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

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Minifig or Miniland?

Scale is as important to a LEGO builder as the finest butchers or postmasters. So much of what one builds is largely determined by the amount of LEGO bricks in your collection, or perhaps more importantly, the amount in specific colors.

And that brings us to one of the more interesting choices- should a building or vehicle be built to minifig or miniland scale? Minifig scale means that height and width are loosely matched to the ubiquitous LEGO minifig as a tiny driver or resident of a given structure. This is the universe of six-wide vehicles, referring to the number of studs, and traditional town and train displays.

Miniland scale (extensively discussed in Allan Bedford's The Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide) is larger and corresponds to the actual size of objects in our world. Miniland at LEGOLAND themeparks is at a ratio of 1:20. Here you see the block head style figures and vignettes that closely mirror real-life interactions. A lot of builders grow into Miniland scale as their collection increases and their desire for more detail has them constructing larger MOCs (my own creation).

[Castle in France from LEGOLAND Windsor, photo by Doctor Sinister.]

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Dirty Brickster

You've been to yankee swaps if you live in the Northeast. You've been to white elephants in the Midwest. But I'd wager that most of you have never been to a Dirty Brickster- the LEGO convention equivalent of the the grab bag swap.

This past Saturday at BrickCon 2008, I gathered with 48 other adult fans of LEGO (hobbyists according to convention organizer Wayne Hussey) to join in the time-honored tradition of the random gift swap. Wrapped presents (in brown paper, newsprint, yellow LEGO bags, and Christmas wrapping) were piled high on two folding tables. The groups gathered in two circles, one around each table, according to the month you were born.

And then began the intrigue. Presents were revealed with each subsequent person having the opportunity to steal an item that had been opened or choose from one of the remaining sealed gifts. When a gift exchanged hands the crowd chanted "dirty brickster," in honor of the theft. After an item had been stolen three times, it was locked and the current owner would be taking home the kit or piece of LEGO memorabilia. Over the next hour, castle battle packs, fridge magnets (discontinued for safety reasons), a bag filled with LEGO animals from monkey to dragon all were snatched up by eager fans.

I walked away with a plastic bag stuffed with loose bricks. I chose fourth, ignoring a set of LEGO-branded pens and a LEGO Racers set. Although nobody chose to steal my bag, I was pleased because it meant that I had more bricks to add to my collection. In addition, it was a random collection of spongebob parts, pink 1x1s, technic bricks, jumpers, and a whole host of parts I haven't even sorted yet. I was excited that my knowledge has increased to the point where I can begin to differentiate which pieces I should be excited about as this is a mild stepping stone towards achieving building acumen.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

On the way to Billund

In the C terminal at the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, a series of one-word signs proclaim your duty free shopping options. There is the "Leather" store, next to the "Diamonds" store. I am uninterested until Kate mentions that there is a "Toys" store which will likely have LEGO bricks.

We purchase a trebuchet set while waiting for our flight to Billund. I have no intention of building the kit, I just wanted the minifigs- what I initally believe to be a viking (but have since discovered is a dwarf) and two trolls (with heads I will later snag to build zombies).

Our flight is announced and despite my hope that we would be boarding a plane full of happy children in a scene reminiscent of the pre-island gang from the Lord of the Flies, there is only a single kid about 10 years old amidst a collection of serious businessmen in jeans and oxford shirts.

Once in our seats, I'm grumpy from a lack of sleep and airplane food. But I look up and Kate has snapped together the drawf. "Poor little guy, he can't bend his legs," she laments. A few minutes later, I hear the sound of a dinosaur, "Rawr..." yells Kate as she walks a troll waving a black skull flag across her seat towards me.

We both laugh and I bury myself once again in "The Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide." She finishes the trebuchet, launching the projectile into the empty space in the exit row in front of us. We are mostly well-behaved for the 55-minute flight.

It is only after we land that the gentleman sitting to my right finally speaks. He grabs his laptop bag from the overhead compartment, it is black with a small LEGO logo in the bottom left hand corner.

"Enjoy your stay here," he says with a big smile.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Have bus, will travel

I'm leaving tomorrow for BrickCon 2008, an adult fan of LEGO convention held annually in Seattle, and for the first time I'll be bringing something I've built along with me.

As part of the convention this year, a Zombie Apocafest is being sponsored by the Brothers Brick. Convention attendees are being encouraged to bring buildings, vehicles, and minifigs that will make up a collective display of a world overrun by zombies. Since returning from Denmark, I've been slapping together a school bus/zombie prison.

It is the thing I am most proud of building to date, and therefore I'm feeling nervous about showing it in public this weekend. The inspiration was actually the LEGO Creator Beach House- with black and yellow parts that lent themselves to being scavenged along with row windows that seemed to mirror the blocks of windows on the sides of school buses. Today, I'll focus on the detail work, attempting to attach would-be weapons to the side and giving the bus some character in the form of damaged or mismatching pieces.

Aside from the fact that is readily identifiable as a school bus, it is structurally sound and built in a way that the sides are all easily removable and replaced. It's an aspect of building I didn't (or wasn't able) to think about just a few months ago. I'm encouraged that it will likely survive traveling in a suitcase and if it doesn't, I can put it back together without too much difficulty.