October 24, 2019

(++++) BUILD IT!

LEGO Gadgets. By the editors of Klutz. Klutz. $24.99.

     One of the great things about those marvelous click-together LEGO building blocks is the way they invite creativity. If you can think of something to build, you can probably build it with LEGOs. Indeed, for decades, the great joy of LEGOs was the way they encouraged unstructured play – much the same way solid wood building blocks used to for kids of earlier generations, except that LEGOs snap tightly together and are not prone to fall over and cause painful bumps, as could happen when heavy wooden blocks were stacked just a bit too high.

     There is still nostalgic appeal to LEGOs, and they can still be used for creating just about anything, but there is a lot more to them now than there was when Ole Kirk Christiansen came up with the LEGO idea in 1932 (yes, that long ago). Now there are LEGO blocks in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and LEGO figurines of all types in all sorts of costumes, and all sorts of guided ways to use LEGOs – ways that go well beyond “think it up yourself” but still retain a great deal of the original LEGO creativity concept.

     And right in the middle of the new ways to use LEGOs is Klutz, that wonderful purveyor of “books-plus” products in which all sorts of crafts projects are offered, explained, and provided with everything needed to accomplish them. LEGO Gadgets is a perfect encapsulation of what Klutz is all about and what LEGO has, to some extent, become. The excellent illustrations in the 78-page book provide step-by-step instructions for making 11 machines, and the way the book is written is right in line with the level of amusement and enjoyment that permeates Klutz products. For instance, one chapter is called “Micro Movie Maker: No Lights, No Camera, All Action!” And the book ends with a list of “LEGO gadgets we would love to see,” such as an “obstacle course designed for minifigures,” a “metronome to help musicians keep their tempo,” and a “truck that gathers loose LEGO bricks from the floor.”

     Even more intriguing than these concepts are some real-world creations that are similar in some way to the LEGO projects in the book. For instance, in the chapter on building a hand-like LEGO claw, there is a photo of “a prosthetic arm called Luke (after Luke Skywalker from Star Wars),” which “can pick up a coin” and is “controlled by the wearer’s brain!”

     To make the 11 machines pieced together in LEGO Gadgets, people ages eight and up (not just kids!) use the 58 included LEGO elements that are neatly packaged in a box affixed to the side of the instruction book. To jazz up some of the projects and give the gadgets extra personality, there are six papercraft sheets provided – so, for example, “Rollin’ Rex,” an upright dinosaur on wheels rather than legs, gets a paper head and paper tail, and the “Ghost Guzzler” (a kind of vacuum cleaner for ectoplasmic beings) gets paper ghosts that appear to have been sucked in.

     It is worth pointing out that Klutz is well aware of the creativity aspect of LEGOs, and the LEGO Gadgets book tosses out ideas about going beyond the instructional material to make somewhat different items on more or less the same basis. Regarding that wheeled, cartlike “Ghost Guzzler,” for instance, there is a suggestion to “try hacking this build to make holes in donuts, play a robot drum solo, or build a minifigure rodeo.” How exactly would those modifications work? That is left up to readers/users of LEGO Gadgets, the idea being to spur the creative process even while giving precise instructions for making some specific items. The blend of precision, careful instruction, humor, suggestions for additional ideas, and careful inclusion of everything needed to accomplish all the projects outlined in the book, results in a “books-plus” offering that will keep kids and parents alike intrigued for hours, days and more – confirming the continuing delights both of LEGO blocks and of Klutz productions.

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