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. 

YouTube

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.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.