Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Is there anything in Block Play that is so satisfactory to so many senses as Ankerstein? The colors, heft, the tactile delights, the always surprising delight of the scent of linseed oil, sand, and chalk? Few things provide so many pleasures to build with.

Today it was back to basics, set #6, a plan from the accompanying booklet, built with deep pleasure & photographed with only the light from the windows.

Good Block Play

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Logging In

While doing a bit of uncluttering today, I ran across a plastic bag of Lincoln Logs. Not sure what set, and no instructions, so just built.

Nice little bit of therapeutic play in a difficult week.

Lincoln Logs are always Good Block Play.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


You say "tomato" and I say "Wedgits" ... the box says Switchbotz and I say "Hurrah!"

Longtime friends here know of my enduring affection for Wedgits - I've built with them on the beach, in the woods, in the hospital, in the dark. I like Wedgits.

Today, as I often do, I visited my favorite neighborhood toy store (Seattle's best toy store! I got Melvin there. But not to be confused with my favorite math toy store, also widely considered Seattle's best toy store), and I spotted on a shelf a long way from where Wedgits are usually stacked ... something that looked like ... must be ... yes! Mini-Wedgits! ... but under a different name?

The box said Switchbotz several places, but never a mention of Wedgits - but there was the name "Imagability," the folks behind Wedgits, and close examination of the sample models (in metallic gray & red & blue (not sure if the red or blue was metallic) with the familiar Wedgits logo embossed in each familiar piece. So as far as I was concerned these were my dear old friends under a new alias & in new colors.
New colors are sometimes all it takes. I brought a "Carbonite Series" set home, partly because I had just looked at the "Titanium Series" pieces in real life & seriously NEEDED to see the other new colors in real life, partly because they seemed like "Fall colors" & today was a wonderful Seattle early Fall day, and partly because sometimes some of with Autism Spectrum Disorders need mellower colors.

I am delighted. They are great. Now what would be really fun is if someone would go to my BlockPlay Store, and buy some Switchbotz - except as I write this, Amazon doesn't have any, so neither does my store. But at some point, I am sure Amazon will have some for sale, and then the links in this paragraph will let you buy Switchbots or Wedgits or anything else Amazon has, including gift cards.

I may not make a lot of money off the BlockPlay Store, and if you count the construction sets I buy as a "business cost," then the "business" probably spends at least ten times what it makes. But I enjoy seeing what readers here click on & sometimes buy (I have no way of knowing who is clicking or buying so I don't feel guilty about snooping), and I enjoy seeing if there are enough purchases by the end of the month to bump up the commission rate, or if the cumulative earnings by the end of the month will get me an Amazon credit the next month. And yes, I actually do enjoy getting $10 or $15 or sometimes even $40 to spend on Amazon.com. In fact, I do a little dance and go "Woo hoo! Big bucks!"

But too much on that. Mostly, I wanted you to know that I had fun today, and hope you will have fun from the stuff I blog about.

Oh - and Imagability has a  Switchbotz web page, and a Switchbotz Facebook page - not much on either one as I write, but surely there will be more soon. Maybe we should tell them we want glow-in-the-dark Ghost Wedgits?

Switchbotz or Ghost Wedgits, we have good block play.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Melvin & I were playing dominoes this morning, when Melvin got bored & started building things with the dominoes, so we decided to get out a block set.

Since I've been reading about British railways quite a bit lately, we chose a Lott's Lodomo set, and built the railway Signal Cabin from the instruction sheet.

Earlier this year, I got rather involved in studying Sears Houses & their ilk, long a sideline of my interest in Vernacular Architecture, it finally got primary attention. While you can model such houses from kits, they are a bit tougher to build from blocks, a contributing factor in my quietness in this blog for a while.

For the best starter book on enjoying Sears Houses, I strongly recommend Rosemary Thornton's Sears Homes of Illinois - even if you live further from Illinois than I do in Seattle, this book still has the best information and images for helping you see what the houses in the Sears catalogs can look like today.

I'm not claiming that mill-cut house kits were a kind of Block Play, but maybe they're distant cousins?

For me though, I'll look for catalog houses while I am driving around, but at home my constructions will be closer to Melvin's scale.

Lodomo is great fun, and there's even a fine little book called Building Toys with history & color pictures of the various kinds of Lott's sets, as well as several other types of British building sets.

Good Block Play

Sunday, July 10, 2011


I do love old blocks. Tumble-finished wood from either side of the Czech-German border is especially nice. This small set is Czech.

Good block play.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Peg Blox

Peg Blox were made by Lincoln Logs in the era they were part of Playskool. More or less a unit-block variation with TinkerToy-like holes and dowels to hold them together & build various objects.

I've had an incomplete set for some time, missing several blocks, all of the dowels, and the instruction sheet.

I recently came across an instruction sheet image that I was able read well enough to find out what lengths & quantities of dowels came with the set.

Even with my recent excursions into doing things with noisy, mentally disruptive power tools, I wasn't going to make a whole bunch of carefully measured dowels all at once.

But using an Easy Cutter, I was able to make enough dowels in proper lengths to build several of the models, and be confident that I could cut more as needed, without having to wait for a power tool acceptance period or go through a lot of rigmarole. Pretty nifty.

The cuts weren't entirely entirely square, but good enough for this.

I cut. I built. I photographed.

Good Block Play

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Craft-stick CoinStruction

CoinStruction sets were introduced several years ago with the gimmick of using coins as the construction elements, held together by a variety of clips that were the only elements, aside from instructions for the models, inside the boxes.

At four bits for a package of fifty, pennies are cheap, if you are looking for sturdy little disks, but even then, kids might abscond with them. Using dimes & quarters, recommended for some structural positions in the instruction I have, seems to just cry out for filching.

Besides, I felt that they made unattractive models. They looked all fuzzy from the density of clips, and the coins esthetically detracted, rather than enhanced.

I bought a set when a local store had them on clearance. Partially because I thought I shouldn't condemn them without giving them a fair try, partially because I thought the little clips ought to be good for something, even if their advertised purpose was dumb.

My actual experiments with building with coins impressed me little, and I set the CoinStruction set aside for potential use as clips - and more or less forgot about them.

The other day, I ran across a building toy called TomTecT, from the Kapla folks. Consisting of Kapla-like sticks and clips to hold them in various relations to won another. Intriguing.

Eventually I recalled CoinStruction, tracked it down, and explored various options for the sticks. I experimented with various things, including 100% post-consumer recycled Popsicle sticks, and concluded that most worked just fine, but that the latter would make the best cheap bridge components, in their commercial bulk guise of "craft sticks." About as cheap as pennies in the local dollar store. Cheaper for a box of a thousand at the craft store, but my calculations were that 50-100 would do my bridge.

They did.

I like the result.

So basically, with the clips from CoinStruction, using four of the six different shapes, and a small package of craft sticks, I have a fine new construction set.

Not an emulation of TomTecT - the CoinStruction clips differ greatly in geometries available. But good fun anyway.

As many bridges as I have built with a good many different type of construction set, I learned something new about bridge engineering from building with Craft-sticks+Coinstruction: in general, our models tend to be too strong, at best letting us only explore a single type of structural weakness at a time. CS+C modeled some new weaknesses in joints and gave me some new insights.

Good Block Play.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Hurrah! I made the additional slotted blocks for my sparse sampler of Mobaco, as I mentioned in my last post, and I am quite pleased with how Mobaco works, with cardboard wall pieces & such sliding into grooved wooden posts.

Cardboard & wood. Great fun.

The baseboard should be cardboard as well, apparently in an olive-green color, or tan in earlier editions. My substitute for the time being is 6mm craft foam (Foamies), of which the local craft store gave me a choice of red or black. An early project will be cutting a piece of green paper to go on top of the foam. Or painting the foam, if that works.

That Mobaco link is to a fan site with much good information, including scans of older manuals. The prewar sets were much more extensive & built bigger buildings. Those sets seem to be rare & presumably expensive.

But Mobaco pieces aren't cast in stone (or injected in plastic), they are made of materials that can be manipulated by a mildly clumsy person with home tools. One can even go with simpler substitutes, as my foam base - which may actually have an advantage over the factory bases, in that it grips the posts.

I'm going to make some trial wall pieces from thin foam core, perhaps the self-adhesive, with stiffening card behind, the latter not necessarily with all the detail cuts.

If one had one of the computer driven craft die cutters, such as a Cricut Expression, but preferably a more versatile competitor, one could go to town and make the largest sets ever. Plus variations in color, window shapes, "brick" or "stone" walls, etc. I'm not sure that the Cricut itself can actually do what I want, having had brain fog from trying to figure out how to do it. There are a bunch of competitors, and looking at them gave me more brain fog.

So for the time being, I'd just as soon do what I can with craft knives & paper cutters, which means easier-to-cut materials & small quantities.

My first step is accomplished - I made enough posts & the base, so I could actually build. Next I make the missing wall panels, and extras so I don't have to match the originals too precisely, and can have adjacent pieces similar.

There have been a bunch of different versions of the wall-pieces-in-slotted-posts genre (eg Künstler-Baukasten Architekt, Fox Blox, etc).

With the potential for homemade parts, one could use the others for inspiration and stay with Mobaco dimensional compatibility.

Good fun. Good block play.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


A nice little crane from the not-quite-recent fischertechnik Basic Mechanics set. The crane boom moves up & down by a screw drive between the pillar & the crank stand. The power is directed from the horizontal crankshaft to the vertical screw shaft by bevels gears.

Seems like the set could be good for introducing kids to some basic mechanical processes. As I finshed it up & prepared to photograph it, I found myself wondering if the girls next door were old enough. It's not necessarily "their thing," but that might in itself be a good reason for them to spend some time working with a parent or two on something like this.

I used to post on fischertechnik quite a bit, but it's been a couple of years or more. But I've between making replacement grooved blocks for Künstler-Baukasten Architekt set, and preparing to do the same thing for some Mobaco, I've been thinking about slotted blocks quite a bit. That led me back to fischetechnik, which has a basic block form very similar to Mobaco's, but to entirely different effect.

fischertechnik is good fun - I shouldn't have been neglecting it.

Good Block Play.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Künstler-Baukasten Architekt

Old construction sets can be a delight. Especially old wooden construction sets. Especially German construction sets. One of the great joys of the Internet is that it has become so much easier to indulge esoteric interests such as this.

One of the challenges of the Internet is that when one buys an old construction set through the familiar marketplaces, it is very likely to arrive incomplete & with broken pieces.

I often plot out how to go about making replacement pieces, but often those require measures that are not currently available to me. We have a nice array of power tools in the basement, mostly purchased for, and well used by, my dear wife. But though I have the knowledge and experience to use them all, mostly I can't handle the noise & safety concerns. Doing something accurately & safely while exposed to that level of sensory overload is not often an option.

For a while I have been plotting how to make replacement parts for a particularly interesting set.

This morning I went downstairs & made one. Cut the block out of a piece of scrap on the band-saw. Sanded it for size & smoothness on the bench sander. Cut slots in it with the table saw. Drilled holes in it with the drill press. (All these tools are smaller, model-builder sized, not big hulky things - but they are still noisy. And quite capable of injury.)

It worked.

I went off to therapy with my set & my proof-of-concept ("POC") block for show & tell.

Put my POC & a sample from the set in my shirt pocket to go meet my daughter for lunch show & tell.

When I eventually got home, I made another, a "size 4" in contrast to the morning's "size 3" then built this building using them. They are the light-colored vertical blocks in the outside rear corners. The camera exaggerated the appearance difference, but I am still very happy with them.

The set is rather nifty, dating from the late 1940s and coming from the area of the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany along the Czech border.

Neither of my primary references, the book Baukästen, by Ulf Leinweber, or Joachim Kleindienst's JK BaukastenSammler web site, had much to offer, merely a directory listing for "Künstler Baukasten," by "Werner Dietze."

The set itself provided the location "Cranzahl, Erzgebirge," and that helped me get a wee bit more information by Googling. Not much though.

Intriguingly, browsing the Leinhaber book turned up a picture of "Haussers Künstler Baukasten" from a few decades earlier and with a similar construction technique, except Hausser's wall plates are lithographed sheet metal, instead of Dietze's varnished wood decorated with water-transfer decals.

I was well challenged getting this to go together, given some design flaws, documentation flaws, and my own personal flaws.

But go together it did, and I am happy to have it. 12 of the lovely lithographed design sheets accompany the set. I look forward to building them all.

Still a few more missing blocks to make first though. Or maybe as I go along.

All in all, very good block play.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Varis Architect 63

After my first experience with Varis Architect, I quickly ordered a larger set for further exploration and combining options.

I decided the 87 piece set was probably too big for therapeutic use, so went for the 63.

What arrived was the 87.

The seller had a stock problem and substituted the 87, presumably assuming that I would be delighted with the generosity.

Ah, well.

It was too big for me to attempt anything with at the time, but today I got it out and managed to build a close approximation of the 63 piece model with a subset of the 87 pieces.

At some point I will build the full 87 piece model - and it will probably be an easier build than trying to build the 63 piece model with the wrong assortment of pieces and no instruction sheet.

But I really wanted to know if I had the pieces to build the 63 piece church, and building it was the only effective way to find out.

More fun than damage, I think, though with my garbled brain, it's hard to tell.

At some point I look forward to mixing everything together and building some cottages. Maybe a small village.

Good Block Play.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


The Ankerstein GK-NS, or Grosse Kaliber - Neue Serie (large caliber - new series), are pretty much the same as our familiar GK-NF, or Grosse Kaliber - Neue Folge (large caliber - new series), except for the large arches have a notch out of the upper corner. Sometimes that makes a difference, though not so much here, where the large arch isn't used.

One small difference: in the boxes, the notches are filled with #19 stones. With those stones in place, the NS arch substitutes nicely for an NF arch; without them the NS arch provides some additional interesting options.

In this church, though, it is only the two extra #19 stones that are used, so if you only have a current Anchor #4 set, you can't build this as shown. I think my handful of readers either have multiple sets or no sets, so not a problem.

Good block play.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Varis Architect

For a number of years, I have coveted the log building sets from Varis Toys of Latvia, but was daunted by price & shipping costs.

When Varis added the Architect line, I was even more intrigued, but still held off.

But I finally broke down & ordered (via a UK seller on Ebay) the smallest set, with just 25 pieces.

It arrived yesterday, and is a delight.

The pieces are 20mm pitch (a little over 3/4 inch), like the old Ankerstein Klein Kaliber. They are very well made, so are not to small for building small structures.

These are not intended for the huge castles that advanced Anchor builders enjoy, but that is not their intent, nor does Varis offer the variety of block shapes that requires.

Yesterday I immediately built the small church illustrated on the box and diagrammed with layer plans on the excellent sheet included.

Today I pressed onward & built something freelance. Even with so few blocks, it is possible to create something interesting, especially if one has some experience building the 'facade' structures from the plan booklets of the smaller Anchor Stone sets.

This structure is about 8 1/4 inches high, or about 21 cm. Not too shabby.

The block size has been used by other makers, so I may try adding a few blocks borrowed from other sets.

But I am impressed enough that I have already ordered the next larger Varis Architect set, with 63 pieces.

Good Block Play.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Vez s balkony

Third prize in that Czech Anchor contest went to Petr Marek for this věž s balkóny, or tower with balcony, again built with favorite Ankerstein Set #6. I don't seem to have printed out the second prize winner - I vaguely recall that it wasn't shown & I haven't found the contest again on the web pages to confirm. I think the contest is now gone.

The image above may hurt your eyes, or may be the best way yet for me to post stereographs from my 3D camera. Click on it for some more 3D viewing options. Please comment here if you have an opinion about these. I'm rather curious.

The image at left is for those who want something that sits still long enough to look at. Here, the usual rule of 'click for a large view' applies. Sorry it is so similar to the above.

Whatver the image, however you look at it, the Anchor Stones gave me good block play.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Earth Day

For Earth Day, we participated in the 8:30-9:30 pm "lights out," getting by with two candles, the occasional cell phone screen or pocket flashlight.

I dismantled yesterday's Czech bridge & put stones back in box according to the packing plan. I think it would have taken more candles to actually build something.

Then I did some construction with Froebel Gift #3 blocks. That worked, even though the candle wasn't very close.

I spent the rest of the hour taking pictures with only candlelight illumination. The shutter speed was 15 seconds, handheld. It turned out the biggest problem was lack of contrast - particularly the lack of shadows.

I could have gotten a better picture by moving the nearer candle down from the mantle to sit on a book or two next to my construction. But then, that wasn't the point.

Maybe the point was that you don't need a lot of light to have good block play.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Most s vezemi

With my limited Czech, and some help from the Czech-German dictionary I keep next to my desk, most s věžemi is "bridge with towers." I downloaded the page this picture was on from the Czech Anchor site quite some time ago, where it won 1. misto (first prize), for Miroslav Koutný, in a contest. Well deserved - it may be the nicest bridge built with Ankerstein that I have ever seen, especially if one gives extra credit, as I do, for it being built with Set 6, and without hard-to-find/expensive metal bridge parts.

So it was a good build to celebrate my having been told that my leukemia is officially in remission.

Earlier today I had a nice walk in sun-dappled woods, up hill & down, taking (3-D) photographs like mad. I logged a Geocache, too. First such almost-hike since before I went to the doctor last fall with swollen ankles, beginning my cancer odyssey.

And on celebratory topics, thank you to whomever has been using my Amazon-hosted Block Play Store, to buy expensive software packages. Commissions (buy anything on Amazon, at no extra cost to the buyer), even if not yet received, are generally happy surprises - and these may have contributed to my quick recovery from chemo.

Anchor Stone builders will find more cause for celebration on that same Czech Anchor site: new since my last visit are theme constructions for Jules Verne, the Three Musketeers (Tři mušketýři), and pirates!

Check them out on the red buttons, or just browse the site randomly. There are lots of inspirations for good block play.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Foxmind's Architecto is a challenge block set, a three-dimensional verson of Tangrams, similar to MindWare's Blik-Blok, subject of my previous post.

Compared to Blik Blok, Architecto, has fewer blocks, has fewer challenge designs, the blocks are plastic instead of wood, and it costs more.

So why do I overwhelmingly recommend Architecto? Because it is simply superior to Blik Blok, with fewer if any errors, much better production quality. Blik-Blok's copyright is a year later than Architecto's, so one suspects that Mindware simply decided to release a similar product that sounds and looks better on the shrink-wrapped box, insisting on undercutting the price no matter the effect on product quality. But maybe they simply had bad luck to be second and are doing the best they can as to quality

Architecto is great fun, the blocks have good feel and desity, and are very precisely sized and shaped - a very important factor for this kind of play.

In addition to Architecto, with it's emphasis on 3-D constructions, all of which are shown in perspective view, in the same series and using the same blocks, are three additional sets, also available as separate books:
  • Cliko,which shows the constructions in flat views from the side
  • Equilibrio, which provides balance challanges similar to Haba's Time Blocks, which some might prefer because it has very nice wood block pieces and provides game play elements - I have aquired mulitple used sets of Time Blocks just for the wooden blocks, for symmetrical bloc play/pattern play
  • Tangramino, which provides two-dimensional designs even more similar to Tangrams.
All of these Foxmind sets are available as books only or blocks+book - either way the cost adds up, but the long term value is there, and an extra set of blocks can be used for competitive (or simply simultaneous) play, or to make sure that a lost block doesn't spoil play.

Top quality product. Good Block Play.

Blik Blok

Many of the examples from the block sets which provide such things provide not just marketing examples or construction encouragement, but also provide some degree of challenge as the builder attempts to figure out how the construction actually goes together.

Sometimes that is inadvertent, but sometimes as with MindWare's Blik-Blok, the block building challenge is the actual purpose of the set. One is given an example. ala Tangrams, and told what pieces to use to build it. The solution is on the back of the card.

Unfortunately, concept doesn't live up to implementation in my Blik Blok set, but it is dated 2006, and maybe Mindware has corrected the plethora of errors in the cards, maybe Mindware has corrected the poor sizing and quality of the blocks.

Even if they have, I think I would prefer Foxmind's Architecto, the subject of my next post.

If you absolutely must have wood, instead of Architecto's high quality & extremely accurate plastic, you might want to choose Blik Blok. Otherwise, I only recommend it for those who want both and are willing to struggle past the problems.

One might note also that the cards aren't numbered. Numbers are useful in the classroom, and their absence stopped me from listing errata.

You do get more designs, and more different block shapes - though both of which may will convince you that more is not necessarily better, though they ARE interesting, in a way.

At its worst, Blik Blok is irritating.

But at its best, it is Good Block Play.

Monday, February 14, 2011


I like Valentines Day, so here is a small post with a Starter-Set/Heinzelmännchen design (original design by William Seppeler, in Anchor Stone Constructions) with a Valentines red background.

Happy Valentines Day. & Happy Block Play.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hospital Wedgits

Mini-Wedgits have proven a good choice for my hospital kit, for which I set the criteria compactness, low complexity, readily replaced, easily cleaned.

They have been fun to play with, and a fun little window-ledge personalizer & brightener.

Good block play.