BrickCon 2010 Trip Report

My BrickCon trip was great! I drove up from where I live in northern California (Mountain View) to Seattle, with stopovers in Portland each way. Here’s the story of my trip…

I left home around midnight Thursday morning (September 30) after attending the Earthquakes game (they lost 3-0 to Chicago) and attending the Wednesday Night Hop swing dance.

Besides my own stuff, I was carrying cargo for two other people – Marcello De Cicco’s big WWII Japanese warships (an 8-foot-long Yamoto battleship and 4-foot-long Yukikaze destroyer) took up most of the space in my van with four huge boxes. I also brought up a box for a young BayLUG member (Nick Barella) who was flying up with his father Louis. The van was pretty full floor-space wise with all the rear seats removed, but there would have been room for a lot more. I only brought two bankers-boxes of my own LEGO since most of the models I have were displayed at BrickCon last year.

The first few hours of the drive were uneventful. I listened to podcasts all the way up, catching up on old episodes. Around 3:30 am however, I got a flat tire. I was going through a section of road that was being resurfaced, and hit a rock or something sharp that apparently punctured the left front tire, but I didn’t realize it right away. After I got back on regular pavement however, the tire pressure warning light came on and the car started feeling a little funny so I pulled over, and saw that the tire was completely flat! I slowly drove to the next exit so I could change the tire. By the time I got there it was pretty badly shredded, but at least there was still rubber between the wheel and the road.

It took me a while to figure out how to get the spare tire and jack sorted as it was the first time since I got the van that I had to do this, but everything was in good order and I put the spare tire on without too much trouble. By the time I had this done, I was pretty spent and thought I’d find a place to sleep. I was originally planning to pull over somewhere and take a nap in the back of the van, but the thought of moving the LEGO boxes and the shredded tire around to make room was daunting. So I gave up and decided to stop at the next cheap motel I found, which turned out to be the Super 8 in Redding. I checked in at 5am and went to bed, setting my alarm for 9:50 so I could get the free breakfast (waffles) before they closed it down at 10. I got up when my alarm went off, got dressed, and went down for a waffle. I spilled syrup on my pants and sock and one shoe. I took off my socks and washed the shoe and changed into shorts.

From there, I drove to Portland, with a brief stop in central Oregon to have the bad tire replaced. I went to the Waltz Eclectic and danced for a few hours, then spent the night at my friend Marion’s house.

Friday morning, I left Portland around 10 for Seattle. I reached Seattle around 1pm, just as the opening ceremonies were set to begin. They had a catered lunch just before the opening ceremony, so I had some of the letovers – salad and a cheese sandwich – while I listened to the announcements. I won a small Power Miners set in the door prize drawing, and signed up for some contests. As I had an hour or so before the contests were beginning, I went back to the van and took all the LEGO stuff to the exhibition hall, and went back up to the Rainier Room for the contests. After the opening ceremonies, we all queued up to receive a special gift from LEGO: an Exo-Force set (one of three surplus sets that LEGO had) and a minifig.

The Blind Build contest is an interesting challenge where you have to assemble a LEGO set without seeing the pieces, in a limited time. You are given a triangular shaped box with felt sides, with hand slits so you can reach inside. The third side is open so that observers can heckle as you fumble around for parts. There is a 10 second penalty for every error – and it’s impossible not to make some errors if there are parts of the same shape but in different colors or patterns. Since the set in question has four minifigs, it’s almost certain that you’ll make several errors. I was selected for the second round, and watched (and heckled a little) the first round people attempt build the set. They were given 15 minutes originally, but so few of them were anywhere near done that it was extended to 20. Even so, nobody finished the set. When my turn went, it was announced that we would have 40 minutes, and the first group could get another 20 minutes later to complete their models. However, at about the 17 minute mark they announced that it was time for the Iron Brick contest, and I asked to stop at 20 and do the remaining 20 later so I could go do that contest.

Iron Brick is inspired by Iron Chef, but I felt they could have done more to imitate the TV show. Groups of 3 people were each given a bag containing 100 2×8 bricks and 2 8×16 bricks, and told to build a bridge that would span two tables placed 15 inches apart. The 8×16 bricks were to provide a platform to hold weights; the design that held the most weight would win. I was in a group with a deaf man whose wife did the sign language interpretation, which made discussing our design a little challenging. We ended up just settling on building our ideas rather than trying to describe them as the LEGO brick transcends language. We came up with a design that was basically a slightly arched truss shape, with right angle wedges to grip the edges of the tables. Unfortunately the contest organizer didn’t bring enough weights, and all but one of the designs worked fine with all of the weight (about 20 pounds I think).

When the Iron Brick contest was over I went back to finish my Blind Build, and I ended up about 10th place, roughly in the middle of the pack. I made 12 errors, which was about average as well. Then I went back to the exhibit hall to set up my LEGO sets. I had a hard time finding the coordinator for the WWII area, but eventually I found him just as the evening ceremonies were starting, and got the Yamoto and Yukikaze set up at last.

I got to the evening ceremony a little late, but didn’t miss much (except that I never had time for dinner). The keynote speaker was an executive from LEGO in charge of customer relations. She told us about her job and how they handle customer feedback, and unveiled a new set – a very detailed Harry Potter diorama of Diagon Alley! A lot of door prizes were given out, but I didn’t win any since I had already won one Friday. After that, I went back to the exhibit hall to finish setup of my own models, mainly the Scrambler, which had disintegrated pretty badly. I then set off for Bellevue and the LEGO store.

As at every LEGO convention I’ve attended there are two specials on offer – everything in the store at 10-20% off (discount is tiered based on total purchase price), and in addition there is a large “scratch and dent” area set up in the mall hallway outside the store. These are sets with damaged boxes for half price. For the “scratch and dent” sale, everyone was assigned into a group by randomly drawing colored bricks from a bag, and the groups were randomly selected to go in and pick out 1 item per person. I’m in the 8th group, and got a Grand Emporium (Set # 10211), a $149.99 set for $75! Once everyone was done picking one set, they had a second pass through, with everyone going back in reverse order. They had a third pass in the original order to get rid of what was left, and you could take two items. Finally they had a free-for-all to get rid of the scraps. In the past at these events (including at Bricks by the Bay) there have been a lot of complaints about vendors buying up scratch and dent sets at half price to sell at full price, while there were still fans waiting their turns. That didn’t seem to happen this time, and I think these new rules worked well. In addition to these discounts, the LEGO store is offering double VIP points, and they gave us points on our purchases.

I finally left the mall around 1am and went to my friend Sue’s house where I would be staying for the weekend, along with former master model builder Mariann Asanuma. The three of us stayed up late watching TV and talking. I slept in really late Saturday morning and didn’t do much during the day. I didn’t get to the convention until 1:30pm, and missed out on the “101 bricks” challenge I had signed up for that was at 12:30. I even made sure to pack a bag of 101 bricks for it. Basically it was a series of building challenges, where you were to build something to a theme in like 5 minutes, using only the 101 bricks of your choosing that you brought from home. I was able to watch part of the contest, but missed the chance to participate. I ended up using my 101 bricks (all in dark grey) to make a frame for my badge so I could display the badges for all the conventions I’d attended.

I was also signed up for the “build in a bag” contest, which happened next. This contest was inspired by some small LEGO sets that were introduced a few years ago, where you receive a plastic box containing all the parts for the set in one bag, and the challenge is to assemble the set (typically a race car) without opening the bag. I’ve done it before, and it’s tricky. But for this contest we got a much bigger set, a Space Police set, which we had to build inside a gallon ziploc bag. I’d never built minifigs in a bag, and that was definitely tricky, especially the visor on the cop’s helmet. But I did get it done, just not in time to win anything. The consolation was we got to keep the set we built.

After that I went down to the exhibition hall, and got there just as they were closing down the public day. I went around to all the tables and took pictures until it was time to do the parts draft for the free Exo Force set we had all recevied.

A parts draft is a way of getting a large number of identical parts instead of the variety of parts included in the set. Each participant provides one copy of a LEGO set, and all the parts from all the sets are sorted out into little plastic tubs. We then draw lots to determine drafting order, and each person takes one lot as their turn comes around. I was pretty happy with what I ended up with.

After that, I finished my picture taking, until I had filled up all available memory cards – 10 GB in all! Then Louis and Nick took me out for pizza as thanks for transporting Nick’s box of LEGO up to the convention while they flew up. We then went back to the Rainier Room for the evening ceremonies, which included awards for a lot of amazing models, but none were for me (or for the people whose models I brought), sadly. We also had a Q&A session with Steve Witt, LEGO’s community liaison, and a lot of door prizes were given out to people other than me.

After the ceremony, we had the continuation of the Iron Brick contest from yesterday. To augment the weights, they had obtained four 2.5gal containers of water! The procedure was to add a container of water, and then if it didn’t break, add the metal weights on top of that, and if it still didn’t break to remove the weights and add another water, then continue until it does. The bridge I helped make managed to support two water containers and all the weights, but then collapsed. It fell to one side, so I’m not sure if it was just loaded in an unbalanced way, or if it gave out, but either way we didn’t win. There were two that worked with all four bottles and all the weights, one of which was designed by Dr. Bram Lambrecht, who has a doctorate in mechanical engineering, and the other was designed by Gary McIntire, a LEGOLAND model builder. We broke the tie by having Gary stand on each of the bridges, and Bram’s collapsed more quickly so we declared Gary’s team the winner. My team came in fourth.

Once all that was over, I wandered around taking a few more pictures – one large group was doing another parts draft, while another group was playing Dirty Brickster (a game similar to a white elephant exchange, but with LEGO sets in shopping bags, instead of random junk wrapped in Christmas paper).

I went to the convention around noon and watched two presentations by Mariann Asanuma in the Rainier Room, then headed down to the exhibition hall. The public day was in full swing, and it was packed solid. There were 20-foot aisles between tables, and they were full of people. I took some pictures of the crowds, going up on the balcony to get an overall view. I was in a grumpy mood already due to some personal issues and being in that crowd didn’t help, especially with all the little kids underfoot. But soon, 3pm came around and they herded people out with PA announcements and lights flickering, and we started tearing down. I got Marcello’s ships put away without incident, and boxed up my stuff. I also collected a suitcase to bring home for Steve Putz as well as Nick’s box.

The closing ceremonies were held in the exhibition hall since everyone was already there. They announced the total attendance was over 10,000 public and over 400 fans (attendees), both of which are shattering previous records. We also set a new record for BrickCon’s space by having both the Exhibition Hall and Rainier Room. The next BrickCon will be September 28 through October 2, 2011, and the announced theme is “Building a Community.” It’ll be the 10th anniversary of BrickCon, which started out as “Northwest BrickCon” and was a small gathering of 25 local people in the Rainier Room. They’ve come a long way since then…

After the closing ceremony, I pulled my van up to the loading dock and loaded it up. I drove to Sue’s and took her out for sushi dinner to thank her for her hospitality.

Sue made us waffles Monday morning, and the three of us (Sue, Mariann, and I) feasted on homemade waffles with berries and bananas and real maple syrup. After that excellent breakfast I hit the road for Portland. On the way, I’m stopped at Dan Parker’s City Blocks shop in Tacoma, where he’s having an open house for BrickCon attendees. Dan is a Certified LEGO Professional and runs a business that does some LEGO-related events for kids, classes, and I believe custom models. About a dozen guys were there. City Blocks is a business which rents space in the Freighthouse Square complex in Tacoma. They have LEGO models on display there, but the main purpose is to do custom work for customers (e.g. trade show displays built out of LEGO, etc.) There was a spread of free food and lots of bricks to mess around with. The Freighthouse Square is doing a haunted house for Halloween, and City Blocks is making LEGO Miniland scale (same size as seen at the LEGOLAND park) models of the various rooms in the haunted house. He built a really cool building to house them.

I reached Portland around 4 or so, and went straight to the LEGO store at Washington Square Mall. Since there’s no sales tax in Portland, I wanted to get a few things that they didn’t have in Bellevue because the BrickCon attendees had snatched them all up. I suggested to the manager that they ought to have the 20% discount available at the Portland store the day after BrickCon, but I doubt they’ll go for it. I got the new Tower Bridge and the new Power Functions cargo train, and filled up two cups of Pick-A-Brick including a bunch of orange 1×4 bricks. I’m going to build an orange house or something, I guess. I also got a lot of pink 1×2 slopes, inspired by some of the art that was displayed at Bricks by the Bay comprised entirely of those.

After getting some pizza and doing some book shopping at Powell’s, I went to Random Waltz. Portland has two weekly waltz nights, on Monday and Thursday, and I made it to both of them. (I did the same thing last year for BrickCon as well.) The only problem was my dance shoes were missing! I realized I had left them behind at the waltz last Thursday. However, they were found when the hall was being closed for the night, and put into lost & found. I gave $10 cash for postage and my address to the woman who runs that dance, and she’ll mail them to me. Luckily I still had an emergency pair of Capezios in the car, so I was not unduly inconvenienced. After Marion and Jack got home, I stayed up talking with her for a bit while she put away dishes. She asked about Steve Putz, who I know from BayLUG and whose suitcase full of LEGO sits in my van as we speak – it turns out she went to high school with him! I sent him an email saying hi for her and telling him I was staying at her place.

I got up and left Marion’s about 8am and picked up some Voodoo Doughnuts to bring back to California, which is sadly deprived of Voodoo Doughnuts. (Someone should really do something about that.) I got home around 11pm.