally, I gave up on sets for a while and just began buying bulk brick online or hitting up local garage sales. But with Christmas and Hanukkah around the corner, I'm kind of excited to begin building sets again, there's something about opening and playing with a new toy during the holidays.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

If Stephen King played with LEGO

Today is a short entry that covers what might happen if author Stephen King decided to write about little plastic bricks. I've been flipping through the pages of The Stand and like a catchy bit of music, I felt compelled to get King's style out of my system. Below is my interpretation of his version of playing with LEGO bricks.

The LEGO man sat in quiet contemplation outside the gas station, his arm dangling out the window of the massive black Chevy. A single drop of blood fell from his fingers to the pavement making a wet smacking noise as the tendril of a plant sucked it up hungrily. A soft sigh escaped his lips as the radio emitted short static bursts instead of Jerry's Morning Zoo-Case.

It was only a matter of time before the dogs would come, they would be the first to turn. A single howl broke the heat haze that had settled in downtown Hannibal, Missouri, and the LEGO man absentmindedly patted the shotgun on his lap. He was about to find out that it didn't have a single shell loaded. Not a one.

The Photo is of Christine, the maniacal car, by Azaghal Gabilzaramul.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

It's Paul Walker's fault

One day, you're a fully functioning adult with a decent job and the ability to shave. But suddenly you wake up and you've been watching Eight Below for the better part of an hour while making a LEGO mosaic. Even worse, you feel the need to pause the second best sled dog movie of all time (I've always been partial to Jack London) to grab a drink and stretch a bit.

As you're sorting through pieces, hoping to find a cheese wedge or longer slope to match the odd lots that you have in tiny piles; you're just praying that all those poor dogs make it through the cold, barren winter.

It used to be I just watched terrible action movies when my wife was out of town. Fast and the Furious or Faster and the Furiouser- really any Paul Walker (Varsity Blues, The Skulls, Into The Blue- so many made-for-men classics) would do. I'd grab Chinese takeout and have a bachelor's night that was bad for my heart and brain. But now, it's the middle of the day and nobody's out of town. I'd like to blame Paul Walker, but it's not his fault that TBS shows his movies as often as Hoosiers or Con Air.

Monday, November 17, 2008

A man is only as good as his shelf

It is an odd moment in your life when you get excited about finding the right shelving unit. But a Saturday trip to Costco provided the most excitement the Bender household has seen in a long time.

In the office aisle, a simple metallic structure with laminate shelving that can be stacked or arranged in an L-shape, was waiting. My wife and I hauled it into the base of our cart. For the better part of 45 minutes I poorly maneuvered the shopping cart around the concrete floor of the warehouse retailer slamming into the corners of aisles.

Kate and I heaved it out of the car and I carried it up piecemeal up the stairs. It's laying in pieces in the spare bedroom as the cat inspects what she hopes is an elaborate cat bed. Now, I just have to figure out how to put this thing together. If only I'd spent the last eight months working to improve my spatial thinking...

Friday, November 14, 2008

What is it?

Here's a sneak peak at the latest Bender MOC, I'll give you three guesses and a few hints. The first hint is that it a vignette, although you're not seeing all of the pieces that will be included. The second hint is to see the previous blog entry. The third hint is that you're actually seeing the view from outside the room where the action takes place.

Figured it out yet? Probably not. I'll post more pictures this weekend and add a link, assuming the sun ever comes out in Missouri so I can take my homemade light box and store bought tripod out into the driveway. I will then lay down on the concrete like a crazy man to get you the photos you need to solve this puzzle. I am sure you will not be able to relax until it is solved. So get out your sleuthing hats, all you Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys out there.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dino to build

My latest project involves the guy to my left. I've loved dinosaurs since I was a kid. So after finding a light up Tyrannosaurus Rex at LEGOLAND Billund, it was a no-brainer that he would be bought.

He's sat on my shelf for the past two months guarding my books and a stuffed animal that bears his likeness. But now I think it's time for him to shine in his own MOC.

The scale on this guy is crazy, so I would expect something slightly oversized. I guess at the end of the day that means I will have to purchase more LEGO bricks because I obviously couldn't have enough right now. To the Bricklink store, Robin...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Skynet comes to Kansas City

I don't want to alarm you, but it's likely that the robot uprising has begun. Because I found this little guy hiding atop my dresser, apparently having traveled all the way from Bellaire, OH, in a pair of jeans badly in need of washing.

No bigger than my hand, but possessing horns as imposing as those of Hellboy, he was a formidable opponent. I've managed to clutch him in my hand as you see here, but we're locked in a death struggle- I am unable to crush him and he is unable to break free. We are as caught as a stick in an alligator's mouth. I've managed to type off this missive one-handed as I search for a brick separator, in an attempt to gain the upper hand.

So take the appropriate precautions to defend yourself against our would-be mechanical overlords. I'd write more, but everybody knows robots control the Internet.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One mechanized hoagie coming up

LEGO and I continue to be pen pals. And by pen pals, I mean I send them money and, in return, they send me publications and sets in the mail. The latest is the Star Wars battle tank- the monthly installment from my BrickMaster membership. It's a mechanized hoagie rolling on hubcaps, which means it looks cool from certain angles and entirely too boxy from others.

But I'm evolving as a builder. I've learned to outsource the smaller projects so I have time to focus on the larger things I'm hoping to build. The tank you see pictured here was contracted out...to my wife. It takes about one "My Name is Earl" episode to put together (minus the commercials, courtesy of TiVo). I may outsource in the future, it depends on the size of the invoice I receive.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thinking about LEGO bricks

I'm one-sixth of a lawyer. It's a joke my wife and I both love to tell, rather than say I attended a single semester of law school.

One of the things you learn as one-sixth of a lawyer is that you're being trained to think in a very different manner in the legal profession in order to attempt to find interesting ways to defend your client or apply the law in an advantageous manner. I'm beginning to notice that my thought patterns are similarly changing in regard to LEGO. The challenge and fun aspect of building with bricks is to figure out how to turn them into an unexpected shape or sculpture- something that other people haven't thought possible.

I've begun to purchase storage bins with as much frequency as LEGO bricks, and to delight in figuring out how to repurpose storage intended for other products. When Target had a recent discount sale on Halloween candy- I was excited (not by the candy), but by the extreme discount on candy tubs. The reusable plastic tubs will be perfect for holding bulk brick and smaller candy cases will be right for those random elements or accessories (shovels, specialty bricks).

Photo by pabojon.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The LEGO gene?

I think Kevin Smith (the director of Clerks, Mallrats) plays with LEGO bricks. And if he doesn't he should. Those were my first two thoughts today.

It's part of a game I've been playing recently where I wonder who might have the hidden desire to play with LEGO bricks inside their adult frame. A recessive play gene that just needs a bit of inspiration to cause a grown man to max out his credit card at Toys R' Us. For Smith, I think it would be the Star Wars sets. He's a confessed Star Wars junkie, and those sets have been one of the main reasons people have given me when I ask about why they came out of the Dark Ages.

So, do you look at people and wonder if they might play with LEGO bricks? And if so, are there any traits (other than a proclivity towards engineering) that might line up with adult fans?

Photo by rockies.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Your daily newsgroups

You don't realize how newsgroups and user groups resemble oral histories of a culture. With threads that include everything from civil discourse to extreme name calling, it's a fascinating look into people's behavior online and in relation to each other.

I've been pouring through the old newsgroups of adult fans of LEGO and Lugnet as part of my historical research into the beginning of the adult fan community. And I've found, in as much as there are the typical trolls and flame wars that mark any discussion on the Internet, there are also just as many pleas for people to find a way to communicate online. This is a community founded by people searching for fellow fans and excited for the chance to get to share what they love: LEGO.

But as someone who remembers AOL dial-up and how bulletin boards led to the world of social media that satures us today, it's interesting to read as people strived to figure out how to form relationships within the constraints of burgeoning technology. As for Hagrid, he just wants to find people who enjoy taking care of magical creatures and understand that buying a dragon egg from a guy in a bar is nothing to get worked up about.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Go ahead, charge it.

When I thought of impulse buys, I used to think of gum or a trashy magazine featuring celebrities in unflattering photos.

My impulse buys were $5.99 DVDs (Coming to America, Hoosiers, Snakes on a Plane come to mind) or drinks with odd flavors (step away from the Coke with Lime). But lately my impulse buys have been coming in $20 increments.

If a store sells LEGO sets, I have an impulse to buy them. It can be the same sets I've seen at every other store this season, but if I feel like I need more of a given color or a particular minifig or wheels for custom cars, an impulse takes over and suddenly I've got another "business expense."

But when does impulse turn into compulsion? I started out writing about adult fans of LEGO, but when all is said and done, perhaps I'll just be writing the unintended sequel to Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Photo by Flavouz.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Spooky, Scary Halloween Exhibits

We held a Halloween party on Friday night, and it was the first time I've really had what I built out on display.

I was a bit nervous because the top of a bookshelf in our living room has all the small things I've built in the last six months, many of which I would rather not show to people. There is the first camel and truck that I've constructed next to a much cooler Zombie school bus. I guess I should have arranged everything chronologically, an exhibit about man's evolution in building with LEGO. The exhibit could have a sign that says "work in progress," as we have only evolved to the stage of man builds like KoKo the gorilla, she of sign language fame. Although that may be an insult to Koko, I have yet to see what she can do with a box of LEGO.

Ultimately I had nothing to worry about as people were interested and it sparked a number of conversations about what my guests built as kids and the sets they've admired as adults. Star Wars will be a big hit with kids of any age. So, the first showing went well, but I'm not ready to give up my job as a writer to become a museum curator...

Above is a quick Jack-o-Lantern I threw together, it can fit an unlit tea candle (as LEGO and fire don't mix) and is only mildly scary.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A day at the beach

Oversized LEGO minifigures are washing up onshore. A six-foot tall LEGO man was found on the beach in Brighton this week, the second such figure to be found this year.

While part of me fears that this is just the latest viral marketing campaign to hit the beach, the rest of me hopes that these are the first emissaries from an oversized LEGO population that lives under the sea (a more plastic-y version of The Abyss, but with less Ed Harris).

In either case, oversized LEGO men appearing from the ocean make for the kind of stories that are worth reporting.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Designers find inspiration in LEGO

I was talking with my brother-in-law the other day about design and he pointed out that when designers have babies, they begin to think about "good design," for children. With Generation X and Y both getting longer in the tooth, you suddenly have a number of furniture makers and clothing shops for tiny people.

I don't have kids, but I have been spending more and more time playing and learning about what is ostensibly a kid's toy- LEGO. I think that's why designers have latched on to the iconic product of their youth, making everything from cufflinks to soap to mosaic paintings to flash memory sticks.

But it doesn't always have to be something inspired by LEGO. What most designers will realize in time is that sometimes kids (and adults) just want to play with the bricks.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"50 Years of the LEGO Brick"

Deutsche Post and I are on very good terms. We've been working together for most of this year and every time something comes to the house from Denmark, I've been excited to tear open the package.

And so today, a large red square-shaped book is sitting on my desk. Incredibly, it is still in the shrink wrap Don't you know that once you open the wrapping, you destroy the collector's value? Right, but then how do you play with it?

Deutsche Post, via the good folks of the U.S. Postal Service, has brought me "50 Years of The LEGO Brick," the definitive guide to the plastic brick. It's a coffee table book about LEGO that comes with six 2x4 red bricks inside the wrap. It sounds like a pretty good bed time story.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Can you build an escape plan out of LEGO bricks?

Today marks the first day that I found myself getting annoyed that I had to write instead of build with LEGO.

It was only a minor moment, a small sense of irritation that I found myself in front of the computer, instead of rearranging bricks around my kitchen table. But it caught my attention because I writing has always been the thing that lets me get away from feeling annoyed or upset. It's typically been my escape.

I'm starting to wonder if there is a subtle shift occurring where building with LEGO is becoming the activity that I turn to for comfort.

Royal Tenenbaums' minifigs by Dave Kaleta.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Stop moving, you'll just sink faster

What do you do when you have an extra Indiana Jones minifigure, a smattering of random green bricks and plates (in a variety of shades), and a snake?

You build a vignette of Indiana Jones in quicksand. Everybody knows that. Here you'll see Indy attempting to pull himself up via the whip on a tree branch, while a snake makes it way down the tree behind him. I've been wanting to try a small landscape scene since taking a LEGO landscape seminar at BrickCon 2008. So I've grouped the few flowers I have in my collection and attempted to "sink" the quick sand, by putting it at the base level.

Better resolution photos and angles to follow as soon as the end of rain is discovered in Kansas City.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

All I Want For Christmas...

The LEGO Holiday catalogue arrived in the mail yesterday and I have spent a delightful fanboy evening. I typically have difficulty making a list of what I want for Christmas, but this year I think it will be a lot easier.

I'm excited to play with power functions and remote-controlled alligators. The doctor's car will make an excellent stocking stuffer. I think we can skip the playful puppy and horse jumping sets. If you're not taking notes yet, family and friends, I'll be glad to send you links.

There's a glow in the dark octopus and laser sharks this year. Who wouldn't be psyched for a fire hovercraft that floats or a jetpack? The only problem is that Christmas is still a long ways away.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If Two Heads Are Better Than One, What About 20,000

Back in September, I had the opportunity to tour the production facility and manufacturing plant of LEGO in Billund, Denmark. Here you see LEGO minifigure heads being separated and stamped.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Every bin has a story

Your recycling bin is a look into your lifestyle that week. Were you too busy to cook, so there are frozen meals and cans of soda piled to the sky? Or maybe you had a party or Sex and the City marathon that ended with 10 bottles of Merlot in your blue bin?

Binge habits aside, my recycling bin has been telling a very different story the last few weeks. It's been chock full of LEGO set boxes. In an effort to manage my space more effectively, I've been sending the box covers to the great box recycling factory in some other part of town.

I always wonder if the men who pick up my recycling tub think about the contents. Do they imagine a child inside my house, who is having the equivalent of a four-week birthday party where the only gifts are LEGO? Or perhaps I am an extremely specific toy reviewer, who just happens to live in Kansas City? More likely, I'm just the guy who continually overfills his recycling bin and never shares his toys.

Photo by temporary_diversion.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A toy for the generations

With the LEGO brick celebrating it's 50th anniversary, it's amazing to think that the first true generation of adult fans of LEGO is still around. Many of those people are working with those of my generation to help define what adult fans want to see from the company and offer guidance on building techniques.

It's exciting to walk into a room and meet somebody who has been playing with LEGO for as long as you've been alive. It also makes you wonder what the next generation of adult fans will create. Children from across the Globe gathered in Billund, Denmark, earlier this month for the LEGO Global Building Event. I imagine some of these kids will have a lifelong love of the brick, just as some of the competitors in the LEGO World Cups of the 1990's are at LEGO adult fan conventions today.

Although they make look like a child made them, the three vehicles in the picture were built by adult hands.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dork I am. Hmmmmm....

Write blog entry you will... (said in gravelly, cartoon voice). I apologize for the syntax, but since receiving a LEGO Yoda pen as an anniversary gift yesterday, I have been trying to work it out of my system. Failing I am...

Between the world's greatest pen and a coin-eating dragon bank, my regression to a nine-year-old is complete. However, I'm a cool nine-year-old, who can drive, make his own chili, and grow a majority of a beard.

I'm going to take out my Yoda pen on interviews now. I figure between that and my reporter's notebook, people will take me very seriously as a journalist- as long as those I'm interviewing are between the ages of six and nine. Highlights Magazine, here I come!

[The photo is of a Yoda LEGO mosaic, done by Brian Korte of Brickworkz. It's on display at the Toy & Plastic Brick Museum in Bellaire, Ohio].

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Ultimate LEGO Book

In 1999, DK Publishing released The Ultimate LEGO Book. It took nine years, but it arrived on my doorstep this morning.

It's a beautiful, picture-based look at the history of LEGO. Over 125 pages, you learn about the company's time line, expansion projects, and how master builders put together their work.

For LEGO fans just looking for ideas, it is one of the few places to get high resolution pictures of LEGO sculptures. It is worth the price of purchase, just for the behind the scenes look at how Mt. Rushmore in LEGOLAND Billund was built.

Did you know there was once a LEGO World Cup where thousands of children competed in 23 countries for a chance to win a trip to Billund to compete in the final rounds? And that some of those kids make up the backbone of the adult fan of LEGO community today.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The joy of multiples

A short while ago I called to order the LEGO Castle Advent Calendar and the friendly customer service representative asked if I wanted one or two sets. I ordered one; but have since been rethinking my decision.

With each set built, there comes a dilemma, display or play? Invariably, all but a few sets are going to be broken up or scavenged for parts. In some respects, our living room has become a gallery with rotating exhibits. Except instead of being sold to collectors or taken back by the artist, a bumbling mover (in this case me) takes the LEGO equivalent of a sledgehammer (a brick separator) to what my wife or I have built and separates it into parts. Many a minifig has woken up in a bathtub filled with ice, his torso or head scavenged for another project.

All of this comes back to the original question of purchasing one set versus multiple sets. While you can stock up specific colors or parts if you buy in bulk, you can also eliminate the choice of having to play or display. If you buy two, you can have both, and who knows what you could do with three...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Organize, sch-more-ganize

I have never spent so long considering a purchase. Kate and I wandered the aisles of K-Mart for close to 30 minutes looking at entertainment centers, book shelves, and children's storage buckets. I was the Goldilocks of grown men: some were too short, others not deep enough, and a majority were way too tall.

I was looking for shelves that could hold a large assortment of Tupperware and organizers filled with LEGO bricks. In my mind I envisioned a modular system of squares or rectangles, something that I could add to as my collection grew, but also move if we needed to shift the orientation of the room. And as I discounted a number of shelving options, we invariably walked past the toy aisle.

"I've wanted this set ever since I saw it at LEGOLAND in Denmark," Kate told me holding up the LEGO Creator Stegosaurus (Set 4998 for those building at home).

It wasn't hard to convince me to pick it up at that moment and so we had our decision. Despite having three unbuilt sets at home (one an Advent calendar which I have since learned can't be opened until December- had I known that we would own two and one would be ripped open faster than Billy Madison tucking into a snack pack,) we would purchase no shelving units and another LEGO set.

So, for the record, the latest shopping trip left us with no organizing furniture and more LEGO bricks to organize. Best purchase ever...

Friday, October 10, 2008

The zombies have won

Put aside the fact that my suitcase is not fully unpacked despite returning to Kansas City at the beginning of this week. Over the past five days, it has doubled as an overweight cat's bed, a desk for papers that need to be sorted, and a magnificent toe-stubber.

What you see to the left are the remains of the school bus I built for the Zombie Apocafest at BrickCon 2008. She was a magnificent six-wide construction and she sat proudly as part of the collaborative display for one glorious public exhibition last Saturday. Alas, she was not packed as carefully on the way back from Seattle.

I built the bus to come apart in sections, knowing that it would likely be thrown around while in transit. However I didn't account for future me quickly stuffing the bus in a sweater with a bit of bubble wrap for show. And somewhere between Salt Lake City and Seattle, the zombie minifigs in the suitcase apparently overwhelmed the structural integrity of the bus- leaving the disaster you see in their undead wake. It's a risk one takes when building with zombie minifigs- they can turn on you in an instant. Thankfully, they tend to move very slowly and are no taller than a child's pinkie, leaving most adults with a reasonable chance of escape. Just like sixth grade science glass, it's a good idea to wear protective eyeglasses.

But know this, I have learned my lesson on appropriate storing and packing my MOC. And I will rebuild society, starting with a six-wide school bus.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Man vs. LEGO

The word has come down from on high. It is time to organize the LEGO bricks and get them into one room. Right now they're taking over the kitchen via a 30" x 30" mosaic (in the early stages) beneath a fleece blanket, the living room with a series of small sculptures (many of which have been scavenged for parts), and my office (one half of an L-shaped desk is overflowing with Tupperware bins.

It seemingly happened over night. I don't remember how all of these LEGO bricks found their way into my house. And when you add on set boxes, instructions, pick a brick cups, LEGO-related books, and LEGO bags- I've suddenly become a brick-based pack rat. I'm a long way from keeping my newspapers in stacks around the house, but I am wearing slippers, so feel free to be mildly concerned on my behalf.

Well, this weekend a bookshelf will be acquired on Craigslist and Home Depot has a few nuts and bolts containers with my name on them. And so the LEGO room begins...

Photo taken by .dru