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.

10 Fascinating Facts About Chinese New Year

iStock.com/aluxum
iStock.com/aluxum

Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning January 25 in 2020, China will welcome the Year of the Rat, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. Chinese New Year was originally meant to scare off a monster.

Nian at Chinese New Year
iStock.com/jjMiller11

As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A lot of families use Chinese New Year as motivation to clean the house.

woman ready to clean a home
iStock.com/PRImageFactory

While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. Chinese New Year will prompt billions of trips.

Man waiting for a train.
iStock.com/MongkolChuewong

Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. Chinese New Year involves a lot of superstitions.

Colorful pills and medications
iStock.com/FotografiaBasica

While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. Some people rent boyfriends or girlfriends for Chinese New Year to soothe their parents.

Young Asian couple smiling
iStock.com/RichVintage

In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. Red envelopes are everywhere during Chinese New Year.

a person accepting a red envelope
iStock.com/Creative-Family

An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. Chinese New Year can create record levels of smog.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
iStock.com/lusea

Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. Black clothes are a bad omen during Chinese New Year.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
iStock.com/lusea

So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. Chinese New Year leads to planes being stuffed full of cherries.

Bowl of cherries
iStock.com/CatLane

Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand. In 2017, Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. Panda Express is hoping Chinese New Year will catch on in America.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

20 Memorable Virginia Woolf Quotes

Getty Images
Getty Images

Born on January 25, 1882, Virginia Woolf was a true writer’s writer. With flowing prose and a courageous pen, she dissected every topic from the idiocy of warfare to the joys of sex. We've picked 20 lines that rank among her all-time best—which is no easy feat.

1. On recorded history

“Nothing has really happened until it has been described.”

— Said to a young acquaintance,Nigel Nicholson, who later became a successful publisher, memoirist, and politician

2. On writing about nature

“Green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Nature and letters seem to have a natural antipathy; bring them together and they tear each other to pieces.”

— From her 1928 novel, Orlando: A Biography

3. On translating comedy

“Humor is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue.”

—From the essay collectionThe Common Reader, First Series (1925)

4. On time

“Time, unfortunately, though it makes animals and vegetables bloom and fade with amazing punctuality, has no such simple effect upon the mind of man. The mind of man, moreover, works with equal strangeness upon the body of time. An hour, once it lodges in the queer element of the human spirit, may be stretched to fifty or a hundred times its clock length; on the other hand, an hour may be accurately represented on the timepiece of the mind by one second.”

—From Orlando: A Biography

5. On being an honest writer

“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”

From The Moment and Other Essays (1947)

6. On sexism

“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.”

—From Orlando: A Biography

7. On writing fiction

“Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.”

—From her seminal 1929 essay “A Room of One’s Own”

8. On questioning the status quo

“Let us never cease from thinking—what is this ‘civilisation’ in which we find ourselves? What are these ceremonies and why should we take part in them? What are these professions and why should we make money out of them?”

— From her anti-war essay “Three Guineas” (1938)

9. On fashion

“There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us and not we, them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking.”

—From Orlando: A Biography

10. On food

virginia woolf

A photo of author Virginia Woolf, who was famous for writing To The Lighthouse and Orlando.

George Charles Beresford, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”

— From “A Room of One’s Own”

11. On getting older

“I don’t believe in ageing. I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun.”

—From her diary (entry dated October 2, 1932)

12. On artistic integrity

“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. But to sacrifice a hair of the head of your vision, a shade of its colour, in deference to some Headmaster with a silver pot in his hand or to some professor with a measuring-rod up his sleeve, is the most abject treachery.”

— From “A Room of One’s Own”

13. On the universe

“When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don’t seem to matter very much, do they?”

—From the novel Night and Day (1919)

14. On personal growth

“I am made and remade continually. Different people draw different words from me.”

—From her 1931 novel The Waves

15. On society

“At one and the same time, therefore, society is everything and society is nothing. Society is the most powerful concoction in the world and society has no existence whatsoever.”

—From Orlando: A Biography

16. On evaluating literature

“The battle of Waterloo was certainly fought on a certain day; but is Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide that question for himself. To admit authorities… into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions—there we have none.”

—From The Common Reader, Second Series (1935)

17. On passion

“Blame it or praise it, there is no denying the wild horse in us. To gallop intemperately; fall on the sand tired out; to feel the earth spin; to have—positively—a rush of friendship for stones and grasses, as if humanity were over, and as for men and women, let them go hang—there is no getting over the fact that this desire seizes us pretty often.”

—From the novel Jacob’s Room (1922)

18. On the past

“Each had his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart; and his friends could only read the title.”

—From Jacob’s Room

19. On words

“Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none. Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-a-million words all in alphabetical order. But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind.

“Look once more at the dictionary. There beyond a doubt lie plays more splendid than Anthony and Cleopatra, poems lovelier than the 'Ode to a Nightingale,' novels beside which Pride and Prejudice or David Copperfield are the crude bunglings of amateurs. It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order. But we cannot do it because they do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind.”

—From “Craftsmanship,” a BBC radio address Woolf delivered on April 20, 1937 (listen to a portion of it here)

20. On life and its interruptions

“I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.”

— From her diary (entry dated February 17, 1922)

bonus: a common misquote

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”

These wise words are often mistakenly cited as Woolf’s. In reality, another writer came along and gave them to her—57 years after she died! Here’s what went down: In 1998, author Michael Cunningham released his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours. This story includes a fictionalized version of Virginia Woolf, who delivers the above line.

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