Thursday, August 17, 2006

Block Play

Sometimes it seems like most of my posts apologize for not being "real" Block Play, but instead being a near-miss.

Yet when I do an online search for building blocks, I am as likely to find "how to" books about just about anything than "real" building blocks such as the unit blocks in today's pictures.

So "building blocks," and thus "block play" can also be a metaphor for construction with discrete components.

I have occasionally been tempted to wander even further astray than I have, to include things such as loop-loom potholders, or even playing music on a children's zither.

Thinking about "how do I benefit from block play" helps me see the parallels: I benefit because I am able to create something. Even if it doesn't have enduring significance.

In each case, I begin with predefined forms, assemble them to a pattern which may or may not vary in some way from a provided example, and end up with something satisfying, having order and structure.

Good Block Play.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Campaniles &c

I got an email the other day from a university student whose research led to this blog. Preparing to respond involved some block play -- I routinely do activities from my "cope list" to try to get the brain functioning in some sort of order, and since the question I needed to answer was about the benefits of Froebel blocks, it seemed appropriate to use Froebel blocks in my preparation.

In this instance, Froebel's "Fourth Gift," which consists of eight rectangular blocks of ratio 1x2x4. But instead of the real thing, I went for an oversized counterpart in unit blocks. Some exercise with the blocks, and off I went to write and email my response. I realized when creating the link above that I have posted all of Froebel's block gifts except #4, which is probably my favorite. I shall need to correct that ommission soon.

Later I went back to the blocks and began fooling around, quickly grabbing more blocks out of the box, but sticking primarily to the basic 1x2x4 unit blocks.

Still feeling happy about the campanile in the previous post, I began experimenting with variations, until I was happy with what I had built. I photographed it, then tore it down and began building what I imagined to be the facade of a modern office block, though when I saw the pictures, I was more inclined to consider it perhaps an old department store?

The campanile was less pleasing in the pictures, so I went back and rebuilt it with some modifications, and it is the rebuilt version that appears at left. The first try is at right, I find I dislike it less on further reflection.

The first campanile used 26 "unit" unit blocks, nine "other," and one wood ball with a flattened side; the facade 48 "units" and six "other;" the second campanile 36 "units, ten "other, and the ball again. Sort of an intermediate exercise between the "all one size and shape" of Kapla and their ilk, and the "many sizes and shapes" of most block sets.

Good Block Play.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

"Falcon" Bildmor Blox

"Falcon" Bildmor Blox have long seemed a bit of an enigma to me. The orange and purple colors are ugly, the blocks look and feel cheap, and exhibit very poor quality conrol, But the selection of shapes, and the packaging, of which there are several versions suggesting an extended manufacturing period, seems to have been done with intelligence, for more critical than usual buyers.

There are much better sets available from other makers, before and after. Much better looking, much better to play with.My best guess is that these sold at a lower price than superior products, and the disadvantages would not have been apparent in a black and white ad. So I suspect that they sold mostly through catalogs and mailorder ads, not through retail stores, but I have seen nothing to back that up. Further research awaits a better internet connection.

Were they depression era? Whatever their circumstance, they have served to demonstrate yet again that a careful selection of shapes, and some good sample designs, can make cheap blocks more educational, and perhaps more satisfying, than a poorly designed set no matter how slick and colorful the latter. So ultimately, the Falcon sets are good Block Play.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Master Builder

The Master Builder 25 series by Haba was previously labeled as T.C.Timber, formerly Skaneatlas, maker of my dearly beloved childhood wooden trains. It is the more architecturally oriented counterpart to the discontinued T.C.Timber Table Unit Blocks line.

Given that they both are described as having 25 mm block pitch, one might expect them to be quite compatible, but if one compares the block assortment, one quickly realizes that the architectural blocks might more closely correspond to half the linear dimension of the Unit Block style. Unit blocks are defined in terms of the thickness of the basic 1x2x4 block, while architectural block sets with the same shape block would look at the width of that block, considering it to be 1/2x1x2 pitch units.

Life is not that simple though, since Anchor Blocks are also 25 mm pitch, have blocks corresponding to many of the same sizes and shapes as Master Builder 25, yet the latter is clearly a "larger" scale. The difference is in the mix of blocks, with Ankerstein tending towards smaller block sizes, MB25 toward larger.

But since they are all indeed 25 mm, MB25 can be used to extend what can be satisfactorily done with the TT unit blocks, with aesthetic caution, partially because unit blocks have rounded edges, while MB25 have edges just shy of being sharp, but partially because each series has an aesthetic integrity that doesn't also adjust well to interlopers.

I look forward to being able to grope into my new Master Builder 25 stash occasionally to extend what can be done with my Anker sets, since I lack some of the longer Anker stones. The caution about aesthetic cohesion undoubtedly applies here as well.

Webster's temple is from an older MB25 Antiquities set, the bridge adds a few stray pieces.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


I haven't abandoned block play, but have mostly been doing low key stuff with Wedgits, Froebel cubes, and such. Not much for picture taking.

But here's a picture of a bead mosaic design, just to let you know I am still here.

I think that soon there will be some real Block Play.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


This small Czech block set was probably made for export to a variety of countries, and rather than label it in a variety of languages, it has no labelling at all -- just illustrations!

Fine by me.

Though maybe the printing could have been in a little better register.

It is still good Block Play.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Pequeno Arquiteto

Pequeno Arquiteto seems to be Portuguese for "small architect," and is apparantly used not just for different sorts of toy block sets, but also for different sorts of architects. Short? Small projects?

This particular set came from Brazil and is interesting for being tongue and groove, but without the notches of last week's Jeppe set.

The pieces have a 3/4" square cross-section, not counting the tongues.

Small & appealing block play.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


From Denmark, land of Lego and Hama with their inspiring explorations of plastic, came once upon a time a toy of wood: Jeppe, which continues yesterday's theme of Lincoln Log variants.

The most intriguing aspect of Jeppe, in comparison with most other linked-log constuction sets, is that the pieces are tongue-and-groove, which allows one to have wall sections such as window pillars entirely without cross pieces. In some other sets, that is provided for by having window inserts with grooves that hold the log ends in place, or in at least one instance, by having holes in the log ends so that a rod or dowel can be dropped in to hold the stacked ends vertical. Most sets, though, rely on stubby little crosspieces where a wall ends without a supporting corner.

Like Miniature Timbers, Jeppe has masonite roof pieces, this time slick side up and painted red. Similar pieces, which may be roofs in other structures, provide floors, resting in pegs stuck in the bottom layer of logs. No gratuitous extra chimneys to hold the roofs on, instead a tape hinge at the peak holds the roof in place and no chimeys are provided at all. I might need to cut a couple from scrap wood, for esthetic benefit, and for the comfort of the occupants.

Jeppe is also big, with the pieces 20mm high without the tongue, and 15mm thick (about 3/4" x 9/16"). Today's house is roughly 16" by 16" and over 8" high.

But by far the most intriguing aspect of Jeppe is the provision of holes and pegs to fasten pieces together like Erector sets or TinkerToys, as well as wheels and tires for making vehicles. So in addition to cabins, corrals and blockhouses, Jeppe can be used to build trucks and trains and spindly towers, with pieces pegged together or linked by pressing a tongue into a groove at an angle.

Intriguing Block Play.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Miniature Timbers

Lincoln Logs weren't the first interlocking structure set ("linking logs"), but they are by far the best known. American Logs came in a close second, in their day. Both of these had two different cross-section sizes, in the 1/2"-3/4" range, at some point in their history. Many other makers have imitated them at various times, mostly in similar sizes, but also larger and smaller.

Jeu Jura in Europa and Roy Toy in the US both have had smaller square/rectangular sets, which I have shown here previously, but the smallest of what I consider "real" construction sets (there have been tinier Lincoln Log sets in keychain and pen-top containers, but I consider these toys-of-toys) are the ~5/16" square Miniature Timbers from The Brand Mfg. Co. of "P.O. Box 6525, Stockyard Station, Denver 16, Colorado."

From the logo and the address, the "Brand" in the name appears to refer to cattle branding, not "brand name," but perhaps it also referred to the owner's name? The address style and illustrations all suggest 1950s production.

Roofs are probably where construction sets differ the most, with solutions ranging from folder cardstock to strips of wood to molded plastic. Miniature Timbers used masonite pieces with the textured side up, which turns out to be rather effective at representing roofing material such as asphalt shingles. The roofs are held by pieces of dowel extending down from the chimneys into holes in the roof pieces. That does have the odd effect that there are chimneys places where there would be no stove or fireplace underneath, such as just inside the front door opening or the middle of the garage, but hey ...

Set sizes ranged from 100-piece #0 to 800-piece (!) #3; the structures shown are buildable with 250-piece set #1.

Miniature Timbers were advertised as 1/4" scale, and illustrated with 1950s Lionel O gauge trains. I am sure the combination provided good play value for those who used the sets that way, though they likely wouldn't satisfy a scale model railroader.

Be that as it may, Miniature Timbers are good fun, and good Block Play.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


I said this morning that there was time for more block play, and indeed there was.

Or was it Blox play?

3 things 2 things

This morning I posted in 3 Things 2 Things:

2 things you looking forward to today:
Anchor Blocks
Ball Mosaic

And here it is still early in the day and I've done both.

There's still time for more Block Play.

Monday, May 01, 2006


Today seemd like a good day for Wedgits, so I got out the design cards and started at the beginning. This design is well into the first card set.

Wedgits are good block play.

[created 5/1/06; modified 5/13/07]

Friday, April 21, 2006

Reliable Easylock Tower

When I previously talked about Reliable Easylock, I said that they and American Plastic Bricks were the 1940s'-1950s' primary counterpart to Lego.

But that is only partially true: these very brick-like products were only really suitable for buildings (even if I did make cars, trucks, buses out of ours), while Lego from very early on was intended to more widely applicable, and has been extended over the decades into wildly divergent areas.

The flip side is that American Bricks and its alternatives did indeed have some advantages for many types of North American structures. Even if I keep sneaking in such digressions as bead mosaics and firetrucks, structures are still for me the core of Block Play.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Baufix 3001

In January I got a Baufix set off eBay: "Unused in original box with all contents..." As is so often the case, the box may have been original, but it was battered, and it wasn't actually complete. Not the bargain it might have been, but still a nice find.

Fortunately, when I finally buckled down to build this truck today, I was able to come up with substitutes for the missing pieces from an earlier Baufix find.

Altogether, I can now successfully build from a variety of downloaded examples, and I even have an instruction book. Not least, I now have real Baufix wheels. :)

Baufix is good fun, a happy variation of blockplay.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A scent of sand, chalk and linseed oil

An especial delight in returning to Ankerstein after a period of neglect is rediscovering the pleasure of the distinctive scent of the stones constituants - dominated by the linseed oil, enhanced by the chalk, and do I really detect the quartz sand, or is that just the power of suggestion? Sunlight seems to nudge me to bring out the Anchor blocks, perhaps because its warmth brings out the aroma.

The plan is one of those that accompanies set #6, but it can also be downloaded -- look for GK-NF, 06, "6 972," page 02.

Webster is generously providing background scenery of rolling hills. He obviously can find peace without the therapeutic benefits of block play.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Large bead design

My beadplay has continued, with intermittant meditatations on how my version of beadplay relates to what my best blockplay is for me.

I've mostly been doing small bead blocks based on quilt blocks, crochet blocks, beadwork, needlepoint, etc.

But the other day I ran across an interesting book:
American Indian Designs for Needlepoint Rugs. Other books have similar designs, but in this one, they are very close to actual size for Perler beads or Hama beads.

That means you can just place Perler's large trasparent boards over the color designs, and work directly, just like the Chicken Socks Melty Beads book, the Hama Maxi sets, or some Perler sets.

My first project from the book, on two linked Perler boards, is in the photo. (I wanted to use up some Ikea beads, which also meant I had to do some color substitution.)

Pretty nifty fun, and for me at least, a form of block play.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Ball Mosaic

Not blocks, but not far removed from my Parquetry post of a while back. And maybe we can count that nice chunky block of glass that, with its appropriate indent pattern, forms the base of the design. Or we can claim an Ankerstein link, and reference Richter's Meteor, which came in several versions and was shown in various of the old Anchor plans booklets (scroll down to page 18).

I first learned of my glass set, illustrated above, in the Kugelmosaik web site I cited for the Richter sets. I had been using Meteor diagrams (such as those in the Vorlagenheft link for the first set -- and scroll down for an Ankerstein image!) to make fuse bead patterns with Perler and Hama beads, and was googling for more variety. That item mid-right is my newest fuse-bead block, made in counterpoint to the design I had just made in glass.

The Vorlagenheft for the glass set doesn't show blue, so I decided I would substitue blue for green at whim. Since the green is actually a poisionous greenish yellow, whim came early.The white glass balls for the set apparently went missing long ago, with some red and black beads put in the empty compartment. I resubstituted some round pearlized beads of almost the exact size. They all but disappear in the photo, but are quite gaudy in real life.

Not block play in terms of setting blocks one on the other, but certainly not far afield from blocks being arranged esthetically, with the structural elements being repetition and symmetry, rather than stack and span.

The image below shows some earlier examples of fuse-bead blocks from ball mosaic patterns. For my head at least, a similar overcoming of entropy. A satisfactory extension of block play.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Kapla Red

One of my Chrimmus presents was from eBay, 39 red and orange Kapla sticks, and the corresponding book.

The colored Kapla sets retail for $32, and don't seem to turn up for less at all often. I had gotten the yellow/black (green?) and dark blue/medium blue sets off eBay last year, but hadn't seen a red/orange set on eBay or in local shops.

Then this stuff turned up on eBay, sans box and missing a stick. I resigned myself to being a stick short until I could color an uncolored stick to match.

But I think maybe that wore on me, and I "somehow" didn't get around to doing anything with the new set until today.

Turns out there are all forty.

The seller miscounted.

Time for some red & orange block play!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Erector Junior

This helicopter measures a little over 18 inches from the front of the cockpit to the tip of the tail, and about 17 inches from tip to tip of the rotor blades.

Unfortunately, I don't have the manual for the set, #1721, so had to build it by guess and by golly from the picture on the box and a similar picture in a catalog from the 1994 era of the set. I'd sure like to get a copy of the instruction booklet for this set. Having the box and catalog exclaim "20 models" just pours salt in the wound.

Erector Junior is Meccano Junior outside the United States, and at the time this set was made, all the Erector and Meccano products were made in Calais, France. Current sets are made in China, for Meccano, which is still in Calais, and are imported into the United States by Brio.

The body of this helicopter is made up of hollow plastic double or quad "blocks," as were constructions from most Junior sets of the era. These "blocks" seem to have been dropped from the most recent sets, taking them even further from the concept of block play.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Froebel Gift Number 5

Sometimes I think that of everything that Froebel did, Gift 5 is what doomed him to being all but forgotten, his invention of the Kindergarten living in name only.

Here and there, Froebel's teachings are still studied and followed, but the vast majority of Kindergartens are not following Froebel's plan, and if you go back to how the change occurred, you will find mentions of his blocks being too small and fiddly for young children.

Whenever I get my Gift 5 set out and start playing, I find myself in agreement with the critics. Those little triangular pieces, seen here in the peaked roof over the church doors, are just a nuisance. Trying to make some of the example designs with them, particularly when they are expected to rest on each other's angled surfaces, can be enough to make me growl in frustration. This is not necessarily a good thing, particularly with what is intended for me to be a therapeutic activity.

The other block Gifts -- Gift 3, Gift 4, and Gift 6 -- are not small and fiddly, or at least not nearly so as the smaller pieces of Gift 5. (Gift 4, which I seem not to have blogged yet, although I build with it frequently, is 8 oblong pieces, having its sides in the same 1:2:4 ratio as the Unit Block. Gift 6 is an enhanced Gift 4 in the same way that Gift 5 is an enhanced Gift 3.)

Someday I'd like to have an oversized set of Gift 5, with even the smallest pieces having enough heft to be comfortable in more relaxed block play.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Lego 4886

Lego's Building Bonanza set first caught my eye on their web pages almost a year ago, with a note saying it would be available in March. In March, it said it would be available in April. In May, it finally showed as available, and I started checking stores. In October, I finally found it in the local toy store I visit almost weekly. That eventually led to the introduction of Lego constructions to this blog.

The set was received as a Christmas present, and today I finally sorted out the parts and started building the first and simplest house. Very nice.

Lego now has user contributed designs, and it looks like a few hundred can be built from this set. Unfortunately, making use of the designs requires a rather awful piece of Lego software that is slow, ungainly, and prints with a black background that wastes large amounts of ink -- unless you take the image to an image editor and clear out the background before printing. What an hassle.

But with or without the user designs, I think this set will provide good block play.