Thursday, December 31, 2009

In the year 2010...

Since the snow is piled up outside and Christmas movies are still running on cable, it seems appropriate to end this year with thoughts on the LEGO past, present, and future.

So to those who have provided me building advice, interviews for the book, and the general trappings of friendship -- thank you. I'm excited to see what you teach me in 2010. As for next year, I think it's going to be a banner one.

And today I've got an afternoon free and a Space Skulls set to put together. Are these what zombie astronauts would fly? Or exactly what they wouldn't fly, since that would make them the brains -- which are what they constantly seek, and not what they are? Perhaps this is why I'm not allowed to make up back stories for my child's toys -- although there is a sock monkey who makes Russian cars for other sock monkeys. He goes over well with everybody in the household.

As for New Year's future? Starting tomorrow, I can say the book will be released this year -- an actual book on the shelves of libraries and bookstores. As someone who has loved reading since it became possible, that is the definition of cool.

And so to you and yours in the New Year, a happy and healthy 365 days. Play well.

Image via Brothers Brick.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Submarine eating-fish and LEGO maniacs

The arrival of a new slate of television advertisements from LEGO has me remembering the ad campaigns of my youth -- Zach...Zach...He's a LEGO Maniac...Zach...Zach... I apologize for introducing that song into your head, but as they say, it was the only way to get a song out of my head.

Please sing it on to someone else, otherwise I'll feel you'll start a vicious cycle that ends in a terrible lack of productivity for both of us. Plus, I believe the rule with theme songs is similar to a game of tag -- therefore, no sing-backs.

While stumbling around the Internet, I came across a recent Ad Hack post, which suggests that children in Britain may have had a different favorite LEGO ad as a kid. I can only wish we were able to experience the "Kipper" spot -- a fictional battle between LEGO creations capable of changing into anything -- keep an eye out for the submarine-eating fish. These are the kinds of battles of creativity we should all have.

Image from DeviantArt.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Minifig, Minifig let me in

I never really considered collecting minifigs until I saw a display of customized figures from Fine Clonier Decals at BrickWorld a few years back. There was something very satisfying about seeing all of the Super Friends and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise together. It made start to think about how minifigs could be more than operators of the cars I built, but instead have personalities that extended beyond their noseless faces.

News has leaked over the past several months about a limited release of collectible minifigs with the debate ranging over whether they are tie-ins to LEGO Universe or actual figures that will be produced. There is apparently a robot, cheerleader, Mexican wrestler, crash test dummy, nurse, zombie, and Robin Hood among the initial set of 16 characters.

I hope these are coming in 2010 and like parents seeking a Zhu Zhu pet, I'll be scouring the Internet in an attempt to secure mine. The only difference is the minifigs will be for me, not my daughter.

As an aside, you should get started on your Halloween costumes for next year -- here are the instructions for turning your group of friends into Maxifigs.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The gift of sharing

Fresh from a LEGO haul at Christmas -- this year included the Camper set and a Brick Light (an oversized two-by-two light that you mount on the wall) -- the question arises of what are you willing to share as an adult?

I've had adult fans give me rare pieces, minifigs, and (perhaps most importantly) endless amounts of guidance on building. It's nice to know that we are willing to share as long as you understand that "no one thutches my LEGOs," without my permission.

[Image via Zach is Here]

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Welcome back anticipation, I've been waiting for you

There are a number of benefits to picking up LEGO bricks again later in life. It is an escape from responsibilities. You jump start parts of your imagination that may have been laying dormant since you were a kid. And the joy of anticipation returns.

I am an adult that I'm sure is difficult to shop for on Christmas. To give you an example, the object I was most excited to receive a few years back was a shredder for my office. Although, since then I have discovered that a shredder is not particularly exciting and can't shred four envelopes at once. That shredder did have a brief return to fundom when it broke and I managed to jerry-rig it with a hammer and my foot. It now reluctantly does my bidding with a groan and the threat of electrical sparks -- all in all, it's much more interesting today because of the slight element of danger.

But last year and this year again, I have rediscovered the joy of anticipation. I'm excited for the LEGO sets to come after I read through the winter catalogue with genuine longing. Tomorrow's Christmas and I can't wait to find out what's under the tree.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ready the Laser!

If James Lipton were to ask me what sound or noise do I love, I'd offer up the noise we've all made since children to mimic a laser gun -- Pew, Pew!

And so would Andrew Colunga -- who has built an X-maspunk Ray Gun -- complete with a firing cone made from a LEGO Christmas tree. The inverted tires on the handle are a clever touch in the kind of toy I wish was in production.

Now the question remains. Is the kind of weapon wielded by a space alien or intrepid space explorer. In my mind, there is only one group strong enough to wield such a unique ray gun and that group is the Space Dwarves.

Image via Flickr: Andrew Colunga

Monday, December 21, 2009

If the LEGO shoe fits...

A night of clubbing calls for something a bit fancier than your minifig torso t-shirt (I know I look good in it, but these places have dress codes) and at least for the forseeable future, you've got two options -- the multi-colored buckled heel from Steve Madden ($99.95) or the closed front cage sandal from Balenciaga ($4,175). What, most of you who play with LEGO bricks don't wear heels?

Well, it's time you updated your wardrobe or we helped to change the demographics a bit. But you should save up because you may be limited to only the high-end model in the future as Balenciaga has filed suit against Steve Madden claiming copyright and trademark infringement (via Andy).

Why can't we all be inspired by LEGO bricks and figure out how to play nice? The fate of the primary-colored shoe market hangs in the balance. In the interim, I'll be busy trying to figure out how to wedge my feet into these.

Image via CityFile New York

Friday, December 18, 2009

The LEGO Movie

Since the live action LEGO movie is technically still in development -- I thought it appropriate to share some ideas as to what the plot could be for a movie that is expected to be a blend of live action and animation. For the latest, here's a recent interview with producer Dan Lin -- who talks about how the project is being fast-tracked and the LEGO Group's involvement.

If one of these ideas helps the movie get made faster, then I'm all for them being used.

-A remake of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. When you say a combo of live-action and animation -- that's the gold standard. Bob Hoskins probably needs a garage and Fabuland is ready for a comeback.

-Think Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, but with LEGO bricks. Wacky scientist dad accidentally sends children into the world of minifigs or LEGO Universe -- a quest and hilarity ensue.

-LEGO Star Wars. They've got the sets and the partnership in place. It's every boy's dream to become a Jedi -- and they've got just over 73,000 brick films to mine from on YouTube.

-There's this book being released in 2010 -- it's a tale of a plucky young journalist and his wife, who discover love and building together as adults. It's got real humor and heart -- the kind of family film that stays with you.

[Image via Soothbrush]

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The house that LEGO built

Today, my goal is to inspire you to build -- to take the bricks out of their plastic tubs, ignore the stresses of work or life, and just begin to snap pieces together.

First, watch one of the newest advertisements from LEGO. With a voice over that is somewhere between the "Real Men of Genius" campaign and the NFL Football Films guy -- you haven't heard a voice this compelling since Morgan Freeman told you to use your VISA.

The message of the commercial is to "Build Together," as a father and son team fist bump up after completing a LEGO brick house. And it is effective. In a time when things continue to get more complicated, the simple joy of building with plastic bricks seems to become more important.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Spotlight on: Ask a LEGO Fan

I'll confess to reading a lot of LEGO-related blogs every day. But in my defense, it's my job. In my offense, it is a supremely awesome job. So, in an effort to shine some of that awesomeness in the direction of your cubicle, monkey training facility, or the set of Dirty Jobs, I wanted to shine a spotlight on some of those LEGO-related blogs.

The first is Ask a LEGO Fan -- a site with the noble agenda of answering questions from fans of LEGO bricks. The blog's author is not affiliated with the LEGO Group, but is the kind of fan that I found to be an invaluable resource while writing LEGO: A Love Story -- somebody who cares enough about the company to try and always get his facts straight.

Also, this blog embodies the best characteristics of Adult Fans of LEGO -- the desire to share, teach, and generally spread the gospel of the plastic brick. So send in a question, this is one of the few places in life where there are plenty of answers readily available.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

That's Hoth [in a Paris Hilton accent]

With old man winter knocking on the door and Christmas looming, it only seems right to highlight one of the cooler series of LEGO photos I've seen this year [thanks to Joe for the tip]. Flickr user Avanaut has a collection of winter hijinks on Hoth -- the ice and snow planet from Star Wars -- that are visually stunning.

And in the spirit of the DIY movement, he's also included exactly how he has built and shot these scenes without the aid of Photoshop. It involves plaster of paris, an old CD case, and submerging everything in water. So, if you want it, you've now got plans for winter break.

We should all take such photos.

[Image via Avanaut]

Monday, December 14, 2009

K is for...

If you've made it to K, you're 11 letters into the Brick Encyclopedia. Treat yourself to a homemade sundae bar. I'll wait...

How was it? Did you add one topping too many? It's the gummy bear effect and it waylays the best of us at sundae bars. Always stick with two toppings and, on special occasions, add a third. The fourth is where you'll discover that you don't want to eat what you have made.

Speaking of not eating what you build, the following is the relevant 'K' terms in the Brick Encyclopedia.

K is for...KFOL (Kid Fan of LEGO). This is either the child of an Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL) or just your average kid that enjoys playing with the plastic bricks.

K is for...K'Nex. To those who would consider this their favorite building toy, you have my sympathies. I look forward to viewing your marble and steel creations in the mall one day.

K is for...Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen. The current owner and grandson of LEGO's founder -- Kjeld is a cult hero among AFOLs for helping to restructure the company and bring it back to profitability over the past five years.

K is for...Kit. It's a word that is used interchangeably with set, but often refers to a custom model, designed and packaged by fans. The custom kits are then sold on the Internet or at fan conventions. The talking car (spelled KITT) on Knight Rider or Baloo's sidekick from Talespin are also acceptable definitions.

K is for...Knight's Kingdom. A LEGO playtheme with two iterations in this decade, the Knight's Kingdom figurines were essentially action figures. And yes, I've fought with them in mock battle before.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Have you got LEGO Fever?

We've got a new term to add to the lexicon -- "LEGO fever." It apparently describes that exact moment in childhood when learn the cleanest four-letter word you're totally allowed to say in public. It's when you have a very short list for Santa and your dad is very excited about playing with you on Christmas morning.

It also turns out that LEGO Fever is a video game featuring two brothers in track suits -- Harry and Jens -- who must accomplish a series of missions by building objects out of bricks. In my head, it's a combination of Dude Where's My Car, Oregon Trail, and Dig-Dug.

But since this is flu season, I want everybody to be careful. LEGO fever is highly contagious and even hand-washing won't stop you from catching it. In fact, you're probably a carrier for LEGO fever, you just don't know it. The only way to get a sure diagnosis is to pick up a few bricks and see what happens.

And so, as Christopher Walken so delightfully said, "I've got a fever and the only more LEGO."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How many frequent flier miles you got?

Put a trip to Malaysia on the calendar for April 2012 -- that's when LEGOLAND Malaysia is set to open.

Johor Streets
has the story of the first six model builders that were trained at LEGOLAND California over a 10-week period to learn to build the 15,000 models that will be displayed throughout the park. What struck me about the interviews with the builders is that rather than focus on LEGO bricks or a chance to once again play with toys, most were excited by the design skills they would gain in this profession. And that might be what separates the fan from the career -- thoughts of access to millions of bricks, as opposed to the design challenges of gluing thousands of those elements onto a steel infrastructure.

So, who's up for the trip? I'll meet you in Miniland Asia.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Racer X is on the loose

Life is full of mysteries, chief among them is how LEGO elements manage to appear in the most unlikely places, once the amount of bricks you have overwhelms the initial tub you used for storage.

When I put on a pair of new jeans I've never worn recently, I discovered a Racer X minifig (of Speed Racer fame) in the front right pocket. Now I remember getting the Racer X minifig at BrickCon 2008 in Seattle; however, that was well before I owned the jeans.

As to how Racer X managed to work his way free of a Tupperware container in my office and inside that denim, that is a question for the LEGO Gods. I remain convinced that LEGO bricks are like pieces of sand after a day at the beach, they get into everything. Usually, there's an explanation. This time we'll just chalk it up to the same elves or pixies that help one finish a MOC (My Own Creation).

Monday, December 7, 2009

Dear LEGO: A love letter

Not many toys are worthy of a love letter. But LEGO bricks can bring out some pretty strong feelings from those who have fallen in love with the system of play. Exhibit A? Suzy's ode to LEGO published in The Guardian this weekend:
Everyday I scoop you up, all the hundreds of tiny bits of you and put you back in the shallow green plastic box we've made your home, and every time I think how fantastic you are. I love your colours, your different shape and size bricks and all the accessories and bits and bobs that make you who you are and so infinitely interesting to play with. More than anything I love how beautifully you're made. You're perfectly moulded, rigid, reliable and give a satisfying little snapping sound when you fit together.
LEGO love is ultimately very Jerry Maquire-esque: I love you for the bricks you are and for what the bricks will be. It's easy to anthropomorphize LEGO elements because of the idea of infinite possibility. We see the potential that we'd like to see in ourselves in a big old jumbled pile of bricks. Because when everything clicks, that's when we start to be excited about what we've managed to accomplish.

Image via CraigLyons.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The reason you shouldn't have a LEGO gun

There's a reason LEGO doesn't produce guns (outside of licensed sets like Indiana Jones) -- it's a philosophical choice about violence and children's toys. Perhaps, we could add another reason to the mix -- because you don't want the Toronto Police Department putting you in handcuffs and pinning you up against the wall.

The story of Canadian Jeremy Bell is a cautionary tale about what happens when your neighbor sees you playing with a realistic-looking LEGO gun. Bell ordered a replica from BrickGun -- which makes the "coolest LEGO weapons in the world." The neighbor, saw the gun from across the way, and apparently believed it to be a real gun that was endangering the lives of those in Bell's office. The neighbor apparently didn't notice when the brick-based gun fell apart in a co-worker's hands.

The weirdest portion of the story is that the neighbor Tweeted an apology -- what a weird, hyper-connected and, yet estranged, world we live in sometimes.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Don't Give Up on Building

The New York Times had a story yesterday covering the rise of construction toys and the accompanying lament of parents vexed by large sets (of primarily LEGO bricks) that required them to assemble too many parts.

The thing I couldn't stop thinking about while reading the article is how much the parents sounded like children presented with a difficult challenge or chore. This is too hard...I don't like this...I don't get it... But the parents don't have anyone to tell them to just give it a try and see what they can accomplish. Because as parents, we get to pull the plug whenever we want.

So allow me to fill that role for a moment. If parents can push past that gut reaction that LEGO sets are too complicated, they might discover the same joy that they had playing with bricks as a child. Some of the most active adult fans of LEGO that I know were in your position just a few years ago. It was all because they didn't give up...and they ate their vegetables.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ain't No Party, Like a LEGO Party

I've read about the idea of a LEGO party -- usually as a suggestion for an affordable and alternative children's birthday party. But lately I've been thinking that without a LEGO Users Group (LUG) here in Kansas City, it would be fun to take the idea of a LEGO party and make it a bit more adult.

The basic premise would be the same -- a lot of loose bricks, maybe some sets, and a large open workspace where everyone could build. I'd probably still even have cake -- as it's not a party without cake. Add in a cooler of beer and food that doesn't leave your hands greasy and now all that remains is determining which guests might be into playing with bricks as an adult.

Perhaps, best of all, I'm envisioning everyone leaving with a small goodie bag of LEGO bricks.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The capper

I have a lot of non-traditional baseball caps, but the one that draws the most comments is a sky blue cap from LEGOLAND California. It's not flashy, it just says LEGOLAND, and people (whether they are closeted or active fans) like to talk about LEGO bricks.

But (sadly) I've got nothing on my hat hooks to compare to the above design by French designer JC de Castelbajac, who apparently covered New Era baseball caps in LEGO pieces for a recent fashion show. While purists will be disappointed to learn that glue was likely involved, the final result suggests that on occasion glue might allow for something wonderful to happen.

I imagine the caps were a bit heavy, sort of the children's version of Vegas showgirl's headpieces and they're delightfully impractical. But a LEGO cap would be a sweet addition to anyone's hat hook.

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's Just Like The Movies

For those of you who have not yet discovered the expansive world of stop motion animation using LEGO minifigures and parts, known as "brick films," I'm envious of you. You can still experience the joy of discovering a whole new world of procrastination and entertainment.

And since I've been trying to act as a guide heretofore, I shall not stop now. So, consider me your Internet sherpa, and these the bricks films you should take the time to watch.

"Trinity Help," is a short by Trevor Boyd and Steve Ilett that recreates bullet-time in an accurate frame-by-frame recreation of the classic scene from The Matrix. The creators have included an extensive explanation on the process behind the 440 hours it took to create the 90-second short.

"Little Guys," is the signature work of David Pagano -- one of the most respected voices in the brick film world. It was his video that helped launch the "Go Miniman Go," campaign last year.

"Don't Be a Jerk, It's Christmas," shows what happens when LEGO Sponge Bob is given a chance to sing. It's made by Garrett Barati -- the 2008 winner of the Built By Me Movie Contest sponsored by LEGO and Nickelodeon.

"Robota," is the first example of a brickfilm that I saw, which displayed how LEGO bricks can be as transformative as claymation or other forms of animation. Marc Beurteaux offers up a suprisingly moving story of a panhandling robot trying to make his way in a city of the future.

If you feel compelled to strike out on your own, Brickfilms is a good place to start, both for those who want to create and those who just want to watch.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Everybody should befriend a Master Model Builder

If you get the chance, you should always talk to a LEGO master model builder because like Santa -- they always have toys on them.

Wired attended the recent Kidsfest in Hartford, CT, and had the chance to talk with model builders Dan and Chris Steineger -- a father-and-son team based out of the build shop at LEGO's U.S. headquarters in Enfield, CT. I met Dan while researching the book and he's one of the few people in the world that genuinely loves their job.

Master Model Builders work on large-scale projects for in-store displays and promotional tie-ins. That's why there's a life-size Indiana Jones made of LEGO bricks in the employee cafeteria. So the next time you buy a LEGO set, think of it as business expense, because building doesn't have to be just a hobby, it can be your career.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Collector v. Fan

It's a fine line between collector and fan. In one case, the goal is to complete a set or accumulate all of a given line. In the other, your purchasing habits might be the same, you just end up tearing open the boxes and clam shell packaging.

As LEGO-infused products slowly take over our house, I'm wondering if I'm essentially becoming some sort of collector-fan hybrid. When it comes to bricks, those are taken out of the box and used for building. But the video games, clothing, and kitchen items feel a bit like collector's items, even if they're in the rotation as well.

LEGO bricks feel like they were never meant to be collected, more like they are something to amass and then put to work in your latest creation. It's one of the few holdovers from my childhood beliefs that comes into play as an adult. You play with LEGO bricks, and you play well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A peek inside the editing process

Big goings on at the book factory here in the Bender household. The copy edits came back to me and the books has the beginnings of how it will be formatted. This is the next major step towards the publication of LEGO: A Love Story.

For those of you just joining us, especially you man or woman in the Czech Republic -- I love your colorful fashion and moderately priced hostels, by the way -- this book covers the year I spent building alongside Adult Fans of LEGO (AFOLs), in an attempt to learn what it is about LEGO bricks that makes it so some of us just can't put them down.

The copy edits are a group of questions, grammatical changes, and reordering of text, that helps the book become tighter and draws out the questions the average reader with no knowledge of AFOLs might have. On one level it's exciting because the total number of people who have read the book has skyrocketed to six, on another level, it's wonderful to get feedback.

Best of all, in order to check some of my writing, I was forced to reconstruct what I had built -- which meant that I, once again, had to play with LEGO bricks for work.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What Do You Want For Christmas?

When you get older and/or married -- suddenly it seems imperative that your Christmas lists be done well in advance of Christmas. And so I'm attempting to contribute to the Excel spreadsheet that determines what will be under the tree this year for relatives and friends.

Two years ago, there was not a single LEGO purchase (the horror! the horror!) on the list. Today, I look to the Santa minifig on my keychain for guidance, 'nuff said. And so I find myself trying to figure out exactly how to get everybody some form of LEGO paraphernalia or set. However it becomes exceedingly difficult to separate out what I want from what I believe somebody else would want.

It feels a bit like buying somebody a grill, with the knowledge that you can't have one on the fire escape of your apartment, and then showing up the next week with steaks, whether they're home or not. I guess I will just have to restrain myself from tearing open other people's gifts come Christmas morning, I believe I still have enough Christmas spirit to accomplish that bit of civility.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Shoemaker Had Elves, BMW Has Children

It's that time of year when elves scurry madly to finish the toys that children want for Christmas. And when elves aren't available -- times are admittedly tough -- sometimes you need to use children in order to build the toys that adults want for Christmas (when children are unavailable, I assume you use centaurs or whichever mythical creature has opposable thumbs).

At the BMW Welt (a product showroom/distribution center/event space hybrid) in Munich, Germany, 800 children helped build a full-size replica of the BMW X1 -- an urban crossover vehicle that looks like a Z3 and Ford Edge had a baby. In the span of four days, the children helped put together the 165,000 LEGO bricks needed to replicate the car.

These are the kind of group builds we need in America. In the interim, I know what I'll be asking Santa (or the centaurs) for this Christmas.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Papercraft and LEGO Toy Hybrid

The bloodfeud between papercrafters and adult fans of LEGO can finally come to an end, thanks to the introduction of "Playing with paper and LEGO." (Via jollygoo)

A collaboration between Muji and LEGO has yielded four boxed sets -- each of which includes 120 LEGO pieces, 10 sheets of paper, and a special hole-punch that creates holes in the shape of LEGO studs. The Web site shows papercraft animals with LEGO eyes or buttons, as well as LEGO bricks being used as stands for cut out creations.

It seems like it could lead to some really neat LEGO-paper combinations, but cutting paper feels like a completely different skill set than stacking bricks. Although it's interesting to think of LEGO elements as accessories or connectors.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Geocaching and LEGO pods

What happens when geocaching meets viral marketing? It's the invasion of the LEGO pods.

The Bradford Rant Institute of Cosmic Kinesis holds the key to discovering where the pods will land and just what the LEGO minifig pilots want with Earth. The first was discovered at LEGOLAND Billund in Denmark and the second is said to be somewhere in North America.

Kotaku suggests that it is a promotion of LEGO Universe and that sounds like a good bet as the MMO is slated to be released in 2010 and the news of an "Alien LEGO landing," is on the front page of the Web site.

There is also a Facebook page (via Sterling) where people are attempting to crack the codes hidden in the first message (where's Tom Hanks when you need him?) and find the location of the second pod. Good hunting and play well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Girls Are Totally Allowed In The Club

There is joy and then there is the moment when your spouse walks into the office and says, "I haven't built anything in a while, I want to build something."

It must be like this when your kid asks you to play -- how could I turn down such a sweet face. In short, I can't. So this weekend comes with the excitement that a set will be built or a bucket of LEGO bricks will be dumped on the ottoman in an effort to find something to build. And just to be sure that we have enough, I wonder if I'll be able to convince her that we should stop at a toy store or Target to pick up a new set.

There is a camper city set that I think could be a good way of testing on the waters on whether we should buy an RV (a hobby that could make LEGO purchases seem small in comparison). It's a pretty sweet thing when you have a LEGO playdate with your wife.

If you're in search of a playdate, you could always build a LEGO girlfriend.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Music To My Ears

Sometimes you have to buck the trend to go smaller because who needs an iPod Nano when you can have a LEGO MP3 Player.

Although the actual player doesn't lend itself to much customization, the top and bottom are fair game, apparently composed of regulation size studs (the nubs on top) and tubes (the holes on bottom that the studs snap into). Thus, it would seem like once you had the LEGO MP3 Player, you would have to build a LEGO belt case, in order to keep in on your hip while you were mowing the lawn.

You could also build a version of an Ipod-type dock -- for when said player is not hanging precariously from your belt. It's time we went back to the days when technology added a bit of danger to our wardrobe, threatening to break lose at any time or force us to wear something on the other side for counterbalance. Because the only thing cooler than one MP3 player is a second one on your belt.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

J is for...

Sometimes dictionaries are like cliffhangers because when you stop in the middle of a definition, you never know what you're going to find when it you open up the book the next time.

And so it is like that with the Brick Encyclopedia. I know that you have been dying to see what J words are out there, waiting to be defined. Well, the wait is over and just as John Lithgow was revealed to be evil to Sylvester Stallone, here's what J is for...

J is for...Jack Stone -- a minifigure responsible for rescuing the city in a series of themed sets from 2001-2004. The sets were notable because they featured oversize bricks and the most beautiful feathered hair since Brendan Walsh.

J is for...Jorgen Vig Knudstorp -- the current CEO of the LEGO Group -- who is credited with turning around the fortunes of the toymaker.

J is for...Juniorization -- a complaint heard on occasion from adult fans of LEGO that the sets have moved away from buildable elements towards large brick pieces in an effort to appeal to more children, inadvertently losing their appeal for older builders.

J is for...Johnny Thunder, or who would I would be if I could grow a proper mustache and owned the right kind of kerchief. An open-shirted explorer who battled Dr. Sinister in the Adventure and Orient Express lines -- he's as cool as Indiana Jones without the trademark issues.

Monday, November 9, 2009

All Out of Sorts

I've written in this space many times before about the challenges of sorting and organizing your LEGO collection once it begins to expand. It's a necessary evil -- the brick equivalent of making sure you've hit the restroom and filled up on snacks before you set out on a long road trip. The less stops you have to make, the sooner you'll get there. Thankfully, I have not yet gotten to the point where I have to build with an empty Gatorade bottle below the desk, but who knows what the future may bring.

Over on The Brothers Brick -- there is a terrific essay on all of the competing factors when it comes to sorting LEGO bricks. It's a question of patience, time, and the reason you're sorting in the first place. I believe that most builders just want to get to a point where they can easily find parts, in order to interrupt their flow of building as little as possible.

Photo by ltwp.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Nintendo Power

The original 8-bit Nintendo is hard to give up -- for my generation -- it is the classic video game system, just as Oregon Trail is our defining computer game. And now, it's been immortalized in brick by AFOL Dave Sterling, who put together a television displaying a Tetris game, NES controllers, game cartridge, and system with a working loading mechanism.

The pixelated game was a natural for LEGO-ization and Dave nailed it. His build secured him a spot in the finals of the MOCOlympics on -- a build competition that inspires some amazing creations. Between Dave and his wife Stacy -- who was recently selected a LEGO Ambassador -- there's a powerhouse AFOL couple in Wisconsin. I'm always excited to see the next build that is coming out of their basement/LEGO Lair.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A LEGO language barrier?

It's easy to feel frustrated when you can't communicate with somebody else. Add to that an inability to find the right LEGO brick in a pile of thousands, and you're close to seeing what an adult looks like when he has a temper tantrum.

There is a language to playing with LEGO pieces -- you develop names in your family for the bricks that you need someone else to hand to you or keep an eye out for in the jumbled assortment before you. In a spot on article for The Morning News, writer Giles Turnbull wanted to see what different kids called various parts in what he terms, "LEGO nomenclature." So he set up an experiment at a LEGO retail store asking the children to name the pieces that they were shown. The result is a fascinating chart as to how the kids, who range in age from five to seven years old, refer to slopes, plates, and tiles.

The names for various parts was one of the most intimidating aspects of getting back into playing with LEGO as an adult. My names for parts are not the accepted or at least, more universal, names. It would be like going to work in an engine room and referring to everything as doo-hickeys and whats-its.

Perhaps more challenging was that once I learned one name for a part, I would invariably discover that other terms were used interchangeably. Although it also presents hope that the word you've invented will catch on as the descriptor and you will have named a part just like the scientist who is granted the naming rights to a new species. Bender seems to be a logical name for many pieces of LEGO, but as of yet, none has stuck.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On the air: I'm a guest on LAML Radio

To those of you who are not visual learners, I offer up a link to a LEGO Talk podcast that I appeared on earlier this week to talk about the latest news in the brick world -- LAML Radio.

LAML (LEGO and more LEGO) Radio is hosted by James Wadsworth, who is often joined by prolific builder Aaron Andrews. It's my second appearance on the podcast, which means I am now officially ahead of both Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin as guest hosts. And I've only got a few more to go to catch Tom Hanks.

Over the course of about 45 minutes, we touched on how LEGO sets could be important in the event of an apocalypse, the boxes I'm squirreling away in my home, and what a LEGO live action movie might mean for fans and the world in general.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

LEGOLAND Hotel is Timed Just Right

It's nice when the world chooses to accommodate your family -- it's a bit Truman Show-esque, but you'll take it.

LEGOLAND California just received approval to build a hotel adjacent to the theme park in Carlsbad, California. Construction is expected to take 18 months, but the project is not likely to move forward until the economy picks up slightly. So that means around the time my daughter is in the middle of LEGOLAND's stated demographic of two to 12 years old, the hotel should be ready to open. Not too shabby.

Kate and I stayed at the LEGOLAND Hotel in Billund, which is bursting at the seams with LEGO bricks and attached to the park via an elevated walkway. It featured free kiosks with LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Indiana Jones video games, circular pits piled high with LEGO pieces and surrounded with cushions to build on, and you walked on LEGO-patterned carpet beneath LEGO-filled acrylic lamps as a LEGO mosaic of Mona Lisa hung on the walls. It was kind of like the average adult fan of LEGO home.

So, here's to another LEGO construction project, it's just a bit bigger than the buildings that most of us are trying to tackle right now.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Lottery Ticket Purchase

Everybody plays the game of lottery winner on occasion, debating what you'd purchase if a million-dollar ticket suddenly appeared in your pocket. The key is to pick unnecessary and delightfully expensive luxuries.

For you LEGOphiles in the crowd, I've found what you should buy after the requisite trip to LEGO headquarters and LEGOLAND in Billund, Denmark. It's a pair of BrickSpeak speakers from ToysPeriod. At $647, they are apparently a set of high-end speakers encased in over 1,000 LEGO bricks. Although at that price, you could 12,940 bricks on BrickLink and just fill it with Sony guts.

But until that ticket appears, you can make do with a set of mini-Ipod speakers ($19.75) or an Ipod dock ($45).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Your LEGO-inspired Halloween costumes

If you are like me (or most men over the age of 11), you have yet to settle on a Halloween costume. Therefore, in order for you to be able to say you've planned ahead, I've decided to track down some potential LEGO-inspired Halloween costumes for you.

These range from completely practical to not likely to be finished in the next 24 hours.

LEGO brick -- This appears to be a painted cardboard box with plastic bowls attached to the front. It's a clever use of things you definitely have in your house right now. Bonus points, if you build yourself a costume with studs and another costume with tubes. Here's more detailed instructions, that just need to be upscaled from a kid to an adult size.

LEGO Minifig -- Slightly cumbersome, completely awesome. It's the styrofoam head that makes this costume a winner. Imagine a life-size minifigure -- the only questions are visibility and how are you going to eat candy. Although none could top this to-scale LEGO Boba Fett minifig costume.

Now should you be against dressing up, I might suggest that you instead try a science project and learn how to install LED lights inside minifigs to create spooky Halloween decorations.

Photo by Dead Zebra.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The title of the book

Grab a few bricks. (I'll wait). Build a small drum. (I'll still wait). And some drum sticks. (I'm used to waiting by now). Commence the drum roll.

The book has an official title... LEGO: A Love Story. To those who commented or e-mailed me other titles, I'm afraid you have won neither a steak dinner nor LEGO set. However, your entries ranged from amusing to very sweet, so I thank you for taking the time to think on it.

In related news, I saw the first artistic mock-up for the book cover and am overjoyed, as in hopping around the house with joy. Just a hint, it includes LEGO bricks, in some fashion. I know, hold on to your drum, right?

We'll be back to LEGO news tomorrow, this just seemed big enough to share today.

Photo by David Choe.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

We are all just players in the LEGO Universe

To those who would say it is LEGO's Universe and we're just living in it -- I'd say not quite yet, give it about a year.

Besides the release of my book in that time period, there's also going to be the unveiling of the Massive Multiplayer Online game -- LEGO Universe. And that means details and screen captures keep rolling out on what the minifig-as-avatar world will look like.

The blog Destructoid compares the game to Zelda with regard to mission characteristics and the "life essence," of your minifig. One of the most interesting suggestions is that the game will be linked to the Design byME service, allowing you to have physical representations of the thing you build in the virtual universe.

It's a smart business strategy, kind of the brick equivalent of Webkinz. And like James May's LEGO house it moves us a step closer to having a LEGO-based world offline.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Customization and Design byME

The world of customized sets has arrived with LEGO Factory becoming Design byME this month.

In addition to being able to digitally design sets, visitors to will be able to pick the box and can choose to include printed instructions. So, if you dream of being a LEGO set designer, here's your opportunity to be one.

In a recent article on Twitter, The New York Times suggests that this as a move by LEGO to offload the design costs on fans. While there may be some side benefit to having a group of people creating new designs -- the reality is that both the brick palate available and LEGO's Research and Development cycle mean that LEGO is several years ahead when it comes to design. So, although fan-designed sets may be highlighted, I don't believe they'll be driving LEGO's set choices beyond some data mining as to the popularity of certain themes.

Overall this is a win for fans -- the chance to make customized sets and dream for a day that LEGO has hired you as a set designer.

Friday, October 23, 2009

LEGO Meets Reality Television

The following news will be extremely exciting for some and a sign to others that it's time to move on to another hobby -- LEGO is apparently destined for reality television.

Variety is reporting that producer Scott Messick will partner with LEGO on a series of potential reality television shows that have building with LEGO bricks at the center of a competition-style program.

The three possible types of shows that Variety details are a children's gameshow, docuseries that follows master model builders to site builds, and a potential competition/elimination style contest filmed at LEGOLAND. I'll readily admit that I could be the target demographic for all three of those shows.

While this seems like a project in the initial stages, I'd bet the competition style series could be the first to move forward, given it's single location and Messick's background -- his credits include "Pros vs. Joes" and "Shaq Vs." Therefore, it seems like "Man vs. LEGO," would be a natural fit for his portfolio.

Photo via LEGO Block Block.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Inside the LEGO Concept Room

Whether it stems back to childhood or is merely a byproduct of human curiosity, it is always fun to find out what is behind a closely guarded secret.

Two British newspapers have accounts of the world inside the LEGO Concept Lab -- and they didn't have to suspend Tom Cruise from a cable to get it. While both are scrubbed versions (and sans photos) of what everybody would really like to see -- the LEGO products that are several years out -- it's still a fascinating look into the research and development arm of the popular toy manufacturer.

The Telegraph talks to LEGO board game designer Cephas Howard, who jokes that working for LEGO was like joining a secret government agency. And the Mirror actually gets in behind the reinforced steel door after waiting 20 minutes for security clearance.

Photo by mmahaffie (not the actual door)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Well, Sir...It's Steampunk

One of the most interesting things about what people choose to build with LEGO bricks is that it often highlights their other interests. It's as if LEGO is a way to unlock or highlight a portion of their personality.

Speckyboy Design Magazine has posted a series of photos from builder Guy Himber -- who has made a series of incredible Steampunk-inspired ships and scenes. Himber manages to capture the spirit of Steampunk via some very creative uses of pieces.

While his airships and characters are engagin, I'm just waiting for him to build the time-traveling train from Back to the Future 3: The Return (Again) of The Future.

Photo by ChocolateFrogs.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Never a Hoarder, Always a Recycler

I've never been one to hang on to possessions (comfortable worn-in shoes or jeans, being the sole exceptions). But now, I find myself obsessively storing broken down LEGO set boxes.

Not because I expect them to be repacked with sets -- although if they were to continually fill with LEGO bricks each night like a magic purse, I would be fine with that development -- but because I can't bring myself to put them in the recycling bin.

I will occasionally look at the boxes, but on the whole they just stand silent and stacked on the floor and shelves of my office. At some point, I'll imagine guests will be weaving through piles -- like old and yellowing newspapers -- as I call to them Marco Polo-style from my office chair.

I had a friend who once ringed his room with empty Snapple bottles and when I asked him why. He simply said, "I like Snapple." He also explained how it's harder to throw away the empties once you've started to collect them. But is it two or 20 the moment when your collection starts? Either way, at this point I've become a collector of boxes.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Changing of The Liquor Guard

There comes a time when everybody has to put away their toys. My wife has been tolerant of the rotating LEGO exhibit atop the bookshelf in the kitchen and the wine bar in the dining room.

But on Sunday, she made a request that she hasn't made for at least six months -- and when your spouse asks you to pick up your toys, you do it. And so the stegosaurus with the drooping head will be parted out, the mad scientist vignette is safely ensconced in Tupperware, and the pirates will no longer be guarding the rum. As to the pirates, perhaps that is a good situation. Pirates make for terrible rum guardians.

The thing that my wife doesn't know is that by asking me to put away my old builds, she has inspired me to build something new, that will have to take it's place. I wonder if the Space Police might be better protectors of the spirits.

I keep seeing this yellow cyclops-like guy shiftily walking around our dining room. And I know he's not going to buy anything because we don't have anything for sale. Odds are he's just going to try to sneak out with a bottle under his coat and escape in some sort of space speeder or ship.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I is for...

Each month a new entry into the Brick Encyclopedia arrives at your door like a weary Encyclopedia Britannica Salesman, filled with arcane facts and pictures to enjoy. Here is the entry exploring the many iterations of "I" in the world of LEGO:

I is for... Insectoids. These neon bug-based Space sets from the 90's had the same camp as Starship Troopers -- but sadly did not include Neil Patrick Harris minifigs.

I is for...Ice Planet. Before there was Hoth, there was this space sub-theme that debuted last decade and came back in 2002.

I is for...Impulse sets. Otherwise known as me sets -- these are small sets (usually a minifig and a set piece/small vehicle) that are less than $5. In a hobby/obsession/pursuit like LEGO fandom, the concept of impulse control is one that is lost on most of the participants.

I is for...Ice Cube Tray. Man needed a better ice cube. LEGO delivered on that promise with a silicone mold that offers up bricks with studs. You shouldn't play with your food, but drinks are now officially in play.

Is is for...Indiana Jones. This is the minifig (which debuted in 2008) that made me understand the allure of collecting minifigs. The coolest guy to ever rock a messenger bag.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The sounds of silence

I never thought much about toys that require you to provide your own noises until our house became awash in baby toys.

Between swings that play a series of notes as repetitive as the piano song in Goonies to play mats that offers a plush butterfly requiring you press it's wings each 15 seconds in a Pavlovian cry for an 80's synthesizer beat -- we're hanging on by a thread musically in the Bender household.

And so despite not being a clock watcher, I've started the countdown until DUPLO can be safely played with by the baby (and me). I just need some slight improvement in my motor skills and I have to learn that toys are for playing, not eating. After that, we'll be good to go.

And the beauty of DUPLO is that I get to add the soundtrack for playing -- meaning everything from rocket ship noises to the theme from Bonanza. While the sounds we're listening to may not improve, at least they will be our own.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Graveyards and Demolitions

One of the most interesting places I visited over the course of researching the book was the graveyard at LEGOLAND California. It's a spot on the back lot of the park -- a series of wooden shipping crates (think larger versions of the Ark of the Covenant from Indiana Jones) where retired models, broken models, and prototypes end up.

It's the place that would fascinate and devastate most adult fans. Here you have discarded LEGO bricks -- ones that will be recycled, if possible, but are not going to be played with or displayed any more.

I hadn't though of the graveyard until I stumbled across pictures of the demolition of James May's LEGO House. These are not for the faint of heart. If seeing LEGO bricks torn asunder makes you feel weak, I urge you not to click through that link.

But for those with strong enough constitutions, it's an interesting look at the teardown of the massive LEGO structure. The process looks fairly similar to seeing a standard house torn down -- only rubber mallets are being used instead of bulldozers.

It would seem that a LEGO house was never meant to last because such things -- like Kevin Federline -- are simply too beautiful for this earth.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My endless (LEGO) love

There's new love, endless love, and of course, LEGO love. The first is sweet, the second is timeless, and the third is both.

The Model Building Secrets Blog has the story of Joe Sparano's proposal to his girlfriend -- which was done in a way that should make the less creative among us shudder. Under the guise of an anniversary picnic, he built and presented her with a series of three homemade sets that depicted their lives together. It was a fitting proposal for a couple that loves building and met on the job at Toys R' Us.

And because Joe's batting 1.000, you might want to take his advice. Luckily, he's posted photos for how to build a minifig-scale ring. So get out there and start looking for LEGO love.

Photo by Alice Rosen.