Who hasn't stepped on a LEGO?
The tiny brick pieces are often the bane of a parent's existence, lying in wait in thick carpet for some unsuspecting bare foot, and later inadvertently being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner.
But before your curse the toy, consider this:
LEGO bricks, as we know 'em, have been around for 50 years. In fact, take a piece from a 1958 set and mix it with a LEGO set today and it will work just fine.
The toy's sales have driven the company to be one of the top 10 largest toy manufacturers in the world.
LEGOs are used in model-making and art projects; they've spawned several popular video games, which are based on theme kits such as Star Wars and the recently released LEGO Batman; There are LEGO-themed amusement parks in the world. The White Stripes appeared as LEGO form in a video for the band's song
Fell in Love With a Girl. The toys are even used in classrooms to teach math, science, and engineering, and in hospitals to mirror robotic surgeries.
Take that, Barbie!
'People have gone above and beyond the obvious idea of putting bricks together and building models, and buildings, and cars like we expected them to build, and have taken them to a very different level on every career field,' said Julie Stern, assistant brand relations manager for LEGO.
She compares LEGO's versatility to Crayon's.
'A child [can] draw with [Crayon], and you can see an artist who does an amazing masterpiece with Crayons as well,' Ms. Stern said. 'But that's just two levels. LEGO has gone beyond a two-dimensional, two-level product.'
In the age of Tickle Me Elmo-this, and Beanie Babies -that, what makes the colored blocks continue to be so popular?
LEGOs, perhaps more than any other modern toy, reward creativity and empower children with the ability to construct whole worlds from colored multicolored bricks.
A LEGO brick that's two studs wide and four studs long the studs are what connect the bricks to each other can connect to another same size piece in 24 different ways. Add another piece and the possibilities dramatically increase to 1,060 different combinations; make it six pieces and there are more than 100 million possible ways to connect the bricks.
'LEGO is colorful. It's happy. It's useful, and gives people the chance to be creative,' said Loz Doyle, producer at TT Games, which makes the LEGO video games. 'I think that's the reason it appeals to so many,'
But just as kids find creative uses for the toy, so do adults, including a nearly 97-foot tower constructed of LEGOs in Austria that was named by Guinness Book of World Records as the largest construction made out of the toys in the world.
Paul Janssen understands such devotion to LEGO.
The 40-year-old associate professor of physiology and cardiology at Ohio State University, has spent several years constructing replicas of buildings, landmarks and cars from the bricks. He is also president of the Central Ohio LEGO Train Club (COLTC), a group of adults who build creations out of LEGOs.
Among Mr. Janssen's most notable LEGO achievements is a 7 -foot scale model of the St. Louis Gateway Arch. He's also working on a foot-high replica of the State House in Columbus and the building's surrounding grounds.
For Mr. Janssen and other members of the Central Ohio club, playing with LEGOs is a hobby; for others, he said, it can be a full-time job as an artist with museum exhibits or model-maker who is commissioned to build replicas of people's homes.
'Kids play with LEGOs,' he said, 'but when adults play with them, they become more skillful. ... It's an artist's medium.'
Still, Mr. Janssen does like to keep his enthusiasm for the toy in check with reality.
'It's a toy, though, and we do have fun playing with it.'
The fun factor is also what makes LEGOs appealing as teaching tools.
In an age when math and science scores are decreasing, LEGOs are making the subjects fun again, said Dave Stackpoole, president-owner of All About Learning, Inc., which offers LEGO-based classes as part of its company mission to create non-traditional teaching programs for kids that are as educational as they are fun.
'Math ... and technology, those are usually pretty boring subjects,' he said. 'We harness the motivational aspects of LEGOs to teach those things.'
For example, the students might build a robot, and in the process learn engineering concepts such as fulcrums, pressure points, speed and friction, and pulleys and levers. 'We've had children walk out the door telling their parents the theory of leverage and weight,' said Peter Palko, an instructor at Owens Community College in Findlay, which, along with its sister campus in Toledo, offers the All About Learning, Inc. classes for kids 5-7 and 8-12.
'They're talking the language when they leave.'
Robot kits from LEGO Mindstorms are also used in a national contest in which students in fourth through eighth grade compete to build programmable robots and complete various challenges.
Gary Thompson, director of the Toledo Technology Academy, which hosts the regional competition on Dec. 6., embraces the LEGO challenge as another way to reach students.
'Kids are using their imagination and they're building something,' he said. 'If you can't start doing an educational piece around a kid who is involved [in the contest] ... something is missing.'
While this highfalutin talk about LEGO as a teacher's aide or as an artistic medium is further proof of the diversity of the famous colored bricks, let's not forget that they were also conceived as a kid's toy.
And as LEGO established its brand name through the years, its product line has expanded to meet increasing demand for the toys beyond just the familiar bricks.
There are themed kits about pirates, space and castles. There are the ever-popular mini figures introduced 30 years ago, which are inch-tall LEGO people; mini figures and spaceship kits devoted to Star Wars are especially popular, as is the
Harry Potter LEGO line. In 2000, LEGO launched the award-winning Steven Spielberg MovieMaker Set, which provided a PC-movie camera, editing software, and LEGOs for kids to make their own movies.
And in 2005, LEGO got into video games with LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game, which featured animated mini figures of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker and others. The game sold 4 million copies, and spawned a sequel, as well as a LEGO Indiana Jones. LEGO recently teamed with Warner Bros. to create a Batman game based on LEGO mini figures, including Batman, Robin, the Joker, the Penquin, the Riddler, and Catwoman.
'LEGO is something that every generation has had, and so its wide appeal draws every age of player,' Mr. Doyle said. 'When we throw Star Wars, Indiana Jones,
or Batman into the mix, we've added another widely loved title. Kids see the funny LEGO characters being silly in cutscenes, adults see their childhood favorites parodied. We gel that together with game play that is exciting but easy for all to understand.'
Looking ahead for next year is the arrival of the massively multiplayer online game LEGO Universe. Beyond the anticipated game, though, Ms. Stern is mum on future LEGO products.
'It'll be another great year with new creative opportunities for kids and adults alike,' she said, 'with new themes and new building experiences to come.'
If nothing else, LEGO will sell millions of the little bricks to a new generation of kids.
And just like their parents before them, a new generation of Moms and Dads will be reminded just how painful a bare foot stepping on a LEGO can be.
Contact Kirk Baird at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.39.32423 -88.61961