Friday, March 26, 2010

LEGO Is All Around Us

Let's just say, for argument's sake, that I've seen Love Actually. It was on a television in the airport once and I had to stay by the gate or my wife was watching it will I was grilling shirtless in the backyard and I saw it projected through the reflection of the window.

Okay, you broke me. I love that movie. What? I mean, I've never heard of it; but I hear it's lovely for girl scouts to get together and watch. Anyway, the movie features a surprise hit -- "Christmas Is All Around Us," in one of the myriad plots. The song is a wonderfully inane celebration of how the holiday is seemingly everywhere.

It seems apropos for today's post because it seems like right now, LEGO is all around us...Granted, I'm probably fairly well-attuned to LEGO goings on and have an army of friends and family to dig through the Internet to find what I missed, but yesterday felt fairly ridiculous.

I turn on the television -- Brick artist Nathan Sawaya is on the Today Show. I turn on the radio and the host is talking about how he stepped on his kid's LEGO brick and boy did that hurt, while his co-host brays a donkey laugh. I walk out my front door and a giant minifig attacks me, looking for my pills, which is what all malevolent robots want. This paragraph may have been a game of two truths and a lie.

The point is that I think we may be at the nexus of LEGO's pop culture influence, which will likely peak in May with the release of the book. And since the joy storm is coming, you might as well take a chance on love by running to the airport, learning a foreign language, kissing your secretary or your best friend's wife. Maybe just the first two?

Image via Lilymeister.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Let's all go to BrickMagic

Circle May 7, 8 and 9 on your calendars, race car fans. I'm assuming that everyone is a race car fan and that this term is like saying "champ," or "slugger."

The second weekend in May is BrickMagic -- a new adult fan of LEGO convention being held in Raleigh, North Carolina, and yours truly is headed there with a bag of bricks and a bag of books. I'll be a much smaller Santa, although I'm not sure which bag is for the good kids and which is for the not-so-nice ones. I guess it depends on whether or not you like to read.

For the visual learners in the crowd, Nathan Sawaya -- the brick artist who made the book's cover -- will be there building something spectacular and meeting the good folks who come to the convention and public display days.

I've been off the convention circuit for a year, so I don't know whether to pack a bathing suit or start ordering Sloe Gin Fizzes. But I'll be there, book in hand, glad to meet you.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The rights of dads

There are certain inalienable rights extended to fathers. They have the right to circle endlessly looking for the closest parking space, fart without remarking upon what just happened or expecting others to do so, and eat an ice cream bar on the car ride home when they go out to buy ice cream for the entire family.

I'd like to add one more. I think it's the right to buy toys for oneself when errand shopping at Target. Faced with a short list of household essentials that most definitely didn't include LEGO bricks, I somehow ended up coming home with an Army Men on Patrol set (which incidentally is on sale at Amazon right now -- via The Brothers Brick).

And that is my Toy Story.

Image via Yupa Sama.

Monday, March 22, 2010

O is for...

The days of the door-to-door encyclopedia salesman may have passed us by, but that doesn't mean you still can't enjoy the Brick Encyclopedia in 26 easy installments. We're up to the letter, "O", and if you love your kids, you'll read this passage.

O is for...

Octopus, Dr.
-- The many-armed villain from Spiderman; he, like Alfred Molina, is just a bit misunderstood.

Ole Kirk Christiansen -- The Danish woodworker who founded LEGO. He loved practical jokes and created one of the most successful family businesses in history.

Obi Wan Kenobi -- A Jedi with a beard worthy of the World Beard and Mustache Championships. The man you go to when you need to hide droids.

Ostrich jockey -- In another life, this might have been my destiny. Who wouldn't want business cards with your name and the title -- Ostrich Jockey.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Will Leitch on dads, baseball, and Lost

When I set out to write LEGO: A Love Story, I thought it was going to be solely about building with LEGO bricks in an attempt to become a master builder. But just as life found a way in Jurassic Park -- elements of my own life leaked into the picture.

And in the process of building again with my dad for the first time in nearly 20 years and considering what it would be like to build with a son or daughter of my own -- I've spent the last two years thinking more about fatherhood than I might have imagined.

I'm not the only one thinking about how fathers and sons connect, Will Leitch -- contributing editor at New York Magazine and founding editor of -- has a new book coming out May 4 on that very subject -- Are We Winning? Fathers, Sons, and the Great Game in a New Century.

He set out to write a book about how baseball is arguably the most innovative major sport and perhaps in the middle of a true golden age -- and yet his story wound up being grounded in how Leitch has bonded with his father through a love of the St. Louis Cardinals. The best laid plans somehow always end up being about our dads...

I caught up with Leitch by telephone to discuss his latest book and attempt (as a third generation Cubs fan) to understand the mind of a rabid Cardinals fan.

So how did the book come about?

I wanted to do a book about baseball -- it's my sport. This sprang from a piece I wrote for Fast Company two years ago. Every one has this notion that baseball is an old sport; but it's the one organization that seemed to figure out how to make money off the web. Baseball was about to pass the NFL in total revenue, there are more people watching baseball right now than any time in human history. I wanted to write about that idea.

I was going to find one game and let each half inning be representative of this new golden age. I chose three games at Wrigley [Field] and asked my dad to come with me (the first one was when the Cubs clinched the division over the Cardinals in 2008).

"Why would I want to go there, there's a bunch of Cubs fans there," was my dad's response.

But he came, as did my friend Mike, who had a new son that he was trying to make sure turned into a Cubs fan.

And talking to Mike about his son got me thinking about dads and baseball, because so many of my memories of baseball are tied up in my relationship with my dad. So this became a defense of baseball in the new era and my experiences as a fan.

Being friends with a Cubs fan and not trying to co-opt his son? You have more empathy for the Cubs than I might have expected for a Cardinals fan.

Well, you could make the argument this is the perfect book for Cubs fans. This book doesn't cover the postseason -- the Cubs have still clinched the division. Anything is still possible.

Were you ever going to be something other than a Cardinals' fan?

To some degree, it's just pure luck. My dad could have been a Brewers fan or an Orioles fan. But today, I get excited just looking at the Cardinals logo. It makes me the ideal person to be merchandized.

My dad used to joke that when I went off to collge, he didn’t care what I did as long as I didn’t bring a Cubs fan home. Then I did and I realized he was all talk. I lived in Los Angeles after graduating from college and have been in New York for a decade, but the Cardinals are central to my being.

I grew up an hour and 45 minutes from St. Louis. We'd line up and hour and half early to get bleacher tickets for $6. My dad would wake me up and say get this done and we’ll go to the ballgame. Those were the days when you could just do that.

When I was five or six, I was a bookworm and I didn't like sports very much. I was the kid that played on the t-ball team and held his bat upside down and ran to the wrong base. I'm sure my dad was a bit worried.

But then one day it just clicked. My dad said I was also into math and baseball has tons of numbers. It probably doesn't hurt that the Cardinals won the World Series in 1982. I thought that happened all the time. I didn't realize that it would take another 24 years for the Cardinals to win again. While that's not over 100 years, still...

Forget what I said about having empathy. I've always felt like men need an activity to connect. Do you think there's some truth to that idea?

The notion that the Cardinals are my relationship with my dad is not right. This is not Lost and Jack Shephard. We've never had a whole long conversation about why we can't communicate.

Baseball exists to avoid conversations like that. It's not touchy feely. It's just that at the end of the game, my dad knows I'm going to call to talk about it. The game and the Cardinals are a language all their own. It doesn't seem like bonding at all. If we started calling it bonding, we wouldn't do it.

With escalating ticket prices and so much competing for our attention, is it more difficult to find time to connect over baseball?

Baseball is tied into my notion of family. My dad and I watch three games, one weekend a year, although actually going to the games is a minor part of following the team.

I find it so easy. I can interact with beat writers online, watch the games on, all right from Brooklyn. So instead of asking him questions about what's happening, we can just talk because I'm watching the games just as he is.

What do you think it is about baseball that continues to draw you in?

The great thing about baseball is the idea that if my team wins, I’m happy and if my team loses, I’m sad. Life is hard and there are so many complications – all these weird moral choices you have to make throughout the day – baseball is not like that at all. And that’s a relief.

I have no idea if my love for baseball came from my dad loving it so much or if I just love baseball. But I know I love watching games with him.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I would like to enroll at LEGO Building School

Besides Hogwarts, it's time to add another dream school to my list -- LEGO Building School.

A virtual school created by Linus Bohman -- the man behind (a series of LEGO-related applications) -- the Web page jumps to the top of the list when it comes to providing answers to the every day questions from people building with LEGO bricks.

The Brothers Brick has an extensive interview with Bohman about the site. Here's his vision of what the LEGO Building School could be:

TBB: What are you especially hoping to accomplish with LBS? What needs do you think it meets?

LB: LBS was built to answer questions like “How do I become a better builder” or “What is SNOT?” The answers float around in the community, but they’ve been hard to find since the post-LUGNET community is so fragmented. I don’t believe we need a central place for communicating with each other – those things tend to work out anyway – but I do believe we need various central hubs for other things. TBB has largely filled the LEGO news niche, for instance. I intend for LBS to fill the learning niche, at least until something better comes along.

The menu is a simple toolbar, you can browse postings by lessons (building techniques, scales & standards, presentation) or keywords (minifig, sci-fi, color). The entire page acts like an older, wiser friend that knows more about LEGO building than you do -- pointing you to a series of authoritative articles or pictorials that would take considerably longer to discover on your own.

So go check out your virtual Mr. Miyagi -- there's not a link for how to build a figure doing a crane kick yet, but there is a questions box.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What the world Tweets about LEGO

Twitter is like Facebook in that both have the potential to vacuum away time without me realizing the sun has moved significantly in the sky. But a casual look at Twitter this morning (via Twitter Search) shows that I'm not the only one with LEGO bricks on the brain, which is comforting.

In just the past hour, there have been 186 Tweets (and that number will have gone up by the time I'm done typing this parenthesis). Road construction has been compared to LEGO bricks, pieces have been lost to the vacuum, and LEGO Star Wars appears to always be on everyone's mind. Below is a smattering of the most interesting, including photos from LEGO Universe, a terrifying vignette from Dexter, and the LEGO pit from South By Southwest.

@Wadey Wade: Toy Story Lego There goes the afternoon.

@BrockXerox: #Lego pictures from Lego universe at

@raqueldemeneses: RT @Cardoso: Dexter Lego.

@legodiem: Photo: Lots ‘o Legos (via TimmyGUNZ) The Lego pit at SXSW.

@adampj87: I favorited a YouTube video -- Lego Man Prank Call.

Image via Tveskov.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

If you only get one smartphone this year...

It might not fit in your pocket, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't covet the latest Blackberry Tour model. Brick artist Nathan Sawaya -- one of nine Certified LEGO Professionals in the world -- has made a five-foot LEGO sculpture of a Blackberry Tour with a working video screen (the picture above has one of the pieces from his traveling museum exhibit, "The Art of the Brick").

Sawaya's Web site has additional photos and a video that shows the smartphone in action. You probably recognize his work from the finest book cover ever made.

Monday, March 15, 2010

All the single ladies, all the single ladies

I'm not sure I could quite pull off this look -- but I do think I need more accessories in my life. Barney's New York is selling a $200 sterling silver LEGO ring. The collaboration from Dee & Ricky and Max & Maggie allows the wearer to change out the LEGO component (scorpion, flower, brick) of the ring depending on their mood. It's a slightly more time-intensive mood ring -- although probably more effective in displaying your current state of mind. Mood rings tend to be like surprise-flavored lollipops -- always a muddy purple color.

Since this is a ladies ring and $200, I believe I won't be asking for this one for my birthday. But Dee & Ricky are at the top of my interview list -- the Staten Island twins are in a world of their own making. With LEGO bricks on the runway and in the Museum of Modern Art, the tiny plastic bricks have to be recognized as a design force at some point. Maybe this is that moment.

Image via Barney's New York.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spring Training and LEGO stadiums

With friends at Spring Training and the hope that this is the year the Cubs will put it together -- it feels right to blog about the art of putting together a baseball stadium out of LEGO bricks.

I'm not the only one feeling this way, consider The Star-Ledger's Yankees beat writer Marc Carig's Tweet from yesterday:

In college, I built Tiger Stadium out of Legos. When my pal, a Japanese exchange student, knocked it down, he yelled "Godzilla!" I was mad. [via The Times Union]

For my money, the stadium standard has been set by LEGO Certified Professional Sean Kenney -- who put together a scale recreation of Yankee Stadium (pictured above) with more than 45,000 LEGO bricks in 2009. You can see more photos here and even buy prints for that Yankees fan or beat writer in your life.

[Image via]

Thursday, March 11, 2010

LEGO City: Big Apple Edition

If shoemaker's elves ever went into brick-laying, this is the kind of project it would be easy to imagine them getting behind. German Artist Jan Vormann recently brought his public installation, "Dispatchwork," -- wherein he fills in the holes in crumbling walls with LEGO bricks -- to New York City [via AJ].

And in true big city fashion, most of the bricks had been removed by the time he had finished repairing holes around Central and Bryant Park. While some expressed wonderment, perhaps the quintessential New York response came from Jackie Rubenstein, who hadn't seen the bricks despite passing them for several days in a row:

"That's a New York thing. There are random things all across the city, but we're so quick getting around that we tend not to notice them."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I'm not sure what flavor Han Solo is...

I didn't realize how much of my knowledge of different LEGO bricks was connected to my sight, until I tried to put together a small LEGO police car in a blind build competition.

Now if you took away my hands and my sight -- I think I'd be in an even bigger bind. But that's not the case for a German teenager -- who comes to us courtesy of a television show in her homeland. She apparently can correctly identify Star Wars minifigures just by putting them in her mouth -- which considering LEGO bricks can be a choking hazard, I would not recommend trying at home.

I won't spoil how she does for you, but rest assured it's worth the four minutes and 36 seconds.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Couple friends and LEGO bricks

I've written about the concept of couple friends for newspapers -- wherein you can struggle to find couples that match up well with both you and your wife. And how the entire process is all too much like dating with rejection and the post-date analysis that goes on much too long.

Well, I didn't see this as a benefit until recently, but I have become a more desirable couple friend. It's funny to see husbands light up when I start to talk about LEGO bricks. And if the plastic bricks aren't enough of a grabber, I've always got Star Wars and Indiana Jones to fall back on before we get to the standard non-LEGO troika of beer, video games, or sports.

Men need an excuse to hang out and playing with plastic bricks turns out to be a great excuse. Although most spouses have no idea what their husband is getting into...

Image via Palo Alto Online.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lights, camera, brick action

I don't admit it, few adult fans do, but when I'm alone with a LEGO car or collection of minifigures -- I'll set them in motion and act out some sort of scene on my desk. These are toys, they are meant to be characters in an imagination play.

What I have yet to do is film one of those delightful battles or epic quests -- capturing my imagination via stop motion animation. But others have, a "LEGO" search on YouTube turns up 499,000 results...

And now, potentially for the first time ever (feel free to offer up a correction Internet), a film festival celebrating animated brick films -- BrickFlix -- is set for May 5 in Durham, North Carolina, just one day before the Brick Magic convention starts in nearby Raleigh. It's only a matter of time before we see the fourth category for shorts at the Oscars.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Nathan Sawaya built my book cover

That's the official cover above -- so get out your photo printers and your framing equipment. This one's a keeper.

And that's not an optical illusion -- the actual title is made of LEGO bricks. In fact, the whole cover is a LEGO sculpture that sprang from the hands of LEGO artist Nathan Sawaya. He works with plastic bricks the way that others use clay or paint. His collection is currently part of a traveling museum exhibit called "The Art of The Brick," which will challenge your perceptions about the limits of building with LEGO bricks.

This is a perfect encapsulation of something that I noticed while researching the book that continues to fascinate me to this day -- that adults are capable of creating mind-boggling structures and mosaics from such a simple object. So here's to Nathan, I could have not asked for a more unique or interesting cover for my first book.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

How you know you've made it

When I thought about the book coming out, I was primarily excited for two things -- to see it on the shelves of libraries and in bookstore displays. At both, I intend to stand close to the book, either remarking on its singular ability to change your life or suggesting that candy is hidden inside.

This morning brought an unexpected surprise via e-mail, which I would be remiss if I failed to express the odd mix of excitement and anxiety that sprang forth from yours truly. You, singular reader in Papau New Guinea (hello, by the way), can own your very own advance proof of LEGO: A Love Story -- courtesy of the good auction people at eBay.

So take a break from bidding on porcelain unicorns and Jonathan Bender jerseys to bid on the book -- there's free candy hidden inside.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

All conferences should be held around such tables

It's too late for my home. There are LEGO bricks in almost every room and they're not going anywhere soon. The other day I compared it to the movie villain in "The Blob," it is just the slow, inexorable takeover of my house by tiny plastic bricks. Inevitably I try to run, but I trip and the next thing you know, my pants pockets are full of bricks and I've staked my claim to half of a bookshelf.

And since this is a hobby/lifestyle choice/obsession that extends beyond my home -- you will join us -- I figured you could at least look cool with a LEGO conference table. The one pictured above was designed for a British advertising agency Boys and Girls by design firm Abgc. There's a making of video here.

As soon as I'm done building my LEGO phone, I'll totally ring you to set up that meeting.

Image via freshome.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Miniland Jon and Kate

The Kansas City half of the book trailer is in the can -- or whatever you call digital film before it is edited -- and the second secret location is also complete.

Now before you get to appreciate the evil genius lair/Ikea repository that is my office -- I wanted to give you a sneak peek at two of the potential stars of the video -- Miniland Jon and Kate.

Two strong, brick-stacking hands put together these two figures on Sunday night. Kate's got braids and stockings, while I appear to be wearing a shirt that is clearly fashion forward (either that or the result of grabbing whatever bricks I had on hand in the 30 minute window I had to build).

Note, these are built to Miniland scale -- the recreations of cities that are the best part of LEGOLAND theme parks -- which means that Kate and I are now six-feet tall.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The coming attractions

Later this morning, I'll be in front of the camera for the book trailer.

What's a book trailer, Jonathan? That's a good question, Internet. Pull up your office chair or subway seat and I'll tell you. A book trailer is typically a short video from two to four minutes that introduces the concept of a book and, on occasion, the author who wrote it.

They can be filmed like movie previews (such as Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters -- which I don't want to ruin, but has sea monsters) or be animated (a la The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman).

As for what LEGO: A Love Story will look like on video -- that will be decided today. I know there will be LEGO bricks and you'll get a chance to see where I build and write. But other than that, who knows? This is is LEGO after all, so anything is possible...

Image via FusedFilm.