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Fiz 9.7.05

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Losing the directions

Anyone unfamiliar with LEGOs needs to stumble away from their videogame and smell the plastic. Much like a toddler in a toyshop, the LEGO Group has reached out and touched everything within reach.

In 1949, the first little red Automatic Binding Bricks poured from Ole Kirk Christiansen's imagination. In 1953, they became LEGO Bricks and you could build anything with them --- as long as it required only bricks, plates, axels, and wheels. They did not include instructions. More specialized parts followed. Then came town, farm, and space sets. Nowadays, LEGO is as tied into youth culture as every other toy company: video games, movies, and apparel.

Out of this mix of rainbow-colored plastic and undirected play, a culture of creativity has arisen. For instance, Brickfest 2005 has come and gone and you probably never even thought about going. Beginning on August 12, Adult Fans of LEGO® (AFOLs) gathered at George Mason University in Washington, DC, where they did unspeakable things with LEGOs. Judging from the 79-plus pages of photos available at www.brickfest.com, AFOLs base their community on pirates, robots, and architecture. Perhaps that's the reason why Brickfest and its crazed attendees seem so oddly delightful. At their best, they have taken the directions out of the box and thrown them away.

Eric Harshbarger (www.ericharshbarger.org/lego) has built giant LEGO mosaics of Alice in Wonderland characters. Henry Lim (www.henrylim.org/Harpsichord.html) has built a functioning harpsichord out of LEGOs and wire. Until it's your turn to borrow the harpsichord, the best online LEGO-related entertainment remains the Brick Testament (www.thebricktestament.com) created by Brendan Powell Smith. Smith has received a lot of publicity for his LEGO creations over the years (and published a few books), but there remains something magical about a well-executed LEGO diorama.

--- Craig Brownlie

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