A few months ago I was sent a review copy of the book “The Cult of LEGO” by John Baichtal and Joe Meno. Although the book was published last November by No Starch Press, and it’s taken me a while to finish reading it… but I finally did, and here are my thoughts on it.
I’ve known Joe for years; he’s a regular at many of the major fan conventions on the east coast, and the editor of BrickJournal. He also ran the 2006 BrickFest in Washington, D.C., and when I was starting up the Bricks by the Bay planning process for our first convention in 2010, he provided a lot of great advice. I don’t know the other author, however.
This is a great coffee table book covering pretty comprehensively all aspects of the LEGO adult hobby. It’s not a single narrative though, from cover to cover, but rather each page pretty well stands on its own (in some cases the story might span 2-3 pages). This is perfect for picking it up, opening it to a random page, reading a page or two, then putting it back down again, but if you do try to read it continuously it comes off a bit jarring. I suppose as a coffee table book this is ideal, but it’s not how I like to read. The chapters or stories in the book seem like blog posts more than anything else, which is understandable as John Baichtal is a prominent blogger.
Most of No Starch Press’s LEGO books are squarely aimed at the LEGO hobbyist, but this one is not. It’s for the person who finds LEGO interesting, but isn’t a builder themselves, or maybe someone new to LEGO as a hobby. It’s perfect for someone who loves to come to the public day of a LEGO convention but would never attend the whole weekend.
The book is full of great pictures featuring a wide variety of creations and events from all over the world, spanning the last ten years and more. I like the fact that they don’t just highlight the latest and greatest, but creations that were featured on LUGNET 10 years ago are given equal billing with something from last year, showing the timelessness of LEGO as a medium. If you have a friend or family member who doesn’t understand your fascination with LEGO, sharing this book with them would go a long way toward redressing that disconnect. Combining Meno’s encyclopedic knowledge of the LEGO hobby and AFOL scene with Baichtal’s outsider point of view was a master stroke by the publishers, as it ensures accuracy and comprehensiveness while keeping it accessible and understandable by a non-AFOL.
It was out of date almost immediately after publication though, with the closure of DesignByMe and LEGO Universe and consequent changes to LDD, and the introduction of the new LEGO Friends line (and its attendant controversies in the media) being topics that were completely missed by the authors. In a rapidly evolving scene such as ours, that’s pretty much inevitable, however.
Every January for the past several years, BayLUG has had a meeting at the lovely home of member Dave Porter who has a huge personal layout on display. People bring their latest creations to show, and stuff to sell, and we have our annual first meeting of the year. This year we had elections for new club officers. Click the image for the full set of photos, or view them as a slideshow
I brought my 14 Friends sets that I had built for the “Fortnight of Friends” series to display, and people of all ages really enjoyed looking at the new parts and colors in the sets. The animals were particularly popular among the kids … in fact one of the little girls who apparently had not yet learned the meaning of private property had wandered off with the bunny, both kittens, and the hedgehog! When I noticed they were missing I started asking around and finally this little girl was answering very cagily that she thought she had seen them somewhere in Dave’s layout upstairs… I left the room along with her parents and a few minutes later she came back, having “found” them. It was all rather cute once I had resolved the mystery. But my stuff had been handled so much I felt no choice but to wash all the parts when I got them home. They’re drying as I write this, and I look forward to finding uses for all the new parts and colors…
By the way I have a huge backlog of parts to sort. Anyone want to come over and help me work through it?
The last day of BayLUG‘s annual “Living LEGO-cy” show and teardown took place on Sunday, January 15th. My pictures are available online. This is an event we do every year at the Museum of American Heritage in Palo Alto, CA, as a fundraiser for the club and for the museum. This year we had excellent attendance, with a peak of 841 people coming through on the 30th, which was the most people we’ve had in one day since we started keeping track (and charging $2 admission).
Here’s a group photo of club members taken during teardown. Click the photo to see the rest of the images, or view them as a slideshow.
Our next event is the Train Collectors AssociationCal-Stewart Spring convention, open to the public on Sunday March 4th, from 10:00am-2pm. It’s a toy train show and one of our favorite events of the year. Two weeks after that is the Bricks by the Bay 2012 convention – the convention runs Friday through Sunday, March 16-18, and is open to the public on Sunday the 18th.
This is the last of the “Fortnight of Friends” series, and is the biggest set by far in the Friends series, #3315, “Olivia’s House”.
It comes with three minidolls: Olivia and her parents, Peter and Anna. Peter is the only male minidoll in the entire product line, and the only one with traditional LEGO minifig hair instead of the new rubbery hair with a little hole in it. And for the last time I can report on the packaging of the minidoll parts, which I’m sure by now you’re tired of hearing about… The parents’ legs and Anna’s torso are in the easier to open bags, and the other three parts are in the stretchy plastic. I really wish LEGO would just skip those bags altogether, or if they have to package them that way, perhaps to keep the printing from scratching, they should use easier-to-open packaging. In general, all these plastic bags in LEGO sets are awful for the environment… I wish LEGO would switch to a different type of packaging that was “greener” and easier for kids to manage.
Speaking of bags, there are no fewer than seven bags in this set, and the instructions come in two books. Actually eight, because the large plates (8×16 and 16×16) are packaged in their own bag. We get two 16×16 plates, in tan and white, and six 8×16 plates, three each in pink and bright green. Bag #1 gives you all three minidolls and the parts to build the shell for half of the ground floor of the house, and uses the tan 16×16 plate. It’s a simple shell of a building and the next smallest of the bags.
The smallest is #2, which adds interior furniture to the house, making the room we just built into a living room. The first thing we do is open up the bag of red flowers and bugs, and put three red roses on the three Plate, Round 1 x 1 with Flower Edge (4 Knobs), which is a combination that works exceptionally well. Next we build the big screen TV – my version is switched off, as I don’t want to apply the stickers. Then we build a matching chair and sofa using a whole bunch of light purple curved slopes, which I am eager to find other uses for. The final thing is a coffee table, which strangely uses the flower stem that was created and set aside on page 1 of bag #1. Why they didn’t just include a flower stem in bag #2 perplexes me. But these new flower pieces are awesome and I am eager to find opportunities to decorate my MOCs with them.
Bag #3 uses the white 16×16 plate and builds the other half of the first floor, the kitchen. It includes a bag of light blue utensils – the same ones we saw yesterday in yellow for the café. There’s a lime green cabinet with white drawers, which you are to fill with forks and knives. There’s a delightful little blender. A 2×2 plate with one centered stud with a 2×2 radar dish on top makes a lovely base, a technique I must steal. The rest of the utensils get used to complete the kitchen: a skillet on the stove and a cake pan in the oven; a knife and fork in the sink; and a pink cupcake, an empty cupcake cup, a mixer, and a measuring cup fill the counters. We build a nice little refrigerator with a carton of milk inside, salt and pepper shakers on top, and shelves on the side. A table and chairs with plates, another cupcake, and fruit complete the room. At the end of this bag we connect it to the living room using Technic pegs, and that finishes the first instruction book.
The next thing we build starts book #2 with bag #4 and a pink 8×16 plate, and we build a girls bedroom with a faux balcony with a cute kitten perched on the rail, a vanity (including a white cabinet with one pink drawer) with perfume bottles and hairbrush, a highly impractical nightstand with an oversized book in it, and a bed with a purse on it.
The next build uses bag #5 and another pink 8×16 plate to build a bathroom to go along with Olivia’s bedroom. I’ve seen (and built) a lot of AFOL-designed toilets in MOCs, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in a LEGO set before. And the shower is ingenious – using the roll-up doors, mounted vertically, as a shower curtain or shower door. It also includes another cabinet piece, this time with two pink drawers.
At this point we have completed the first two floors, and next we tackle bag #6 to build the roof. Presumably Olivia’s parents’ room, and the hallways and stairs needed to get upstairs, are in the half of the house not included in this set… There is a sloped roof piece and a rooftop deck in this build. We start with the deck, featuring a nice trans-dark-pink umbrella, lounge chair, and a lovely plant using the new type flowers on a stem with a three broad leafed plant. This goes over the bathroom, and a sloped roof goes over the bedroom, giving it a vaulted ceiling. I love the way the sloped roof is built – you build a supporting structure using a large white arch for the peak and a couple of 1×16 bricks to support each of the levels of roof slopes.
The final bag uses the three 8×16 green plates to build a front yard for the house. First we build a small panel with the walk leading up to the front door, mailbox, a small vegetable garden, and a flower. Second, we build a segment that has a swingset, which minidolls can not properly use. In the instructions, Olivia is shown holding onto the swing with one hand gripping the pole on one side with her other hand free – I tried putting her on with both hands on the poles, and she can grip them but it’s about a millimeter out of line and you can visibly see the poles deflecting inward. I think that LEGO should have made the minidoll arms out of the rubbery material they used for the hair, lipsticks, and some other parts, which would have allowed the minidolls to be a lot more versatile in a lot of ways. After that we construct an elaborate barbecue, and then extend the module with another 8×16 green plate on which we build a table with a sausage (hot dog) on a plate, ketchup dispenser, and a wine glass with an orange thing on top (not quite sure what that’s supposed to be). There’s a very nice sunflower which I’d love to be able to make a large number of.
There are a lot of decorations in this set, but they’re all stickers sadly. I was really happy with the first few sets having so many printed parts, but the later sets are almost all stickers if you’ve been following these blog entries. I think the only part in this set with printing was a 1×2 tile printed as an envelope.
As I built each of the parts of this set, I accumulated all the plastic bags inside the bag that the large plates came in, and posed them for a shot (using one of the submodels for scale). I was really discouraged by the amount of extra plastic in this set in particular and LEGO sets in general. I’m not sure what could be done instead – I would definitely combine bags 1 and 2, and would like to avoid having a separate bag for the large plates, and bags for the minidoll parts that I’ve been railing against for the last two weeks seem wasteful to me.
Overall, this is a great model, and a great value for the price. For $70 we get a pretty big house with a lot of wonderful details. I’m tempted to buy one or two more of these sets and try to build out the rest of the house, with the parents’ bedroom and other omitted rooms.
Having built all 14 of these sets, I have a few overall things to say about the line. I’m not a girl, or a parent, so I can’t really speak about the sets from their points of view. But I can speak about them from the point of view of a LEGO fan who builds a lot of city/town models. I’m really excited about some of the new parts in this line, notably:
All the new color bricks, plates, and other parts
New flower and insect parts
Cabinets and drawers and other interior accessories
That’s the end of the Fortnight of Friends. I hope you have enjoyed my reviews of the sets.
Today is the penultimate day in the “Fortnight of Friends” series, with the second largest set in the line, #3188, “Heartlake Vet”. This set builds an animal clinic, with both pet and large animal (horse) sides, and features two minidolls, Mia (last seen on Day 6) and the veterinarian Sophie.
The minifigs come in a mix of packaging: one leg piece came in stretchy plastic, but both torsos and the other leg came in the regular LEGO bags which I find much easier to open.
This is another multi-step build, the first with 4 bags. The first step however uses both bags 1 and 2 along with sky blue 8×16 and 16×16 plates, to construct the main building. I love the curved pieces forming an awning attached to 1×4 SNOT (Studs Not On Top) bricks. The main building will be the pet cilnic.
Bag 3 adds the sign to the building and interior details. It includes a bag of flowers and bugs (the same assortment as seen in Olivia’s Tree House in day 10) but this time in light orange (an odd color for roses…). The flowers and bugs are used to build strange mutant plants that produce 3 different types of flowers from one plant – some shaped like bugs! Some of the plants are placed on Plate, Round 1 x 1 with Flower Edge (4 Knobs), which grips stud below it very well (almost too tightly), but doesn’t grip flower stems well at all – they fall off almost as readily as MegaBloks do. I like the fishtank (though since I don’t apply stickers, it wasn’t nearly as effective “empty”) but it seemed to me that the trans-light-blue panels are a little darker than old ones from my collection (It’s also a new mold – they have side reinforcements the old ones lack).
Bag 4 builds the livestock vet annex with a new door piece and new medical utensils (syringe, thermometer, ice bag, etc.). Inside, just over the door, is a clear cylinder whose purpose mystifies me, unless someone is playing a prank and it’s supposed to fall and dump some liquid on whomever is passing through…? The use of 1×2 bricks with grille patterns as hay might seem a little obscure to some kids.
All the decorations are done with stickers, sadly, except for the paw print 2×2 round tile, envelope tile, keyboard tile, and a strange 1×1 round cylinder with paw prints and a heart.
I love all the new animals though. Mia’s puppy is adorable, and the horse and hedgehog that come with this set are precious. However I am surprised LEGO failed to make the horses rideable – the old style horse has a 1 stud wide cutout, which a minifig can stand in, but these have a 2 stud cutout. However a minidoll’s legs are too long even for that to sit in, and they would look strange standing in it. It’s useful because the curved-top 2×2 brick can be used to fill in the opening, but still strangely unrideable. You’d think that the way young girls can obsess about horse riding, they’d have done a better job with this. It’s also disappointing that the horse’s necks aren’t hinged like the old minifig horses (and cows).
This set comes with two minidolls, Andrea (last seen in Day 3) and a new supporting character, Marie. Both came packed in stretchy plastic. This set reverses the objection I had to yesterday’s set about reinforcing racial streeotypes at least, with Andrea as the customer and blonde Marie as the worker.
There are three bags in this set, but it’s still a two-step build – you open both bags 1 and 2 and use those parts together for the first part, the building. Bag 3 adds interior details and curb appeal. The building sits on two 8×16 and one 16×16 plate in a new sky blue color. I really like the interior details, as someone who’s designed LEGO restaurants before (Sushi Bar most notably). The salt and pepper shakers, ketchup and mustard bottles, and soft serve ice cream machine are really nice. And there’s a great assortment of new minifig accessories – pie, skillet with spatula, forks, knives, plates, and cupcakes. Lots of nice parts and interior details here.
This set has both printed parts and stickers. Mostly it’s stickers, but there is a nice cash register piece that I think is a new pattern (on a 2×2 45° slope) and the $100 green 1×2 tile for the till, as well as a 1×1 brick with printing as an orange juice carton. All the signs are stickers, which I found disappointing, especially since we’ve already seen LEGO is perfectly capable of printing things like the 4×6 tile with studs around the edges. But I got lucky apparently, as my box had two sticker sheets!
Today is day 11 in our LEGO “Fortnight of Friends” series, and we tackle #3187, “Butterfly Beauty Shop”. This is the first LEGO Friends set I’ve done that has more than one minidoll in it… in this case, one of our main characters, Emma, and a new character, Sarah. Sadly, all the sign printing is done with stickers, which I didn’t want to apply, so the picture isn’t quite what is shown on the box…
Like the last few sets, this set comes in two bags. Bag #1 starts with a cute little water fountain and bench, then starts building the main building. It’s built on 8×16 pink plates, which is a new color/part combination that is nice to have. The architecture of this building reminds me of the old Paradisa sets from the 1990’s, which I’ve always liked.
As I mentioned above, this set comes with two minidolls. In bag #1, we get Emma. After a long drought of only getting minidoll parts in the stretchy, hard-to-open bags, Emma’s legs are in nice easy-to-open bags. But her torso, and both parts of Sarah (who comes in bag #2), are sadly in the stretchy plastic. I’ve gotten pretty good at opening the stretchy bags, by forcing the sharper corners of the dolls through the plastic, but I don’t think this packaging is good for kids to have to open. Most multi-part LEGO sets that have multiple minifigs give you all of them in bag #1, so this is a bit of a change.
With the second bag, you build up the top and interior of the shop. The interior features a bunch of new accessories. There’s a bag of light orange hair decorations and styling tools, and two little bags of lipsticks. There are four colors, and the two bags are identical. The lipsticks are in stretchy bags, but unlike the minidoll parts, the lipstick bags have easy-tear weak points and open easily. Why can’t they do this for the minidoll bags? The lipsticks are made of a rubbery material – grey rubber handles molded around colored rubber middles, which is a little weird. I would have expected the grey parts to be hard plastic.
As I mentioned above, almost all of the printed details are shiny metallic stickers (such as for mirrors, etc.), but there is a computer keyboard printed tile at least. I guess LEGO doesn’t have the technology to print shiny parts, at least in a cost-effective manner. I hate applying stickers.
I must say I have some qualms about this set overall though. I know they’re trying to win over girls to LEGO with this theme by putting construction sets into the “pink aisle” at toy stores. But I’m much more of a fan of something like Olivia’s Invention Workshop, which encourages girls to think about science, than the Beauty Shop, which just reinforces traditional stereotypical gender roles. I’m also a little uneasy about the racial message it sends, since it shows a white girl being waited on by a person of color… maybe I’m overthinking things – I dunno. What do you think?
Olivia makes her second appearance in the series so far with this set. She’s definitely the more tomboyish character in the series, and the one I can relate to the most. We’ll meet her again, and her parents, in the final set in a few days. She came in the stretchy bags, in case you’re keeping track. Besides Olivia, we also get a cute kitten and bird.
Like yesterday’s set and all the ones to come, it comes in the box with the bowed front. And like yesterday, we have a 2-part build. The first build is the cat box and the lower level of the tree – basically everything below the platform of the tree house itself. One curious feature that doesn’t make much sense is the hidden treasure. At the base of the tree you can see in the photo a small square area made of aqua colored 1x1x1 corner panels. Inside that box are two LEGO gems, and it is covered semi-discreetly by a tree branch. Also, oddly there is a bowl with a fish in it, and a carton of milk, just laying there on the lawn. I don’t think this shows a good example for children – fish and milk are both items that require refrigeration! I assume they’re meant as food/drink for the kitten. Anyway, I like this tree design, it shows a good fairly realistic shape, and offers a nice assortment of slope and half-arch parts in brown.
Bag #2 builds the rest of the kit – the treehouse platform, upper parts of the tree, and the birdhouse. It’s not very clear to me what the blue barrel at the top of the tree is for, except maybe just as a lookout that Olivia can climb up to. This bag also contained a bag of accessory elements – flowers and bugs. In one step you are to put all the flowers and bugs on the tree, except that one of the bugs actually should be held back and used later in the birdhouse. The instructions fail to make that clear, as I’ve read other reviewers of this set complain. This is a rather odd tree, horticulturally speaking, in that it grows three different types of flowers. The upper branches have daisy type flowers in the back, and I’m not sure what to call the ones in the front; the lower part of the tree sprouts roses. Very peculiar! The butterflies and ladybugs are really neat though. I look forward to using these flowers (especially the roses) and bugs in my MOCs.
The ladder up to the treehouse is light blue in color which seems silly to me. I don’t think using a black or brown ladder would be off-putting to anybody, and the cost of producing the ladder in this color seems like a waste. I worry that LEGO is going a little overboard with the color/parts pallette again, like they did in the mid-late 1990s. Most of the useful parts in the new colors are great, but this is a poor example.
Like all the $20 and larger sets, this set comes in a box with a new shape for LEGO. Instead of being a plain rectangular prism shape, the front of the box is curved, bowed outward, and in the front sides there is a bevel that produces this curvature. The clerks at the LEGO store hate this, because you can’t stack the boxes easily. You can see it in the photo of the box below.
This set features a return of Mia, last seen on Day 5 (Mia’s Puppy House), showing her prize pet at the dog show. (Both parts of Mia’s body were in the stretchy plastic bags.) Did you know that you can fit the spray bottle into the torso of a minidoll? Well, you can. I think someone mentioned it on a mailing list I’m on (though I can’t seem to find the email right now to give them credit, sorry), and I tried it out with Mia and sure enough it works! It makes her look kind of like a mermaid. Also, since I noticed that in this set, you’re told to put the spray bottle between two studs of a 1×2 plate, that you can also put the minidoll’s legs the same way. It’s not quite as good of a connection as a regular LEGO stud grip, but it’s not bad.
Anyway, on to the set. This is the first multi-part build Friends set. With the first bag, we get Mia and the two dogs, the accessories, and parts to build the small models. First up is the holding/grooming pen, which has a trough full of water (1×1 round trans-light-blue plates in an aqua colored rectangle made from short panels) with water spigot, a bowl with two bones, fencing, and a cabinet for storing stuff. Those cabinets, lime with white hinged doors, will be very handy. You also build a hurdle for the dogs to jump over, with a bar that can be knocked down if they don’t jump high enough; a catapult seesaw thingy for the dogs to walk along, which I guess tests their obedience in the face of losing balance (though as a boy, it screams catapult to me, and LEGO included the “don’t shoot into the eye” icon in the instructions that they always use for projectiles); and a prize stand with giant trophy.
Bag #2 is the main part of the build, which is a stage and catwalk for the dogs to show off on. There’s a camera on a stick with a telephoto lens, two spotlights, and flowerpots made from white plain minifig heads. There’s a sign above it all, a printed 2×2 round tile with a paw print, just as we saw earlier in Mia’s last set.
Parts-wise, this is a pretty good set. I like all the lime green and aqua parts. The dogs are adorable, and the trophy is nice – though I’m disappointed that it’s not chromed. We get the same accessories as in Day 5 but this time they are in light purple. I noticed that as I mentioned in Day 3 (Andrea’s Stage), the antenna piece has been changed to have a squared-off tip instead of the rounded tip it’s had for over 30 years.
This is Stephanie’s third appearance in the series. We last saw her in Day 6, patrolling for pets, and her first appearance was in Day 1, with her outdoor bakery. And now we see why she has holes in the top and side of her hairpiece – to attach these decorative bits. (For those keeping score, both parts of her body were in those stretchy bags.) Like we saw earlier in Day 5 (Mia’s Puppy House), this set comes with a bag of accessory parts that can be attached to the hair or pets. There’s also an extensive assortment of grooming equipment included, but not featured in the set build. As a boy, this puzzles me, but I gather girls like to deviate more from the instructions when building sets… so go for it, girls! Anyway, these parts can be useful in MOCs so I’m happy to see them. She also comes with the same pink iPod-like device we saw yesterday, and a little pink purse/bucket.
This set is a little bigger than the ones I’ve reviewed until now, and lacks the shelf hanger flap on the top of the box. However the box is one of the usual standard LEGO box types, and is designed to be opened by putting your finger through a semicircular thumb hole on the bottom and ripping it open at the side. But I prefer to open this style of box by peeling off the bottom, leaving the rest of the box intact, which you can then dump the parts into for building the set. I’ve been doing this for years, but LEGO seems to use this box type less and less often, preferring the kind where you are supposed to cut the clear tape to open the ends of the box. I hope this is a sign LEGO plans to keep using this box type. You can see a picture below to illustrate what I’m talking about … just be careful not to cut yourself! I got a small paper cut opening this box.
Like all the Friends sets, this one consists of multiple builds, though only two in this instance. First you build a little roadside scene, with a lamppost (hooray for that transparent globe piece!), bench, and dog- or car-washing equipment. I’m happy to see the tap return, and the 2×2 white tile with a stud in the center is a newish part that I’m happy to have another of.
But the main feature of this set is of course, the car. It’s similar to a lot of the City cars we’ve had from LEGO lately, and is a nice design. The color scheme really works well and I’m happy to get so many parts in the new light purple color. I also am happy to get two of the 1×2-2×4 brackets, which are used to attach both front and back ends of the car. The only downside I see is that finally we have encountered stickers. I surmise that LEGO has trouble printing on the curved pieces, as these stickers only go on curved parts: the hood/bonnet, and the curved slopes at the rear. I chose not to apply the stickers, as is my usual practice. I will probably put them up on BrickLink for sale, as I don’t use stickers in my MOCs either. I don’t like to limit the reusability of the parts, and it’s so hard to apply the stickers perfectly straight and centered anyway. But since it’s for curved parts, I don’t really blame LEGO for not giving us printed pieces. Hopefully they’ll work out a way to print on those someday. For now, however, I’m happy to have these parts in plain light purple for future MOC usage.
One feature of this set that I found particularly noteworty is a new part. It’s similar to the 1×2 L-shaped panel piece, but with a center divider. In the car it’s used to hold Stephanie in place as she drives… minidolls lack the stud receptacles that minifigs have, so they needed some way to hold her in position, and I guess this is what they came up with. I can see this being a useful piece for decorative purposes, as well as holding minifigs in place. See the photos below for illustration of how it works on both Stephanie and a generic minifig.