Friday, December 30, 2005

Reliable Easylock

"Reliable Easylock" bricks are the Canadian version of "American Bricks," which went through many versions in the United States, and were the Lego-counterpart of my childhood.

In one of those eBay surprises, the instruction sheet with several sample structures was hidden under the bricks, and the bricks turned out to be apparently a complete set or nearly so, in reasonably good shape. Certainly there are enough bricks to build anything pictured for the smaller set on the plan sheet, and there may be enough to build structures intended for the medium set.

The cardstock roof pieces were missing, but a substitute was quickly created, and original American Brick roof pieces are typically unusable due to warping and battered edges anyway -- presumably the same would apply to Reliable Easylock cardstock roofs.

Good Block Play.

Duplo -- Form versus Content -- Or Process?

A while back, Dr S and I had several discussions of Form versus Content.

I went home and thought about that for a while, and wrote down "Form -- Content -- Process" on a slip of paper, which I promptly lost. We didn't return to the topic, so I didn't think about it very much until the piece of paper turned up during pre-Christmas tidying.

Earlier today, I was thinking about that in connection with my Kvack blog, which has been a while between posts.

Maybe I was neglecting Kvack because I was too concerned with Form -- about having a good photo, or being able to write well.

Maybe I was neglecting Kvack because I was too concerned with Content -- about having something significant to report.

But maybe I should be less concerned with that and more concerned with the Process of simply blogging there now and then.

I tried to write about these thoughts there, then decided to take a break and go build something.

Not feeling up to much challenge, I chose Duplo.

And I think I thereby demonstrated that a project may have significant weaknesses in both Form and Content, but still be important.

Often, Process is the real purpose and benefit of Block Play.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Lego Bucket

One of the more useful lessons I have learned this year is that it is a big help if I have a hierarchy of challenge within a category of play, especially if I hope for therapeutic benefits.

With Legos, that means saving some sets for stand-alone play, forming stepping stones between the most basic "Legos from cards" and the often-overwhelming well-sorted bulk collection.

Eliza and Levi gave me a Lego bucket for Christmas that was a bit of a challenge to my commitment to supporting the hierarchy: it contains a booklet of sample designs, which is an almost critical element of a separate step, but it also contained some Legos that would very usefully supplement the major collection.

Good sense prevailed, and I will maintain this as a stand-alone set. I sorted the contents into zip lock sandwich bags by type of brick, and built one of the designs in the booklet.

The chart of contents on the outside of the bucket helped me decide. I really like those, and not all Lego buckets or tubs have them. Its presence makes the useful pieces much easier to borrow if I ever actually need them for something I build with the bulk collection.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Stabuilt Blocks

These are rather nice blocks, but I didn't know how nice, how big, or what they were when I bought them. Mostly just that they were made by the Embossing Company of Albany, New York, and looked like fun.

A little Googling and I turned up this image of the box lid on the ever-interesting web site and learned they were "Stabuilt Blocks" from circa 1917. In an odd coincidence, I had lost an eBay auction a couple of hours earlier, thought that the winning bidder 's name "George Wetzel" looked familiar, and had had Google lead me to the same familiar web site -- one I have ended up at many times while researching or just "poking around." I am hoping he will give me permission to keep using the image.

One of the things that attracted me to the set was the inclusion of several loose pages of designs from the manual. They looked like the kinds of things I would enjoy building, and indeed I have.

The boat, by the way, is about 24" long.

My set is missing many of the connecting dowels (which I will replicate in due time). In the meantime, most of the blocks shown here are unconnected, leaning more on the traditions of classic block play.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Anchor Blocks

It's been a while since I posted something built from Ankerstein, and I feel sort of like I am "paying my dues" when I do -- or returning to this blog's roots.

There is not much that as reliably gives me pleasure. The scent, the feel, the heft of each individual stone. And of course the results.

This is from page 7 of the Set 6 manual. Set 8 wasn't really an option, partly because of a need for simplicity, partly because there simply wasn't room on the table for two boxes of stones. I happily give Jo's Christmas preparations priority in claiming space.

I have written many times, including yesterday, about how each type of construction set has its own vocabulary, its own syntax, that we exploit when building from instructions, and must learn in order to build interesting structures of our won.

I think each also speaks to the builder uniquely, if we care to listen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Brio Air

Even before I did the Baufix airplane a few days ago, I was thinking about doing an airplane with the Brio Builder (and Brio Mec) parts I had been accumulating.

I started out trying to reproduce the Baufix model as closely as I could, but immediately ran into problems - in Baufix, the blocks have threaded holes (as well as unthreaded) and will take a bolt, but the Brio blocks will only take a pass-through bolt or a press-in connector.

The press-in connectors didn't provide a satisfactory propeller mount - they would have taken the two three hole strips, but not rotating (I would have known, at least some readers might have known) and without a propeller hub.

So I ended up moving on to the back-of-my-mind twin engine design I thought I might do next.

A little fiddling and trial and error brought the pictured result.

When I got my first Brio, I hadn't given any thought at all to the block pieces, merely seeing Brio and Baufix and such as oversized wooden counterparts to Erector, Meccano, et al.

But the more I do with them, the more I appreciate the blocks, and what they contribute to the design aspects.

And of course, they make this a form of Block Play.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Basic Blocks

Sometimes eBay can be a great source even if you don't win the auction.

Several months ago an interesting small set of moderately old German (or Czech?) blocks was listed on eBay. It closed without selling and was then relisted. I don't remember whether it was on more than twice, or whether it ever sold. Maybe the seller simply gave up. Maybe it will turn up again.

My problem was the cost of postage on top of the (reasonable) cost for the blocks. I almost bid and almost bid, but I somehow couldn't convince myself that I needed it badly enough.

Most of the appeal was in the box art, and the example builds pasted inside the lid. The blocks were simply colored cubes, and it wasn't clear that the blocks in the set were as nice as colored cubes I already had. The colors of the block pictures on the box are much nicer than either, of course. :)

Building small designs like this are my favorite therapy for rough patches. I often build several designs one after another. Then I decide I really ought to blog this, and go looking for my camera.

By the time I have set things up, taken the pictures, uploaded to my computer, tweaked the images, uploaded to the Internet, and written the supporting text, things are usually better.

The critical first step is usually being able to grab something and start building.

I think maybe I should have bought this set when I had the chance.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bizzy Bilding Blox

Back to basic blockplay perhaps, for these "blox" are closer to traditional blocks than have been many of my recent subjects. They are sort of a cross between Lincoln Logs and classic building blocks.

I will happily attest that although the corners do interlock in a manner, that provides no extra stability and does not dramatically aid in alignment. I shifted the cabin slightly out of plumb while moving its baseboard for the photograph, and probably spent more time getting it straight again than it took me to build it in the first place.

Bizzy Bilding Blox are an American product of the World War II years. Materials shortages and the conversion of many toy factories to war production created an opportunity for the Timmerman Manufacturing Company of Hibbing, Minnesota. It is the box art, not the blocks, that give away the era.

I will argue in favor of their educational value as a construction toy, but as for spelling ...

Thursday, December 15, 2005


In addition to Brio Builder (formerly Brio Mec), several other companies have made wooden erector-type sets. One of the more interesting is Baufix.

Tuesday morning I was printing out several pages of Baufix designs I thought I might be able to use for inspiration with my Brio parts.

Tuesday afternoon I stopped on a whim at Me 'n Moms (I really, really want to write "Mom's") to see if they had anything interesting. There was a bag of mixed wooden construction toy parts. Some Brio. Some Baufix. The gods do this sometimes to tease me. I don't mind too much.

When I went to build something last night, I discovered that all the Baufix designs I had printed included wheels with tires, and I had no tires. Only two "pulleys," or wheels without tires. When I tried building with just those, the "wheels" failed to reach the ground, and the airplane wobbled on a bolthead instead.

On my way to my psychiatrist appointment this morning, I stopped at Rockler Woodworking and chose some halfway acceptable wheels from their wooden toy parts selection. The axle holes were too small, so I drilled them out with a dull spade bit I found in the basement. I'm not claiming the holes aren't a bit wobbly, but hey -- the wheels aren't all the same size anyway.

They'll do.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Mixed Media

Today I did some Lego, Brio Builder, Wedgits, and more Lego.

Often several small projects are better than one big one.

The Brio Builder tip-loader is quite a contrast to the recent bridge -- as well it might be, since I had to choose a project that could be made with what wasn't used in the bridge.

That had the side effect of making it more "block play" in some ways, albeit blocks held together with friction connectors. I think the Brio is working very well for me.

The all-black Wedgits sure don't photograph well, but I find them much more relaxing than the multi-color sets. If I had known I was going to be taking this picture, and what else would be in it, I might have chosen all-white instead.
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[created 12/8/05; modified 5/13/07]

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Anker is German for anchor, Stein is German for stone, but Anker-Stones are not the same thing as Ankerstein or Anchor Stones. I try to be careful but I may slip and use the wrong reference.

Anker-Stones are made of a material similar to Ankerstein, but not identical. They are often compared to Lego because of the protuberances and holes, but these are more a matter of bumps and dimples, and serve only for alignment -- there is not a hint of locking the pieces together like Legos.

The buckets are apparently randomly filled with loose stones, in contrast to the careful selection of stones in each Ankerstein set or expansion set. I got my bucket used though, from someone with more than one bucket. It is possible the buckets were mixed together for play, then divided in a less useful mix than a factory-fresh set would have provided.

I suppose if you had lots and lots of stones, you could build rather interesting things. I suspect that fans are regularly buying more buckets, trying to get a few more of some particularly useful stone shape, meanwhile accumulating ever greater numbers of the common shapes.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Bridge & Blocks

There used to be Ankerstein sets with metal bridge parts, and I hope someday the new company restores bridge elements to the product line.

I've given some thought on and off to adding bridge spans to my Unit Block emulations of Anker structures from the time of my first such efforts.

One of my ideas was using Brio Builder (like oversized erector sets of wood) to make a bridge. Unfortunately, I have real head problems about rummaging about in the attic. But I managed to overcome that for the Legos, and after a few days, went back for the Brio.

Between what was in the attic, and some more I got with money from some train stuff I had on consignment, I think I managed to make a passable looking bridge, even it if may be a bit big for the blocks.

I hope to follow up eventually with more substantial abutments, with more involved block building, but in the meantime, I am happy to know there is at least one bridge solution for these blocks.

And working with the Brio is very nice as well.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

LEGO from cards

If you've read much in this blog, you know that I often need to work from examples, and sometimes that is a serious therapeutic need. You also may have caught on that I like cards best, with one project per card (or card side).

Yesterday I was out looking at toys (itself often a therapeutic activity) and saw an interesting looking game - LEGO Builder Xtreme - with cards showing small constructions and the pieces needed to construct them.

As I was studying the box, I started thinking maybe I had that game, so I came home and looked. It turned out I had an earlier version - LEGO Creator Game, which is probably close enough for me.

The key elements for me are that set of cards for various small constructions, and a corresponding set of LEGO pieces. The cards are differentiated by five color codes - each color has four cards which divide the pieces differently for four different constructions, so those four can be built simultaneously.

I put the pieces in a resealable bag, cleaned up the perforation fuzz on the cards and used a corner rounder punch to round their corners, and now have another ready-to-go kit for when I need a simple therapeutic activity. The game box, board, and rules went back where I found them - I may want them again for a grandchild or something.

A tentative project is to match the multicolored pieces in two or three single-color sets, since often when I particularly need a therapeutic activity, I am especially vulnerable to sensory overload, and the multiple bright colors might be too much for me. At other times, building the model without the color cues could be interesting or beneficial.

In the meantime, another nice therapy tool.
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Monday, November 21, 2005


I had thought I wouldn't include Lego building here, but two recent occurrences changed my mind.

First was a new set from Lego that features delightful European house styles -- a pleasant shift from the claptrap which has dominated Lego's releases for so long.

Second was Allan Bedford's wonderful new book: The Unofficial LEGO Builder's Guide

In building with any type of block set one uses a sort of vocabulary of block combinations and recurring modules. Between sessions, I often forget chunks of that vocabulary (just as I often forget English or German) and need some sort of review to get going again. Allan's fine book will serve that purpose for Lego, both now and later.

So I dragged my several containers of blocks down from the attic (apparently missing one), downloaded a 1958 plan from, and built the fire station above.

Unfortunately, I don't have any of the old style small doors or windows called for, and was shy the white plates for the roof, so it ended up a little more divergent than I had hoped. But I still like it.

I think that house set will go on my Christmas list.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Wedgit mobile

That is "mobile" as in "suspended sculpture," not as in "Batmobile."

One of the appealing qualities of Wedgits is that they can be played with by simply stacking, or they can be cleverly interlocked to make more complicated forms.

As a challenge, I decided to see if all 15 pieces of a basic set (Wedgits Junior) could be interlocked into a single lump.

For what it is worth, I managed to do it.

You can turn this upside down, sideways, whatever, and stays a single lump.

Good Block Play

[created 11/18/05; modified 5/13/07]

Monday, November 14, 2005


Switching Wedgits images to negative colors is nifty.

Yesterday I managed to not do Wedgits, but I couldn't hold out for long.

Rumor has it that I am perseverating on Wedgits.

Wedgits Wedgits Wedgits.

Perseverate? Me?

At least it is perseverating on good block play.

[created 11/14/05; modified 5/13/07]

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Unit Blocks

It has been a while since I did a "Unit Blocks with Anker Plans" exercise, but not because I don't like either the process or the results. Both are quite fun.

This time I don't have a specific Anker plan to match my building. I looked at several and set a few out as candidates, but I ended up just building what seemed right, glancing once or twice at some of the examples for inspiration, but never looking closely.

I like it.


Friday, November 11, 2005

Parquetry Blocks

This is a very old toy category, and although perhaps no longer as well known, Parquetry sets are still made and sold.

I played with sets like the Playskool at left when I was in Kindergarten, over fifty years ago, and their descendents are now made by Learning Resources, with the same (thick) block sizes and same sample patterns (on better paper :).

Sets like the large Czech version at upper right are more commonly called Parquetry Tiles because the polished wooden pieces are quite thin. They have a wonderful feel. Similar sets can be found in Seattle stores today, from Haba in Germany.

The sets are great fun for exploring patterns of color and symmetry, with almost universally satisfactory tactile feedback.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Wedgit Colors

The Wedgits folks make a special "Class Pak" with six basic ("Junior") sets of 15 pieces each. All the different size or shape pieces in a set are the same color, and each of the six sets is in a different color.

This is quite a contrast to the regular sets, where no matter which set you get, the sizes are matched to their specific colors (WoW has different versions of the colors, but pretty much the same scheme). That means to build anything, you are largely obliged to mix all the colors in your structure. Which can create sensory overload for the autistic part of my brain.

The Class Pak is intended for classroom use, presumably helping the students sharing a workspace avoid sharing each others Wedgits.

But by using the full Class Pak, a lone builder can have every size or shape of basic Wedgit in each of six colors. Picking a limited palette can be not only easier on the eyes, but also create new aesthetic opportunities.

I usually combine the Class Pak with the regular Wedgits, which means that the count of Wedgits of different sizes varys depending on what colors are being used. Sometimes I use dice with the six colors on the faces to choose which colors to play with (you could use regular dice, and a simple number-to-color chart); duplicated colors in the dice roll means fewer colors in the play mix.

That should be fun. :)
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[created 11/9/05; modified 5/13/07]

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dr. Drew's

Today I will be exploring Dr. Drew's Discovery Blocks.

Eventually, I will add images, links and description.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Mixing 'em up

I wanted to make a structure using both regular Wedgits and WoW (Wedgits on Wheels) Wedgits.

It was a real struggle, because they don't belong together, and the colors look pretty bad together.

But I wanted to see what it would be like to have more Wedgits to build with, and to see if I couldn't get along without more by just mixing the two types.

Yes, I like building with more.

No, I do not not not like using them together.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ankerstein - Kleinkaliber

I didn't let this morning's digression into Wedgits building divert me from my tentative plan to build something with Small Cailber Anchor Blocks.

This time I did build from a sample plan, but I diverted from it a bit.

Addendum: After writing the addendum to today's Wedgits post, I started wondering how much working within the bounds of a colored sheet of paper, as I did here, helps me elaborate more freely on a sample plan.

[created 11/3/05; modified 5/13/07]

Exploring Wedgits

I wasn't going to come back to Wedgits so soon, but ... (isn't this one of the ways you can tell a really good toy?)

Mostly, as I have said many times, I work from examples. The thing that first caught my eye about Wedgits was their card decks of sample designs.

Yet here I am again, creating my own design. Not only that, but that middle module with the greens suspended within a triplet of blues locked by small octahedrons, is my own invention. Others may have invented it earlier, but as best I know, I had never seen or heard of any such thing.

A loud crash from the living room tells me that Archie has struck, and it is time to create something new.

Addendum: After some Anker play, I returned for more "free play" with Wedgits.

The "Building Board" really seems to make a difference in how much I am willing to build freely. In discussions of early childhood educational block play, one of the suggestions is providing an area rug or building boards to provide a bounded area for creative play. It seems to help children, and here at least, it seems to help me.
Archie Supervised.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Roy Toy

Roy Toy is another of those reborn companies, having had an earlier existence in the "classic toy era," been shut down as tastes changed, to then be brought back years later when it turned out that a market was developing for "classic toys."

Roy Toy "logs" are similar to Lincoln Logs in concept, but have a rectangular 3/4" by 7/16" cross section. It is actually quite an appealing format, and I enjoy my sets.

Unfortunately, I've found some quality variation from set to set, and many of the Roy Toy sets don't seem as comfortable in exploratory play as some other makers' sets. Too many Roy Toy pieces seem specific for the one specific structure depicted on the package, rather than being modularly scaled pieces which can be reused in a variety of functions. It might help if Roy Toy included alternate design suggestions, as many others do.

John Lloyd Wright, inventor of Lincoln Logs, learned well at his father's knee, and the father, Frank Lloyd Wright, learned well from his Froebel building blocks. (See? This all ties together with building blocks :). Playing with a toy such as this, which doesn't apply those lessons as well, is educational in its own way.

The up side of Roy Toy's down side is that I have been able to get several sets "used" (with little or no use) at low to very low prices, to preserve my limited budget. And yes, this "fire station" really is pink, though I can't tell you if that is typical. Apparently it has been discontinued, although it still appears on the web site.

Roy Toy customer service has responded very quickly and courteously to a report of a missing piece, even for a discontinued set.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wedgits Building Board

I sent a couple of emails about Wedgits and disability issues to the folks at Wedgits maker ImagAbility and they responded by sending me some stuff to try, including this "Building Board," presumably because they thought it would make for stabler building, reducing the effects of clumsiness.

It does indeed, and I recommend it for anyone with small motor problems, disability related or otherwise.

This particular structure would have been impossible without the board, but it can also be used to make simpler structures easier and less frustrating, including most of the designs on the cards (the exceptions should be quickly obvious, from how the lowest level of Wedgits is arranged).

[11/02/05] I found this picture when I was uploading the Roy Toy pictures I took today, and decided to simply append it to the Wedgits post it belongs to, rather than create a new post. It shows maybe a little better than the original picture how the center section is suspended well above the building board. Plus it has kinda nifty backlighting. The one with Archie has its own charm though. :)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Wedgits on Wheels

I got the Wedgits on Wheels set for the block colors, not the wheels, which initially failed to impress me.

But as long as I had the wheels, I had to at least give them a try, and son-of-a-gun, it turns out that I came to rather like the wheels too. :)

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Thursday, October 20, 2005


A restraint on my using Wedgits has been sensory overload from the bright colors of the standard sets, which are more inclined to trigger sensory overload the more I might benefit from building with them.

I thought the more subdued colors of the Wedgits on Wheels set might help, and indeed they do! (The photograph is especially lit for sparkle and color brightening - in subdued lighting, they are much more mellow.)

With the "quieter" colors, I may also be less vulnerable to the audio noise of the rather clattery pieces, though I will keep my noise-cancelling headphones to hand and wear them for the more precarious designs. More than once I have been driven from the room for a period of pacing and fidgeting after a structure has noisily collapsed! :)

Wedgits has card sets of sample designs, important to me for therapeutic building. The card backs of some of the sets have the same designs as the front, but in black and white, which also helps.

The primary downside of the Wedgits on Wheels pieces is that the molds really weren't designed for transparent plastic, and seeing the viscera of internal bracing and stubs, as well as sloppy glue joints, doesn't particularly enhance the esthetic experience.

Wedgits on Wheels are also rather expensive, unless one is lucky enough to chance on a set cheaply, as I did. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, October 09, 2005


I have long wanted a Mignon metal construction set, a tiny (note the penny!) version of the Erector sets and Meccano sets that are much better known.

Unfortunately, others seem to covet them as well, and they were never very common

But last week I lucked out, and got a boxless, presumably incomplete set at a modest price.

Imagine my delight when it turned out that it actually is virtually complete - only a bent-wire crane hook and three (of 75) nuts are missing.

My luck may be due to it being an earlier, smaller set than those documented on Internet web sites - the apparently "missing" pieces were ones that had not yet been added by its manufacturer!

I've been in communication with a German expert and he seemed to be quite pleased with the information and instruction manual images I sent, and wants more. I need to scan the manual for him next.

Quite a treat. :)

[11/02/2005] I posted this elsewhere on the indicated date, but later thought I'd like to have it here as well, albeit with its original date. I've decided that the name of this blog refers to its central theme, and is well enough established at this point that it need not be a very strict rule.