Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In Praise of Legos

Yes, I hear they are officially called "Lego Bricks" but they are and will always be Legos to me and I suspect many others. They were my go-to toy and construction material of choice for many years. Their rivals could not really compete, although I had nothing against K-Nex, which remain quite appropriate for the mechanically-inclined. Yet Legos were smaller, more voluminous, varied, and versatile than than anything else, including their larger cousins, Mega Bloks.  Likewise Lincoln Logs were only suitable for building forts. Besides, one never had enough Lincoln Logs to build more than one house, fort, et cetera. A bucket of Legos was far more useful. Now if you had both, well then you had whole world of potential, i.e. an epic battle between the Lego vehicles and the Lincoln Log fort. Exhibits A and B:

The work of your humble blogger, dates unknown. 
The vehicle opened up in the back and front, has a crane on top with a crane-operator's 
area, two arms in front, and. . .

As you might infer from the photos, the joy of building with Legos was of course the limitless possibilities. Before the days of themed sets you quite simply had a bucket of pieces and from that would spring cars, boats, houses, and structures of endless variety. Eventually I grew to appreciate the themed sets, which gave you all of the fancy pieces, the translucent windows, the hinges, wheels, et cetera with which you could create increasingly elaborate structures. Such sets were always badly designed, though, always structurally weak and usually lacking suitable egress and defensive capabilities.

By nature Legos forced the user to adapt to the limitations of the pieces you have at hand. They also gave one the opportunity for experimenting with different designs. Some were too fragile, some wasted pieces, others were aesthetically displeasing. Unfortunately one could seldom achieve a perfect aesthetic since you rarely had each piece in precisely the needed color. Yet one continued to revise. Exhibit C.

Version 2 of "Bridge" with improved pylons and matching ramps.
(Version 1 met with a terrible accident.)

Sure, not everything worked and looked great, but Legos asked me to bring something to the experience of using them. They were not a self-contained experience I simply consumed, but rather were, to use the cliché of today's dutiful parents, "open-ended." They could be anything and what they became would reflect the person building. Rather than pacify they force one to be thinking, creative, and engaged.

Gladly I can say Legos and the Lego community are thriving today. The "Mindstorms" series incorporates programmable electronics creating the potential for rather remarkable machines. Lego competitions are common. Simply searching "lego" on YouTube will surprise you with a variety of uses for the simple plastic bricks, from firearms to stop-motion short films. Legos are not simply objects for amusement, but vehicles for exploration. They're also a lot of fun.


  1. Concur! Have you seen this--an entire functioning house built of Lego. I saw a documentary about it and it was very clever.

  2. That's quite impressive! And the colors have patterns, unlike anything I ever made.

  3. Not to mention the functioning bathroom!