16 Interlocking Facts About LEGO

Daniel Novta, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Daniel Novta, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Denmark-based block maker LEGO creates plastic building materials that are omnipresent and ideal for teaching children how to think creatively while their barefooted parents learn how to swear creatively. While the company suffered a loss of distribution when Toys 'R Us closed their doors, revenue was still up 4 percent in 2018 to reach $5.5 billion. Check out these 16 fully-connected facts about the beloved brand.

1. LEGO didn't invent LEGO bricks. 

When woodworker Ole Kirk Kristiansen started selling toys in Billund, Denmark in 1932—no one during the Great Depression was buying expensive furniture—he had no idea LEGO (from the Danish words Leg Godt, or “play well”) would become synonymous with click-lock blocks. When a salesman called on Kristiansen in 1949 and offered him a plastic mold injection machine to spare him the labor of handmade playthings, Kristiansen and his son, Godtfred, were intrigued by one of the samples he was carrying: a studded, interlocking brick.

Kristiansen began making his own, apparently unaware a man named Hilary Fisher Page owned the patent. (In 1958, LEGO perfected the brick with tubes on the bottom to help tighten the connection.) Page died before he discovered Kristiansen’s homage; LEGO has stated Kristiansen was “inspired” by Page. LEGO later bought his company, Kiddicraft.

That injection molding process means …

2. LEGO bricks starts off as dough. 

Not, unfortunately, the kind of dough you can eat. In order to get the acrylonitrile butadiene-styrene (ABS) plastic used for the bricks malleable enough to conform to molds, it’s heated to between 230 and 310 degrees Celsius and allowed to cool for up to 10 seconds before being released. The process is so streamlined that only an estimated 18 bricks out of every million are rejected for being misshapen. Not bad for an item that has an allowance of just .005 millimeters in order to maintain a universal fit. But if there is a problem, that’s all right because …

3. The numbers inside each LEGO brick tell a story. 

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Peer inside any LEGO brick and you’ll see a tiny three-digit number stamped on the interior wall. The number corresponds to which mold was used and where in the line the brick was located. If there’s any kind of defect, LEGO can trace the errant piece to its origin and resolve the issue. Then again, you’re probably not worried about a number when you’ve just tripped over one: Throbbing agony tends to block out all rational thought. It might help a little to know that …

4. There's a good reason stepping on a LEGO brick hurts. 

LEGO bricks are possibly the toy world’s most durable Toy Hall of Fame entrant. A pair of inquisitive YouTube scientists built a repetitive motion machine and didn’t see any breakage on a typical 2x4 brick until 37,112 snaps had been completed. But such resistance comes at a terrible price. When you sink your bare foot into one—particularly on a hard surface—you simply don’t weigh enough to make it budge. A LEGO brick can take up to 950 pounds of force without blinking. It simply refuses to transmit any of your applied force, instead giving it right back to your delicate nerve endings underfoot.  

Since they’re everywhere, you’re bound to experience that trauma at least once in your lifetime, and they’re everywhere because …

5. LEGO gives you extra bricks on purpose. 

David Lofink, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

LEGO building sets are sometimes chastised for including seemingly unnecessary pieces that sit on the table after a pirate ship has been assembled. It turns out some pieces are simply too small to be weighed during the allocation process: creating a surplus guarantees everyone gets enough to complete their project. And if you do happen to buy a lot of LEGO vehicles, you might have no problem believing that …

6. LEGO makes more tires than Goodyear. 

LEGO pumps out so many elfin wheels for their sets (roughly 318 million a year) that they far exceed the total output of Goodyear, Firestone, or Michelin, whose products tote around, you know, actual human beings. The company notes that almost half of their sets include wheels, which you’ll never find on a military convoy unit kit because …

7. LEGO wants you to play nice.

Pascal, Flickr // CC0 1.0

The company has vowed never to replicate any kind of military scenario for children. They went so far as to ban tiny guns from their Minifigures until 1999, when many licensed kits began featuring weapons in fantasy settings. The peacetime mandate was a big reason why …

8. LEGO turned down Star Wars.

Robert McGoldrick, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

By the late 1990s, LEGO was in a tailspin, victimizing themselves by over-producing pieces and failing to control manufacturing expenses. To boost their profile, the board floated the idea of licensing a Star Wars set from Lucasfilm to coincide with the interest surrounding the release of George Lucas’s prequel trilogy in 1999. But longtime LEGO honchos protested the idea, feeling the very name violated their antiwar corporate principles. It took six months of arguing before Kristiansen’s grandson, Kjeld, made the executive decision to take on the license, opening the door to a library of sets (Harry Potter, Disney) that reversed their fortunes after a series of disasters. Unfortunately …

9. LEGO dolls were a bust.

No toy manufacturer has gotten more off-brand than LEGO did with Scala, a Barbie-esque domestic assortment that barely interacted with their decades-old existing line of toys. Instead of utilizing standard bricks, Scala used pieces that would form a flower upon completion. In both size, appearance, and function, Scala could never hold a candle to the classic LEGO Minifigures. For one thing, the dolls weren’t yellow, and …

10. LEGO minifigures are yellow for a reason. 

Chris Isherwood, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

When LEGO introduced the Minifigure in 1975, it was a boxy, faceless entity meant to accept whatever role-play fantasy a builder might want to project. While the figures later garnered faces and gender roles, they have almost always remained yellow. According to LEGO, that’s because the company felt it was the most racially-neutral color possible. After LEGO branched out into licensing, it began to see its first diverse entries with NBA players. Currently, LEGO assigns skin tone only if a set is based on an existing property or person. Otherwise, they’re always yellow. And there’s another constant …

11. Those tiny LEGO heads are empty on purpose. 

Pop the head off a Minifig and separate it from its hair and you’ll notice the miniscule noggin has holes on either side. That’s in case a child happens to swallow it. By providing airflow through the plastic, they’re less likely to choke. But for the figure, the lack of brains might be one reason why …

12. The LEGO minifigures are getting angrier.

Chris Jackson, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

A study conducted at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand examined over 3000 LEGO figures made between 1975 and 2010. The conclusion? Their facial expressions were morphing from pleasant to scowling. Pundits figured the change was a result of more licensed characters being introduced into the line. Christoph Bartneck, who led the study, expressed concern that the change in mood might adversely affect children. For a long time, however, LEGO rejected the very idea of any adult scrutinizing their products, because …

13. LEGO used to think adult fans were "weird." 

Adult LEGO builders are among the company’s most loyal customers, clearing out expensive building sets and buying bricks in bulk for elaborate custom jobs. Known as AFOLs (Adults Fans of LEGO), the demographic wasn’t always embraced by management. After retailers criticized LEGO for not paying attention to their market, the company responded by calling adults who played with their product “weird” and “a bit bizarre,” dismissing the wacky idea of listening to their needs. Since then, corporate has changed its tune; LEGO and its adult fandom engage each other regularly now. They’ve even gone so far as to allow you to …

14. Pitch your own LEGO set. Go on. They'll listen. 

LEGO’s social media presence allows for members of the LEGO community to come up with ideas for assemblies. You think people want a Golden Girls set? Throw it on up there. Using existing bricks, petitioners can illustrate their plans. If it gets 10,000 votes, it’ll go to LEGO proper, where someone will sit down, figure out the cost of licensing Estelle Getty’s likeness, and decide whether to grant you a royalty or have you committed. Either way, you probably haven’t come up with anything as absurd as …

15. This house made almost entirely of LEGO bricks. 

Using more than three million bricks, and many hours of volunteer labor, Top Gear host James May and the BBC built a mostly-functional (if architecturally pedestrian) home for May’s television series, Toy Stories, in 2009. It even featured a flushable toilet, the comfort of which we’ll leave to your imagination. Unfortunately, the Surrey, England site it was built on was a vineyard, and the property owners hadn’t counted on the LEGO shelter staying up. When May didn’t come up with the $81,000 in costs to have the home moved and re-built on LEGOLAND theme park property, it was smashed to LEGO rubble just days after completion. The pieces were donated to children’s charities. While the house didn't come with building instructions, all of the regular LEGO sets do. And we mean all, because...

16. LEGO recently introduced instructions in Braille.

LEGO fan Matthew Shifrin reached out to LEGO two years ago to see if the company would ever consider providing instructions for the visually-impaired. Shafrin, who is blind, grew up loving LEGO sets and wanted to make them more accessible. After research, the company put up online instructions for four sets--LEGO Classic, LEGO City, LEGO Friends, and LEGO Movie 2--that can be converted to Braille with the use of a Braille reader. Collectors can also hear audio instructions. The company will take time to evaluate how well the system is working and correct any issues before rolling out Braille-friendly instructions for all of their sets.

It’s National Cookie Day! Here’s Where to Score Some Free Treats

UMeimages/iStock via Getty Images
UMeimages/iStock via Getty Images

If you plan on eating as many baked goods as possible this December, now's your chance to get a head start. Today—December 4—is National Cookie Day, and chains across the country are celebrating by handing out free cookies. Here are the best places to snag a treat before the day is over.

    • Great American Cookies, a chain that's concentrated in the southeastern U.S., is marking the day by rewarding members of its loyalty program. If you already have the loyalty app, you can swing by a participating location any time today and pick up your free original chocolate chip cookie without making any additional purchases. The promotion only applies to customers who signed up for the program before midnight on December 3, so you aren't eligible for the free snack if you download the app on your way to the store.
    • The cookie giant Mrs. Fields is also participating in the holiday. Buy anything from one of the chain's stores on December 4 and you'll get a free cookie with your purchase. If you spring for the Nutcracker Sweet Tower, which is made from five festive containers of baked goods, you can send a Mrs. Fields Peace, Love & Cookies 30 Nibbler Tin to a friend for free.
    • But what if you're looking for a free cookie with no strings attached? Surprisingly, a hotel chain may be offering the best deal for National Cookie Day. Throughout December 4, you can stop by a DoubleTree by Hilton and ask for a free cookie at the front desk. DoubleTree provides complimentary cookies to guests at check-in all year round, and every year on National Cookie Day, the hotel chain extends that offer to everyone.

There's no shortage of great cookies across the U.S. If you're willing to travel to satisfy your sweet tooth, here are the best chocolate chip cookies in all 50 states.

License to Bird: Meet the Real James Bond

American ornithologist James Bond, circa 1974.
American ornithologist James Bond, circa 1974.

On January 4, 1900, a child was born in Philadelphia. His name was Bond. James Bond. He would not grow up to be a globe-trotting, license-to-kill-carrying playboy spy like the other James Bond. Instead, he became an ornithologist, and lived a fairly quiet, normal life—until someone borrowed his name.  

Bond lived in New Hampshire and England while growing up, and developed an accent that a colleague described [PDF] as an “amalgam of New England, British, and upper-class Philadelphian.” After graduating from Cambridge, Bond returned to the U.S. to work as a banker, but his childhood interests in science and natural history spurred him to quit soon after and join an expedition to the Amazon to collect biological specimens for Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences.

After that, and with no formal training in the field, he started working as an ornithologist at the Academy, and was “among the last of a traditional museum breed, the independently wealthy, nonsalaried curator, who lacked advanced university degrees.” Working at the museum, Bond became an authority on the bird species of the Caribbean, and his 1936 book, Birds of the West Indies, was considered the definitive guide to the region’s birds at the time. 

Despite his many scientific accomplishments—which included dozens of papers about Caribbean and New England birds, more books and field guides, numerous medals and awards and other researchers using the term “Bond’s Line” to refer to the boundary that separates Caribbean fauna by their origin—that book would be what catapulted Bond, or at least his name, to international fame.

In 1961, Bond was reading a London newspaper’s review of the latest edition of his book and found eyebrow-raising references to handguns, kinky sex, and other elements of a life that sounded very unlike his. He and his wife Mary quickly learned that another James Bond was the hero of a series of novels by Ian Fleming, which were popular in the UK but just gaining notice in the U.S. Mary wrote to Fleming to jokingly chastise him for stealing her husband’s name for his “rascal” character. 

Fleming replied to explain himself: He was a birdwatcher and when he was living in Jamaica beginning work on his first spy novel, Birds of the West Indies was one of his bird “bibles.” He wanted his main character to have an ordinary, unassuming name, and when he was trying to drum one up, he remembered the author of the book he turned to so often. “It struck me that this name, brief, unromantic and yet very masculine, was just what I needed and so James Bond II was born,” Fleming wrote to Mary. (Fleming later called “James Bond” the “dullest name I’ve ever heard.”)

Fleming told Mary that he understood if they were angry at the theft of Bond’s name, and suggested a trade. “In return I can only offer your James Bond unlimited use of the name Ian Fleming for any purpose he may think fit,” he wrote. “Perhaps one day he will discover some particularly horrible species of bird which he would like to christen in an insulting fashion.” 

He also invited the Bonds to his home in Jamaica, which they took him up on a few years later. During the Bonds’ visit, Fleming gave James a copy of his latest novel, You Only Live Twice, inscribed with the message “To the real James Bond from the thief of his identity.”

For the next few decades, until his death at the age of 89, Bond’s famous namesake caused the ornithologist a few minor annoyances. Once, he was supposedly stopped at the airport because officials thought his passport was a fake, and the occasional bank teller would likewise think the same of his checks and refuse to cash them.

Young women would often prank call the Bond house late at night asking to speak to 007, to which Mary would reply: “Yes, James is here. But this is Pussy Galore and he's busy now."

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