“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.

Like Chris Giddens points out on his blog, it’s really infuriating because it kind of insults the creativity of the builders. A big part of the magic of LEGO is coming up with creative uses for the parts that we have, and it’s especially cool when we come up with a usage for a part that’s totally different from how it was used in official sets. But what AFOLs would call “nice parts usage” these people coming to our shows think is somehow cheating, because when they were a kid all LEGO made were basic bricks and plates.

Well, I’m here to tell you, that’s just wrong. LEGO’s been making specialized parts since day 1. As this article on New Elementary shows, even the very first “Automatic Binding Bricks” in the late 1940s and 1950s had slots in one end so that you could fit a window pane in between the bricks — the window pane piece being a specialized part that wasn’t good for much if anything else. And it’s continued throughout LEGO’s product line throughout the decades ever since; with each new type of LEGO set there have been new specialty parts that came along with them.

I think what’s really going on is that when these people were kids, they disregarded the specialty parts and just built with the basic bricks and plates, and never even tried to come up with novel uses for those parts, or just let them sit in the bottom of the box of bricks. Somehow that morphs into “of course you build cool stuff because LEGO makes these new parts they didn’t have when I was a kid.” Well maybe not those parts, but they did have a lot of unique parts when you were a kid! You just didn’t know how to use them. Because you were a kid! It takes years of practice, imagination, experience, and creativity to come up with some of the usages you’re looking at, and only a serious hobbyist (whether teenage or adult) has that.

When I first came back into the LEGO hobby as an adult, back in 2001 and 2002, I built my Pokémon sculptures (sorry, no blog entry on this site for those – I need to fix that) using only basic bricks, just to silence those concerns and show you can do great stuff with only basic bricks too. I’ve also built a bunch of other sculptures using just basic bricks for the very same reason. And of course, we all know and admire Nathan Sawaya who has literally made an art form out of doing just the same.

So next time someone complains that you used specialized parts, stand up to them. Let them know they had specialized parts too when they were building LEGO as a kid, and LEGO’s made a lot of single-use parts over the years starting way back in the 1950’s. In fact the special parts they’re making now are more general-purpose than ever.

Here are some more models I’ve built over the years using just regular plain old parts:

That reminds me – It’s been a while since I’ve done that … I really should get busy making something new, with or without “specialized” parts!