Thursday, 3 April 2014

Playing to the gallery?

As you’re probably aware, LEGO have a project known as Cuusoo.  In a nutshell, people can submit designs, be they a finished model or an ‘artist’s impression’, and then anyone who has registered with the Cusooo website can vote for the creations that they like.
If a project gets 10,000 votes, then it’s reviewed by LEGO with a view to possibly turning it into a set for commercial release.

When you vote, you’re asked a few questions - how many copies of the set would you be likely to buy, how much would you be prepared to pay for it and so on.  There is, however, no commitment on your part.  You’re not handing over your credit card details and saying “Yup - I’ll definitely be buying some of these.”  You’re just saying “Looks interesting - I’d consider it.”

There are thousands of projects on the site at any one time, so if you’re just having a virtual wander around, then chances are you’ll find plenty of things that catch your eye and you might be tempted to vote for.
On the other side of the fence however, if you’re the designer of a set, then it’s unlikely that 10,000 people will just happen to stumble on your creation.  So there is a whole mini-industry built up around promoting designs.  Builders mentioning their set on various LEGO forums is an obvious one.  Chances are that they’ll have a blog, so that’s another avenue.  But plenty of other people have LEGO blogs / websites too, so often the creator goes on a charm offensive to try and get publicity there, and get that all-important link into the Cuusoo project published.

It also depends on what your design is of.  Currently, the artist and builder known as Glenbricker is feeling quite good about himself, and rightly so, as his Dr Who set has now reached the required 10,000 supporters.  Now while a good number of those voters were bound to be LEGO fans, it’s probable that many of them were in fact Dr Who fans, who have little or no interest in LEGO in general, but are interested in all things Dr Who.  

Obviously.

Glenbricker is also in the (to the best of my knowledge) unique position of being involved with a second design, created by designer Alatariel, which has also recently gained it’s 10,000th supporter.  This time it’s a set based on the TV Series ‘The Big Bang Theory’.
Again, while there will have been some support from the LEGO community, chances are that a lot of those votes will have been earned by plugging away on TV websites, geek sites and so forth.

I’ve watched the reaction of the LEGO fan community with some interest and, it has to be said, some wry amusement.

Because it’s got a lot of people’s backs up.

If you take a look at the proposed designs, both are a) based on TV shows that LEGO would presumably have to obtain some sort of licence for, before they could create a set, and b) contain some (or in the case of TBBT a lot of) minifigs.

“This isn’t right!”  people complain.  “This isn’t what LEGO design should be about.  This is just creating a toy for fans of a TV show.  They have no interest in LEGO.”

“Too many minifigs!”  says someone else.  “Not enough bricks.”

Then there is a clamouring among the purists for original designs, and indeed from that side of the room there was much cheering when Cuusoo set #006 was announced earlier in the year as Pete Reid’s ‘Exosuit’.  


Exosuit, designed by Pete Reid
(Image courtesy of LEGO Cuusoo)


The previous five had each been modelled on an existing ‘thing’.  #001, the Shinkai 6500 submarine, #002, the Hayabusa spacecraft and #005, the Curiosity Mars Rover were real real world objects, while #003 was based on the videogame Minecraft and #004 was the time travelling Delorean from the film ‘Back To The Future.  In other words, a recreation in LEGO of something recognisable, if fictional.

But the Exosuit was something new.  A creation rather than a recreation.

And this is going to seem bad form to some people…  but I can’t see the point!

I’d like to say, at this point, that I have nothing but admiration for Pete Reid’s work.  I’ve come across him once or twice on various websites and he seems like a thoroughly nice chap.  In addition I have a copy of the book ‘Lego Space’ that he created with Tim Goddard.  Indeed ‘Lego Space’ featured the Exosuit (or a variation thereof).

But I can’t help thinking, skilful build though it is… it’s someone’s MOC.  And I can’t see why LEGO would put a MOC into production, and indeed why anyone would buy it.

With a model of something that exists, be it an obscure Japanese submarine or the set of a TV programme, you can look at it, recognise it and appreciate the skill that has gone into recreating a real world (1) object.  

But with a MOC, if it looks a bit odd, then as far as you know, that’s what the builder wanted.

If you want an Exosuit, then have a rummage in your parts bin and build one yourself!  The whole point being, yours will be no more ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ than the Cuusoo set, because neither of them have any particular reference point.  If it looks good, then it is good.  

If you’re happy with it, then it’s a job well done.

For Pete’s sake (2) I hope the set is a success.  I have to confess that I won’t be picking one up, as it holds no appeal for me at all, but I do wish him the best.





~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~







(1) Ok, Minecraft isn’t technically a real world object, but it is something that people are familiar with, and would recognise.


(2) No pun intended.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

We can rebuild it. Bigger, faster... Longer! Double review : 42010 Off-road Racer & 42011 Race Car

As part of my ‘working through my backlog of sets’ programme, I recently settled down to build two vehicles that form a loose pair.  The Off-road Racer and the Race Car were released in January 2013, just as I was starting my collecting habit.  Of all the Technic sets that were available at the time, these were the last that I picked up.  In fact for a while, I wondered whether I’d buy them at all, but the completist in my head wouldn’t shut up until I’d got them. 

It wasn’t the price that put me off particularly.  With staff discount, I paid a little over £11.00 each, which isn’t bad at all.  They just didn’t strike me as particularly… Technic-y.  The main thing though, was that splashed over the front of the box was the fact that both the sets incorporated a ‘pull back’ motor.  You build the car, then pull it back, let it go and it presumably careers around the floor scaring the cat.

This may sound daft, given that we’re talking about LEGO, but my first thought was ‘this makes it sound like a toy car’.  

Anyway, we’ll come back to that later.

The other thing that was slightly different about these two was that normally a set would come with two sets of instructions (or lately, a set of instructions for the ‘A’ model and details on how to download the instructions for a ‘B’ model from LEGO.com).  These two went down a different route whereby the Race Car and the Off-road Racer can be combined to build one large model of a dragster.

I got a bit twitchy at this, because it would mean… mixing up the parts from two sets!!!

I don’t like doing this.  (1)

So when a few weeks later I saw them on sale, and was able to pick them up for less than £10 each, I decided to get a second pair.  That way I can keep the first pair nice and separate and have a second pair specifically for building the dragster.  In my mind, that somehow makes it ok...

Anyway.

Deciding to work in numerical order, I started with the 42010 Off-road Racer.  This is a dune buggy style vehicle with roll bars and big balloon tyres.  At 160 pieces it’s not huge - the finished model is probably around 7” long.   

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  Here’s the box.  Let’s see what’s in it.



Technic 42010 Off-road Racer
(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)


There’s a manual, plus a separate flyer for the pull back range (all two of them).


The manual...



...and a flyer for the pull back range


We also get three bags of parts, plus, loose in the box, the four tyres and the pull back motor which is a neat little self contained thing about the size of a matchbox.



Parts, parts and more parts!



Tyres, and the much vaunted pull back motor


We also get a sticker sheet, and as this one’s quite small, it doesn’t apparently warrant the plastic-bag-and-backing-board that the larger sets utilise to stop the sticker sheets getting bent while in transit.  Fortunately, while this one was a little curved, nothing had been creased.



Sticker sheet, thankfully unscathed!

As with most Technic building, we start from the inside out, and so the chassis comes first, with the motor attached to the back.



Beginnings of a chassis, with motor


The chassis is then developed, including some bump bars at the side which serve to ‘bulk’ the model out a bit and stop it from being a fairly thin vehicle.



Not looking like a Dune buggy yet

The bodywork is then built as a separate section, and has the first of the stickers applied.  One thing that stood out for me was the ease with which the stickers went on.  I recently started on the Mindstorms set, and the static from the parts, which attracted the stickers as soon as you brought them into proximity, made it a nightmare to try and attach them.  But this set was completely different - hardly any static cling at all, which means that I was able to get them all lined up pretty well, with very little cursing and reapplying.



Sticker-laden bodywork

Next up the chassis and bodywork are brought together, the axles go in (the rear one running through the x-shaped axle hole in the motor) and some more superstructure added.


Almost done

A few more pieces, a few more stickers and the wheels, and the job is done.  



The finished model


So what’s it like then?

Well to be honest, not all that great.

As soon as it was finished, obviously I wanted to try out the motor.  So I put it down on the dining room floor, pulled it back and unleashed it.

Maybe unleashed isn’t the right word… (2)  You let it go, and off it trundles.  Ok, it’s a reasonable speed for the first couple of feet, but it struggled to get from one end of our living room to the other, a distance of around 12 feet.

The other thing I noticed straight away is that for an Off-road racer, which has been made to look like it would take on the roughest terrain, it’s incredibly unstable.

Our dining room has hard floor, our living room has carpet, and at the edge is one of those carpet bars, which must be, ooh, all of half an inch high.  No matter how straight the car was lined up, so that both front wheels hit the bar at the same time, it would flip over and land on it’s roof every time.

So its off road capabilities appeared to extend no further than ‘flat floors’.

I think the problem is that for a Technic set, it has no ‘technical’ aspects at all, other than the pull back motor, which as we’ve seen, is a self-contained unit that you can’t actually fiddle with.

There’s no suspension, which would have helped it cross the rocky terrain between floor and carpet.  There’s no steering.  This I can understand - given the nature of the car, i.e. pull back and let it run.  If it had movable front wheels, it would be careering all over the place.

But there’s… well nothing really.  Nothing’s adjustable, nothing moves, there are no gears, no pistons…

I guess that it’s a sort of gateway set into Technic.  If a youngster has been used to System sets, then this is a simple introduction to studless building.  Nothing too fiddly, no gears or mechanisms to worry about, but it still has some immediate play value.

I’m glad I picked it up from a ‘completing the Technic range’ point of view, but viewed as a standalone set, then it falls way short of everything else I’ve built so far, and I wouldn’t in all honesty recommend it if you’re looking for an interesting Technic build.  And if you want something that a child (large or small) can drive around the room, then I’d say spend two or three pounds more and get the Quad bike.  Yes it’s a little more complicated to make, but the suspension and steering make it a far more fun plaything, if you can do without the pull back motor.

Anyway.  At this point we’ll put the Off-road Racer to one side and move on to its sibling set, the 42011 Race Car.


Technic 42011 Race Car

Not disimilar to the Off-road Racer, the Race Car costs the same - a little under £15 - has broadly the same number of parts (158, compared to the 160 of 42010) and is roughly the same size.

However, 42010 is a sleeker, lower, single seat vehicle reminsicent of a Formula 1 style car.

In the box we find the manual, plus the same flyer that was in with 42010, another loose sticker sheet, two bags of parts, a couple of loose beams and the pull back motor.


The manual...



Just the two bags of parts...


A couple of liftarms and the motor


A remarkably flat sticker sheet!

The build isn’t that different to the Off-road Racer.  The chassis is flatter and wider, but still a very simple beams and pins affair.  Much like 42010, it has about a dozen stickers to apply, which seems a lot for a relatively small set, but they’re all on single pieces, i.e. no STAMP issues (3).


Chassis with motor


A few minutes later...

Stickers apart, the only thing that this set does that occasionally makes some people a bit twitchy is the way a flexible bar is used to form the front ‘curve’ of the spoiler.  It’s bent through 90 degrees, and apparently if it’s left too long like this it can be very difficult to get it straight again.


Some stickers applied and flex bar... flexed

Me, I’m unlikely to use it for anything else other than the front bar of 42011, so I’m not that bothered.


Finished!


Thoughts?  Well it’s not a lot different from 42010.  In fact, I’ve just tested it with the floor-to-carpet transition, and because it’s got a considerably wider track than the Off-roader, it’s actually more stable.  It certainly stayed flat and kept running, rather than rolling over and ending up on it’s roof.

Would I recommend it?  Well to my mind it looks (a bit) better than 42010 and keeps it’s wheels on the ground.  Again, nothing remotely interesting from an engineering point of view, so if you were looking for a Technic build, then you would do well to look at pretty much any other Technic set going.  But if you wanted a simple build and the pull back motor sparks your interest but you only wanted to buy one of these two, then I’d probably say go for the Race Car.

But…

If you only buy one, you can’t build the ‘B’ model.  It’s almost like LEGO planned it.

Well I did buy them both, so let’s go build a dragster!

First off you need to get the instructions from LEGO.com.  It’s pretty simple to search the site by set number, and then the instructions are downloaded as a PDF.  I downloaded it to an iPad, and on reflection that wasn’t such a great idea.  When you’re reading a manual and you need a better look at a detail, you can just peer a bit closer at it.  With a PDF on a screen you have to expand the screen to blow the image up then shrink it back down when you want to see the whole page again.  It’s not the end of the world, but given the choice, I’ll stick with an old-fashioned set of paper based instructions.

It might be different with a bigger screen.  Next time I try it I’ll use the laptop instead of the iPad.

I can’t help thinking though, that it’s a bit daft that you need hundreds of pounds worth of computing hardware to build a £15 LEGO set.

But we have the instructions, so I open up two new sets and empty the parts into six bowls.  Habit means that I empty one set into three bowls and the other set into three separate bowls rather than mix them up.

Well this wasn’t particularly fun.

The instructions were, as mentioned, not as easy to use as a paper set, and there’s a lot more rummaging around looking for pieces than when you’re building from a single set of parts (4).

Anyway, moaning over, let’s get building.

It’s a dragster, so to find that we’re starting with a very long, very thin chassis didn’t come as a surprise.


This is going to be quite long...

Next up you push the chassis to one side and build the driver’s cabin.  And what’s this?  A worm gear!  Looks like something’s going to move.


Cabin assembled

The cabin is fitted to the chassis and then the roll cage is built.  The purpose of the worm gear now becomes clear, as by turning a rod at the rear, the roll cage can be opened and closed.


Bodywork mostly in place



Roll cage raised

The next section to be constructed is the engine exhausts and… a second worm gear!  Could there be some more mechanicals?  Well yes.  The rear spoiler can be raised and lowered.


Exhausts...

As you go along there are a number of stickers to apply, around four from each set.  Last up is the wheels.  The rears are the balloon tyres from the Off roader, while the fronts are the small front wheels from the Race Car.


The finished article



Overall?  Well it’s ok.  At least it’s got some moving parts which is more than can be said for the two donor sets.  I was hoping that it was going to utilise both motors to create some overpowered beast, but no, just the one.

Maybe a project for another day.



The complete set : 42010, Dragster, 42011




~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~





(1) I’ve mentioned it before and won’t go over it again now.

(2) No ‘maybe’ about it.

(3) STickers Across Multiple Pieces.  Where a single sticker is applied to a model across two or more parts and the set can’t be taken apart without cutting or removing the sticker.  And broadly speaking, removing stickers isn’t an option.


(4) I realise that for some people, this is actually a good thing.

Monday, 27 January 2014

“First the living room! Then the world!” Review : 31313 LEGO Mindstorms EV3 (Part 1)

Like many people, I believe that one day I shall take over the world.  Although while they’re not going to, I am.  And my plan has just got one step closer.

Things will change when I am ruler of all that I survey.  For example:
  • Any TV programme that involves the audience phoning in and voting, via a premium rate phone number, will immediately be cancelled and replaced with a science programme.
  • Anybody who is bumps into another person while in public, because they were looking down at their mobile phone will be cast into the bog of eternal stench. (1)
  • Everybody will be required to learn how to juggle.

There will be plenty of other changes.  You will be informed at the appropriate time.

So in order to achieve this, I clearly need an army.  And what better than a robot army? (2)

Fortunately, for Christmas, Mrs Boo bought me the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 set.  Build and programme your own robots.  And nowhere in the instructions does it say “May not be used for taking over the world.”

Result!

So a couple of nights ago I figured I’d better see what’s what and learn the basics.

Opening up the box, this is what we find…


Bags full of goodies!



The EV3 Brick



Two large motors



Cables for attaching the motors / sensors to the EV3 brick and the PC cable



Medium motor, sensors and tracks



The instruction manual



Static laden sticker sheet!


The artwork shows five robots than can be built with the box contents, but only one of them, TRACK3R, has the instructions actually in the manual.  The other four need to be downloaded from the Mindstorms website.  In fact when you get to the download page on the site there are seventeen sets of build instructions - the five originals plus twelve developed by the user community.

So as a kind of Mindstorms 101, I decided to start with TRACK3R.  With the exception of the EV3 brick, the motors, sensors and the cabling, all the actual LEGO bricks appear to be standard Technic stuff.

To begin, we break open the large amount of batteries that we’ve purchased and put six AA batteries in the EV3 brick, and two AAA batteries in what later turns out to be an Infra Red remote.

Then we build a frame and attach the two large motors…



Frame.  With motors.

The EV3 brick goes on next...


The mighty brick in place!

...followed by some wheels and then tracks are attached, driven by the motors.


We have tracks!

Next up some of the cabling is run.  The top of the brick has four ports marked A - D, which  are for hooking up to the motors.  The bottom of the brick has another four, 1 - 4, which are the ports that the sensors attach to. (3)  Here we’ve hooked up the two large motors to ports B & C, and then added some bodywork.  I put the stickers on as I went, and that was probably the most awkward part of the build.  The static between the sticker and the plate was incredible.  As soon as the sticker was within an inch of the plastic, it pulled itself onto it, and when you’re holding the piece still with one hand, and holding the sticker with the other it’s fairly problematical!  More by luck than judgement, all four that I had to apply went on pretty straight.



...and we're mobile!

At this point you actually get to fire up the brick!  Following a pictorial guide in the manual, you choose a demo prog that come pre-installed on the brick.  This simply moves and turns the robot a couple of times, presumably to ensure you have everything wired up before you get too far along.

After a successful test it’s back to the build and at the other end, the next step is to attach the medium motor and cable it up...


Medium motor, cabled up.

A few more minutes of construction and we have whirling blades of spinning plastic death!


None shall stand before me!

Another demo prog is run at this point to ensure that the medium motor has been hooked up correctly, and TRACK3R ambles around the living room carpet, spinning it’s blades and frightening any small animals that get in its path. (4) 

The last step is to attach the IR sensor to the back of the robot and run a third pre-installed piece of code.  This allows the robot to be remotely controlled by the IR transmitter / remote / thingummybob.  There’s a channel switch on the remote, and by putting it in the first position you can drive the robot around.  There are four switches, which gives you forward and reverse control over both tracks, much like a tank, meaning you can drive forward and backward, but also spin on the spot by moving one track in one direction, and the other track in the opposite direction.

Flipping the channel switch onto the next position gives you control over the whirling blades of death.


Soldier 0000001 in the Boo army

And broadly speaking, that’s as far as the manual takes you.  If you want to understand more, you’ll need a reference.  There are some instructions on the Mindstorms website, but I’m a bookish sort of person, and so I’ve picked up a copy of The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Laboratory by Daniele Benedettelli (5)   


I recommend this book if you know nothing (or indeed something) about Mindstorms

(Image courtsey of Amazon.co.uk)


Since then I’ve had a go at writing and downloading some simple programs, and now it’s just a case of buying 100,000 more EV3 sets, fitting them with weaponry and programming them all, and I can take over the world!

Assuming I can afford the batteries...




~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~





(1) The bog of eternal stench, seen in the film ‘Labyrinth’ is (currently) a fictional creation, which “is a seething swampy body of "water". The bog regularly emits unpleasant gurgles, belches, and other noises, and sends forth an repulsive odor. Brackish muddy fluids and bubbling openings dot the area, and sunken tree branches and swamp poke out from the horrid depths. Legend has it that if you put so much as one toe in the Bog you will smell bad....forever.”  My scientists will toil, night and day to create such a bog, into which thoughtless mobile phone users will be cast.

Quoted from muppet.wikia.com

(2) I’ve seen Terminator.  Robots are badass!

(3)  There are a couple of other ports too.  A mini USB, marked ‘PC’ is the port that you use to hook the brick up to your computer to download the programs you write, although you can do this via Bluetooth.  I say ‘you’ can because I’ve tried it, and the ‘pairing process’ is utterly incomprehensible to me.  There’s also a full sized USB port which is used to slave other EV3 bricks and finally there’s an SD card slot which (I believe) can be used as a memory expansion slot.

(4) We don’t have any small animals, so no small animals were frightened.  I’m just assuming that if we had, they would have been.


(5) Who, apparently, prefers to be known as Danny because otherwise people assume he’s a girl.  The book, what I've read of it so far, is excellent.  It assumes no prior knowledge, but goes into plenty of detail for those who want to know more than the basics.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

New Year, Old Sets...

I’m not usually one for New Year’s resolutions.  When I’ve set them in the past they usually revolve around eating less, getting fitter and so on, and they last from 00.01 on January 1st, right up until the moment that I find a bar of chocolate.  

During the Christmas period (1) that doesn’t take very long in our house.

But this year I think I’m going to make one.  As I sit here in mid-January, I have already been overtaken by the first new Technic releases of 2014.  In the summer, I was waiting impatiently for the new sets to come out.  Right now I could have done with the new ones being delayed a bit!

As you may be aware, over the past 12 months or so, I haven’t exactly denied myself when it comes to buying LEGO.  But while I’ve had plenty of time to purchase new things, I haven’t always had the time to build them.  The result being that I’m starting to get quite a backlog of unopened boxes.  Not so bad if they were all the size of the mini off-roader for example…



Lego Technic 42001 Mini Off-Roader
Mini by name, mini by nature...
(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)


...but when there’s the likes of an 8110 Unimog, an 8043 Excavator, the 42009 Mobile Crane MkII, the 9396 Helicopter and so on waiting to be built, that suddenly starts adding up to a whole bunch of time. (2)



The mighty 8110 Unimog takes rather longer to build
(Image courtesy of Brickset.com)


At the weekend I looked at picking up the 42026 Black Champion Racer and 42027 Desert Racer.  These are the two mid-to-low range sets that use pull back motors and can be combined to make an Off-Road Racing Truck.

These are basically the 2014 equivalent of the 42010 Off-Road Racer and 42011 Race Car, again with the pull-back motors, and which could be combined to build a dragster.
Both of which are sitting in our living room, still waiting to be built!

So should I be buying new sets when I’m so far behind with my existing collection? (3)

That aside, it’s clear that if I want to carry on acquiring at my current rate, the only solution will be to build a bit quicker.  So here’s the plan.  Which will hopefully last a bit longer then the ‘no chocolate’ thing.

I’m going to try and build a new set every week until I’m up to date.

Try?  “Do or do not.  There is no try.” as Yoda once said.

Ok, I am going to build a new set every week until I’m up to date. (4)

So how’s 2014 going so far?  Well I built the Seattle Space Needle, so one set done!

Then again, I’ve bought the Technic Hot Road, Snowmobile and Twin Rotor Helicopter, Architecture Guggenheim Museum and Cuusoo Mars Rover in the past two weeks.

Ah well.  One step forward, five steps back.




~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~





(1) And every other day of the year too.

(2) Don’t get me wrong - I’m not complaining!  Nice problem to have!

(3) Yes.  Yes I should.  Despite what Mrs Boo says.

(4) Probably.  The road to hell is, as is often mentioned, paved with good intentions.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Tossed Salads & Scrambled Eggs. Review : LEGO Architecture 21003, Seattle Space Needle

Christmastime, Mistletoe and wi…  Hang on, we’ve already done that, haven’t we?  But as well as plants and plonk, Christmas also means pressies!  And I was fortunate enough to get a Lego shaped gift this year.

In the online world, my favourite hangout for the past decade has been the gaming site, Eurogamer.net, or more specifically, the forum of said site.  For some years now, we’ve run an EG Secret Santa, whereby you get given the name and address of another forumite and depending on how much research you put in, either send them something that suits them down to the ground, or something wholly inappropriate.

I think some some people take ‘wholly inappropriate’ as a target, rather than something to be avoided...

Anyway, I took part as I usually do, and in mid-December a parcel arrived at Chez Boo, which rattled in a most promising manner.  When I finally opened it on the big day, as well as a pile of sweets (always appreciated), I was delighted to find a couple of items - one was the 21003 LEGO Architecture Series model of the Seattle Space Needle, the other, which baffled me for a while, was the soundtrack to Frasier.

Don’t get me wrong - I was very pleased with it.  I’m a fan of the show, and this was music from the series, interspersed with clips of dialogue, so good stuff all round.  But while I spend a lot of time in the LEGO, LEGO, LEGO thread on Eurogamer, I don’t ever remember mentioning an admiration for this particular show.

And then it dawned on me.  Where is Frasier set?

Seattle!

So with a big thank you to Ignatius_Cheese (1), I put the CD on and settled down to build myself a Space Needle…

The box is of the usual Architecture Series quality (2), and has a picture of the model on the front, while the back also has a couple of images of the actual building itself.  The side panel notes that the set was designed by Adam Reed Tucker, who coincidentally designed my first Architecture set, Fallingwater.



LEGO Architecture Series, 21003 - Seattle Space Needle



...and the back of the box



Opening the box reveals a nice glossy manual, and in addition to the build instructions, it gives a short history of the Needle, plus a few words from Adam Reed Tucker.


A manual of the glossy variety


There’s also a facts and figures page.  I can only presume the they chose this particular Pinnacle type as otherwise the rod would have been too heavy! (3)



Pretty sure it should be Lightning Rod


The other things we find in the box are two bags of parts and four flexible rods.



The management would like to apologise for the poor quality
of some of these photographs.  Steps have been taken to ensure
better quality in future.


It’s a modest set at 57 pieces, so with the dulcet tones of Dr Frasier Crane in my ears, it’s on with the build.  Pretty soon we have a 10 x 8 base and the bottom of the tower…



The actual Space Needle has a 30 foot thick slab of concrete
underneath the base to lower the centre of gravity, fact fans!


The main ‘stem’ of the buidling soon goes up…




And then I turned the page of the instruction book over…

In the LEGO community, there are a great many people who would consider that they fall into that group often referred to as ‘purists’.  In essence, it means that if you want to build something out of LEGO, then that’s what you do.  You don’t build it ‘mostly’ out of LEGO, and then finish of a tricky part with something else because there isn’t an appropriate LEGO part.  Other crimes against LEGO include glueing pieces together, cutting them, painting them, melting them and so forth. (4)

So I wondered what had happened when Adam Reed Tucker took his Space Needle prototype into the boardroom for a final sign off on his design.

“Hello Adam.  What have you got for us?”

“Well, this is the Seattle Space Needle, for the Architecture line.”

There is much nodding of heads and appreciative noises at Tucker’s simple, clean design.

“Very nice, Adam, that will make a great addition to the series.”

Meanwhile, one of the head honcho's has picked up the model and is taking a closer look.

“Say, Adam.  These three flexi rods that you’ve used on the main structure.  I don’t believe we make any this long.  How have you made them fit?”

“Ah, yes…  Well I’ve put in the instructions that the builder takes the rods that we supply and er…”

“Yes?”

“Er…  cuts a bit off with a pair of scissors.”

Cue that noise you get in films where a needle is dragged across a record and suddenly everybody in the bar goes silent and slowly turns round to look at the hero who's just said something inappropriate to the baddies girlfriend.

It’s certainly not what I expected to find in an official set.  Everything that I’ve learnt over the past months that I’ve been back into LEGO, and in particular, with what is and is not acceptable for a CUUSOO submission suggests that any kind of mutilation, or ‘illegal’ use of parts is not tolerated at all by the LEGO group, so this came as a surprise.

I asked the good folk of Brickset.com what they thought about the whole ‘altering parts’ thing, and to be fair, there’s a reasonable split between those who think that there’s always a way to build what you want with official parts, and those who take the aforementioned view, "It’s my brick and I’ll cut it if I want to.” 

In fact I was reading something only this morning, on the very excellent Bricknerd.com, run by Nerd-In-Chief, Tommy Williamson.  He’d done a review of  the book ‘LEGO Space - Building The Future’ by Peter Reid and Tim Goddard (which incidentally I got for Christmas - yay!), and I noticed the following potentially heretical statement:

“The main difference is what might be called "illegal" techniques. You won't find an official LEGO model using things like the lever base without the lever, or removed Minifigure hands and hooks. But you'll find these advanced and out-of-the-box techniques in this book. It's really when a builder learns to embrace a little "rule breaking" that they take their building to the next level. I'm not talking about cutting bricks or modifying parts, this is just simply pushing existing elements beyond what they were intended for, and Pete and Tim are masters of this.”

Quoted from Bricknerd.com 

Interesting view.

Anyway, I wielded the scissors (and was grateful for the fact that the set included a spare rod in case you make a mistake).  Fortunately the spare was not required.  Putting the rods into place gave me this…


Nearly finished!

A few more pieces as the job is complete!






It’s a lovely little set.  Not big or complex, but there is something immensely right about it.  Aesthetically it’s extremely satisfying, and the curves of the tower means that it’s very nice to pick up.  Mrs Boo took one look at it and pronounced that she much preferred it to Fallingwater.

Highly recommended.




~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~





(1) I suspect that’s not what his parents named him.

(2) I.e. a cut above most LEGO boxes, and openable without destroying part of it.

(3) I may scoff, but I suspect that broadly speaking, the LEGO designers’ grasp of the English Language is a darned sight better than my Danish!


(4) In the interests of balance, there are plenty of people who take the view ‘They’re my pieces, so I’ll do just what I like with them.’