Ted Talks: Party Hosting Tips

Welcome back to the second installment of Ted Talks, where friend of the blog and bon vivant Ted Andes tackles topics that are near and dear to his heart.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!


YOU LOST!!! Artwork by polywen

Have you ever entered an on-line building contest, and then thought afterwards, “Hey. I think I’d like to host one myself someday”?  First off, “God Bless You”, you masochist of a human being. Secondly, did you read Rutherford’s “Fire for Effect” article “Give me the prize!” , and the comment section too?  And you STILL want to proceed?  YOU FOOL!!!  I’ll offer a few suggestions on running a contest … but honestly, TURN BACK NOW!!!


Legohaulic: “Tea Party Time.”

Setting the Table

Deciding the LEGO building genre itself is the easy part (Space, Castle, Licensed Sets, Architecture, etc.).  Setting the actual sub-theme, scope, and build requirements for the contest are the tricky parts.  You want an interesting contest idea that excites people, and that has simple requirements that won’t bog things down.  Contest ideas tend to fall along a spectrum between:

  • A very specific contest idea that requires putting a lot of thought into building it (as well as into creating backgrounds and backstories) – These contests usually result in only one entry per person, and in fewer entries Some entrants even abandon midway (no matter how much extra time you give them).
  • A general contest idea that sparks so many building ideas that the entrants don’t know which to start first – These contests typically result in a ton of entries, with some entrants who will not be up-to-par, since the level of time/parts investment is far lower.

I’ve hosted contests near both ends of the spectrum.  The ‘general contest idea’ (a.k.a. the “kegger”), is the most gratifying for all involved, and draws in the most contest newbies.  ‘Specific contests’ (a.k.a. the “dinner parties”) are O.K., but just plan to have a more intimate affair.  The required build size can also play a part in the number of guest that show up; the bigger the MOC size requirement, the fewer entries you may get.  Having no size restriction at all seems to have the opposite effect…

“I want to rock and roll all night, and party every day!” – KISS

That’s a worthy life-goal, coming from men dressed in platform boots, but the K.I.S.S. I am referring to is “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”  This means YOU.  Think back to all of the really fun contests you’ve participated in.  I’ll bet they K.I.S.S.ed it just right; Steampunk – Rock and Roll, FBTB – MOC Madness (the Original), Speederbike Contests, Clue-Redux Vignettes… These weren’t sloppy, wet kisses with too much tongue up the nose.  These were simple, clearly defined ideas that captured the open-ended imagination of all involved.

My Lady...?

Agaethon29 – “My lady! Wherefore dost thou kiss a frog?!”…

“Forced Fun” is the WORST!

“O.K. everybody! It’s time to play charades!” – Ugh.  When setting the theme, don’t let your ego get in the way.  Don’t pick a restrictive sub-theme, or make the contest restrictions too elaborate, in an effort to get the MOC’s that YOU want to see.  If you decide to “force the fun” in this way, don’t expect a large turn-out.  Your first priority is entertaining YOUR GUESTS, not the other way around. “Sir, step away from the karaoke machine!” (… unless your DR. Church. I hear that guy can belt out a tune that’ll make the dolls swoon).

To some degree, I made the “forced fun” mistake with the “Steampunk: Bricks & Boilers Exposition” contest.  I tried to force the steampunk theme into places where the steampunk masses didn’t want to go (Give me back my brown!”).  I wanted to see steampunk from cultures other than the merry old Victorian Englishmen.  I wanted to see steam power applied in ways beyond just vehicles and weapons.  I bounced my ideas off of Guy and Rod, and we honed it down into that final KISS concept.  Despite that, I literally forced fun onto my guests, as I had them build us steampunk carnival rides.  As a result, we didn’t get a massive amount of entries… then again, maybe the interest in Steampunk had simply run out of steam by then…

“Dance for me, dammit!  Dance! DANCE!”


The Clockwork Show (Video)

Charis Stella – The Clockwork Show

Party Favors / Door Prizes

Q: What is a contest without prizes?  A: The sound of one hand clapping… across Boy Wonder’s face! 

Physical prizes are the perfect enticement to bring in the party guests.  They draw new builders out from the woodwork, and the veteran builders will then go where the action is.  Prizes can transform even the limpest of wallflowers into dancing machines!  However, prizes can’t overcome any miscalculations you’ve already made in “setting the table”.  All you’ll get then are uninspired MOC’s that meet the minimum requirements, and the submitters counting down the days until the prize winners are announced… tick… tick… tick… “So, when will the winners be announced?”

You can certainly pay for the prizes yourself, but you shouldn’t have to.  Ask around to see if any mainstream blogs, vendors, stores, etc. are interested in sponsoring them.  Even though we made MOC trophies for the speederbike contest, we still reached out for sponsors.  Their responses back exceeded our modest expectations (YOU GUYS ROCK!!!).  If/when you do ask, it helps to already have some street-cred in the FOL Community, or at least be able to name drop a few folks who do.  Otherwise, you are just another random moocher looking for MOAR BrickArms protos PLZ!

Uncle Rico – “We gotta look legit, mayn.”

“Pimpin’ Made Easy”

It helps to have a good party flyer to make your grand contest announcement.  You might be able to get by without making one, but think of it as your own MOC for the contest.  This poster is your chance to get in on the action, as well as an awesome way to promote your sponsors at the same time.   _zenn went through a lot of iterations in creating our Speederbike Contest Poster, and I did as well when making the Steampunk Bricks & Boilers poster (version 10 was the winner).

“Save the date”

Contest timing can be tricky.  Hopefully no one else will be launching a contest at the same time as you, and there isn’t some special building month going on too (or people prepping for a CON).  Since it is an unwritten rule not to announce a contest prior to its start date, you probably won’t know until after you pull the trigger.

As for contest duration, a month-long contest should provide ample time to build, and even to order some parts from BrickLink if needed.  Anything longer is not that entertaining.  Many people will eventually forget that your contest is even going on… tick… tick…tick… “So, when will the winners be announced?”

If you still want to offer a longer build time, try scheduling a 1-month run time, but announce the contest 2-weeks before the start.  That way, it will still give the perception of keeping a shorter time frame and that you have your act together (vs. giving a 2-week extension at the end that looks desperate).

 “It’s finally Party Time!” – Let meet your guests…

26524239915_36ed6534e6_o.jpgMike Dung: Characters from Love Live! School Idol Project

Guest #1: The Ice Breaker – The “Ice Breaker” is the personal hero of every contest host.  They enter the contest first, and now you can breathe a huge sigh of relief.  Their entries offer you an early gauge of how the contest will go, and if you need to course correct if they are way off the mark.  Allowing people to swap entries until the deadline also relieves much of the risk of being the “Ice Breaker”.  It lets them rework their entry if a better idea happens to comes along…like one from…

Guest #2: The Tone Setter – These people “throw down the gauntlet” in the contest, and grab the attention of the rest of the community.  Many times the “Ice Breaker’s” entry is what is expected, and the “Tone Setter” raises the bar with that unexpected twist…  More people take notice, and if the “Tone Setter” has a huge on-line following then hold on tight. Their entourage now knows where the party’s at, and they are on the way to crash it… the REAL fun is about to start…

Guest #3: The Closer – “Closers” are the folks that enter the contest during the final week, having picked up that earlier thrown-down gauntlet of the “Tone Setter” and slapped them back.   9 times out of 10, “The Closer” in any sci-fi contest is none other than Tyler Clites. There are many theories as to why the “Closer” waits until the last week of the contest to enter their MOC:

  1. The “Tone Setter” drew them into the contest, so naturally they’d enter later,
  2. They want to keep their ideas fresh in the minds of judges,
  3. They don’t want to give their competition enough time to catch up,
  4. They are holding back so they don’t scare off the competition.

It could be any combination of the above, or none of the above.  Whatever their motives, don’t make the mistake of confusing the “Closer” with the “just made it by the deadline” builders.  These “Closers” are proven veterans, and those last-minute people need to “PUT… THAT COFFEE… DOWN…”

“Coffee’s for closers only.”

Guest #4: The Pleader –There are always folks that procrastinate, that have upload issues, that say their dog ate their bricks, etc. etc.  You can accommodate them if you wish.  However, the more you do, the more you disrespect all of the people who got their SHIP together. You’ll also find that wherever you draw the line, there will still be ONE more entrant with sad puppy eyes staring back at you from across the other side of it… Sorry – deadlines are deadlines, and the gates are closed to Wally World.

Guest #5: The Helpless Finally, these people are the ones dancing by themselves, like dirty neo-hippies at an outdoor Phish concert… except they are actually at a Civil War Reenactment.  Lord only knows what they are thinking.  We had a few “Helpless” entrants during the speederbike contest that colored waaay outside the lines, but we didn’t call them out.  They were having fun, so why harsh their buzz?  It was on them if they couldn’t learn by example from the other entrants.  When you have very few prize winners per category, and a lot of entrants, you can do that.  The cream will always rise to the top.

34129614833_ea0259c3c6_o.jpg…I may have finally found Keith’s speederbike inspiration!!!

RSVP’s and Sending out Personal Invites

So let’s say that the “Ice Breaker” still hasn’t shown up to the party and you’re getting nervous.  Well then, it’s time to call around to get people to show up. I’m sure there were a few people that you expected to enter based on the contest theme.  Reach out to them and say “Hey. In case you missed it…”  You can also trawl the flickr photo streams for recent MOC’s that fit whatever it is your contest is about.  If you find some, reach out to the builder and say “Hey. If this is for the contest, you need to enter it -=place link here=-…”    I openly admit that I trawled for a few entrants like this for the Steampunk B&B contest.  Desperate times…

The Rager

At the other extreme, if your contest really catches fire, then you just sit back and hang on tight.  Imagine scenes from basically any out-of-control “Party Movie” ever made.  That’s what you’ve got on your hands.  During the speederbike contest, there were even people building speederbikes just because they saw everyone else building them.  They didn’t even know there was a contest going on, or enter them.

When your party turns into a “Rager”, you can either a) run around with drink coasters to keep water rings from F’ing up the furniture, or b) crank the music, let the good times roll, and worry about the clean-up when the party (and your hangover) is over.  You better know the answer to this one…  Les seBon Ton’ Roulet!

4914013030_2643cb6395_o.jpgDR.Church – Party like its Twenty-Ninety-Nine!

Judging, Results, and Sending out Prizes 

As a judge, you are usually looking for high creativity (with NPU), a nice presentation, and technically clean designs. The more judges you have involved the better, but don’t drag out the process by waiting too long to gather their inputs.  Taking 1-2 weeks to judge and announce the results is typical.

For contests hosted in flickr groups, a common judging approach is for each judge to create a Top-10 list, and then each rank is worth a certain number of points.  You then add them up, and compare notes.

Alternatively, there is the mass-voting approach.  In my opinion, FBTB run the best contests around, and their contests are decided in this way.  Their current forum members determine the winner.  “But what about people trying to stuff the ballot box using multiple accounts”, you ask?  Well, a few years back, FBTB caught some chump trying to do exactly that from the same computer (despite that entrant’s “Good Intentions”… cough…. cough…).  Kudos to FBTB for catching him in the act, and bouncing him from the party… Now if they could only remedy their notoriously delayed prize shipping.

There is nothing worse than having to wait 1-2 months to get your prizes… and it’s bad karma if you ever want to host a party again.  The quicker you can announce the winners, and get the prizes into their hands, the better.  Be prepared to ship off those prizes as soon as you get the addresses from the winners.


Winter Village Post Office

Personalized “Thank You” Notes

Take the time to leave comments on a MOC from each person who entered the contest.  Focus first on the newbies who created brand new flickr accounts to enter the contest, and encourage them (sage advice from Keith).  For many, your contest may have been their first building contest ever, maybe even their first MOC.  It is great for them to receive that personalized feedback, and hopefully you’ll get some great feedback in return:

  • “-Wow….Thanks a lot. Maybe it’s just a comment for you… but this really means a lot to me 🙂
    This is really building me up to build more!”
  • “Thanks again for stirring up the building community with a rousing contest! Most fun I’ve had for a while in this virtual space”
  • “Thank you so much! It’s the first time in too long that I’ve really sat down and just built. I had an enjoyable experience and look forward to building more for the fun of it… My thanks to you and the others for hosting such a great contest!”
  • “Thank you very much for the kind words on all my builds, you’ve made me feel very proud of them regardless of the outcome”
  • etc…

Commenting on the MOC’s of the winners and runners-up can wait ….and when you finally do…..

6071241592_9d42b1e5e6_o.jpgFigbarf…Legohaulic style.

Don’t get drunk at your own party and puke all over the guests…

If at some point the guests at the party are talking more about you than the contest, then you’ve overstepped your bounds.  Your job is simply to set the stage for your party guests to have fun, and let them do their thing. It’s easy to get drawn in by the euphoria, but don’t do it. Know your role, as both host and judge.

In my case, I tried too hard on keeping my speederbike contest guests entertained, and I got sloppy drunk on it during my comments/critiques.  I even puked on many frequent readers of this fair blog (including the maestro himself); I spilled a drink on one MOC’s comment page, then puked up words all over another one… it was such a mess, they couldn’t make out anything “Is that a compliment, an insult, or some kind of accusation?… Oh wait. It’s just a piece of corn.”  The last straw was spilling another drink on a broh’s bro.  At that point, it was “party’s over, pal!”  I got dropped with the verbal equivalent of a pile driver… “Mea culpa”. I owned it.  I apologized to the offended directly, hat in hand, and made the walk of shame… Live and learn; Learn and live…

…And finally, don’t host it alone.

253055698_eed9077e5f_o.jpgDunechaser – Teamwork

After that debacle, Coleblaq eloquently brought the party back under control as my “wingman”.  My two contest-hosting compadres picked me up, wiped the crud off my chin, and we closed out the party together.  Running a good contest can take a lot of effort, and in turns we all carried the load.  I acted as the front-man most of the time, since I was the “native English speaker”.  I was also able to check the contest forums the most frequently.  But Cole and _zenn honestly did just as much behind the scenes, if not more, as I did up front.  We were truly a contest hosting triumvirate.  When we all work together, everybody wins!

With that, this party of an article is now officially over!  

The lights have been turned back on, and the clean-up crew has arrived with the sawdust and mop buckets. 


apocalust – Janitor

You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay up here.  Move on down to the “After Party” in the comments section below and chat awhile (BYO-cookies and fruit punch).

22 thoughts on “Ted Talks: Party Hosting Tips

  1. Cool article! Part “How-to” and part cautionary tale. Total respect to the folks who run contests: they put up with a ton of crap and, it seems to me, completely miss out on the actual fun part – entering! Lord knows I’ve been responsible for a few fuckups over the years contest rules and so forth. And whether we get to participate or not, Lego contests are wonderful things for both challenging ourselves out of our boilerplate comfort zones and also providing much entertainment.


    1. Thanks Shannon. Glad you liked it. As hosts, I think many still make MOC’s themselves, but just can’t enter them. If your theme is a little off-tangent from the usual, it can help to build some up-front MOC examples (acting as your own ice-breaker). During the speederbike contest, I ended up building a bunch (with wings) and used them as after-party entertainment while we we sorting out the judging. For the Steampunk, I built MOC’s to announce the 1/2-way and 1-week-left points of the contest. So if you are itching, there are still ways to integrate a few of your own MOC’s into what is going on.


      1. That’s something I wish we had done for RW+200 given how long that ran. But I wasn’t satisfied with my builds and it was hard to get them convincingly minifig-scale.


  2. Good article man.

    I liked the way you offer an assertion, and then use specific examples from your own contests to re-enforce that assertion. You proceed through the theme in a very logical, sequential manner. Assertion, explanation, example. Repeat. This structure can make writing the article seem a bit tedious, but its a huge help to the reader.

    Also, you nailed it with the videos. Coffee IS for closers!

    I think my favorite of your points was that as the host, it’s your job to entertain the entrants. Not the other way around. You host. You support. You provide. Just like the party metaphor you used so effectively throughout your article. Right on man… that’s the real deal. Keep the beer cold and don’t go looking for thanks. If everybody has fun, then it was a good effort. Period.

    Oh, I’m also a huge fan of NEVER extending a deadline. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And you nailed it when you point out that every time you compromise the rules of your contest, you disrespect every entrant who was able to follow those same rules. Yes! Guard towers, spot lights, dogs, and guards! The rules keep all entrants safe… entrants caught trying to escape the rules will be mauled by dogs, beaten by guards, then mauled by guards and beaten by dogs! I’m so down.

    I think a good specific idea for people planning a contest is to publish the date you will announce the winner when you announce the contest. It’s a completely knowable fact. You know when the contest starts, and committing to a date for announcing the winners will help motivate you at the end (when, as any experienced contest administrator can tell you… your motivation will be flagging!).

    Good article, and good review of lessons learned. Thanks for laying it all out like that. This article requires a certain level of self subordination to write. You need that in order to show folks, “this is what I did that did not work so well.” It’s the kind of stuff that when read and used, can lead to improvement in execution by others.

    This article feels a little bit like an After Action Review (AAR). Keith will tell you that I’m a huge fan of AARs. I love them almost as much as I love mission statements. People do stuff and it works, or it doesn’t. But people seldom sit down after an event, and talk through actions and catalogue what did work well, and what went poorly. In my job, the AAR is HUGE. To be effective, the review or discussion needs to be a zero threat, candid event. Focus is on FIX, not FAULT. Pro athletes, especially teams, live and die by the AAR. Watch the videos. Assess. Be clinical, not emotional. Point out the good, the bad, and the distracting.

    This article is a little bit like that, so good on you man. I dig it!



    1. Thanks. The writing style is probably an artifact of the corporate world. The tldr crowd is the domain of both ADD school kids and business executives. Efficiency.

      The “good host” angle reminds me of a time I was at a weekend cookout out in the hillsides of Hungary. A group of us were doing lectures at various polytechnical universities there, and some professors invited us to a cook out at one of their summer places. They led with this toast: “The purpose of today’s meeting between us is to drink as much as you can and to eat as much as you can. And if you can walk after we are through, then we were not good hosts and this day has been a waste of time.”

      Good idea on setting a firm “winners will be announced date”. We get so worked up on setting rules for the entries, we should set some for the judges too.

      We did an informal AAR in our private judges flickr group, but it is rare to me. Think everyone is just ready to pull up stakes, and mosey on to the next show (or take a long, long sabattacle…).


  3. Brilliant and painful, as the truth usually is. Personally, I haven’t entered many contest; however, the ones I have entered have defined who I am as a builder. Of course good and bad. Likely more the latter. I’ve found that my personality suits the “tone setter” style, I love being THAT guy and I find that goal of throwing down to be more exhilarating than actually winning or more rewarding than any prize could ever be.

    I have hosted several contests myself on Mocpages and found that where you host the party is a very important factor. Of course, over there it is definitely a vanilla world which is disproportionately overpopulated with the Pleaders and the Helpless, but you should expect that over there anyways. What I have found is that there is more responsibility to take a firmer hand with them regarding timelines and rules, but be somewhat accommodating to the most mundane of requests. The point is to have fun; if there are strict guidelines and rules and a Nazi that enforces them, then the chance of facets of doom and drudgery form. Competition for survival is one thing, but Lego ain’t it. I will say this however before Mike pipes in to bitchslap me into rules are rules Dachau-ism: Some contests needs strict adherence and enforcement. Decisive Action is the best example of that by far. In fact, it was how many battles there were won through a VERY strict interpretation of precedence and rules of game play. The most interesting aspect to that was that if you completely understood the rules and how the complex point system was accounted for, then the focus was pure game (and it’s exactly how some unknown, outclassed, irreverent flunky won. 😉 )

    Hosting the 100 piece brick built figure contest was definitely trial by fire. I found that as simple as you can make the rules, some people just cannot comprehend. The level of inane questions are truly baffling. This was even more so in massive contests like the Mocathalon and the Mocolympics. There were many builders that, although brilliant, just could not think outside the goddamn box. The “minutia hunters” looking at every single word of text in the rules and missing the forest through all them fucking trees. Or just missing the trees completely because of all the twigs. They’re very rare, but they’re the ones you never forget.

    But that’s me picking on contestants, and it’s in no way any reason to not host a contest. Or even participate. OR even throw down if you are a judge/host. EVERYONE needs to have fun, especially those flitting the bill and destroying their home lives because “I just gotta check the contest real quick, Kiba. Dinner won’t get too cold. Did…did you just growl at me?”

    Brilliant and painful, I hope this becomes a guideline for anyone considering creating, running, and judging a contest in the future! AND also participating in one, the contestants should know what’s involved before they start whining about who won.


    1. I’m coming down from the acropolis to start some pandemonium!

      Don’t bring limp rap to a pimp slap symposium!


  4. Great points, Matt… and oh, man! The “100-part” contests are such a minefield for questions. Seems like most contests have a standard boilerplate set if rules, but even that can cause more questions if you don’t review them every now and then – like putting the entry photo in the entry discussion threads (for actual entry) AND the flickr group pool (mainly just for the health of the pool).

    …And the minutiae hunters are many times the same exact people as the pleaders (one’s just at the beginning of the contest, the other’s at the end)


  5. Yeah, be prompt about announcing winners, or you will hear about it for years! If you have a team of judges and one of them can’t respond in a timely fashion due to life having other plans, don’t be afraid to pull through with one less judge. I took my sweet time about that at the end of the Small Starfighter Contest, and people still remember that with a vengeance. 😉


    1. Thanks for reminding me… Grrr… (…might have worked in my favor, though, as I got 2nd in the last small starfighters)… Having hard judging deadlines seem to be a good idea. Can sort through the comments/details after the dust settles… Or to settle a dead-lock in voting… But it is interesting to me that usually the people who ask “when will the winners be announced?” aren’t usually the winners…


  6. Another fine addition to the series Ted, having run several contests and participated in many more, it really resonated with me. Your photo selection and pop-culture references are strong too, that GlenGary clip never gets old.

    I hadn’t really considered it before but your take on the importance of having a flyer for a contest is dead on. When you can post that single image on multiple photostreams and in groups it’s a great recruitment tool. I had a primitive version back in the day, which was more of an icon than an informative graphic. Were I to run another contest I’d definitely look around at all the great flyers that have been done in the last couple of years and try to mimic them. They’ve come a long way.

    I really feel the need to echo your point about having an immutable deadline that shall not be broken no matter who complains. I’ve made that particular mistake twice, and never again because no matter if it’s a stranger or a crony…the “pleader” who asks for the extension never comes through. Never. It’s just a bad look to the other participants and drags out the proceedings at the very moment they should be coming down the home stretch.

    The “meet your guests” section was great too, and you hit on all the relevant stereotypes. I think I fall into the “Ice Breaker” role because I usually enter contests run by people I know / respect and above a prize or a ribbon I want the contest to be as successful as possible with the most entries possible. I know what it’s like to launch an effort and sweat out that initial period where you wonder if anyone is coming to the party so I prefer to throw down the gauntlet sooner rather than later. You’re spot on about Tyler too, that dude is a sniper who just waits in the reeds, watching lazily through is scope until it’s time to pull the trigger. It didn’t work out for him in the LSB contest but I’ve seen him make that killshot quite a few times. At least he does it without rubbing your face in it, dude is quite urbane, I remember a dude back in the LUGnet era who did the same thing but then did a touchdown-dance in your face. I always wonder how calculated the “closers” are. Does it just take them longer to finish their entry? Or is it pure strategy or a mix of both?

    The thing that pisses me off about contests more than any other detail is overly flexible rules. It should be clear to constant readers that rountRee and I are good friends but I was cursing his questionably capitalized name loudly when he turned the 100 piece figure building contest into the 101 or 102 piece contest late in the game. That shit makes my blood boil. You ask people to adhere to specifications and work within a set of challenges and when you are not consistent with their application it can really be a turn off. It’s not just Matt, I see that happen all the time because (largely) it’s not fun to tell people “No” when they are spending their creative time and energy to make your contest successful.

    Great job on the self-assessment at the end of the article, not many people would own up to the vomiting and I have no doubt your next contest will be better for it. It’s a danger you risk when you make the commitment to respond to everyone personally in a contest of that scale. You’re probably gonna say some shit you wish you hadn’t.


    1. I admit that the flexibility of the piece count was a bad decision and CERTAINLY should not have happened after the first entry was submitted, that’s why the second go we gave it a maximum NOT TO BE EXCEEDED. If anything the course correction eliminated a bunch of whiny questions, but my sadism was intrigued to see what would happen with the 1-5% variance. Sadly, it was shit. No one’s build turned out glorious given that little wiggle room and the better ones were well within the limits. Lesson learned. But I did see how having other judges involved would curb my appetite in that I was very focused on the mystery pieces to the point of tunnel vision. I didn’t step back and see the role I was supposed to play and instead went after my own entertainment. Not a very host like attitude at all.


      1. The key is that you learned from the error and the second iteration, if I remember correctly, went very smoothly. Can’t quite recall who took home the prize in that throw-down but I’m sure he was awesome. Every time I’ve made an allowance or bent the rules to accommodate a player it has backfired. I remember extending a deadline for a guy who pleaded with me for just another week and when that week came and went he was nowhere to be found and I looked like an idiot to the other players and possibly guilty of the cronyism I was constantly railing about. Combine that with being round Rutheford too long and now I have a very short fuse with players. Polite, but short.


    2. Keith said: “I think I fall into the “Ice Breaker” role because I usually enter contests run by people I know / respect and above a prize or a ribbon I want the contest to be as successful as possible with the most entries possible.”

      100% agree. I forgot to reply, but that’s generally where I tend to fall too. That’s especially true when it’s for a theme/idea that I know I don’t even stand a good chance of placing (like in a LugNuts challenge). With most contests allowing entry edits/swaps now, you can actually play both Ice Breaker and Tone Setter (if you hadn’t already with the same entry)… But I just can’t sit on a build idea long enough to be a Closer, and I’m all about putting on a good show anyway.

      I will also add that it’s tougher to have a early Ice Breaker when hosting those “Dinner Party” styled specific contests. Your wait for them to show up will generally be much longer (you know, they have to hit the wine store first, and consult with a sommelier to find the right wine to bring to pair with the parts, and also learn the winery’s back story, etc.).


      1. Pairing wine? I got that base covered. 😉 I actually dumped about $60,000 in wine down my septic system earlier this year. Long story, sad ending, I wasn’t out any cash.

        Ice breakers are crucial to any contest if only to set the mood and remind people that it’s all in good fun.


  7. A well written article to be sure, and you’ve certainly nailed all the elements of what makes a contest great or what makes it fall over backwards. Personally, I’ve never run a contest (and barely participate in any to begin with) but even I can recognize the stereotypical contestants as well as the bad choices that often ascend from the bowels of the FOL community.

    Overall a great piece of work, and you’ve convinced me to go back and start reading your past work! Along with many other articles that I’ve missed over the years. And it’s at this point that I realize the Manifesto’s almost a year old…

    Such is life.


  8. Ha!
    The analogy is like 4 star Michelin restaurant. Perfect tire safety ratings!

    Yup, ran a few contests, over many different platforms: EB, TBB, Flickr, own stream, joke theme months etc.

    And you’ve elegantly described and set forth a PlayBook for the new and old…

    The biggest thing that is missing I’d think is to ask the showrunner:

    Why do you want to run a contest?

    Patriotic duty?

    Even for those that have run many and a contest should be routine, it is anything but.

    Also the a nap before dinner party. You need to be well rested.

    Bon appetite.


    1. “Why do you want to run a contest?”

      I’d be curious to hear what others say. I hinted at it mine with my lead sentence; As a builder with nothing to promote, it was just that I got so much out of participating in them (entertainment, stretching building skills & supplies, the thrill of competition, making new FOL friends, having a goal to work towards…) that I wanted to give that experience back to others. The things that you get a lot out of in life, you want to support and see continue for others (kind of why I became a summer camp counselor during college… and actually donate to my undergrad engineering program, among other things). So far, the contests I have helped host we’re iterations of ones that I had participated in and enjoyed in the past. At some point I think, “Hey, we should do that again!”, and see who else is interested in having a Revival (insert the Allman Bros. Band playing that song here)


      1. Street cred, masochism, glory, altruism, god complex, delicious sadism (mah personal favorite), communion, entertainment, teaching, learning, I doubt that any one of these or the many I didn’t mention lead to hosting as a singularity but all of them to some level contribute a percentage. I think some are indirectly proportionate to each other; however, the equation has a definitive constant: As frustrating and arduous any contest is to host, there is little doubt that fun-for-ALL isn’t the primary goal.

        And making monkeys dance for you.


      2. Why did I ever run a contest?
        1. I had been disappointed by the execution of many of the contests I had witnessed. They seemed poorly conceived, hastily organized, fraught with conflicts of interest and rampant cronyism, and just generally unfair. But, I realized that my opinion was not fully informed because I had never run one myself. I was judging unfairly. Well, I love to gripe, and so realized that if I wanted to really gripe WELL… I needed to put up or shut up. I designed DA and ran it (with Keith up in the accounting office) in order to learn about the task and better inform my opinions on the topic.

        2. Why run a ball game? Because you like to play ball? Well… only sort of. More accurate to say: Because you like the sport. Maybe you DO like to play ball… but that would be why you actually PLAY. But maybe you like playing in a league. Maybe you like the fact that there is a league. Maybe you like the spectacle of the sport. THAT is why you run a ball game. That is also why the guy running the game MUST NOT PLAY. The ref’ watches and assesses. He or she makes the call. So that there CAN BE A GAME. No ref? No ball game above the sand lot level. So… reason 2: Love of the hobby and the need for an objective outsider in fare competition.

        3. LIMMITED ACCESS TO MY BRICKS! I couldn’t build… so I needed to find an alternate way to “Do Lego”. The same applies to the other two groups I ran over on MOCpages (Metal Legion Recruiting Command, and The Final Countdown). Once I was in an austere environment with almost zero entertainment options but access to the internet, and another time, I was here in the land of milk and honey, but still… no access to my bricks.

        If I were to boil that stuff down to gravy, It comes down to self education, love of the hobby, and the need for an alternative creative outlet.


      3. I started my short-lived “You Control the Action” contest series because up until that time there had not been a contest devoted to the diorama, the obviously superior style of building. Like Rutherford, I was also dissatisfied with the way the average contest was handled, specifically the way hosts would often enter their own competitions without any notion of the concept of conflict of interest. The rampant cronyism was also an issue, to the point that I made specific rules prohibiting a crony from winning the contest. I also wanted a slice of glory with a side-order of community spirit.

        You mentioned in the article to get yourself a good team to spread out the work/damage, but in my experience being the only shot-caller has huge advantages. Most notably you don’t have to wait for other, inevitably slower judges to render their verdicts or give an opinion on rules issues. Help is good, but it’s got to be the right kind of help. One ambivalent, contrarian or checked-out judge can make the whole process less efficient and more annoying. Even well meaning helpers can end up screwing you when the work sets in.


      4. Well, I got involved in RW+200 primarily because I was sick of people bitching about the fall of community on Flickr and not doing anything about it themselves. Especially with the scare surrounding Tromas’s supposed disappearance at the time I felt it was important to do something to rally the spacers together. Also I remember the original RW contest and how awesome the entries were, even though I was still lurking on Flickr at that time. So there was a bit of the “let’s do that again!” that Ted mentioned.


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