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.

10 Surprising Facts About Wham!’s 'Last Christmas'

Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Over the course of his illustrious career, George Michael gave the world many gifts. One that keeps on giving is “Last Christmas,” the 1984 holiday classic by Wham!, Michael's pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. “Last Christmas” is such a uniquely beloved song that it inspired a 2019 film of the same name. That’s just one interesting part of the “Last Christmas” story. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about this seasonal synth-pop favorite.

1. George Michael wrote "Last Christmas" in his childhood bedroom.

“Last Christmas” was born one day in 1984 when George Michael and Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley were visiting Michael’s parents. While they were sitting around watching TV, Michael suddenly dashed upstairs to his childhood bedroom and composed the modern Xmas classic in about an hour. “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music,” Ridgeley said. “Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts."

2. “Last Christmas” isn’t really a Christmas song.

There’s nothing in “Last Christmas” about Santa, reindeer, trees, snow, or anything we typically associate with the holiday. Rather, the song is about a failed romance that just happens to have begun on December 25, when Michael gave someone his heart, and ended on December 26, when this ungrateful person “gave it away.”

3. George Michael wrote and produced the song—but that’s not all.

Singers George Michael (left) and Andrew Ridgeley, of the band 'Wham!', performing on stage, July 1986
Dave Hogan/Getty Images

By the time Wham! recorded “Last Christmas” in August (yes, August) 1984, Michael had taken full control of the group. In addition to writing and producing the song, Michael insisted on playing the Roland Juno-60 synth in the studio. “George wasn’t a musician,” engineer Chris Porter said. “It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.” Michael even jangled those sweet sleigh bells himself.

4. “Last Christmas” didn’t reach #1 on the UK charts.

As the movie Love Actually reminds us, scoring a Christmas #1 in the UK is a really big deal. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” didn’t give Wham! that honor. It stalled at #2, and to this day it has the distinction of being the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1.

5. George Michael sang on the song that kept “Last Christmas” at #2.

“Last Christmas” was bested on the UK charts by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an all-star charity single benefiting Ethiopian famine relief. Michael sang on “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and was so committed to the cause that he donated his profits from “Last Christmas” to helping the African nation.

6. George Michael was sued for plagiarism over “Last Christmas.”

In the mid-1980s, the publishing company Dick James Music sued George Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a schmaltzy love song recorded by The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, among others. According to Chris Porter, the recording engineer on “Last Christmas,” the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented 60-plus songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.

7. "Last Christmas" has been covered by a lot of other artists.

Andrew Ridgeley (right) and George Michael (1963-2016) of Wham! performing on stage together in Sydney, Australia during the pop duo's 1985 world tour, January 1985.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Jimmy Eat World, Hilary Duff, Good Charlotte, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the artists who’ve covered “Last Christmas” over the years. The strangest rendition may be the 2006 dance version by the Swedish CGI character Crazy Frog, which reached #16 on the UK charts.

8. Some people make a concerted effort to avoid hearing “Last Christmas.”

While millions of people delight in hearing “Last Christmas” every year, an internet game called Whamageddon encourages players to avoid the song from December 1 to 24. The rules are simple: Once you hear the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” (remixes and covers don’t count), you’re out. You then admit defeat on social media with the hashtag #Whamageddon and wait for your friends to suffer the same fate. Note: The rules prohibit you from “deliberately sending your friends to Whamhalla.”

9. “Last Christmas” finally charted in America following George Michael’s death in 2016.

Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” wasn’t released as a commercial single in the United States, and therefore it wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of George Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut. In December 2018, it reentered the charts and peaked at #25.

10. George Michael was involved in the Last Christmas movie.

November 2019 saw the release of Paul Feig's Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the song starring Game of Thrones's Emilia Clarke. Producer David Livingstone came up with the idea while George Michael was still alive, and when he pitched the pop star on the project, he was given the greenlight—with one condition: Michael stipulated that actress and author Emma Thompson write the movie. Thompson co-authored the story and the screenplay, and she even wound up playing a supporting role.

The Origins of 12 Christmas Traditions

Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images
Tom Merton/iStock via Getty Images

From expecting Santa to fill our footwear with gifts to eating cake that looks like tree bark, the holidays are filled with traditions—some of which are downright odd when you stop and think about them. Where did they come from? Wonder no more. Here are the origins of 12 Christmas traditions.

1. Hanging Stockings

While there’s no official record of why we hang socks for Santa, one of the most plausible explanations is that it's a variation on the old tradition of leaving out shoes with hay inside them on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’s feast day. Lucky children would discover that the hay they left for St. Nick’s donkey had been replaced with treats or coins when they woke up the next morning. Another story says that St. Nicholas learned of a father who was unable to pay for his three daughters' dowries, so St. Nick dropped gold balls down a chimney, which landed in stockings hung by the fire to dry. But this appears to be a modern telling—traditional versions of the story generally have the gold land at the father's feet after being thrown through a window.

Regardless of what started the tradition, people seem to have realized the need to use a decorative stocking in place of an actual sock pretty early on. In 1883, The New York Times wrote:

"In the days of the unobtrusive white stocking, no one could pretend that the stocking itself was a graceful or attractive object when hanging limp and empty from the foot of the bedstead. Now, however, since the adoption of decorated stockings ... even the empty stocking may be a thing of beauty, and its owner can display it with confidence both at the Christmas season and on purely secular occasions."

2. Caroling

Though it may seem like a centuries-old tradition, showing up at people’s houses to serenade them with seasonal tunes only dates back to the 19th century. Before that, neighbors did visit each other to impart wishes of good luck and good cheer, but not necessarily in song. Christmas carols themselves go back hundreds of years, minus the door-to-door part. The mashup of the two ideas didn’t come together until Victorian England, when caroling was part of every holiday—even May Day festivals. As Christmas became more commercialized, caroling for the occasion became more popular.

3. Using Evergreens as Christmas Trees

Rows of Christmas trees at tree farm on cold winter morning
arlutz73/iStock via Getty Images

Before Christianity was even conceived of, people used evergreen boughs to decorate their homes during the winter; the greenery reminded them that plants would return in abundance soon. As Christianity became more popular in Europe, and Germany in particular, the tradition was absorbed into it. Christians decorated evergreen trees with apples to represent the Garden of Eden, calling them "Paradise Trees" around the time of Adam and Eve's name day—December 24. Gradually, the tradition was subsumed into Christmas celebrations.

The tradition spread as immigrants did, but the practice really took off when word got around that England’s Queen Victoria decorated a Christmas tree as a nod to her German husband’s heritage (German members of the British royal family had previously had Christmas trees, but they never caught on with the wider public). Her influence was felt worldwide, and by 1900, one in five American families had a Christmas tree. Today, 25 to 30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year.

4. The Colors Red and Green

As with many other old Christmas traditions, there’s no hard-and-fast event that deemed red and green the Official Colors of Christmas™. But there are theories—the green may have derived from the evergreen tradition that dates back to before Christianity, and the red may be from holly berries. While they’re winter-hardy, just like evergreens, they also have a religious implication: The red berries have been associated with the blood of Christ.

5. Ugly Christmas Sweaters

To celebrate this joyous season, many people gleefully don hideous knitwear adorned with ribbons, sequins, bows, and lights. In the past, the trend was embraced solely by grandmas, teachers, and fashion-challenged parents, but in the last decade or so, the ugly sweater has gone mainstream. We may have Canada to blame for that: According to the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book, the ugly sweater party trend can be traced to a 2001 gathering in Vancouver.

6. Leaving Milk and Cookies for Santa

Closeup image of wish list and treats for Santa Claus on table next to burning fireplace
Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images

When we plunk a few Oreos or chocolate chip cookies on a plate for St. Nick, accompanied by a cold glass of milk, we’re actually participating in a tradition that some scholars date back to ancient Norse mythology. According to legend, Odin had an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir. Kids would leave treats for Sleipnir, hoping that Odin would favor them with gifts in return. The practice became popular again in the U.S. during the Great Depression, when parents tried to impress upon kids the importance of being grateful for anything they were lucky enough to receive for Christmas.

7. The A Christmas Story Marathon on TBS

If one of the highlights of your holiday is tuning in for 24 hours of watching Ralphie Parker nearly shoot his eye out, you’re not alone—over the course of the day, more than 50 million viewers flip to TBS. The marathon first aired on TNT in 1997, then switched to sister station TBS in 2004. This Christmas marks the 20th year for the annual movie marathon.

8. Yule Logs

Chocolate yule log cake with red currant on wooden background
etorres69/iStock via Getty Images

Throwing a yule log on the fire is another tradition that is said to predate Christianity. As part of winter solstice celebrations, Gaels and Celts burned logs decorated with holly, ivy, and pinecones to cleanse themselves of the past year and welcome the next one. They also believed the ashes would help protect against lightning strikes and evil spirits. The practice was scaled down over time, and eventually, it morphed into a more delicious tradition—cake! Parisian bakers really popularized the practice of creating yule log-shaped desserts during the 19th century, with various bakeries competing to see who could come up with the most elaborately decorated yule log.

If you prefer a wood yule log to one covered in frosting, but find yourself sans fireplace, you can always tune in to Yule Log TV.

9. Advent Calendars

Technically, Advent, a religious event that has been celebrated since the 4th century, is a four-week period that starts on the Sunday closest to the November 30 feast day of St. Andrew the Apostle. Traditionally, it marked the period to prepare for Christmas as well as the Second Coming. These days, it’s mostly used as a countdown to Christmas for the religious and the non-religious alike.

The modern commercialized advent calendar, which marks the passage of December days with little doors containing candy or small gifts, are believed to have been introduced by Gerhard Lang in the early 1900s. He was inspired by a calendar that his mother made for him when he was a child that featured 24 colored pictures attached to a piece of cardboard. Today, advent calendars contain everything from candy to LEGOs.

10. Eggnog

Eggnog in two glass cups
GreenArtPhotography/iStock via Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would be inspired to chug a raw egg-based drink, but historians agree that 'nog was probably inspired by a medieval drink called posset, a milky drink made with eggs, milk, and sometimes figs or sherry. These were all pricey ingredients, so the wealthy often used it for toasting.

Eggnog became a holiday drink when colonists brought it over from England, but they found a way to make it on the cheap, nixing the figs and substituting rum for sherry. And how about that weird "nog" name? No one knows for sure, but historians theorize that nog was short for noggin, which was slang for a wooden cup, or a play on the Norfolk variety of beer also called nog (which itself may be named after the cup).

11. Mistletoe

Mistletoe has been associated with fertility and vitality since ancient times, when Celtic Druids saw it as such because it blossomed even during the most frigid winters; the association stuck over the centuries.

It’s easy to see how fertility and kissing can be linked, but no one is quite sure how smooching under the shrub (actually, it’s a parasitic plant) became a common Christmas pastime. We do know the tradition was popular with English servants in the 18th century, then quickly spread to those they served. The archaic custom once allowed men to steal a kiss from any woman standing beneath; if she refused, they were doomed with bad luck.

12. Christmas Cards

Exchanging holiday greetings via mail is a surprisingly recent tradition, with the first formal card hitting shelves in 1843. Designed by an Englishman named J.C. Horsley, the cardboard greeting showed a happy group of people participating in a toast, along with the printed sentiment, "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you.” A thousand of them were printed that first year, and because it cost just a penny to mail a holiday hello to friends and family (the card itself was a shilling, or 12 times as much), the cards sold like hotcakes and a new custom was born. Today, Americans send around 2 billion cards every year.

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