Ted Talks – “The sun shines bright…”

Friend of the blog Ted Andes returns with his in depth analysis of the recent BrickUniverse-Louisville fan event in Kentucky.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!

Ted Talks – “The suns shines bright…”

“…In the military you could look at someone’s “fruit salad” and judge how “salty” they were. I think me and Nate are the “bootest” of the show batch. Until I can count more shows than fingers, and get more badges, I’ll be bush league.” – Charley


I am not a military man, so I am always leery about the “cultural appropriation” of any military jargon.  Rutherford has earned the right to use it here on The Manifesto, and honestly I’m not all that savvy with it.  However, that opening quote is the perfect lead-in to this article. Charley (No. Not that Charlie) is the man leading the charge to establish a local LUG here in Louisville, KY.  It comes from the After Action Review (AAR) of his first time displaying at a Lego convention.  It also shines a light onto an interesting paradox – the smallest cons aren’t always the best cons for making a displaying debut (or at least for your psyche).  The underlying format of those small cons can really make a huge difference for both the tenured builder and the newly enlisted AFOL alike.


To call BrickUniverse-Louisville (BU-Lou) a “Lego convention” is not entirely accurate based on the expectations of most ABOL’s.  BU-Lou is just one stop of a lengthy “Lego Fan Expo” tour that roams around the country.  When wunderkind Greyson Beights came up with the format for his traveling Expo, he mentioned studying the “European-style LEGO conventions” as opposed to the ones in North America. What does that mean?  It means that the “public comes first”.  I had heard that about European cons before, from my European Flickr contacts.  It’s the reason why many European based builders travel to the USA instead to get their “builder-centric” convention fix at BrickCon, Brickworld, BrickFair, etc… 

 The overall mission of BrickUniverse was summarized by Greyson during his interview with brickfanatics.co.uk“… the benefit to the local community is threefold. First, we provide a great experience to AFOLs and TFOL with games and seminars—an experience that is seldom available on such a large scale. Second, we show families (both parents and children) the endless possibilities with LEGO bricks. They see what there can be built, how they can use LEGO bricks to learn engineering or History (Medieval LEGO!), and so much more. Third we help the local community and economy, which at times can be in a drought and could use some rain so to speak. Whenever you plough some 15,000 people in a central location over a span of only two days, you’re bound to see the local economy thrive.”

Now this “great experience” can vary from location to location. It all depends on how many AFOL’s they can expect to display at any given show. BU-Cleveland is actually one of their more builder focused conventions (with awards, seminars, etc.).  For BU-Lou, it’s still the fan-focused experience.  Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing, just different, and it could always grow up to be more than that.  One great thing about the public-Expo format is that it enables LEGO conventions to test the waters in many LEGO-starved markets across the country.  BrickUniverse even holds an event in the much maligned Tulsa! (…are you reading this, John Palmer?). I believe Greyson is working towards scheduling 12 BrickUniverse events across the USA in 2018.

At the smaller BU-Expos, creating a “great experience for AFOLs and TFOLs with games and seminars” translates into building challenges for the public, and giving them multiple play-brick locations.  The “great experience” for the displayers at BU-Lou was limited to an ill-timed emergency evacuation alarm during Friday’s set-up (it was due to a water pipe bursting at the KY Expo center).  So there were no mixers, no opening/closing ceremonies, and no seminars that were so hot that they set wheelchairs on fire.  That said, each local displayer was still given a coveted “Brick Universe Louisville 2018” badge brick for their “fruit salads”, and a LEGO themed book from No Starch Press; a very nice and appreciated gesture (a copy of Mike Doyle’s “Beautiful Lego” is now sitting on my bookshelf).


The Nerd-tastic Four! – by AdamDodge

Since the first priority of the “Fan Expo” is to deliver a great experience (a.k.a. product) to the public, Greyson pulls together an elite team of building superheroes to headline the tour.  The “Fantastic Four” for BU-Lou 2018 were Rocco Buttliere, Jonathan Lopes, Paul Hetherington, and Lia Chan. Each of those builders is given a personally dedicated section to display their builds, with their tables placed about themselves in a pleasing way.  From what I understand, BU pays to ship their displays around the country and also reimburses their travel expenses.  They also allow them to sell their own merchandise at the show; Paul sells $10 prints of his MOCs, Jonathan’s wife sells signed copies of her children’s books.  The Bocans were also there selling their “Abbie Dabbles” as vendors, along with displaying their mosaics, etc… gosh, this is all sounding too familiar…

The “Fan Zone” is the area they reserve for the hacks like me, who catch wind of the local Expo and want to display something on butcher paper.  Since there are no guarantees as to who or what will show up, especially when testing out a new local market, these sections are a lot like Forrest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates (highlighting the importance of locking in commitments from the “Fantastic Four”).  Rounding out the other displayers at BU-Lou this year were locals such as myself, “Der DeathDog of Glomshire”, “Hoosier Bricks”, and Charley and Nate of the GLou-LUG crew.  That’s it.  There were 3 other local people that were expected to display, but real life must have intervened (I’m sure BU-Lou being held after the holidays on Jan 6th-7th didn’t help matters).  So yes, you could actually count the total number of displayers on your fingers this year; there were 10.

Here’s the resulting map of the convention hall battlefield:


Another important thing to note is that there was no registration fee for the displayers at BU-Lou ($0.00).  Just send them an e-mail with how many tables you want, and “bam!” your name was put onto the convention map. They also gave us parking passes, so that cost was covered too (…that set-up sounds perfect for a “flash-mob microlug gathering” to occur, doesn’t it?)

The Commanding Officer:

For those not in the know, Greyson started BrickUniverse at 14 (he’s 17 now) and runs the shows with his family. Seeing him in a video, Jake RF recently referred to him as the ‘Cool Cat in Black’, and that is actually a very appropriate description. He’s a real smooth dude for being just a teen (and now also a college graduate).  He definitely gives Jordan Schwartz a run for his money in the best dressed category. Despite all that polish, there are still some “sparks of youth” that slip through the facade, usually accompanied by an impish grin, a thumbs-up and a shoulder shrug.





Greyson Beights


His two older brothers are twins, and about a year older than Greyson.  At a quick glance, all three look alike from across a convention hall. It took me awhile to realize that last year, and I couldn’t keep them strait at first.  I thought I was going crazy when I asked one of his brothers to get something for me, thinking it was Greyson, and then the next one walked on by with a puzzled look when I held out my hand for it.  I was thinking to myself, “What the hell, man?!”  This year it was fun to see how long it took for the new displayers to figure that one out themselves.

As a family-run event, what really shines through is how accommodating they all are as a staff. If you need it, they will get it (brotherly confusion on my part notwithstanding). Last year Greyson’s dad even helped take one of the traveling displayers to a local repair shop to their car fixed.  Now I haven’t made the rounds to all of the cons, but I’d think you’d be hard pressed to find a con staff that is happier for you to be there than they are.  Maybe that just comes with the territory of a smaller Expo, but I tend to believe that there is a little more to it than that.

If there is any criticism to be leveled Greyson’s way, it is usually in how long it can take for him to respond to e-mails.  Perhaps that just comes with the territory of trying to coordinate 12 shows in a year.  The lack of response was concerning to some of the new displayers.  It was also a concern to some con vets who are used to the strict deadlines for MOC cards, table requests, etc.  Just note that if you ever do attend a BrickUniverse event, don’t sweat that lack of communication too much. Their accommodating nature will likely compensate as the show gets closer.  As a point of reference, at BU-Lou 2017 they gave me 3 display tables on just 3 days’ notice… on the other hand, if you planned to do an interview with Greyson for a “Blog or Die!” contest, you can just keep on waiting…

So with the recon completed, the map of the battlefield laid out, and the CO assigned, what was it like to actually display and attend this year?


My little corner of the world at BrickUniverse Louisville 2018


Let’s start with the obvious.  From an attendee perspective, when a traveling Expo brings the best-of-the-best builders and all of their MOCs right to your doorstep, it’s freaking awesome!  Who could complain?!  It’s a unique opportunity to see “best-in-show” MOC’s from the recent Brick-Whatever-Cons in person, that you’d otherwise never get the chance to see.  Talking with the public, I learned that quite a few of them drove from over 5 hours away just to see the show.  I was pretty pumped that Paul Hetherington made the trip this year as a new BU-Lou displayer, having never seen his builds in person.  On-line pictures of his display pieces are a poor substitute for seeing them in person.

But let’s say that you have seen their displays before.  Well then, you still get the opportunity to see all of these gems being set-up, and to strike up some one-on-one conversations.  I got to watch Paul work out some of the kinks in the mechanics of his Gotham Theater and King Neptune displays (the kinks of Lady Gaga are for his eyes only).  I also did fly-bys through Rocco, Lia, and Jonathan’s sections to see what was new since last year.  In turn, they all stopped by my tables to see what was new with me. By this point in their multi-city-tour-of-duty they’ve seen each other’s MOC’s more times than they can care to count.  It’s the local displayers like me that are bringing the new MOC’s that they haven’t seen before. It’s a good opportunity to get their undivided attention, and perhaps a tip or two.  When attending a cozy-con like this, you will talk with all of the displayers eventually. It’s inevitable.

The downside is that most conversations only occur during the Friday set-up (that is, when you aren’t having to evacuating the building), or during that one hour before the public arrives. Once those doors finally open to the public, it’s “all hands on deck!”  At these micro-cons you are all fighting together, side-by-side, with your fellow AFOL brothers-in-arms … well in reality, it’s more like you are all separated behind enemy lines, spread across the vast hall and in an “everyone-for-themselves” survival mode… but I digress…  Bottom line: anyone who has the cajones to display at a small con and work the public those two days strait has definitely earned their stripes.  No warrior left behind!

¯“Nowhere to run to baby. Nowhere to hide.”¯

At a small Fan Expo, there is nowhere to run to baby, and definitely nowhere to hide.  Lunch breaks?  You can forget about that.  I hope you remembered to bring your MRE’s and fill up your canteens before leaving base, because now you are in “The Suck”.  You are surrounded by the public that is standing two-deep, hungry for LEGO, and armed to the teeth with pitchforks and mundane questions.

At a small Expo, you still get those standard fare questions.  However, there are also some new questions too, especially when displaying alongside the “Fantastic Four”.  Questions like, “Are you a master builder?”  I was asked question at least 5 times (and for the record, asked for my autograph twice).  …What the heck does being a “master builder” even mean?  Seriously. I’m asking.  Are they chosen from among all others by the 6 LEGO elders, to right the wrongs of illegal LEGO connections?  If so, “Shazam!”… I’m usually inclined to just say “No”, because attaching the word “Master” to your name NEVER ends well (Lee Van Cleef being the only exception). Instead, I use that old chestnut that all tenured teachers use; turning the question back onto the asker; “I’ll let you decide, kid. Do you think I’m a master builder?”

The other interesting question was a personal one that I get from time to time, but the last time was years ago and this was definitely a new way of asking it.  So a lone redhead kid walks up to my table and says, “Can I ask a question?”  I say, “Sure.”  So then he asks me a mundane question about one of my MOC’s.  So as I’m answering him I notice that he seems disinterested, like something else is really on his mind.  Once I am done, and a few awkward seconds have passed, he then asks me “Were you in Ghostbusters?”

Engaging the public at a convention is a necessary evil to some, but with the right mindset you can still survive and even find it enjoyable.  The key is that you don’t have to engage everyone. Let the parents answer their kid’s stupid “what is that supposed to be?” questions.  Instead you should scan the crowd for the moment someone’s face lights up when they make a connection with one of your MOC’s, and then “ATTACK!”  Those are the people you need to make eye-contact with and start up a conversation.  They’ll give you back all of that energy that everyone else seems to sap out of you.  By the time you’re done talking, any rubes that were standing around will have moved onto the next display.  Rinse and repeat.  If you are lucky, the engaged may even give you a few MOC ideas…

My favorite dudes from the BU-Lou public were once again a pack of local guys that I’ve dubbed the “Hipster Comic Geeks with Street Cred”.  These guys are legit.  I like to think of them as the original hipster prototypes that all other hipsters cultivated their artisanal knock-off, flannel clad images around. They had attended BU-Lou 2017, and we restarted our conversation right where it left off. Last year I was showing them my singular Valkyrie Starfighter, and how I connected the front prongs with the Mixel ball joints.  As I was moving them around, one of them said “Hey, that wings-down configuration looks pretty cool!”… You know what? That wings-down configuration DID look cool, and it eventually led to me building 6 more, and the creation of the “Aerie Mobile Launch Tower” … and this year I got the chance to show them the end results.

“There was a convention for people who love Legos. I know that’s weird, but there was.”

Speaking of nowhere to hide, smaller cons like this seem to attract a lot more attention from the local media.  With only 10 displayers, and multiple media outlets looking for human interest stories, there was no shortage of opportunities to be caught on camera.  Personally, I had no interest in any of that attention (no real upside for me), and I dodged the cameras at least three times.  Despite that, I still found my face in the Sunday newspaper (and subsequently a copy of it placed on my desk at work –sigh–)… and when a fun-loving guy standing over 7ft tall walks over to your tables with a big smile and asks to interview you, how can you say no?

Werewolff called the “TV show snark” that leads this section “fighting words”, but I call it yet another ego reality check.  Anyway, I think the show-host for “Hey Kentucky!” was just playing up the crazy hijinks that Łukasz “Woo” Obrzut gets himself into during his roving reporter segments.  The finished segment was a refreshing and fun take on the Lego Con experience (“Why so serious and boilerplate all the time?”).  All I know is from here on out, whenever people ask me how I got all of the bricks for my MOC’s, I’m using Woo’s childhood story; 1) I rented videos, 2) sold them at flea markets, 3) and then bought LEGO sets with the money.

Hey Kentucky! (The ‘cool cat’ is Greyson Beights.  Jonathan Lopes is the one in the navy blue shirt.  I’m the dork swooshing a castle… I mean space tower. Charley is the one closing out the segment).

Other Random Encounters and Observations

So here is a roundup of some other miscellaneous encounters and observations that I had at the show:

– If you put an “Inspired by STAR WARS” sign in front of one of your MOC’s, then expect everything else you’ve displayed across two tables to suddenly become a Star Wars MOC as well… all other large signs that you’ve placed on your tables have become null and void.

– Did I mention that we had Star Wars cosplayers roving around the convention hall?  I’m actually not complaining.  They provided some much needed crowd control for us 10 displayers.  My only complaint is that the ones dressed a sand people need to up their game and start walking in single file to hide their numbers.


– Speaking of public popularity, when I asked Paul which of his many MOCs was getting the most love from the public, his answer was “Lady Gaga”. Honest truth. Fueling that Gaga fire was the fact she just had a sold-out show here back in October.  Sorry Ice Planet Hoth. They’re gaga for Gaga here in the ‘Ville!

– You want another dose of con awkwardness? A man that some have compared to a “walrus” made an appearance here, and I witnessed his proclivity for giving nut-punches to his good pals. At a con I attended last year, he was also witnessed giving birthday spankings to a girl who had just turned 21, right in the middle of “pizza night”.  Now that’s a man who knows how to deliver some real con awkwardness, and right where it counts.

– In the category of “it’s a small-world”, I ran into my sister’s best friend from high school (and they’re still BFF’s to this day). She recognized me due to the wonders of MOC cards with my name on them. It made for a great photo op to send to my sister living in frigid upstate NY.

– “Hoosier Bricks” stepped it up this year and delivered an entire display of MOC’s.  Granted some of those were still modified modular sets, but they were MOC’s all the same.  Sometimes I forget that most train layout dudes run by a different set of rules.


The “Fruit Salad” Days

It can be a fine line between the self-awareness for the need to get better, and the feeling of crippling discouragement.  If you can imagine a seat-of-the-pants group display of modular sets pulled together in a week, juxtaposed against the works of tour veterans like the aforementioned “Fantastic Four”, it’s no surprise Charley felt like the “bootest of the show batch”.  When compared to the “Fantastic Four”, even my displays look bush league.  I tried to warn the crew in advance, but to no avail (and I subsequently created “that prophetic comic” out of frustration).  Displaying at a Fan Expo can be like getting thrown into the deep end of a pool to learn how to swim.  Then again, there’s a reason that Boot Camps tear everyone down first before they build them back up again into true soldiers.

“…maybe you can lead them slowly to the light? As Egg Shen reminds us everything begins from nothing, Ted, and you could be an important part of a winning team?” – Keith Goldman

Leading up to BU-Lou, going to Bricks LA instead was a selfishly tempting idea (also held on Jan 6th-7th). Although Keith has outlined some of that con’s eventual foibles in his AAR, it was still a builder-centric convention attended by many more of my space building tribe.  I could have even doubled-down on all the awkwardness once the “The Cronies” finally realized I was the jerk who puked all over their “speederbike MOC’s” last year.  Then I would have been the one needing those ECG leads…

However, I was always going to support the home team.  Not being one to abandon my commitments, I lent a hand to the GLou-LUG layout where I could; I provided some baseplates, made some landscape MOC’s, added my train, lent a pull-cart, carried in boxes of bricks, and slapped down duct tape over those ever-encroaching stanchions (no custom stickers though)… “Der DeathDog of Glomshire” spent time in the trenches with them too, offering his guidance and support …that is, when he wasn’t ducking behind MY tables along the far wall to avoid the public, and to sit awhile to swap war stories with me – like true con veterans.

 Despite the lower MOC count, the local crew definitely made up for it in enthusiasm. Charley and Nate worked those crowds and were very engaging.  I think being the self-described “bootest of the show batch” played to their advantage in member recruitment, by making the LUG feel more accessible to those who are only getting started as AFOLs. The last time I checked, there have been at least 20 new members added to the GLou-LUG’s Facebook group.  For promoting a fledgling LUG, they earned full marks and definitely earned those 1st badge bricks for their “fruit salad”.  Mission accomplished!


Final Debrief:

I didn’t get any attendance numbers from Greyson, but he did say BU-Lou 2018 had an increased attendance over last year.  I definitely felt it on Saturday.  With the increase in attendance, I suspect BU-Lou will be back next year at the same Bat-time, same Bat-location.  Like Bricks LA, I guess there is something to be said for parents wanting to entertain the kids during their winter vacations.

You will have also noticed a severe lack of any after-show socialization in my write-up. That one is mainly on me. The “Fantastic Four” and their BU entourage did go out as a group for dinner/drinks, and invited us locals to join them. However, one of the drawbacks of having a con in your hometown are those real-life commitments that crop up in the evenings. I think that was the case for all of the local displayers.  Since the wife and I are in the middle of house training a new puppy, our home wasn’t up-to-par for receiving any guests either.

For my part, I did make sure the out-of-towners were well armed with local restaurant recommendations and other “points of interest”.  It’s unfortunate that the area immediately around the KY Fairgrounds/Expo Center is a complete dead-zone. That isn’t such a big deal for a small con, but if BU-Lou ever grows to include more out-of-town displayers perhaps they can consider moving it to the newly refurbished International Convention Center downtown.  Everybody’s friend Simon stopped through town last year during his “Pub Scouts” road trip, and he can attest that Louisville is a cool place to hang for a couple days. P.S. – The chicken here is also finger lickin’ good!


Angus MacLane’s CubeDude Colonel Sanders – the unofficial mascot of BU-Lou

So did BU-Lou impact my interest in attending cons in the future? Am I now as jaded as Keith made himself out to be?  I would answer “no” to both questions… but to be fair, I didn’t drive 5 hours, spend $1,000, and have to share a hotel room with rowntRee either XD.  Now if I had traveled to this one I might have had an entirely different perspective.  In the interest of full disclosure, I actually advised a couple people outside of a 2hr drive radius that they might want to save their gas money.  If the point of them coming here would be to hang out with a bunch of AFOL’s, they’d be better off doing it at bigger “builder centric” con some other time of the year.

I will continue to ask myself these two separate questions when I consider attending a Lego con; 1) “Will it be fun?” and 2)“How much of a hassle is will it be?” The fun comes from who else might be there, or what else I might get to see and do while I’m in town.  The hassle comes from any travel costs/logistics, and if I feel burdened by the MOC projects that I might try to undertake.  Based on the answers to those questions (along with knowing what other things I could be doing with my valuable vacation time), I will determine a plan of attack and re-evaluate if it is worth it to go. In my case, both Brickworld Chicago and BU-Lou are still no-brainers.

Another way to put it: Do your research, plan ahead… and then leave all of your expectations behind.  Appreciate the moment, for whatever it happens to be.  I don’t expect every con to be able to deliver that sweet nectar of a “Brickworld bacchanalia”.  Nor do I expect to get quality 1-on-1 time with rock-star builders at every soberingly small expo. Each con offers unique experiences at different ends of the attendee spectrum (1,000 registered attendees vs. 10).  They are what they are, and the experience of attending them will likely change next year too, depending on who else decides to shows up.


Photo Credit Ian Heath

There are uncanny parallels between attracting people to a con and running a successful building contest.  Running a con, like running a contest, should always be about being a good host and setting a tempting stage that lets attendees “do their own thang”.  The earliest of cons were like neighborhood block-parties, getting like-minded local builders together in one place, to commiserate and share their stuff (builds and brews alike – Skøl!).  These days that party can be anything from an all-night kegger, a subdued dinner party, a temperance gathering in Utah, or even a brick fiesta! “Olé”!

 As for this bluegrass jamboree, what does the post-con future hold for GLou-LUG over the next year?  Well, the core team has completed their post-con AAR, and is putting a plan in place to engage all of the new recruits.  Charley laid down the foundation in 2017 and construction continues to move forward, one brick at a time.  The sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home…   … “Then my old Kentucky home, goodnight!”


40 thoughts on “Ted Talks – “The sun shines bright…”

  1. Who the what now? So you’re saying that not only did you do all that crowd management stuff without getting 100000 doubloons and a constant supply of rum, you were actually expecting to pay for the privilege? Need a few beers to recover from reading that. :))

    Vitreolum’s proper exhibit recipe™ > shove the builds in a box, ship it to organizers along with a few blurry shots, let them enjoy figuring out how to put them together and mumble about the hard work it took to tape the box.

    I ain’t afraid of no ghost.


  2. You can think of most cons as having been started by a bunch of locals throwing a party for themselves, and getting everyone who plans to attend to pitch in some money to share the costs (that’s why last registration costs more). Then at some point they thought “let’s let the public in and charge them for it to mitigate costs”, not knowing how interested the public will actually be. Current state feels more like an evolution than the plan at the onset.

    The other cons that started as business ventures that always planned to have the public come in and cover the tab. Then they attract locals to display by not having them pay (or at least the small ones).

    Those are simplistic descriptions, as I’ve only peaked behind that curtain… I could be way off base, but I don’t suspect I am too far off. I know that the goal of many of the first type of con is to at least break even. Much of the excess from the public tickets can go back to the attendees – at Brickworld that has equated to having an open bar mixer (a.k.a. free beer and apps) on the opening Wednesday night, and then more LEGO sets given out during opening/closing ceremonies.

    Many people on the outside see these cons as savvy corporate enterprises, but in reality they are run by “normal” people who are likely AFOL’s first… And as many aspy AFOLs as they are, it’s kind of a miracle that anyone stepped up to do it in the first place… I think there is something to that theory that it’s only LEGO’s LUGBULK requirements that keep these shows on the calendar… A thankless task at times…


    1. I’m surprised at myself by how enjoyable these convention reviews are. And what a different story you had compared to Keith and Rutherford. I know that Mike’s article wasn’t up by the time you’d finished writing this, but your story is so disimilar to those other two that it provides a really neat contrast, and helps round off the triumvirate of convention reviews.

      This Greyson fellow makes me feel like a considerable underachiever. Good for him and all that he has accomplished, but what an outlier! Seventeen and running his own business WITH a degree? Hats off to you, dude.

      I also have to say, you wrote a nearly emotion-neutral review of the con, unlike Jaded Lego Nerd, which is refreshing, AND you cut straight to the chase, unlike Mr. Thesis, which made it much easier to read. You’ve tickled my imagination to write my own convention review of Bricks Cascade this spring, so if Keith doesnt mind these becoming a regular topic on the Manifesto, I might go for it. And after reading your article, I have the right tools to do it.

      I have to agree with Lukasz, I though you were going to lose the whole space castle when you took the one foot off. Glad you caught it. ABOLS have A+ reflexes. Except Rutherford… Rest in peace, orange and white spaceship.


      1. Vakkron,

        “If Keith doesn’t mind…” Are you kidding? Keith definitely, unequivocally, and with no doubt what so ever… wants to see your review of a CON. Plus, every article somebody else offers, reduces the available space for my drivel so you KNOW you are writing for the common good! You should do it man!

        I’m with you on the impact of the difference in tone and content from one CON attendee to the next. Each writers style and sensibilities plays a huge role in that delta to be sure. But more importantly, I think it highlights the old adage: Form follows function.

        Cons are different because the people running them are perusing distinct agendas. Some times the distinction is minute, and the overlap in CON structure is large, and some times it’s just the opposite.

        I have been hoping somebody would write about the “road show” model CON. A traveling CON. The notion invokes a lot of questions… logistics, duration of tour, possibility to combine with, or re-enforce, or exploit other Lego events (like those First Lego League shin digs…).

        But there are other CON models that have not been hit yet, AND multiple reviews of the same CON TYPE, or even the SAME CON… will provide a shared body of knowledge and an ever increasing depth of understanding. Like multiple maps of the same terrain. Different sensors provide different data… but together, the picture can become very clear!

        Do it man! Submit a CON review. I can’t speak for others, but I would read the hell out of it!

        Think right? Wright!


    2. Yeah, breaking even along with getting the minimum number of visitors for tlg to offer support is surely the goal for most of the smaller ones; but there are people who enjoy throwing events for the sake of throwing events as well, so the fact it happened is no surprise for me. But there’s not only visitors with the goods (no idea how things work in other countries, but around here entry is usually either free or it’s a symbolic fee, something around 0.25$). There’s also the sponsors and taking advantage from the right venue, meaning finding a venue that would be happy enough with the number of people whose eyes you’re going to turn in that direction, they’re not only going to offer the space for free, but maybe even pitch in or at least help with tables and such.

      Long story short, the builders are already doing their part by providing the exhibits, find other means of gathering $$$ and providing audience entertainment (well, unless the person in question enjoys interacting with the audience that is). To quote Mike > “How? Who? Why? Get off my back man… You guys figure it out!”


      1. Absurde, you seem to display a lot with your buds in Romania. Are conventions frequent there, or is it just a very active LUG? I’ve noticed other builders from RoLUG as well, so I’m kind of curious how much action you fellows see.


      2. 2-3 exhibits a year, depends on how many tlg is offering support/asking for. Aside form us there’s another lug (brickenburg) that’s doing plenty of smaller exhibits all over the country, but aside from their yearly big one, they’re internal with displays only from their members. Ivan Angeli and our lug are usually invited to join the big one.

        Never participated physically to any of my lug’s; my recipe is actually accurate. :)) They’re on the other side of the country and have yet to display in a closer location.

        Convention’s not the right word here, the focus is the public and most of the time they’re held in malls for the smaller ones and museums for the bigger ones.


  3. This sounds like a good event, although things are done differently in Europe as you say. Entry fees for the public are higher, benefits for attendees are greater and there’s more alcohol, probably. I’m lucky that there’s a big one 20 miles from me every year, and that’s a real highlight; one of these days I should describe the experience on here if there’s an appetite for it.


    1. Nick,

      I cant express my interest in the notion of a you doing a CON review strongly enough! As these reviews accumulate they will highlight not only the vast differences in convention structure, local AFOL sensibilities, and possibilities, but also we will all benefit from learning a little bit more about the authors of these reviews.

      Both insights would be welcome, and are absolutely worth the effort!


    2. I would definitely be curious myself. I’m sure there are differences among the “European Lego Conferences” as well. I’d be curious to know which are the 2 or 3 that everyone would like to go to and that have the most socialization amongst the AFOL builders/displayers?


  4. Being likened to Billy Murray is a compliment, right?

    Nice write-up on the convention. I’m impressed you got your name in there on the map. You’re moving right on up man. I’ve still only been to BrickWorld Indy and that as a guest. I’m not sure my building output of about one or two small starfighters a year really translates to convention worthy material, but maybe I can throw them into somebody else’s display and join the fun.


    1. Even a single MOC is plenty enough. At BrickWorld Chicago, Simon always has room on his “Orphan LUG” tables for on-line builders to bring what they’ve got. Christopher Hoffman couldn’t bring much to that first BW we went to, but I know we had a blast trying to scrounge together that speederbike rally (that don’t forget you had at least a few bikes included), and hanging out more than anything else (collecting Pokemon as Keith calls it). He even had a nomination for best vignette. Last year quite a few people prominent builders showed up with nothing in tow too.


      1. That’s good to know. I almost forgot that a couple of my builds, though without me, have made it onto the convention floor. The thought of putting enough stuff together to fill a table is kind of intimidating to me and not really something I think I’d necessarily enjoy. I mostly like to dabble in a little build when I’m feeling creative. Keith’s dioramas are beyond me. Maybe if I had more free time, like back in the good ol’ days before we were blessed with three beautiful girls who constantly want my attention. I like the idea of Simon’s Orphan LUG table. That is a nice idea.


      2. Yup. Had a similar thing going on at BFVA last year. Just plopped all my small sci-fi builds between BallsLUG’s giant worm, Blake Foster’s Ugly Duckling, and Sean Mayo’s “Trotta Armada” – and basked in their reflected glory. It’s not all about the big displays and the smaller, intricate stuff will still get attention from ABOL and public alike. I for one would be interested in seeing some of your starfighters in person.


  5. Ted,

    This is an excellent CON review! I am especially taken with the amount of information you provide. The detailed description and even a map of the CON floor?

    In addition to the detailed description of the event itself, you also provided a lot of good context and supporting ideas. The fact that BU-LU is just one stop in a schedule of stops for BU, the fact that the venue was sort of isolated from restaurants, the nature of the relationship between the BU Road Crew, and the local builders… not germane to the mechanics of the CON, but definitely factors that contribute to the overall experience. It was really a wealth of info, and you wove it into a cohesive and digestible form pretty well.

    You allude to the CON organizers mission in your article, but I found a mission statement he professes himself on the BU home page:

    “Our mission is simple: to inspire as many people as possible – one brick at a time. ”

    One can see at a glance how the points he ticked off in the interview you quoted are consistent with this shorter version. In essence, he seeks to inspire by providing this, this, and this…

    But the model, as you describe it here, suggests either a business model focusing on efficiency or a philanthropic gesture of gargantuan proportions. I don’t mean to point this out by way of detracting from this guys effort. Not inn any way! I just mean, this effort must cost a lot to sustain, and it seems that they have structured the format to address that fact.

    Logistics cost, and this event is defined by those logistics. It’s not a logistically demanding format for the local participants (in fact, it seems quite the opposite for them). But for the hosts… it’s all about the logistics. The entire effort evokes circus like thoughts. A “tour” might soon include 12 stops? Usually at low cost venues, presumably using the same transport mode (I’m assuming truck). Even if the movement of the display Lego is totally exported (to commercial carriers for example) it still costs an arm and a leg! I suppose their cost margins are defined largely by the cost they can negotiate with the CON venue… with an emphasis on low cost venues over massive or modern ones… I bet you need to avoid cost at every turn in this model!

    Not to mention the cost for that small crew of core builders. You point out:

    “From what I understand, BU pays to ship their displays around the country and also reimburses their travel expenses. They also allow them to sell their own merchandise at the show”

    This again suggests the notion of costs, and attempts to mitigate that cost.

    There has to be a business side to this thing, and again… I emphasize, I don’t mean to suggest that this is remotely nefarious. I would love to see how the dollar at the door gets budget out to cover all the bits and parts of this complicated effort. If this effort does not cover it’s own costs, which seem quite extensive… then it becomes a massive charitable effort very quickly!

    None of that suggests that the hosts proffered mission focus: “Inspiration” is false. Regardless of the black and red ink facts, he may very well regard the business aspect as a monetary means to an inspirational end. It’s one of those conversations I would love to have with the guy, but probably never will.

    Excellent article man. Really got my wheels turning.

    Transportation! The Spearhead of Logistics!

    Oh! Hears another good one: Nothing happens until something moves!


    1. Thanks man. Glad you called out the actual mission statement (was careful not to call what I quoted as the statement… but it wouldn’t have hurt for me to have included it)

      Traveling shows hardly ever get written about, so I went with the more informative route. I though the most interesting thing was the format itself, over the “what MOC’s were unveiled” stuff (especially since most MOC’s were “greatest hits” anyway).

      I did have an interview prepped for Greyson, and e-mailed him some questions prior to the show (just never heard back, and most questions were boilerplate anyway -told him at the show not to worry about it). The logistics were definitely on my mind. I’m not sure how much they would have divulged. I was wondering if they have a centralized storage location somewhere, of if they always go back to their home base in Virginia. There are typically a couple weeks between shows. Was also curious how often (if ever) they wash the play bricks (or if they just stock up on hand sanitizer). They do bring their own table covers, as I see them fooling them up after the show. I also heard the had to cut back on electricity access (Expo was going to charge $260 per outlet provided or something crazy). I think they do sell there own merchandise too. Greyson has his Medieval LEGO book, since he is very big on LEGO as an educational tool, and they sell other books there as well. That might make up the difference…

      I’m not sure how much travel costs they actually cover for the traveling displayers. I talked with Rocco and Lia about it last year, and the vibe I got was that it was maybe a break-even venture for them (excluding anything they might decide to sell in the side). I vaguely remember some travel costs being covered, but I could also be off base (maybe a fixed stipend or something). All I know is that there definitely wasn’t a “man, what a way to make a living!” impression…

      There are food vendors on site, but you know how that goes. There is one company (Centerplate?) that seems to have the contract on all the local arenas/stadiums/venues. Meh. Nearby off-site options aren’t grand (the airport being across the highway sets the atmosphere)


  6. I love Brick Universe. Attending the local convention (in Tulsa!) is what brought my wife and I out of the AFOL shadows and into the statewide LUG. Our experience is typical: most of the LUG’s members found out about it by attending Brick Universe (either in Tulsa or Oklahoma City) during public hours. Prior to that first Tulsa expo in September 2016, the group struggled to get 10 people to attend a meeting; we now routinely see 35+ people at every meeting.

    Key to Brick Universe’s strategy is to go into *underserved markets*. It’s pretty easy to get visitors when there’s never been anything Lego in the area. And even a few local builders can form the nucleus for a new LUG. You can quickly gather lots of very excited, very inexperienced builders–OKLUG has maybe 5 builders who have been out of their dark ages for more than 5 years.

    We inexperienced builders seem to have a characteristic building style that would almost certainly be characterized as “boring” by more experienced builders. We tend to build as big as we can (because we all see the attention those huge displays get), we tend to build in reconizable themes (which tend to resonate with the public better. Star Wars, anyone?), and we frequently use sets (either modified or put into a diorama). I suspect that those boring attributes make it easier to draw new people into building: they see things they recognize and realize that the bar for participation is not set by professional Lego artists. Approachability is key. Having newbies who are really excited to share their hobby with anyone who will listen helps, too. The end result is that a convention hall full of newer builders draws still more people into the hobby.

    Non-public hours are deliberately run differently that other conventions, too. In particular, AFOL attendees don’t pay for anything: sets for contests, opening and closing raffles, name badges, swag bags, etc. are all paid for by the convention. All you have to do is show up with something to show. The bar for participation as an AFOL is very, very low.

    And that, I think, is the genius of the Brick Universe model: it uses the money brought in by public hours to facilitate the development of local builders and, hopefully, local LUGs. That development happens through free advertising for local LUGS (and yes, we plaster LUG marketing collateral all over our tables), the opportunity to rub elbows with experienced builders, and the opportunity to interact with local builders. It’s certainly working in Oklahoma.


    1. Thanks Matt for adding your perspective on BU. It’s good to hear another voice, especially from a new AFOL’S perspective, and your narrative is spot-on.

      Charley and Nate had the same experience as you, except we had no LUG when BU came in 2017. I was the guy everyone saw that was a local displayer, and then the wheels started turning. We also had a “Bricks and Minifigs” franchise open here a couple years ago which has also been a great catalyst (and they REALLY get a bump in sales when BU is in town).

      I’ve been in the hobby since about 2003-ish, and I’m used interacting with the larger community on Flickr, and/or collaborating with a hand-picked crew that I know that are also attending a convention (like Brickworld Chicago). As such, I had no real need for a LUG. I’m all for a local network of like-minded builders, but it’s their “mission statement” that is of paramount importance (and that Rutherford bangs like a drum). I think that should come into more focus for GLou-LUG after this recent show. I think with more people we will know what kind of choir we have.

      My perspective on displaying sets at cons is “why would someone want to pay to see someone follow Lego instructions and display sets? I’d be disappointed to see that”. I think where my disconnect lied is using the layout not to show your creativity, but as a “sales pitch” to attract new members, as you mentioned. I can’t say that was purposefully done on this end, but I think we could seeing the impact on new members. My other disconnect is the mindset that many city layout folks probably have, where they treat the entire city as their MOC, and the modulars as just bigger LEGO parts…

      … Maybe next year we will have enough displayers that they WILL have to raffle those things off vs just hand them out everyone.

      …And you’ve got a great new addition to Oklahoma in Rolf Holbrook (aka Rook). We had always crossed paths in on-line space building contests, and I finally got to meet him (and Brittany) and share a few beers at Brickworld last year…. And I was an “Okie from Muskogee” in the 80’s so Tulsa is alright in my book (was a big Tulsa Roughnecks fan in the old NASL days).


      1. OK, I’m having some serious fun with this discussion:

        On displaying sets, I think it comes down to whether the set is aiding creativity or replacing it. At its worst, displaying sets is a cop-out, an abdication of the creative drive that should be at the heart of Lego. A street full of modulars and Speed Champions cars is a great example of this.

        At it best, displaying sets is a springboard to creative expression. There are lots of ways to do this. I’ve seen multiple copies of sets combined to make something bigger/more detailed. I’ve seen people taking a set and re-imagining it. For example, my first SHIP was a double-size version of Benny’s Spaceship. I’ve seen people taking a stock theme and building context. One of my favorite builds at the last BU Tulsa was a jungle for the jungle explorers sets; the builder added a watchtower, campsite, lake, etc. You couldn’t look at the thing without story ideas going off like fireworks in your brain.

        In between, displaying sets is a crutch, a way to fill up space around or underneath an original work. Examples here might be a modulars behind original cars or stock cars in front of original buildings.

        As to the “big ol’ train display,” I’ll admit to being conflicted: the motion of running trains is fun and all, but that much track begs to have something inside of and around it. The sheer need to fill space leads to filling space in any way possible. And not even western Nebraska is as flat as a green baseplate.

        …So be patient with the newbies, and don’t stop encouraging them to outgrow their Cafe Corners!

        ..And yes, Rolf has been a great addition to the club. We’ve been very lucky to have his experience with building and with the hobby on tap.


      2. “At its best, displaying sets is a springboard to creative expression.” …True enough… Some great examples that you highlighted too.

        I’m man enough to admit that one of my very first MOC’s as an AFOL was literally making an alternate build of the Cafe Corner (when it came out) and turning into a train station… and then I eventually took that apart to make better and better things… fortunately back then the Cafe Corner was the only modular that existed. (the build is a trainwreck IMO, but surprisingly enough it can still be see found on MOCPages http://www.moc-pages.com/moc.php/29922 )

        Getting people to put away the instructions and to see sets for the parts the have inside is the first step. I’m glad you brought this up, as I think it leads to a great collaboration idea for a newbie-LUG to do; pick a set and then have everyone build an alternate build using those parts (already a common format for building contests). Then put those MOC’s on a display table for the public. It provides a good lesson in the true value of a LEGO set, and to draw in more new people.


  7. Matt,

    Another new voice on this wretched blog? Welcome! (or am I just addlebrained, and you have been commenting for weeks? It’s possible…) At any rate, welcome!

    This comment caught my eye:

    “they see things they recognize and realize that the bar for participation is not set by professional Lego artists. Approachability is key.”

    This notion resonates with me. In a few articles we have floated the notion that AFOLs tend to personalize their assessment of events, kits, themes… everything tends to be about our own personal views. We often fail to consider the impact of any given Lego topic on newer builders, or even on kids. But right here, you nail exactly why sometimes, something that we might see as … what, mundane? Lesser? Not totally epic? Might in fact be mo-bettah for drawing more people into the hobby.

    People see things and think… yeah… I CAN do that! I want to go home and try… it doesn’t matter that you, and every other builder are building better than you did yesterday,… and will be building even better tomorrow. Kids and new AFOLs often need to be introduced to the activity by something that they can relate to.

    The focus on growth of the hobby beyond the 5 or 6 largest cities in the country is interesting to say the least, as even a great big city can become a great big echo chamber. I think the cost of doing business in Tulsa as opposed to say… San Francisco, is definitely part of both this CONs business model, and also this CONs unique vibe.

    Growth (or inspiration) over profit? It certainly sounds good.

    Again, welcome and I hope we hear more from you in the coming year!


  8. “Hey Kentucky!” sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit, even the name of the program makes me chuckle like an idiot. I kept waiting for that Polish Hill-Giant to break something so I was surprised to see that it was you, but at least you broke your own MOC. You made a nice recovery, and I can’t say as I blame you for being nervous, as giants of legend are frequently associated with canibalism. It took me a while to figure out that he’s a legitimate reporter, I kept waiting for some Borat-style action. That video was gold Jerry…gold!

    I really enjoyed your coverage, as some commenters have suggested I think it was a nice balanced report between my rambling observations and Rutherford’s big-picture structuralism. I enjoyed your depth of coverage, you certainly hit a number of topics without getting bogged down in the gory details. I did not expect to read that there are no builder-themed events, mixers or ceremonies, in all my travels I’ve never heard of a gathering that didn’t feature all of those things. I’m not sure what to make of that, it seems like an odd choice on the part of the wunderkind, it certainly defies the expectations of most con-goers. Then again I don’t know nearly enough about the traveling conventions as I’d like too. It’s too bad you couldn’t nail down that interview with young Mr. Beights, he seems like one interesting cat, although he seems so polished I wonder if he’d let down his guard enough to provide any real insights. You should keep after him, try to wear him down. The lack of timely communication does seem irritating, but I guess it’s balance out by the whole “I’m gonna get your car fixed” thing, that’s a hell of a story and a hell of a generous gesture.

    Although it made for an interesting and humorous read, I can’t imagine not getting to have a break during public days, that’ some bullshit. The whole issue of paying to render free labor seems more and more outrageous to me. I would rather have fewer items in the SWAG bag, or no raffle prizes in turn for not having to pay a $50-$65 registration fee. For those of you who have never done it, it’s like working retail at WALmart on Christmas eve…it’s relentless.

    Oh, and you blew your opportunity to tell Hetherington how much withering hatred there is for that Gaga model. Did he blast that inane Poker Face song over and over? I get that it’s a crowd pleaser and nobody doubts the quality of the build, but it’s sheer torture to be around for 8 hours straight. It incites people to violence and vandalism.

    You should definitely go to your next convention cosplaying as Steve Zissou, you could totally pull it off, and you seem to dig that kind of thing based on your comments about the storm troopers. Because nothing says family fun like a space nazi roaming the convention floor with a gun.


    1. Actually, I’m not really a fan of cosplay, especially at unrelated con events (nor of any LARP-ing; Live Action Role Play – and I wish I didn’t know that term). I am guessing the large number of Star Wars cosplayer that came from the local “Derby City Squad 501 Legion” have their own number of shows to attend to keep their status as a sanctioned Star Wars fan club or something. I’m sure they reached out to Greyson (or visa versa), and they said sure why not. Worlds colliding right there…. https://www.facebook.com/DerbyCitySquad501st/

      That said, climbing aboard with Team Zissou is about the only thing I would consider, but you knew that already… the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco really should be selling those red caps that Jacques Cousteau always wore. Whenever the wife ever relents to me growing a beard, I’m all in.

      And I didn’t want to give the impression that BU shackled us to our display tables. It all depends on how personally confident you are in the public not touching anything (and the kids continue to touch) or if you have someone watch your tables for you. The mosaic displayers always have it the easiest… but it’s definitely not like at Brickworld where many folks are away from their tables for hours and hours (from what I here, Simon’s part-drafts aren’t exactly speedy endeavors)… The traveling “artists” felt it more than anyone though (especially if they were doing sales too). I overheard all of them say that they didn’t get around to having any lunch… and I didn’t hear the Gaga music at my end of the hall, or would have brought that up.

      I think if there were more that 5 of us local displayers BU would have probably put on more of the pomp-and-circumstance with ceremonies and the like. With only 5, I think putting us through something like that really would feel like a team-meeting at the local Wal-Mart. Sounds like Tulsa has it bigger…


      1. I just realized after watching that “Hey Kentucky!'” video again that the red-headed kid at the 2:38 min mark (who “built a really big house and it’s really cool”) was the one asking me if I was in Ghostbusters… now I’m wondering if Woo put him up to that. It really does have the vibe of an SNL skit. Good times.


  9. Loved this article mate, and thanks for your input on my comment (and the blow to my ego. I think I needed that).

    Seriously though, it’s been great reading all of these con-reviews lately, and getting the insight on how they operate from those involved with it’s…erm…operation. As others have said, I must say I’m a fan of Greyson. 17, with a degree and a business, not to mention he started it at 14. That’s just downright impressive!

    Also, the overall coverage in your article was a great balance of flair and fact, which kept it entertaining and kept me reading! Interesting to read about “the Suck” as well; not something I can say I’ve ever experienced myself, but it certainly sounds…interesting.

    Man, with all this coverage I’ve GOT to get myself to one of these cons…


  10. Great read Ted! I’d be interested in going to something hovering at that end of the gamut as compared to BW. It sounds almost too ideal though. Like communism; it’s a great idea, it just doesn’t work. BU seems like that traveling carnival that is exciting every year, but it still has the same impossible games, rickety rides, and toothless carnys. I’m expecting there to be a carousel that goes in reverse and makes you younger. I love the idea of labor in exchange for no attendee charge. And with only ten attendees, that makes sense in the P&L. I just don’t see why this model wouldn’t work on the larger scale of a huge metropolitan base. Unless there is only a break even zero net gain, that’s a recipe for a doomed venture every time. But could this model be brought to the scale of BW or BC, or better still LA, realistically? I’d happily forego all the bells and whistles in order to get a free chance to show. Spend more on important things like hotel, beer, food, beer, whiskey, and beer. I’d be VERY curious as to the mechanics of Greyson’s endeavor here like the gate take and any relevant costs and incidentals. Does he pay the Fantastic Four? Is there incentive for them to show newer builds? Did Greyson expect there to be more builders? Was there room to accommodate them if there were twenty? A hundred? Is it venue first then fill it, or estimate the show then find the venue? Did Bonahoom look interested or at least threatened by the structure of a fundamentally different type of con? Why didn’t you have as much Stay-Puft Marshmallow on you than the other Ghostbusters at the end? Did Walter Peck really have no dick? What was it like to caddy for the Dalai Lama? Did you really shove that whole cupcake in your mouth? Was it really a Baby Ruth floating in the pool? If it’s easy to be a holy man on top of a mountain, what if there is no mountain? Did John-Paul Sartre hate gophers THAT much? And beer.


    1. So if I miss any questions, the likely answers are either “I don’t know” or “it was for the laughs”…

      Being that Greyson is a graduate of Liberty University, communism won’t be the literal comparison, but the vision is still likely on the altruistic “preach Lego to the masses” side of things (while fill the coffers too). Something has got to be working for them to come back to town again, and add more stops… right?… I do think it is a “venue first” endeavor. There wasn’t much outreach for local builders leading up to the first one. I don’t think he expects much at the new sites. I think the experience Szabo mentioned above sounds like the model; Greyson is the “Johnny Appleseed” of growing Lego communities. So far, OKC is as far west as they go… If somehow he did have a ton of displayers, I’m sure they could flex the space accordingly (a lot of buffer in the playbrick zones).

      We can try to do some back-of-the napkin math though; Public tickets are $15 (let’s assume it’s the average). His interview referenced “15,000 people on a weekend”, so let’s go with that as his target. So $225,000. I don’t know how much the Expo center costs to book a 32,000 sq-ft space, but I found reference on an event planning site of $20,000 to buy out either a FRI or SAT for a wedding, so let’s just roll with that too, so -$40,000 right there. I think Rutherford’s cheap venue theory hits the vein (FYI – the expo center charges $8 parking to attendees, controls the food vendors, etc. in case you were worried for them)… Then keep chiseling away from there.

      The carnival is a great comparison, and I wonder how the public will feel after the 3rd or 4th time. Rocco, Lia, and Jonathan each had one new MOC from last year. Paul was a swap with BrickMania’s USS Missouri, storming Normandy, and other WWII displays (and people were asking about where they were). Paul said he might not have anything new built in time for his first repeat stop. I didn’t get to ask the H.C.G.w.S.C. what they thought but should have. They did comment on the fact that the vast majority of my stuff was new.

      Did Bonahoom look interested or threatened? I’ll let you know once he finally stops laughing at you for asking. Let’s say he was bemused by what he saw. Was it worth his gas money to drive down? There’s a good chance that both Lia and Paul will now attend BW Chicago this year… and I don’t think either have as of yet. And of course chewing the fat with Dennis is always worth a drive.


  11. Spot on report, Ted, and there’s little I could add to your assessment. If by flying by the seat of our pants means we, as a LUG or whatever the hell we are, were buck naked sledding down a sheet of ice barely covering barbed wire, then that’s how I’d describe it, too. You know how utterly embarrassed I was about setting out a bunch kit stuff, even if some of the attendees really liked our impromptu Ice Station Zebra (minus all the explosions and bloodshed and mayhem it should have featured) and the basic Batman vehicle parade. It was good first outing, but I wasn’t prepared either because it was unclear if I was even going to be allowed to set up anything until about four days ahead of time. I’d like to be more MOC-centered than kits-and-trains, but I’ll be better prepared next time. Still, some good conversation was had and a couple of connections were made, and it’s kind of nice to wrap up a show and be home with the boxes and tubs stuffed in garage in about an hour.


  12. The “carnival” model where builders don’t have to pay in exchange for doing a bit of work is an interesting one. I see these things as vacations, so I don’t mind paying a bit so I don’t have to deal with the public. I had enough of that being on staff at Japan Brickfest and usually sleep in or peace out somewhere else during public hours at the American cons. I know certain conventions will offer reduced or free admission if you volunteer a certain number of hours, so maybe that would be a good model to adopt for people who would rather do that. Would also help solve understaffing problems like JBF and BricksLA had. rowntRee brought up door prizes being an unnecessary luxury in another post and maybe those could be reserved for new attendees. Fresh Lego to be absorbed into the collection may not be a big deal for us veterans, but for newbies I think it’s a nice gesture. Just gotta make sure return attendees can’t abuse the system to get free Lego. There are ways to check that through payment information though.

    rowntRee might also be interested to know that most conventions in Japan (from what I’ve gathered) have no attendance fees and builders only pay for table space. This means no door or raffle prizes; all we do at JBF is a charity auction at the end with support from TLG. We also do a couple of prizes and brick-built trophies for on-site games, but there’s only two or three of those and we don’t do “best build” -type awards because of inter-LUG drama and cronyism. I think some people on the inside wouldn’t mind introducing an attendance fee to balance the budget a bit easier (it’s basically a full-time job for some of them) but that probably wouldn’t go over well with Japanese AFOL since it’s a foreign concept to them. Overtime work ethics, expectations of the host, etc. etc.


    1. In my mind, that sounds nearly the best. I’m not denigrating events like BW, but the point of view from an old shit like me who has been collecting since four, has no children, and burns money on booze and BL, Lego sets are a very low incentive. A raffle is a cool idea and I’ll give prompts to BricksLA for their offering there with an “if you wanna try for this set, then drop your ticket in” organizational play. And I’ll agree to a point about sets for newbies; but maybe an option of a set or a discount might be more viable, and revealing.

      As for prizes, drama and cronyism are impossibly unavoidable. Even in reverse. You end up with silly implied rules like “since you won something last year, you only get a nomination this go even though what you brought is far better and more deserving and totally different.” The whole fair play and spread the wealth feel of “You get a car! You get a car! Everybody gets a car!!!” is just absurd and insulting. The only monkey in the wrench is when prizes are brick built vigs that are just so damn cool that you can’t resist. But even in that case, it is more of a reward than an award. That’s kinda hard to explain, but it’s more of an afterthought than a goal. If that makes any sense.

      It could definitely just be me and my attitude towards “this for that”, but I can’t help but feel there is a slight disparity and the fees + door prizes + trinkets and baubles =/= a good time. Granted, there’s a shit ton more variables in that equation to equal a good time and I don’t view it as that binary, but I think there are great models of cons out there and every one of them has faults and brilliance. Lego cons have only been around for 15 years or so and each is unique to their region and market. I don’t know if any quintessential model can exist for all, but it doesn’t seem to me that it’s impossible. They’re all different enough at this point to draw what works and what doesn’t into a cohesive model.

      And maybe the ideal model for someone like me would be the “Crotchety old drunk builder that wants to have a cheap ass good time with friends and not deal with the public or prizes or $10 Coors LEGO Convention”/”Excuse to get away for a 4 day weekend of booze, building, bud, and buddies.” Actually, that sounds perfect. Who’s in?!


      1. It wouldn’t quite be perfect without a little awkwardness thrown into the mix… Maybe a “Dinner for Schmucks” format? I know who I’d bring (…and nope, not telling).


      2. I’m in!

        I think the difference is that at least in the states most people I’ve met accept that the awards are rigged (while secretly still hoping they win) and move on, whereas I feel like the humorless Japanese otaku would throw a fucking fit at the first sign of something smelling unfair (see the anecdote on my hilarious prank from the JBF article). I dunno if this is the norm, but we can’t even allow judges and contestants from the same LUG in those little contests we run because apparently the LUGs are that competitive and you don’t dare vote out one of your own here. So we have to use the guests from TLG to judge, who probably don’t know anything about sci-fi beyond Star Wars and Marvel.

        Something else I just thought of with the door prizes: are they even paid for by the con? Or are they offered as “support” from TLG? Might depend on the event, but if it’s the latter, then I can’t see them affecting the price. It’s against TLG’s rules to sell them, so maybe offering them as a “gift” included with registration is a way to get money out of them indirectly.


      3. That’s fascinating, I love your perspective on the Japanese scene. Answer me this, at American conventions regardless of location B.O. is a scourge. Is the stink factor a problem with Japanese enthusiasts?


      4. I haven’t noticed any major B.O. coming from the locals simply because Asians don’t perspire as much as Caucasians do. It’s actually a point of living here that us westerners have to order the stronger American deodorant cause the stuff here doesn’t cut it. That said, there are a few white dudes in our group and one of the display rooms at JBF isn’t air conditioned. Also one of the organizers (who I won’t name) apparently doesn’t take the time to bathe every day.


  13. (I’ve tried posting this comment twice yesterday with embedded links, but it’s not getting through – perhaps needing moderation? Trying now without them)

    So BrickUniverse 2019 just came and went. Rather than submit another article, I’m gonna pull a “rowntRee” and just write it in the comments section. It is a kind of epilogue to this original BrickUniverse article anyway.

    Like Keith, I’m never convinced that there are many constant readers for my articles. Interestingly enough though, some of the challenges/issues I wrote above about BU-Lou 2018 were coincidentally addressed this year (and I don’t recall ever mentioning then directly to Greyson):
    – The date of the event was a pushed back couple weeks later in January (19-20th). That still conflicted with BrickFair Alabama, but with the vast increase in LEGO Cons, it’s probably hard not to step on somebody’s toes.
    – The venue was changed to the newly remodeled KY Intl’ Convention Center in the heart of downtown, so there were plenty of walkable hotels and restaurants (and the convention center’s availability the likely reason for the date change)
    – They split each of the public days into two sessions (10am-1pm / 2pm-5pm), and added that 1-hour break between to catch our breaths.

    The newly renovated KICC venue itself was an improvement, but it did have its nuances. The redesign was definitely effected by our current times of “safety and vigilance”. There was maybe 2 main access doors in-and-out for a facility spanning two city blocks, I assume for security reasons. 80% of the other doorways were “emergency = alarm will sound” type. It took me forever to get out of there after set-up on Friday; I walked to the skybridge that went to my parking garage, but it was already locked. Then I go down one of the stairwells that say “Exit” but lead only to an alarmed door at the bottom… so back up I climb again. I make my way down to the far end of the building to find the escalators are turned off. Climb down those to the corner entrance that fortunately was still open, and walk a block back to the garage location. Others had similar stories of just trying to get in and find the hall to begin with.

    The lunch break was awesome, with plenty of restaurants in the area to actually choose from… the on-site vendor, if we so chose, was a Papa Murphy’s pizza, which is kind of ironic (since it is a pizza chain where you take it home and bake it yourself)

    Since we had a winter storm looming over us Sat/Sun night, I opted to stay in a downtown hotel to be safe. I offered to share my room with Deathdog, as his place in Indiana was going to take the brunt of the snow. With no pressure to get home before the storm hit, we went out to dinner with Paul Hetherington and EJ Bocan, and I rectified my lack of after-event socialization from the last two years. Good company, and good times.

    I re-displayed “The Race at Shadowlands” and it was a fan favorite. Kids would be there leaning on the stanchions, just watching it forever. “Red is my favorite!”… “No, I want the number 11 to win!”… My tables had a curtain backdrop behind it and on the left side this time. As a result, most people couldn’t see the lift hill. I had many more questions this time around about how the vehicles moved, and they couldn’t figure out the cross over either (the tracks cross after the lift hill so the cars change inside/outside lanes). The illusion of flying speeder racers really shined thought this go round… it still took me a frustratingly long time to get going, and doubt I will ever display it again. Onto my next “Holy Grail” idea…

    So my “kick to the groin” moment this year wasn’t a “Is he your son?” or the milder “Were you in Ghostbusters?” but something much, much worse; “So you must be the favorite grandpa?”… damn. In my mid-40’s I technically could be a grandpa by now, and do have a lot of gray, but that one stings. Otherwise, I did make a few good connections with the public.

    No TV moments for me this year, but it was not for lack of opportunity. I deferred to John Klapheke for the local morning-show profile on WDRB, and the young-gun hit it out of the park… and thankfully took over ownership of the “LEGO Lover” moniker from my earlier interview with “Louisville Magazine”… Question: Has anyone else in other areas of the country (or the world) heard AFOL’s referred to as “LEGO Lovers” in the media?

    As for the locals, Charley’s “improvement” over last year was just having a full table of sets. Not sure why he had been pushing for an “RLUG” when what he really wants is a LEGO FAN CLUB… but what ticked me off to no end is that he talked Nate out of bringing his Megablocks Ninja Turtle MOC. That got me swearing. Sadly, I think Greyson might have preferred that too (not the swearing, I mean the mainly-LEGO focus)… LEGO purists be damned I say. Like I kept telling folks, the rollercoaster and baseplates I used were not LEGO. Given the choice of seeing LEGO sets on display at a Con vs. a 100% Megablocks MOC, I’ll take the MOC 100% of the time.

    The Tennesee Valley LUG had a few people show up, so our number of displayers was a little higher (16-ish). As for my man “Hoosier Bricks”, he told me that he bought the JAWS movie posters that I MOC’d up, and Victor at eclipseGRAFX had made up, for his expanded Palace Theater. The man has good taste, and has earned much esteem and respect.

    Guess that’s it…


  14. Sounds like the con was a hit. Did the new venue increase the numbers? Displayers? Sellers? Attendees? Prices?

    I love the idea of a break mid day for lunch, not only a breather for us rabble but also for the crowd. I’m more curious about the possibility of Greyson actually listening to any of us schmucks and giving thought to improving the con as a direct result. Not that I think he isn’t attentive and aware or would simply be a closed book to suggestions, but rather that he would lower himself to these depraved depths in order to gauge the pulse of one stinking corner of the “LEGO Lovers” menagerie filled with liquored up degenerates. If so, I would love for him to give his valued perspective here. I think it would benefit all to see the con from his side. I’ve talked casually with Bonahoom several times about BW, but there’s always that level of respected understandable distance where a lot of the information just isn’t shared and it isn’t pressed for. And likely irrelevant and droll. But to his credit, he is definitely open about it and more than happy to talk time permitting. He and Kathie have really built a brand, and with them handing the reins over to Mark Larson it should take on a renewed and exciting life. Can’t say I’m a fan of that venue, but that’s something that will likely be set in stone for quite some time.

    With that thought, I wonder to what extent the cons reflect the personalities of the organizers. Would you say that BU-Lou is an extension of Greyson? Any other cons? And is it a plus or minus?


  15. Overall numbers were hard to say, due to the impending “snowmageddon” that was supposed to hit. Even though they sold tickets per day, and as morning or afternoon session, they were flexible and let people with Sunday tickets in on Saturday. As a result, Saturday felt like Brickworld attendances at times, with people three deep. Sunday morning session started slow, but by noon it bumped up as people realized the roads were decent, and that afternoon session was respectable. In the end, numbers probably averaged out to be the same despite the weather.

    I take the same approach as you do with Brian when asking Greyson about the logistics (how I learned about the ticket flexibility). To all those other questions, I do know that this was a more expensive venue. He did say having the split sessions depends on the venue (if it was still at the KY Expo Center near the airport, it might not have been worth it). But his main reason for the split is that he wants to provide a consistent experience for attendees across the day. The mid-day reboot helps with that. Only thing I noticed effecting vendors was that BrickFair Alabama was the same weekend. EJ and Abbie split up, will Abbie heading to Bama.

    BU definitely reflects the personality of the organizers, but I also think cons reflect the areas they are in too. As Greyson would fall into the Christian homeschool category, there is the priority placed on all things educational and wholesome (and not swearing – EJ said that he was told that he lost a speed build contest there because he swore). Since EJ covers a lot of cons as a vendor, I asked him which con he thought might have the most Christian homeschoolers attending as a percentage, and his guess was BF-Bama. (With BrickSlopes in Provo also being a solid candidate).


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