{Guest Post/Book Review} LEGO With Limits

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

By Scott Hanselman

I’m always looking for new ways to play LEGO with my two young sons. There are lots of sets based on movies to build (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc.) but there’s not a lot of emphasis on building with standard parts.

Cool Creations in 35 Pieces by Sean Kenney aims to be the Twitter of LEGO books: it applies constraints that appear initially unreasonable (140 characters? Insane! 35 pieces? Madness!) but the resulting builds can stand up against sets with 10 times the pieces. Cool Creations challenges us to look at LEGOs with limits.

The sets are easy to build. In fact, the hardest part is finding the specific 35 pieces the book uses. Most are pretty standard. After the basics, there’s 1x2x2 corners, but then others like the 1×2 Angle Plate and the aptly named “Final Brick 2×2” were a little harder to find in our collection. Still, the scavenger hunt was half the fun.

The book’s example use pieces that are all the same color, with a few gray and black exceptions. You’ll likely find that your collection is like ours — colorful. After an hour of exploring The Pile the kids and I had assemble the illusive 35 pieces in various colors.

Now, if it turns out you’re missing a brick or two, you can buy bricks, ahem, by the brick, directly from the LEGO Pick a Brick site or from the author’s site.

Amongst LEGO builders (and AFOL — Adult Fans of LEGO) sets and builds come in various scales. There’s “minifig scale” where a standard LEGO-sized person (hence, minifig) is person sized, and an average wall is about seven bricks high. From this, you can calculate the size of a car, a house, or large building. There’s “microfig” scale which is much, much smaller, with buildings just a few bricks high. The builds in Cool Creations in 35 Pieces are somewhere in the middle, similar to the Monthly Mini Builds that happen monthly at the LEGO site.

I have a few small complaints with the book. First, it’s just too short, only 32 pages. The books coming from the LEGO company lately (note that Sean’s book is not affiliated) have been of extremely high quality with lots of pages filled with colorful photography. They’ve been on an amazing roll lately, and I can see that it’s challenging for a smaller publisher to compete. That said, I would have liked to see at least a hundred pages or more. Perhaps the author, Sean, could have crowd sourced the builds? After publication the Cool Creations site has started including builds from kids and the public. I would have liked to have seen those builds in the book, though. The hardcover version is so thin, the hard cover is nearly the thickness of the pages.

Second, I think that 35 piece is almost too constrained. This is a nit, and it’s arbitrary, like saying “I think Twitter should have picked 200 characters rather than 140.” However, my 6- and 8-year-old boys just weren’t captivated by the builds.

It may be the case that the boys didn’t appreciate the largely monochromatic photography of the book. The author had access to more bricks than the kids; each page moved from all red brick builds to all blue brick builds, leaving my kids bummed that they didn’t have bricks that looked like the ones they saw in the book. I know that kids appreciate mini-builds like these, as we’ve purchased some of the Star Wars “planets” series as well as the wonderfully creative and tiny LEGO Architecture series. However, these tiny builds just didn’t capture their imagination like I thought they would.

I would recommend that you check out the site for Cool Creations and Sean’s other books. They aren’t expensive at all. See if your kids are into the idea of tiny, constrained builds, and if they are, pick up a copy! Collect the 35 pieces and put them in a cigar box or Ziploc bag. Put the bag or box in the glove trunk of your car, and pull it out when you’re out in the world with a bored child or two. It will surely keep them entertained in a pinch, while perhaps not an entire afternoon.

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Scott Hanselman blogs about computers, technology, parenting, and more at Hanselman.com. Check out his recent reviews of other kid’s toys, like the most recent review of Snap Circuits Electronics.

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