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.