Thursday, August 28, 2008

What is it? Answer revealed soon...

I realize I have posted very few works in progress, perhaps because what I'm building has yet to require more than a single session, with the exception of The Beach House (build called on account of darkness).

Any idea what the picture to the left is going to be when finished? Me, neither. Actually, I do know, which is a nice and surprising development in my building.

Most times when I start a project, now, I have an idea of how the finished piece might look. I'm still piece-dependent; meaning I do a bit of hunting and pecking to find what I want (and it won't always be in the right color); but I'm excited that I actually know what I want to look for when I dive into the big blue tub under my desk.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Minifigs and me, flirty at 30

The LEGO minifig is 30 years old- a fact currently being celebrated over at GoMiniManGo. I am also 30 years old. Coincidence? Probably.

The iconic figure has driven play for the last three decades inspiring children to build transportation and housing for the minifigurines that came with sets. It has also inspired the scale of buildings as people attempt to relate their structures to the tiny plastic guys. If you've ever wondered how they're made, Gizmodo has a quick video from the factory that is mesmerizing.

But just like Geppetto, I bet my parents are glad they ended up with a real boy and not a minifig.

Photo by Minifig.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

C is for...

The third entry of the brick-based encyclopedia will logically focus on the letter "C." Keep in mind that you're encouraged to add any corrections or additions in the comments section.

C is for...Catalog. The direct mail piece coveted by LEGO fans because it offers beautiful pictures of new sets and a chance to purchase them.

C is for...City. One of the most popular styles of LEGO, this covers buildings and vehicles which correspond to their real-life urban counterparts. Who doesn't want a LEGO concrete mixer?

C is for...Creator. Another LEGO theme, creator is everything from loose brick to 3-in-1 sets that are meant to encourage building.

C is for..Charlie. My hound mutt who is convinced that LEGO pieces are an exotic treat. Based on the few I've tasted, I would beg to differ.

Monday, August 25, 2008

It's time to face the Federation

Some kids are scared of the dark. Some people can't stand spiders. I use to be afraid if my closet door was left open, even a crack. You can blame Stephen King and an advanced reading level for that one.

As you get older, you leave some fears behind and hang on to other ones. But you never get over the practice of avoidance- if anything it's easier to skirt responsibilities because you have a significant other or disposable income to cover for you. LEGO set #7662, the Trade Federation MTT, has been sitting in the third bedroom since just after my birthday on March 22. It's 1,330 pieces of space ship and I have been putting off tackling it because of concerns that I wasn't ready. Well, I think it's about time, I'm probably old enough to tackle a project rated for those between eight and 12 years old.

But I still put a trash can in front of the door when I go back to stay at my parent's house. I doubt that there is anything to be scared of; however it never hurts to have a bit of advance warning if something is coming for you while you're sleeping.

Friday, August 22, 2008

It's still fun to defeat the Big Boss

Whether it was watching Koopa fall into a fiery red death off screen or knocking out Mike Tyson after surviving his endless barrage of uppercuts, beating the game was always a big moment growing up. It turns out to be no less special when you're older.

I have defeated LEGO Star Wars for the Playstation 2, while sitting atop my stationary exercise bike, my feet pumping the pedals and a grin spreading under my Chicago Cubs hat. I would like to tell you that it didn't mean anything- that I didn't enjoy unlocking Yoda or Mace Windu. I would also like to tell you that the sisters didn't get the best of Andy Dufresne. But they did and I did. And I'll do it again.

However, first there's the little issue of a video game called LEGO Indiana Jones. "Junior... Indiana! It's time to LEGO," (said in one's best Sean Connery voice).

Photo by Ethan Hein.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

In search of a set

A man between sets is like a man between jobs. He is without purpose, aimlessly sorting through classifieds and self-help books. I'm not yet desperate, but I'm getting there. I don't have a LEGO set to work on right now and I'm looking to you for inspiration.

Have you built a set, be it recent or in the past, that felt particularly challenging or interesting? It could be the color or actual structure, I'm not picky, I'm just looking for the next thing to build and I was curious about what you've coveted recently.

So, how about it? What sets should I be running out to Target or BrickLink to buy?

Photo by eszx

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A whale?

Family Feud is stressful. You ever play the home version? Three seconds go quickly and that's without having the leathery lips of Richard Dawson just inches from your cheek. However, my favorite moment of the game show was a television contestant, who offered the following answer with unbridled enthusiasm.

Top five answers on the board. Name a common household pet.

"A whale (pronounced way-hail)" was the response from the young man wearing his finest beige suit. Sadly his boisterous suggestion was met with the unforgiving graphic red "X." And so the inspiration for today's model was born.

I present this yellow way-hail to you with the same joy. An eye from a window, this figure is only two studs wide. His tail comes possibly from an old Aqua Raiders set, although I'm not sure. And I've finally found a use for inverted slopes, which was exciting. Here's hoping you don't give me the big red "X," on this one.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Robots attack in space

What happens when space robots attack a remote settlement on a distant planet? Well like Armageddon, you have fires in space and general chaos (considering that's the second reference to this movie in that blog, I think I'll retire the disaster flick as a point of humor).

This is a small tableau that began with the discovery of a space base plate covered in some sort of real-life algae. I'm thinking soda was spilled on this ground, a lot of soda in pursuit of some noble building cause. So far it has resisted known cleaning agents.

The space robots' ship is in the foreground of the second picture, it's a combination of safety and rocket pieces. The robots, and everything else, are built to micro-scale a few studs high or wide. The micro-bots are the only creations I really like in the vignette with levers for heads and horns for arms. Rest assured, the outcome of this scene is very much unknown as is the identity of the space settlers.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A lot on the list

When I started building with LEGO bricks, I never realized there were so many things you needed to do outside of snapping pieces together. There is sorting and storing and planning and drawing. At some point, building seems to be the reward for doing all of these other tasks. I had heard adult enthusiasts talk about the idea that it seems like they never get to build any more. I think I'm starting to understand.

I spent the better part of yesterday trying out photo boxes. I came up with a solution (I'll post the pictures I took next week), using the recycled cardboard box you see and some poster board. It was a grade-school effort and although I'm pleased with the results, I'm sure I'll cringe in a few months when I know what I'm doing.

If you ever want to convince your neighbors to move, just lay down in the driveway in the middle of summer and curse repeatedly under your breath as you attempt to keep a tripod upright under the weight of a seven-year-old digital camera. After that feel free to explain that you're taking pictures of your LEGO creations.

A play house

Our house is beginning to look more and like children live here; and spoiled children at that. LEGO sculptures have taken over the bookshelf in the living room. A cityscape is growing by inches on the mantle. The coffee table is the permanent home of works in progress. I feel like we should import some kids or I should spend more time on my drawings on the fridge. (I don’t really have drawings on the fridge; they hang in my wife’s cubicle at work).

The sad thing is these are not creations that I’m proud to display, only what I’ve built to date. And in channeling my inner packrat, I haven’t cannibalized my early creations just yet. Perhaps, this is to keep me humble. In reality, I just haven’t improved very much so far.

Photo by Nightowl_280

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

LEGO packaging, at least one possibility

LEGO is often touted for it's possibilities. But like most packaging, people don't think about the potential for the container. Thankfully Houdini the cat is on hand to suggest some alternate uses for this "Life on Mars" box. Or perhaps more accurately, a singular use- that of cat daybed. And so in the manner of small children and pets, it is not the expensive and specifically designated products that attract their attention, but the budget solutions and objects you wanted to keep.

If you're wondering about the size of the box, Houdini the cat tips the scales at a league bowler 15 pounds. So if you can't recycle your LEGO box and you're not saving it for your collection, give it to your cat- it'll figure out the proper use for the cardboard gift. Apparently, cats have imagination or at least the ability to rest on a box until their imagination can come up with something.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The first kit under my belt

The LEGO Beach House is finished and my first real set is under my belt. I survived help from another builder and a few pieces lost to couch cushions to produce a final product that is display worthy- which of course means that I'll be tearing it apart for parts in the coming days.

It does make me step back and wonder about what I'll want to keep to display and what will merely be a parts purchase going forward. A lot of what attracted me to the Beach House set was the number of window and door elements, which my collection is currently lacking.

This kit is also a great primer for those looking to build in the Town style as the roof is constructed separately from the base, giving you a sense of how each comes together to form a coherent structure. It's a good example of the overlap style of building, where you're building one stud out as you build up, in order to provide a base for the next piece or element.

Monday, August 11, 2008

For your listening pleasure

In an effort to go all multimedia on you, today's post is a link to a podcast involving myself and author/podcaster Jon Armstrong.

His podcast, "If You're Just Joining Us," is a fun mix of interviews and commentary on unique pop culture happenings. You would also be glad if you download his outstanding science fiction novel, "Grey," (available for free as a podcast on his website).

Armstrong interviewed me recently about the book project and my immersion in the world of LEGO. We talked about my impressions of BrickWorld2008 held just outside Chicago in July, cocktail party conversation, and different styles of building.

Thankfully he was able to differentiate between me and former Indiana Pacers' player Jonathan Bender.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A signature style

Can a builder have a signature part? Is there one LEGO brick or plate that says to the viewer, oh this is a Bender creation? Is that even possible with plastic bricks, which by the very nature of the manufacturing process, are meant to be identical?

Painters can sign their work, graphic artists tend to have elements that are consistent throughout their designs, and architects are known for a style of building. You might find a parallel in adult enthusiasts who choose to specialize and build thematically in a similar fashion, committing to space, town, castle, technic or train as a motif.

At the same time, the amount of bricks and scale in which people build will also give clues to their style. Some LEGO builders are known for constructions in micro-scale, tiny recreations of buildings and objects. Others go in the opposite direction, building true-to-life and oversized scale models.

So, all that remains for me is to decide on small concepts, like my preferred motif and size. And then I'll be that much closer to having a signature part or style.

Structure and photo by DecoJim.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Going to Billund

I'm headed to Billund in September. The tickets are booked and the bricks are being packed. I'm excited to see the headquarters for LEGO and get a sense of the company.

Johnny Cash had Jackson, I've got Billund. I'd love to hear from people who have made it to LEGOLAND in Denmark for their recommendations of what I have to see. Please feel free to let me about other travel recommendations in and around Billund as well. And since seeking out local cuisine is in my DNA, what's good on the plate?

Photo by

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Just one more, please

The beach house is the first real set I've built and it's awakened something inside me that I haven't felt for a good two decades- the desire for "just one more."

It's that little voice that begs for another minute before bed, just one more chapter in a book, or a bit more cool whip. And it's starting to happen with LEGO building. There's always one more page in the instruction manual or one more brick to snap on the roof. And you're always one step closer to finishing.

But when you become an adult, there is nobody older to tell you that you have to stop. You must be your own voice of reason, offering up a counter voice- there's work tomorrow or chores to do now. And it's easy to see the voice of reason get drowned out because it's never offering a fun alternative.

In the interim, it's fun to feel like a kid for a while and to indulge your wants, in place of your needs.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Investing in a second home

It may seem gauche to discuss the purchase of a second home in the wake of the current mortgage crisis (kind of like the guy you meet at a party who starts telling you why now is the perfect time to be buying an SUV), but at just $30 the Creator Beach House from LEGO is one that most of us can afford.

My wife Kate and I laid the foundation of the 522-piece set last night. It's fun to watch the building rise from the ground up, it gives me a sense of proper construction techniques. The attention to architectural detail is even more valuable. I particularly like the 1x1 translucent plate serving as a doorbell and the rocket ship bases (2x2 white round bricks) that form the base of a patio table.

I'm learning that building alongside someone else takes patience. As you both search for parts and snap pieces onto a baseplate, you tend to stop talking and become inwardly focused on the building task in front of you. And you realize very quickly that a construction site can't run without communication or a competent foreman. That said our pace picked up dramatically by the end of the first hour.

Perhaps the only real difficulty is going to be finding some waterfront for the property. I'm still searching for the great Kansas Ocean.

Photo by Wibowo Rusli

Monday, August 4, 2008

Need a rubber ducky?

What can one man do with four LEGO elements [In this case, a minifig head, 2x2 round plate, 2 x 2 round cap, and a 1x1 brick with a grabber extension (perhaps not the technical terms)]?

The answer, mathematically, is too complicated to explain in words or without the services of a TI-82 calculator. There is a reason, I'm in a creative field that ignores the use of geometry and algebra. The answer, creatively, is an infinite number of possibilities.

Although in truth, I believe I have found the best combination in choosing to build a LEGO rubber ducky. It wobbles, has a comically oversized head, and is the first thing I've built that I want to keep in a long time.

What can you build with just four pieces?

Friday, August 1, 2008

It all starts somewhere

We all have first loves or those happy instances when iconic figures come back into our lives and remind us that we're in the right place. For some of you that may mean seeing Mr. T wielding a candy bar-dispensing gatling gun in a series of controversial Snicker's advertisements; but for me, it will always be the Sears Tower.

It's the building that towers over Chicago's skyline and lets me know I'm that much closer to seeing my grandparents and the Chicago Cubs. It was the also the only LEGO construction I've ever built with my dad- the only thing we've actually ever built together. It was a spray-painted black Sears Tower, that still sits today in my childhood closet, for the fourth grade state fair.

And so when I arrived at Brickworld2008 this year to discover that the event kit (at some conventions, there is an exclusive or miniature set to mark the occasion) was the Sears Tower, it felt right. It was an appropriate welcome back into the hobby and a nice reminder of one of my happiest childhood moments. I've still got the kit, I'm just waiting to see my dad so we can build it together.

Photo Credit: Sears Tower by Spencer R.