Thursday, January 29, 2009

On LEGO repairs and 1x5s

It's peaceful in the early morning at LEGOLAND California as I sit in the passenger seat of the Model Shop's golf cart. Master model builder Gary McIntire is looking at the feet of a firefighter LEGO model in Fun Town. A bolt has jimmied loose, popping up the black LEGO bricks from the right foot of the model.

"I don't have the right bricks," says Gary, as he tries to find a way to repair the foot.

"Do we have to go back to the shop?" I ask.

"Nope, this will just take a minute." Gary holds up a 2x10 black brick that he proceeds to saw in half.

"You made a 2x5 brick," I say," You're creating LEGO. It's like the 1x5 brick."

"Where did you hear about that?" asks Gary.

"Maybe Steve Witt. Why you know it?"

"I coined it, along with Dan Parker," says Gary.

He laughs, popping the bricks into place along with a bit of solvent. The repair noted, we putt away- the golf cart's whine echoing across the quiet of the park.

The photo is courtesy of Brickplayer.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Go big in your own home

My LEGO bricks have been hit with an evil growth ray. Well, either that or I was just messing around with The Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide, and decided to build a large scale version of a 1x1 brick.

The concept of oversized bricks reminds me of the Think Big store in New York City, where giant crayons and leather baseball mitt chairs were my definition of cool in the 1980's. If it was comically enormous, I was in.

At six studs wide and tall, the littlest of bricks has been transformed. Although there is something pleasing about using LEGO bricks to make a larger version of the elements you used. It's plastic Voltron without the lions or Zarkon.

Zarkon moved out last month, he'd overstayed his welcome on our couch.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Lost blog entry

We take a slight break from our regularly scheduled LEGO programming for an important debate. If you are a viewer of Lost, please feel free to enjoy this entry. If you're not, I apologize for taking a day to try and sort out some of the thoughts preventing real work (LEGO building and book writing) from occurring in the wake of season five's premiere last night. Rest assured there will be no spoilers, only two quick theories.

1. Could those who left the island be the "constant" for those who remain on the island?

2. Are we destined for a mobius strip ending on Lost? Wherein the characters struggle for seven seasons only to find they have returned to the moment of the crash, destined to try and do better over the course of their lives on the island.

[As for the minifig pictured, it's a tribute to Dr. Jack Shepard's finest acting role- Racer X, which has been immortalized in LEGO.]

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Off to LEGOLAND California

I'm heading out to LEGOLAND California over the weekend, I guess it's just time I saw the Inauguration in LEGO for myself. I might be more excited to discover the surprises throughout the park, small jokes hidden inside the Miniland displays and models hidden among the natural landscaping.

After having met Mariann Asanuma at BrickCon 2008, I'll be sure to look up the ladybug and see some of her Vegas creations. This will be the second LEGOLAND park I've visited after a trip out to LEGOLAND Billund back in September. Should I bring another suitcase? I tend to come back with these trips with a lot more to carry than when I started.

Anything else I have to see?

Photo by Narwal.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The art of finding simple joy

A friend told me once about attending a birthday party for four year-olds that was over the top. There were bouncy castles and animals for riding, but the four-year-olds weren't interested in any of the rented attractions. They found the most (and repeatable) joy in transferring ice from one of the tubs of drinks to another nearby tub. The lesson he took away was easy, sometimes the simple joys in life are the best ones.

Today, I think I finally get it. It's nearing the end of January, so it was time to break down Christmas in the Bender household. The tree had given off it's last Viking call and was shedding needles at an alarming rate. It was time for a parking lot burial.

Kate tentatively asked me if I was ready to take down the LEGO advent calendar, which had been on semi-permanent display above our entertainment center. And as I broke down the advent calendar box, I discovered my simple joy. The advent calendar holds within it a 4x6 grid of plastic tubs- the kind that are perfecting for sorting parts, and even possibly storage.

I cheered. Kate called me a dork. Best non-birthday ever.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Beauty is in the eye of the rubber band holder

I was visiting the BrickLink store of BrickScope late last summer when the store's general manager pointed out a storage drawer filled with dark grey plastic spindles. It was in response to a question when I asked about what doesn't sell on BrickLink. His answer, "rubber band holders."

I thought of that moment today while I was sorting a bucket of grey elements. A few rubber band holders lay in the middle of the tub. I started turning them over to see if I could get any ideas and put them to use. The holders work with the system of LEGO, a 1x2 brick fits just fine into the two central holes.

The boxy shape of the holder had two ideas jump off the bat: a cow and a robot. The holders are a bit like the bucket head of The Iron Giant. So, I've started playing around with the holders and rubber bands- they offer a variety of mouth options from tight-lipped (as you see above) to a goofy, uneven smile.

Just remember...with great packaging, comes great responsibility.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's a LEGO Universe, we just live in it

LEGO Universe is starting to gain some buzz and the idea of a massive multiplayer online game featuring LEGO elements and minifigs is intriguing.

The challenge of building with LEGO is in creating natural shapes, be it circles or angles. And I've often wondered how the designers of LEGO Universe will solve that challenge digitally. A new article posted on talks to LEGO Universe world artist Nathan Storm about the modeling process.

As programmers have learned the language of building with LEGO, there's a quick discussion of SNOT techniques, this piece is a good way to understand the language of the programmers who are constructing LEGO Universe.

Photo by ajfeist.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stacking is kinda like sorting

My office currently looks like the backroom of a Woolworth's that is in the process of closing. Sets and cardboard boxes are stacked on the floor. Open sets are leaking parts bags and organization is a concept that seems to have escaped the stockroom clerk.

Every morning I come down and silently address The Green Grocer set I received for Christmas. We have a weekend date soon and it's probably the most excited I've been to put together a kit. As for the chaos, it shall remain for the foreseeable future.

And I love it...

Photo by alexrider7.

Friday, January 9, 2009

To clip and serve

I don't know when my grandmother starting cutting out newspaper articles and sending them to my father. I just know that at some point, a few of those articles started being addressed to me. Then my dad picked up the habit and clipped stories starting showing up at my doorstep in Kansas City.

Well LEGO seems to have brought out the grandmother in all of my friends and family. They consistently send me links about The LEGO Group and LEGO builders. It's really quite wonderful, like having the crack research team at The New York Times (which it sadly may soon surpass given our current economic climate), except spread out geographically and across generations.

I don't know if it's just a testament to the people in my life or the connection they make with LEGO- either way it's been a nice way to keep in touch. Now if I could only convince them all to start sending me delicious homemade baked goods, I'd never have to leave the house...

Photo by Dunechaser.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Come see my volcano base

I've found the set that is never coming apart. For Christmas, my wife surprised me with the LEGO Agents Volcano Base. Set 8637 is a lava-spouting, laser-firing, blast door-celebrating 718 piece marvel.

I think it's important that we define never coming apart. While the chopper might not last and I'll certainly poach minifigures, the volcano base, monorail, and lava pit aren't going anywhere for quite some time.

It currently sits on my bureau, displayed as proudly as any child's model car or elderly spinster's porcelain unicorn collection. Chalk up another room that now features LEGO.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Almost made me want to buy a HUMMER

Everyone has Christmas traditions- the games or movies that occupy a day spent in pajamas. At my in-laws house, we usually sit hunched over a puzzle for hours, inevitably searching for a single errant piece to complete the increasingly larger picture made of smaller and smaller pieces.

In an effort to escape the puzzle arm's race this year and out of a selfish desire (I know not really in the Christmas spirit) for some free labor, I brought over this Technic Off Roader set. The power-functioned HUMMER look-alike is a behemoth at 1,097 pieces. However, it gets better mileage than it's really life counterpart as it is powered by hand.

This ended up being a three-day project, built at length by four different builders. However, I got to experience the joy of watching my wife's family reconnect with LEGO as adults and see them learn to read the instructions and marvel over the power functions controlling the headlights, hydraulics, and winch. A loose system even developed where one of us acted as a parts monkey, gathering all the pieces for a given step, in order to free up the lead builder to snap together the Technic elements. It's great to build with others because it doesn't happen very often. And that is in the true holiday spirit- it turns out it is fun to share.

Monday, January 5, 2009

LEGO lamps are the new Lava lamps

It's easy to fall in love with Danish design. The neat, clean lines suggest that you will become not only more organized, but infinitely cooler.

Despite trips to Copenhagen and a week spent last September at modern design museums and cosmopolitan hotels, it was one LEGO-inspired light at the Hotel LEGOLAND in Billund that caught my attention. Bell-shaped acrylic lamps hung from the ceiling over the staircase that leads to the entrance to LEGOLAND. The clear lamps were filled, monochromatically, with red, blue, green, or yellow bricks.

And so, while searching for a nightstand lamp for our guest bedroom, I convinced my wife to attempt to emulate those lights. We found an empty jelly jar-based lamp that was intended to be filled by craft-minded individuals. Since there are no seashells in Kansas City, we made do with white LEGO bricks. My wife was happy because we had secured a lamp before out-of-town guests arrived. I was happy because the guest bedroom remained one of the few rooms in the house that I haven't managed to take over with some portion of my LEGO collection.