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.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Star Wars, The Bible, and BrickCon

Fridays, like Jambo Safari, are for round-ups. And so here through the magic of Google Alerts and a man pushing the button every 108 minutes in the hopes of avoiding a blackout for 137 seconds are the latest LEGO finds.

The first is a review from Wired of Lego Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary -- a compendium of LEGO sets, facts, and movie descriptions. And just like the Swimsuit edition, the other models were devastated to learn that Darth has secured the cover...again.

The second is The Huffington Post discovering the Brick Testament -- the Bible stories animated in LEGO bricks online and in print. The last Brick Testament update was back in June -- the final four illustrated stories from Revelation. Let us hope that this was not an end to the updates in a prophetic art and life moment.

And the third is from Fast Company, which has a sweet round-up of it's own, covering BrickCon 2009 in Seattle via photo slideshow. A round-up within a round-up -- do they cancel each other out? Or is it like when you eat the cow and only get 10 percent of the energy that the cow got from the grain it ate?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Toys and gender roles in Sweden

We should all be as courteous as Swedish children -- a group of sixth graders criticized Toys R' Us for portraying boys as active and girls as passive in their advertising. The money quote on the childrens' quest to eliminate stereotypical gender roles is student Moa Averin's contention that "guys want to be princesses sometimes."

The kids took their case to the Reklamombudsmannen -- a regulatory agency which monitors marketing and advertising in Sweden. The agency issued a public reprimand of Toys R' Us for the 2008 Christmas Catalogue.

In 2008, Sweden's Trade Ethical Council Against Sexism in Advertising argued that Lego catalogue advertisements showing girls in a pink room and boys in a blue room was sexist as well.

Now whether Sweden is more sensitive to issues of gender identity than the rest of the world or just overeacting is for you to decide.

Photo by bfishadow.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

AFOLs go mainstream?

I've always viewed the world of minifig customizers and brick modders as separate from the world of LEGO-inspired crafts (LEGO cufflinks, earrings, etc...). But then I stumbled across photos from BrickCon 2009 on CNET and saw pictures of LEGO jewelry for sale at the adult fan of LEGO convention this past weekend in Seattle.

Does this mean that the mainstream has come to AFOL conventions or is just a question of a business opportunity? There is always a mix of hardcore fans and parents just taking their kids to see bricks because of public days -- when the regular folks are allowed into the convention to walk amongst the town and train, space, castle, and zombie layouts. And what might interest one group would likely send the other group screaming.

It does make me think about building a pair for my wife...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Michael Chabon writes about LEGO and creativity

You know you've made it when author Michael Chabon uses you to illustrate his point. So, if The LEGO Group was worried, it can rest easy.

Chabon's new memoir (in stores today), "Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son," is a series of slightly connected essays that assess his experiences as a child in an effort to understand why he became the man he is today.

In one of those essays, "Subterranean," Chabon attempts to talk about his life as a writer, which apparently began as an exhilarated child rummaging through his grandfather's basement. And as he delves into the genesis of his own creativity, Chabon wonders about the creativity of the next generation. To send home his point, he discusses the box of LEGO bricks that suggested open-ended play in his youth as compared to the ordered kits that stifle creativity and are dominant in toy stores today.

I understand Chabon's point, but the LEGO kits that exist today are in a far different world -- one in which the do-it-yourself movement encourages hacking and the Internet provides countless examples of alternative builds. So while he may contend that all of those resources end up limiting our creativity by focusing our imagination on something that already exists, I believe that seeing what others have done, only inspires people to further greatness and innovation. Also, it's a lot more interesting to build inside a community, than on an island.

And at the end of the day, whether you buy the bricks in a set or in bulk -- they all end up jumbled in a pile -- ready to be turned into something else.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Proudly celebrating Bricktober

Most of the time it just feels like we're adults playing house. I'm bad about putting away my toys -- there are LEGO bricks all around my office and the living room -- and we occasionally have ice cream for dinner.

But Sundays are adult days. We sit down with the daily paper and morning coffee for coupon time -- clipping and remarking on coupons like two fussy old ladies. While most of this settles on the mundane (would our dog enjoy a treat shaped like a football that tastes like bacon?) or the out-of-reach (I'm looking at you, oversized plasma television), occasionally you discover real inspiration from coupons -- like a sale on Precious Moments figurines.

And this Sunday marked the finest moment of Coupon Time in the brief and celebrated history of the weekend paper tradition -- the announcement of Bricktober at Toys "R" US, where apparently all LEGO sets are 30 percent off this month. Gentleman, start your bank accounts...

Photo by hyku.

Friday, October 2, 2009

BrickCon 2009 has begun

BrickCon 2009 has begun... it's fun to read that in an ominous voice... (insert ominous voice here, a la beginning of Laser Tag session or Mortal Kombat announcer).

The annual adult fan of LEGO convention in Seattle last year was the first convention that I brought something I'd built. The buzz on a convention prep day is perhaps the best of the entire weekend (sans the moment when The LEGO Group reveals a new set for the first time). People start arriving from around the world.

As LEGO User Groups and solitary fans wheel in container after container of what they've built on handtrucks or in hands. It is a visual tailgate, where your mind gets overstuffed on the creativity of your fellow convention participants.

It also marks a transition point. The convention is still private, but the public viewing days will begin tomorrow. And then comes the appreciation, frustration, and solid mass of people experiencing the joy of seeing just how much you can do with a few bricks and some imagination.

To those of you battling zombies in the LEGO Apocafest or building viper recreations from Battlestar Galactica, I offer you the same wish -- good hunting.

Photo by Dunechaser.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A crowdsourcing experiment: What's the title?

We're talking book titles today. Well, actually just one book title -- the title for the book attached to this blog that will arrive on store shelves on May 10, 2010.

There's a favorite -- what would be called the "working title," but there's also some room for imagination. So, this is my first attempt at crowdsourcing -- feel free to send this to the crowds.

Here's your elevator pitch: Journalist Jonathan Bender spent a year discovering the world of the Adult Fans of LEGO, while getting ready to build a family of LEGO lovers himself. And he never would have made it out of Malaysia, if not for his plucky robot sidekick, Glitchy.*

If it's in the comments and it's the title -- you're getting a free copy and a LEGO set in the theme of your choosing. If it is a pun on my last name -- you owe me a steak dinner and a chrome Darth Vader.

*Glitchy's not in this book. He's in the sequel.

Photo by Oskay.