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