Set Review: 21009 Exo-Suit

In 1978, LEGO introduced the first Classic Space sets. I was 7 years old and totally thrilled. Now LEGO has returned at long last to that theme with the new 21109 Exo-Suit set from LEGO IDEAS.

I guess that this isn’t the first new Classic Space set recently… or even this year! That honor could arguably go to the 70816 Benny’s Spaceship, Spaceship, Spaceship! from The LEGO Movie, which I also have enjoyed building. But since that was technically a movie themed set, I’m giving it to this one. First Classic Space set in decades!!

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“LEGO didn’t make those specialized parts when I was a kid”

Have you ever been talking about LEGO with someone who said “LEGO didn’t make those specialized parts when I was a kid”? It happens all the time at shows. Whenever we have a BayLUG exhibit at a model train show or museum or Maker Faire, or on the public day at Bricks by the Bay or other conventions, there are always adults coming through who look at the clever uses of parts in our MOCs and make a comment like this. Continue reading

Set review: 21108 Ghostbusters

One of the most exciting sets from LEGO of late is the 21108 “ECTO-1″ car from the movie Ghostbusters. This is the first LEGO IDEAS set that I’ve purchased (21109 Exo-Suit, which I’m even more excited about, is being shipped to me as I write this). For those who haven’t heard of LEGO IDEAS, it’s LEGO’s crowdsourcing platform, enabling fans to design sets and put them up for votes. It started off as CUUSOO, originally only in Japan but later expanded to the whole world. This set was designed by Brent Waller and submitted to CUUSOO in March of 2013. It got 10,000 votes and was turned into a LEGO set. There is a blurb in the back of the instruction book that tells the story.

This set comes in much nicer packaging than most LEGO sets. The box has a hinged lid that can be reclosed. It’s great for keeping the set in the box after it’s built (It fits if you take the roof off).


The building instructions are unusual too – they come in a nicely bound book which starts off with text – a few pages about the movie and the car, in English, French, and Spanish. Throughout the book there are scattered quotes, in all three languages of course, from the film. Most LEGO sets have instruction booklets that are staple-bound, not book-bound like this, and have few if any actual words. The book is nice quality but it doesn’t stay open very well, and the pages are printed with a black background which looks nice, but it can be very hard to pick out the details of the darker colors (at least the black parts have white outlines). For example the first thing you build (as always) is the minifigs, and it’s very hard to tell the different dark brown hair pieces apart. Also since the book is rather small it only has one or two steps per page typically, so it has over 110 pages (which is part of why it doesn’t like to stay open). It looks nice, but a larger page size would have easily fit in the box, and a lighter background would make building easier.


The first thing we build is the minifigs and a little stand for them, with yellow and black stripes like in the ghost trap from the film. It features a 2×2 curved slope with the Ghostbusters logo printed on it, mounted using a clever combination of headlight bricks and one of the new 1×2-1×2 bracket pieces, a SNOT (Studs Not On Top) technique I will have to remember – the first of many in this set I think.


After that you build the car, starting with the chassis. For the most part it’s a pretty ordinary car, as far as LEGO building techniques go, though there are a few interesting parts uses, SNOT side panels, and the side windows are mounted in a novel way – see below. The front and back include printed “ECTO-1″ license plates (yay no stickers!) and metallic silver grille and bumper parts. I wish LEGO still made chrome parts though, as those would be perfect for this model.

New parts / colors

The 1×1 round plate with a hollow stud, which I’ve only seen before in white in LEGO games, appears in this set in dark red. It is used in the minifigs’ ghost guns, and inside the vehicle where the windows are mounted. This part is only allowed to be used in places where a solid-stud 1×1 round plate can’t work, but I’m glad to see it is still being made. There are some situations where it’s really handy for mounting parts together in odd ways in a confined space.

The 3×4 plate with 4 studs, which I’ve only seen in black in collectible minifigs, is now in light stone grey, used inside the car and not just to pose minifigs. I am not sure how useful this part really is, but it’s always fun when the designers give us something novel – really, 4 2×3 plates would have worked just fine instead of 2 of these.

Clever techniques

The car has side-facing studs all down the length of it, and I was struck by the clever arrangement of the brackets used to provide a uniform studs-out surface to build the side panels on. For most of it, this is done using brackets, but above the rear wheels there are some side-facing bricks that are situated to line up smoothly with the brackets. A brick with studs on the side, with a regular brick attached, is equivalent to a panel mounted one stud further outbound, and this allows space for the rear wheels. Nice.


The side windows are attached with a clever technique. In between panes there are plates with L-shaped bars, which are the only attachment point.  These are connected to clips inside the vehicle, allowing the windows to be mounted at an angle.



The last part of this build is the roof, which is full of great greebling. Just like in the movie where the roof of the car is piled high with paranormal-fighting gear, the LEGO model is packed with brightly colored equipment. The techniques behind them are fairly simple, but the effect is really good.


If you enjoy the movie Ghostbusters, 1950s era ambulances, or just like clever SNOT and greebling techniques, this is the set for you.

Bricks by the Bay 2014

Our annual LEGO convention here in the bay area, Bricks by the Bay, just happened! I was so busy organizing it that I’m afraid I never got around to posting a blurb on my blog about it – hope you heard about it through other means and were there! It was a huge event, expanding to add a second ballroom, and adding an extra day (Thursday) for a new workshop program. We almost doubled last year’s attendance on the public day (about 4500 vs 2500 last year) though our convention attendance was down.

I’d like to announce the dates for next year’s convention, but we don’t have a firm commitment on the dates yet. The most likely dates are July 16-19, but we can’t be sure until we have a contract from the hotel. The theme for next year will be “Monsters” and we will be also making a special effort to highlight models with lighting effects similar to what they do at Brickworld in Chicago and BrickFair back east, shutting off the convention center lights for a few hours in the evening to let people enjoy the lit-up MOCs (My Own Creations). So start planning your monsters, especially ones with light-up effects!

I didn’t take photos at the convention, but here are some links to galleries that others have posted:

If you have some to add, post a link in the comments.

Trip Report: Brickworld 2014

I went to Chicago a couple of weeks ago to attend the Brickworld LEGO convention, one of the largest such events in the world. As you probably know I am the president of Bricks by the Bay, our local convention here in the San Francisco bay area, and it’s good to get out and visit other conventions to network, pick up new ideas for our event, and just see what the rest of the AFOL (Adult Fan of LEGO) world is doing. This was my third Brickworld; I had gone in 2009 and 2011.

I arrived Wednesday evening at the convention and checked into my room. They were having a reception in the hotel bar area, and I hung out there until after midnight chatting with people, including convention organizers from Brickworld, BrickFair, and PhillyBrickFest, and the editor of BrickJournal. They had provided pizza for the reception, but I’m lactose intolerant, so I ordered a chicken sandwich from the restaurant.

Thursday morning I went down to the convention area and got my badge. I looked in on the Great Ball Contraption workshop briefly and went to breakfast in the hotel restaurant with some friends including a guy from the Netherlands I had met the last time I went to Brickworld.

After breakfast I went up to my room and worked on my slides for the talk on Brick Geometry that I was scheduled to give the following morning. Once I had that ready to go I went back down to the convention and sat in on the tail end of the animation workshop being presented by David Pagano and David Pickett. David Pagano is going to be giving a workshop and keynote speech at Bricks by the Bay so I wanted a preview of his style and content. After the workshop we talked a bit about BBTB and what he’s going to be doing there.

At that point it was lunchtime and the World Cup opening game was on, so I went to the hotel bar and hung out with friends watching Brazil’s first game. Following the game I went down to the exhibit hall and wandered around talking to people and checking out the vendors and exhibits as they were being set up.

Later that evening I attended the opening ceremony, featuring David Robertson, author of Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry which is a story about the business turnaround made by the LEGO company about ten years ago, when they were sinking towards bankruptcy and are now growing wildly. I had seen essentially the same speech at BrickCon in Seattle last year, but it was still good and he touched on a few different points this time.

Immediately following the opening ceremony, we had a build challenge sponsored by BrickLink where everyone was given a small baggie of parts and 45 minutes to build anything we wanted. I hadn’t signed up for the event in advance, but they had extra kits so I was able to build one. I built a small bird.

When that was done I took it to the exhibit hall, and then went and got my camera and started photographing things. I took pictures of all the BrickLink Challenge entries, and started going around taking pictures of MOC displays and vendors as they were mostly set up at this point.

Friday morning, I had to give my talk at 9am, so I went down early for breakfast and then went to the room I had been assigned. There was some delay due to the projector not being in the room yet, but once I got going it went over really well. I’ll post an entry here shortly with a link to my slides from the talk.

Once my talk was over I spent the rest of the morning going to various talks and roundtable sessions. I attended a roundtable session about BrickLink, where we basically spent the entire time brainstorming about things that need to be done to improve the site. I also went to the tail end of a talk about the LEGO Movie.

I took a lot more pictures of models in the exhibit hall before and after lunch. I ate while watching the World Cup in the hotel bar again. Around 5 I went to my room and was feeling really exhausted so I took a little nap, then back downstairs to take more photos.

I ran out of battery power in my camera that evening and went into full panic mode when I couldn’t locate my charger!! I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to complete my mission of photographing every MOC display without being able to recharge my camera, and I started researching local camera stores, posting on the Brickworld Facebook group, and asking people at the exhibit hall if they had a Panasonic camera charger I could use. I even had an announcement made on the PA system that evening, and again the next morning, looking for someone with the right kind of charger. Friday night I gave up and joined some people playing Cards Against Humanity.

Eventually, David Pickett got the word Saturday morning, and it turned out he had the right kind of camera. He went out to his car and got it for me, and I ran it up to my room and started charging my camera.

After all that, I remembered something. When I flew to Chicago, I had decided to put my camera bag in my suitcase. But because of the possibility that the suitcase might get lost, I carried my camera in my carryon backpack — and I had also tossed the battery charger in my backpack too. Friday night I had looked all throughout my suitcase and camera bag, but totally forgot about the backpack. After I got David Pickett’s charger I suddenly remembered this and sure enough, it was in my backpack all along! Somehow holding his charger in my hand may have triggered a memory of putting it into my backpack. When I went back downstairs I sheepishly told David the story and gave him his charger back.

I went back to the exhibit hall to take pictures. The crowds were there because it was open to the public but I was still able to take some shots over people’s shoulders and through gaps in the crowd. I took a video of the Great Ball Contraption in operation. One of the volunteers working the booth held up the bridge for the start of my video and I walked all the way around the layout. Only I had failed to properly engage video mode, so I ended up with just a snapshot of her, and was just watching the viewfinder doing nothing as I worked my way around all the people. Dumb me. Anyway I did another take, this time with the video running properly, and this time I was inside the crowd barrier so I didn’t have to deal with working around all the people. I’ll try to get that up on YouTube soon.

After being in the crowded hall for a while I was hungry and tired, so I got take-out from the hotel restaurant and went to my room to watch World Cup soccer (Costa Rica v. Uruguay).

I went back down to the exhibit hall after 4pm to be in the group photo. We brought as many people as we could into  a cluster around the Great Ball Contraption display, and Joe Meno from BrickJournal went up to a little balcony overlooking the exhibit hall and took a photo of everyone. I did more photos, except for a brief pause when they showed The LEGO Movie to go see the start of that.

At 10pm they shut off the lights in the exhibit hall, and all the models that have light effects in them were able to be fully appreciated. Lots of people had LED lighting, glow sticks, blacklight, etc. in their displays and these looked great with the lights off. I took photos of most of them, but they didn’t all show up as well in the pictures as in real life. I ran out of camera battery power and space on my card just as I finished those pictures so I went up to my room to upload photos and charge my camera battery. It was already like midnight but I went back downstairs anyway to take yet more photos. I finally got everything and went up to bed around 4am.

Sunday morning I slept in late, and hung out during the public hours, then went to closing ceremony.

At the closing ceremonies when they announced the winners I was surprised to hear my name as the grand prize winner of the BrickLink building challenge! Amazing since I only did the contest on a whim and didn’t really put a lot of effort into it…

Finally, it was time to go home. I shared a taxi to the airport with a couple people from Seattle, and flew home. My flight home was delayed due to heavy winds at SFO, but eventually we landed and I realized due to the delay I had missed the last BART train. I ended up taking a SuperShuttle and got home around 2am.

My photos from Brickworld can be seen in an album on Flickr.

Back Online

You may have noticed this site has been down a lot lately.

The machine that hosted the Brickpile, along with BayLUG and Bricks by the Bay, along with some other personal domains that I and some friends owned, was hacked back in January, and then we got another site up briefly and it too was almost immediately compromised. But now this is the third try, this time hosted on Amazon EC3. Wish me luck.

Speaking of Bricks by the Bay, we’re ramping things up for the convention this year and I’m really excited about it. Come down to Santa Clara in August and spend a weekend immersing yourself in LEGO fan culture! The convention is Thursday through Sunday, August 7-10, 2014, with a Public Exhibition on Sunday. I’m putting the final touches on the registration system for this year now, and we’ll have it open shortly. Check out the Bricks by the Bay website for more information and I hope to see you there!

P.S.: I’m also going to be at Brickworld in Chicago this year, and later in the year BrickCon in Seattle. If you’re going to be there, look for me.

Advent 2013 Review

Merry Christmas! The 24 days of LEGO Advent Calendars (Friends (set# 41016), City (60024), and Star Wars (75023)) are over, and here’s a review of all that we got…

Here we have all 72 models (3 calendars x 24 days each) laid out on a towel-covered table. The pics that follow show the models and parts in various combinations. Click each image for a larger view (on Flickr).

Just the minifigs.

Christmas trees, hearth, lamppost, and gifts.

Friends Advent Calendar models.

City Advent Calendar models.

Star Wars Advent Calendar models.

Finally, we have plenty of spare parts. Whenever there is a smaller part such as a 1×1 round plate or tile, you will often see one or two extras included along with it… I’ve shown you the extras for each day as we’ve gone along, but here they all are collected together.

First, Friends spare parts:

Next, we have the City spare parts:

Finally, Star Wars:

Advent 2013 Day 24

The final entry in the 2013 Advent Calendars, on Christmas Eve.

We get two Santas: a traditional one from City (with a cool Santa hat!) and Santa Fett from Star Wars. The Friends entry, however, is a really plain (if large) Christmas gift. I would have preferred a Friends figure with a Santa hat.

That concludes the 2013 Advent Calendar series … look forward to another series of them next December. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all! I’ll be back tomorrow with a review of the things we found in the calendars.