Ted Talks – “Brickworld 2019: Age of Discovery”

Hey Kentucky! Welcome back to the Manifesto and more importantly to our regular feature Ted Talks, where friend of the blog and bon vivant Ted Andes shares his wit and wisdom on a wide variety of topics.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!

Credit Lia Chan

When I made my very first drive up to Brickworld Chicago in 2016, I thought for sure that it would also be the last time I would ever get to attend a LEGO convention.  Instead, this year’s trip has made it four Brickworlds in a row (and three BrickUniverse Louisville events sandwiched in between). It is a testament to the wonderful, expanding family of builders that I’ve made there that I keep coming back, and to my wonderful and supportive wife who “holds the fort” while I am away. This year’s convention theme was “To the moon, and beyond…”, but for me it was an “Age of Discovery”.  I will be sharing some stories of these discoveries, as well as of the general atmosphere, interactions, and occasional oddities that make the Brickworld experience what it is.

 

Return of the White Brick… Mystery Solved?

I dedicated a lot of my Brickworld 2018 coverage last year to the appearance of the White Bricks.  They made their appearance yet again for the third year in a row.  We were aware of at least 5 that were placed around the display hall this time:

1) Adrian Drake – Fake moon landing, placed by his Tesla roadster

2) Nick Della Mora – Gun of Thrones, placed by his micro games

3) Rob Hendrix – Alcohol train, placed by his actual Malort train

4) Samuel Hatmaker – Infinity Gauntlet with “Oh Snap” tiled inside of the box, placed by his displays in the GayLUG area

5) Daniel Ross – Luke’s X-Wing making the Deathstar trench run, placed by his Millennium Falcon

With a little bit of deductive reasoning (including clues from past White Brick MOC builds), I have been able to determine who is responsible for creating and distributing them. No, I will not be unmasking this person in this or any article. However, if I could place a bet on who I think it is, I wouldn’t hesitate in putting down A LOT of money.

 

So people actually read the Manifesto?

Yes.  People actually read the Manifesto, despite the low hit counts that Keith laments from time to time, and those kids who gave him the stink-eye when he handed out Manifesto swag at Bricks LA.  I noticed quite a few things at Brickworld this year that appeared to have been influenced by my Brickworld 2018 write-up:

  • Reposting of the “White Brick” write-up onto the Brickworld blog – Bryan Bonahoom reached out to me to request a “family friendly” version of the article to post on the website, and I was happy to oblige. It basically meant toning down the description of the “dick with crabs” MOC that rowntRee received.  I also thought I saw a few more non-BW tokens of appreciation being placed on displays around the hall (anyone else see those “Overlooked Innovator” trophies? Perhaps another mystery for us to figure out?…).
  • Back-massages! – At the end of last year’s article I listed a bunch of suggestions, and at the very top of that list was “back massages”. Lo and behold, this year we had a back massage station set up near the front of the hall. I had a hearty laugh when I heard them make that announcement over the PA system.  I knew that I had better get over there, and either pay-up or shut-up.  At the station it was Tammy Eyerly who was the one volunteering her time and skills to work out the muscles in our aching backs, and all donations she received went to charity. Classy.
  • Drunk builds were cancelled – The aftermath of last year’s build(s) was a disaster. My suggestion had been to incorporate a breathalyzer into this unofficial event.  Harsher measures were actually taken.  Even though last year’s “bad drunk” offender didn’t attend this year, the event was cancelled.  The main reason that was given to us was a lack of available rooms.  This was likely true, as there were quite a few other events scheduled at the Renaissance on Saturday night (wedding receptions, etc.).  However, drunken wagon rides around the display hall were still in play during “World of Lights”.
  • The return of Kaleta! – Dave K. had commented last year that my write-up of BW18 and the impending BW changes were enough to get him back to the show, and indeed it was. It was so awesome to see his return, and getting to meet his son Elliot. I really enjoyed the guided tour they gave me of all their alphabet starfighters that they created together, and learning about all their “scoundrel” pilots. Spending that time with them on Sunday was a personal highlight for me.

“El-ee-ot.” Credit Dave Kaleta

At the very end of Brickworld during the Sunday teardown, I also got to meet Kevin Huxhold who is a renowned Bionicle/creature builder.  He probably had the worst ever table location in the hall to display his MOC’s, as it was at the very front corner of the hall where pretty much no one goes… even him, as the people displaying next to him said they hadn’t seen him since set up.  I myself didn’t even realize there were builds being displayed over there until late on Saturday, and he had some amazing creature builds too.  When I did finally see him on Sunday, I went over to introduce myself and he said, “You write stuff for KeithLUG, right?”  Right on, man!  Right on!

 

Skully got Boned

Last year I didn’t get to participate in the game demo of “Clunkers” by 1×5 Games (a.k.a. rowntRee & Flor), so I made it a point to block-out my calendar for the demo this year.  Well, the boys’ demo kinda got hosed.  First they were left off the sponsor slides during the opening ceremony presentation.  Then the demo was scheduled against the Charity Auction show, and then the room name was listed wrong on the display screens that were around the convention center.  Even still, I got to play a cozy round of Clunkers with Heath, Ryan Wilhelm, and a young guy who had played the game last year.  That veteran of the earlier version seemed to really like the changes they made to the game, and I know I am itching to give it another try.  The game is really heading in the right direction, and hopefully it’s a sign of great things ahead for the dynamic duo…  Space Nut Solitaire!

Got Malört? Credit Shane

 

They’re here. They’re queer. Get used to it.

You’d literally have to be living under a rock not to realize that the LGBTQ+ community is well represented within our FOL community. There was a mixer organized for the LGBTQ+ attendees this year, and I heard that they had over 30 people show up.  Some of them were surprised by the amount of representation themselves.  One person who opened the door to the mixer thought he had entered the wrong room when he saw so many people there…  Unfortunately, the people still living under a rock are also represented within the building community.

GayLUG made its debut at Brickworld this year, and they had reserved their own table section in the display hall.  “Coming out” in the display hall also meant putting a target on themselves for whatever small mindedness might be put out on display. Some in GayLUG were worried about this and set up a hidden camera to watch over the displays.  As if on cue, one such small-minded person took it upon themselves to attach a printed 2×4 tile of a TRUMP campaign poster onto one of the GayLUG displayer’s MOCs, and place another one on an adjacent table; a deplorable and cowardly act.  A harsh reminder was put out over the PA system that political statements and vandalism of other people’s displays are grounds for being banned from Brickworld (as it should be).  On the off chance that the small-minded person is reading this, know that your actions have no place in this community.  If that wasn’t clear enough, I hope you finally got a clue when the new owner of Brickworld thanked his husband during the closing ceremonies (assuming that you kicked out already, and were still there for the closing).

Fortunately the vast majority of us in the building community are kind and generous souls (at Brickworld this year, we raised over $28,000 for charity!).  Just prior to Brickworld, I learned that one of the GayLUG displayers couldn’t afford to even split a hotel room with someone, and he was originally planning to sleep in a rental car.  That was something I could not abide, so I got my room switched over to one with two double beds and I had him stay with me.  I learned later that he was considering cancelling his entire trip just before I made the offer to him to stay with me.  It would have been a shame for such an amazing person not to have come.  Getting to know “Wildflower” over the course of these 4 days was another major highlight for me, not only at Brickworld but in my life.  His immense talent is only outdone by his generous and caring soul (one of the main reasons for his current economic situation). The end result was that he left Brickworld with 2 award nominations, and an outpouring of love that this picture of his white brick can attest.

 

World of Lights Walk – “Oh, Balls!”

Heath Flor stood in for rowntRee during the traditional World of Lights “art school girlfriend – art critique walk”.  The clear lighting winner was Brian Williams’ display, whose lighting made the undulating brick surface next to his sea vessel look like actual water.  Adrian Drake’s disco lighting of Deep Space 9 was a close second.  After that, it was all balls.  The Great Ball Contraption was actually using glow-in-the-dark balls this year, and that was a highlight. The lowlight was the glow stick that was inside the inflatable orb that a pack of EmpireLUG guys were holding over their heads, while chanting “BALL! BALL! BALL! BALL! BALL! BALL!” everywhere they went, and videoing it all for YouTube. Glad they saved me the trouble (it’s not posted yet, but I’m sure it will be soon).

 

“Control the Action!”

This year I finally took matters into my own hands to “Control the Awards Action!” by participating in one of Brickworld’s many competitions; The LEGO Derby.  This was the opportunity to exact my revenge on all those parent-assisted winners of the Pinewood Derby races of my youth.  For those not in the know, basically every year at Brickworld (at least the ones I had been to) the Fitzgerald family sweeps all categories of the LEGO Derby (“restrictor plate” and “open”, youth and adult).  This year I had them in my sights and was going to take them on.  Beforehand, I brainstormed with rowntRee on what the best wheel system might be for the “open” class, and he helped me zero in on the LEGO train wheel bogeys.  Then I procured a weighted brick and built a sleek block of ABS to surround it.  Competition day arrived on Thursday… and the Fitzgerald family didn’t; they were a no-show. Per my “Sweep the Leg!” Manifesto article, you can only compete against those who shows up.  The competition ended up being a round-robin race between the 6 cars that did show up for the “Open Class” and my racer won most heats (maybe all of them?).  Now I am the one to beat, and I’m looking forward to defending my title next year!

 

Other Stuff

  • I got award nominations for Best Vignette and Best Original Train (the Intrepid made an encore appearance), and we also got a nomination for Best Group Layout for “Cienasis Rendezvous”. No nomination for me in sea vessel for the Rhapsody (must have been that bulky sail), and in the end no wins for me in the building categories.  The winners in those categories were all worthy though.  No complaints from me, and in my opinion no major nomination oversights as in past years.  Yes, there were still epic builds that got passed over, but it looked like they were still recognized by those other people who were handing out tokens of appreciation.
  • Interestingly, this year they split the awards for Best Train into Best Replica Train and Best Original Train, and added Best Group Train Layout and Best Individual Train Layout. They also gave out two Judge’s Awards, a Best Inclusive Display award, and a “Best in Show” award based on the feedback from the public.  That one went to the Great Ball Contraption, and now it can no longer win that award.  Based on popular demand, next year they will add a best “Constraction Figure” award category.  Barnacle Builders, Rejoice!!!
  • My streak of getting at least one new person to attend Brickworld each year continues. A second-cousin of mine actually lives nearby and is a huge LEGO fan. She hadn’t ever been to the show, and I got to meet her there. My Louisville pal Charley also finally made it to his first major LEGO convention. Hopefully his brain didn’t explode. I should see him at the next Louisville MOC TALK in July and I’m looking forward to hearing all the build the ideas that he brought back home with him.
  • As for those convention questions that I usually get each year, such as “Is he your son?” and “Were you in Ghostbusters?” that streak was finally broken… as was the streak for me hearing the oft uttered phrase “It’s a pod race!!!”

 

Closing Time

The end of Brickworld 2019 also marked the end of an era.  After a run of 13 years, Bryan and Kathy Bonahoom officially turned over the reins of ownership and management of Brickworld to Mark Larson.  It was an emotional moment for all involved.  There may be a few readers out there who have mixed feelings about the transition, or perhaps even one-sided, but you have to show an appreciation to anyone who can create and manage a convention the size and scope of Brickworld Chicago.  It continues to draw in builders in from around the world, and has been the foundation for building a large chunk of the FOL community. It also continues to grow.  Fun fact; the square footage of the display table surfaces this year was equal to the square footage of the entire venue for the first Brickworld.  Impressive.

So with that, I will close out my Brickworld round up for this year.  I’m already looking forward to Brickworld next year, with big collab ideas, a new LEGO Derby car design, and spending time with old friends and making new ones.  Happy trails to you all, until we meet again!

 

And the Winner of SHIPtember 2018 is…

File this under excessive tardiness but our foundational traditions must be observed regardless of conventional time frame.  Your winner of SHIPtember 2018 is…Brama!, by Mr. Zac Lowing, a man and a mustache who every constant reader of this esteemed blog should be familiar with by now.  He’s the same MAN who took top honors in both 2017 and 2016.  The rest of you losers can go home now…try harder next year!

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There was some minor discussion around the water cooler that 2018 was a down year for the annual challenge, but there were definitley some memorable gems to be found in the inky blackness between the starts.  To my eyes, I found this year in general to be more interesting than usual because no single identifiable style dominated the field.  Even though the numbers might have been down in terms of overall participation, I think creativity and uniqueness was extremely high this year.  There were no endless fleets of lozenge-shaped HomeWorld inspired starships or generic, geriatric Star Wars designs or any other franchise for that matter.  After pouring through the results (my own results because as is customary, Simon Liu has not yet wrapped up the proceedings almost 4 months later) I thought I’d share them here.  I don’t want to drag Simon too much because I’ve done it enough in past years and he truly is one of the most generous people I’ve met in my Lego related travels.  That said, the natives seem to be restless this year and complaining about his laissez-faire leadership style more than I’ve seen before.  It’s a shame because SHIPtember is obviously one of the most dependable, influential and long-lasting challenge/contests we have in the genre or in the hobby at large.  Completing the month-long challenge is a rite of passage for most “serious” sci-fi builders and every year it draws in new talent and provides a nice stage to get your models actually looked at and commented on.  I almost wish Si would pass the torch to somebody more motivated rather than let it continue to deteriorate like so many other things in community.  Listen, I’ve experienced my fair share of suffering the slings and arrows of running contests and challenges…it’s largely a thankless job that requires time, followthrough, straight up cash homie and a good deal of all-purpose hassle over any number of issues (mostly shipping in my case).  I don’t blame Simon in the slightest for burning out, but I do blame him for not finding a way to breathe some new life into SHIPtember, either personally, or by getting some help.

If you’re curious, these are the highly unofficial results I came up with on the old quasi-reliable abacus.  The public was tasked with listing their top 3 favorite SHIPs of the year and these are your winners.  It was both interesting and kind of cool that a digital SHIP took home top honors in 2018, maybe that’s progress?  I think it’s the first one to ever do so, but I could certainly be wrong.  At the time of posting Simon was not available for commnet to confirm or disavow.

1st Place People’s Choice: Pleurotus Flight by Inthert, with 7 first place votes.

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2nd Place People’s Choice: Xylethrus-AMV by Halfbeak with 6 second place votes.

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3rd Place People’s Choice: MOTH by Oscar Cederwall (oOger) with 5 third place votes.

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In case you’re curious my favorite was the Doomsday Disco by the one true king Pierre E Fieschi.  Concept, style, presentation and cool name, it checks all the boxes for me.  It might not be the most unique or fanciest but he’s my go-to guy for all things SHIP related and I’d never cheat on him with some Jenny of the moment in high heels and fishnets.

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So you three weirdos enjoy your well-earned spots on the medal podium, but we all know who wears the crown…every year.  Every.  Year.

Dropping Ballast on Flickr

Since Flickr/SmugMug has become a recurring topic of conversation recently, I thought I’d add my unsolicited two cents to the discussion.  Until recently I really haven’t given much thought to the platform as a whole, it has simply been good enough since I joined in 2006.  Other than the interval when Flickr made the terrible decision to eliminate the ‘notes’ function, I really haven’t had much to complain about in almost 13 years of use, and to their credit, they were ultimately responsive enough to their customer base to reinstate the feature recently.  Flickr may not the perfect solution where the community at large is concerned, but it has been a stabilizing force in the hobby when Brickshelf, LUGnet and MOCPages all ceased being viable options with room for growth.  So while I acknowledge that the recent decision to limit free accounts to 1000 photos is both irritating and restrictive to many users, it’s still the best option we have in this era of echo chambers and tribal splintering.  I appreciate the fact that not everybody has the money to pay for an account and that they find the principle of having to pay to post photos online to be unfair, but Smugmug is just another company trying to turn a profit and they’re under no obligation to provide us with a free community hub or place to hang photos.  As I’ve said before in the comments, if somebody comes up with a better option I’m willing to jump ship, but I’ve yet to see anything more than good intentions and declarations of good things to come.

2018 was an abysmal year for me in terms of building and by extension, posting to Flickr. I only managed one finished model at the tail end of December, in large part because the lion’s share of my Lego related free time was taken up by DA3 on MOCPages.  There were a few disastrous collaborative and solo projects that went up in flames behind the scenes but nothing I cared to share with my fellow builders at large.  So I haven’t paid all that much attention to Flickr in quite some time, but I went back to it over the weekend with relatively fresh eyes and a sense of curiosity, and that’s what I want to talk about for the bulk of this article.  To the point, I was surprised to discover that I had 768 contacts, I just don’t look at that particular statistic very often and it seemed like an absurdly unmanageable number. A high percentage of the people I follow came as a direct result of my time spent blogging for the Brother’s Brick.  Back then I had a policy of following just about anyone who showed a modicum of skill or even a vague promise of developing skill with the brick.  I was forever on the lookout for young or obscure builders who were about to break onto the larger scene.  At that point in time I also had a hard-core reciprocal policy of adding anyone as a contact who added me.  When you write for TBB, all of a sudden everyone wants to be your contact, especially when you’ve displayed a willingness to blog more than just the obvious glossy choices.

I’m sure some of you are reading this and are thinking some version of: who cares how high that number gets?  The more the merrier, everything and everyone really is awesome in our hobby!  In essence, I’m curious if there is any value in pairing down my contacts to the point that I can increase my own sense of “community” with my fellow builders by making it more likely that I’ll communicate in a meaningful way with the ones who mean most to me.  Too often it seems as though important or interesting people and models slip past my radar because they are surrounded and obscured by the never-ending shit-show of cube dudes, minifigs and perhaps worst of all, photos of unopened sets. I think with fewer contacts I’ll be able to communicate better and more frequently with the people I care about….to stop grousing and do something productive.   So I decided it was time to trim the fat, excise the necrotic tissue…drop some digital ballast.

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It was an interesting process and I was surprised how many marginal or average builders I kept, and how many high-viz and/or highly skilled builders I let go.  I cut anyone that I didn’t like personally where in the past I would follow people regardless of how much of an asshole I thought them to be.  Fortunately that ended up being a pretty small and select group of people but it was actually fun to surgically remove them like the human-shaped tumors they are.  During the procedure some interesting trends emerged pretty quickly during the great culling, although none of them were absolute of course, I would make exceptions for people I’d met before or who I find entertaining regardless of skill….but there was definitely a fast-track to the digital guillotine.

  • An excessive quantity of cube dudes.
  • An excessive quantity of Star Wars or Marvel themed models.
  • Even a single example of a “Nerdly“.
  • An excessive quantity of Minifig-photography.
  • An excessive quantity of Classic Space models or overt product nostalgia.
  • An excessive quantity of photos of unopened sets or other official product.

Although I never set out with a prejudice against Castle-themed builders, I ended up dumping a disproportionate number of them despite their often elevated skill level.  I have a developing theory that Castle building must be the easiest gateway into the hobby, I think it’s the easiest theme to be good at and achieve a level of notoriety the quickest.  Unlike other themes there is an easily discoverable and digestible collection of well-established building techniques that a novice can access and master in a relatively short period of time.  The result has been a homogenization of the genre where the vast majority of models end up looking like knock offs from the Luke Watkins Huchinson school of building.  It’s a fine style, Hutchinson is awesome (I kept him as a contact) and it was clearly groundbreaking and hugely influential style but I’m tired of it, there has to be more than that parts-intensive, super dense, mumblety-peg buildings with everything set at an odd angle and a very specific color palette and boilerplate terrain.   I’m tired of the boilerplate, even when it’s done well and until something changes I want to see less Castle when I go to Flickr.

I also cut anyone with a Brickarmz laden minifig as an avatar and anyone with SS bolts in their screen name.  That was a considerable number of people, as it turns out.  In general I cut a good deal of builders whose favorite theme was modern military and I think some of the criticisms I have of the current state of castle building apply to Military: the talent has never been higher, but creativity has rarely been lower.  I think Trains are more innovative these days and that’s saying something.Culling.png

In the end I cut over 500 builders, a massacre by most accounting.  Once the scale of the bloodshed was apparent, I decided to save (by favoriting) a single photo from each of the people I eliminated from the list, even though that proved challenging at times.  That way I can chop away with relative impunity, knowing I have some reference point to return to if I need it.  I’ve included a smattering of those builds here for your enjoyment.  I’m sure it’s not surprising to you well-healed constant readers but it turns out that just about anyone is capable of at least one good model, but that kind of surprised me.

By far the most irritating thing I discovered in the process of culling my Flickr contacts was the alarming number of good friends who were inexplicably no longer on my list, people who I’m certain I never dropped and would never drop.  I always suspected that builders had gone missing out of my contacts over the years, there were many instances where I would be very surprised to find out that I somehow wasn’t following a well established builder or friend. But after thoroughly examining each and every person on the list, I’m now convinced of it.  Take long time crony Brian “mondaynOOdle” Kescenovitz for example, we’ve been buddies for over ten years, we’ve collaborated on several projects and he’s stayed at my palatial estate in Vegas…and yet I didn’t find him anywhere in the ranks of my 768 contacts.  I thought he’d slipped back into a dark age for the last 2 years, only to find out I’ve missed 10 models.  Then there’s the awkwardness of adding him again, so much so that I felt the need to send him an email to explain it.  Although there is no way to know how many friends and favorite builders have fallen off my list, but I was able to identify 7 of them before I ran out of gas on the topic.  So if you see me add you in the next couple of weeks it’s not because I hate you, (although I hate some of you) , it’s because Flickr has decided we’re not a good match and I’m trying to right that wrong.  I’ve included a shot of one of Brian’s latest efforts, because it’s completely rad and maybe you missed it too.  He remains one of my favorite all timers and I think I’ve just found my subject for the next Two for Tuesday article.

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The “last upload” statistic on the contact list also proved to be an interesting if occasionally discouraging piece of information to consider.  One guy in particular left me with an uneasy feeling when I noted his lengthy absence, Worker201. Leigh has been around the hobby as long as I remember and was also one of the few valuable crontributors remaining on the Brother’s Brick roster until recently.  Even though he was never exactly a prolific builder, Leigh was a regular and valued voice in places like LUGNET, JLUG, and AFOL 16+ on Flickr.  I reached out to him just to let him know he was missed but I’ve yet to hear back so if anyone has an update on Leigh they can share, please let me know in the comments.  I’ll throw in a photo of one of his models since some of you might not be familiar with his work and I frankly need some photos to pad this rambling article.    There were other examples of this phenomenon, where people just seemed to abruptly drop out of the hobby, too many in fact, but I think that’s also a product for me being as old as dirt and knowing so many builders at this point.14482873791_f1d643a206_o.jpg

One positive thing to come out of the process was that it forced me to really take a hard look at the work of builders who I considered to borderline cases for the guillotine.  Most were either young or new people and folks who might not have the best presentation or super-polished models but have good ideas and the promise of growth.  I tried to make it a point to leave some encouragement as time permitted if they showed any hint of recent activity in the last year or two. Looking back I was much better about that kind of behavior or communication when I was an invested citizen of MOCpages and I don’t feel the same urge on Flickr to reach out to those types of builders anymore.  I’m not sure why that is, but hopefully I can change that a little bit because the only way to make the Flickr experience a better one is by putting in the same type of effort.

So long story short I’m now down to just 200 builders (and counting) on my contact list and I’m armed with a determination to leave more comments for them and focus on the stuff and people I care the most about.  Why 200 you ask? No good reason, but I’ve read a few articles that say you can’t really maintain more than a hundred friendships in real life and I figured I can double that for the online world. Look, I’m not advocating that any of you follow my lead here, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a massive, super inclusive stable of builders to flow, but I think this was a necessary step for me in my recent (last couple of years) quest to redefine the hobby to make it more enjoyable.  I will leave you with a gentle nudge of encouragement to look at your own list, you may find some surprises.

“…If that railroad train was mine…I bet I’d move it on a little farther down the line”

I’m happy to report that old school curmudgeon and longtime KeithLUG crony Shannon Young has returned to the fold after an extended absence and he’s got a message for Sean Kenney that will resonate with many of our readers and manages to crystallize my thoughts concerning the current dilapidated state of MOCpages more eloquently than I could ever hope to.  It’s nice to see a fellow traveler with roots in same dirty small town with his own set of baggage like the one I’ve been hauling around since the demise of DA3 and longer.  Of course We’ll both get over it in the fullness of time, but for this particular moment everything about the image you’re about to see feels right.  I’m also happy to report that Shannon has been recently spotted haunting the comment section here on the Manifesto while resolving to make 2019 a more active one.  Welcome back you intolerable bastard.

For our younger readers that might not be familiar with this famous photo, Johnny Cash once played a concert at California’s San Quentin Prison in 1969, and this was how he responded when a photographer suggested they do a “shot for the warden”.  Shannon has chosen the perfect image to serve as his MOCpages tombstone, and send one last message to it’s warden before departing.  We’re long past constructive suggestions, volunteerism and gentle pleas for some small scrap of attention…unfortunately the finger is all we have left.

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Again, for the younger readers or those who are relatively new to the scene this departure from a crumbling site might not hold the same weight or dare I say gravitas that it does for us crusty veterans, but let me assure you that very few builders were more important and influential in the formative, vital years of MOCPages (see the first link in the article for more info).  The reason this image resonates so profoundly for a certain group of builders is that MOCpages used to be a place worth caring about, with a thriving community that launched any number of fresh ideas, contests, games and collaborations that influenced much of what we now perceive as boilerplate.  I wanted to capture this image before it was reported for a TOS violation by a brown-shirted home-schooled zealot or a member of the dreaded FTC (Fire Truck Cabal)…or Nick Pascale.  There are so many possible narcs to choose from, it’s difficult to pick just one.  If Shannon and I seem bitter about the current state of affairs, it shows you how much we once cared about the place and what an important engine of creativity it used to be before Kenney let it diminish without a conversation.  Perhaps the worst thing about Shannon’s departure is all the accompanying text that will disappear along with the models.  He was (is) one of the rare builders who is admired as much for his way with words as his way with bricks and the comment section was can’t-miss reading back in the day because Shannon was not afraid to mix it up with his fellow nerds.  I wish I had an example I could link to, but he’s burned it all down and I can’t say as I blame him.  Since writing is in his blood, I selfishly hope Shannon will deign to grace this ramshackle site with a column or two, the place would be better for it and Flickr really isn’t designed to exploit what he does best.

There is simply no substitute currently available that can provide the same format and features that MOCpages once did.  Sure this posting may appear crude, perhaps offensive or over the top to many of you, but for those of us who were invested in MOCpages it’s the perfect salute to a sinking ship that has all but slipped quietly beneath the wine-dark waves.  As a side-note, although he left without the same fanfare, our own uncle roonTree recently departed the site as well (he is after all a documented master of the Irish Goodbye) and I want to thank him for pointing me towards this image because it deserves to be preserved and I haven’t seen it pop up on Flickr yet.

In the interest of ending this rant on a more positive note, I’ll hopefully tantalize you with a few of Shannon’s greatest hits, which are available on Flickr, having him back in the game is a great way to start the new year.

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And finally, I’ll leave you with a tune from that same concert where the infamous photo was taken.  Welcome back Shannon, it didn’t seem right having to rely on just the Australian Shannon, and at least some modicum of balance has been restored to the universe.  Long Live Shanonia!

“Space Jam!”

The following paid programming is brought to you by by familiar blog contributor and bon vivant Ted Andes.  Take it away Ted!

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For those still trying to fill the void that the indecisive action of MOC Pages admins left behind, there is an awesome sci-fi contest going on over on Flickr that has a little something for everyone.  Micah came up with this great idea for holding a “Sci Fi Olympics” (inspired by that “summer joust” the castle guys do).  Dubbed the “Space Jam!”  it’s a broad ranging Lego Sci-Fi building contest with 6 categories, running from December 1st through January 31st.

Category Descriptions:

Star Fighter – Build a star fighter that has at least one play feature of function. The play feature does not have to be anything super fancy (it could be as simple as retractable landing gear), but creativity with the play feature will be taken into account in judging.

Drone – Build a drone that can fit within a 10 stud by 10 stud base, and is no taller than 10 bricks high..

Microscale Sci-Fi City – Build a microscale futuristic city. The only restriction on this category is that the scale of the build must be recognizably smaller than minifigure scale.

Extraterrestrial – Build a biological creature from another world. This can be from your imagination, or from a movie, tv show, video game, etc.

Space Lab – Build the interior of a futuristic research laboratory that is conducting experiments, either in outer space or on an alien planet.

Robot (Collab Category)  – When properly maintained, robots can be functional for hundreds or even thousands of years… In this category you and your team of 3 will build 3 models (one by each team member) telling the story of your robot over a span 1000 years. All 3 builds should be one story about the same robot. The robot’s role in society might change. The robot’s appearance might change somewhat. But ideally it should still be recognizable as the same robot between builds. All 3 builds will be judged together and one team will be selected as the winner.

The boys at Beyond the Brick are sponsoring some awesome LEGO set prizes, in addition to the custom trophies built by the judges.  Here is a pic of the trophy that I built for the Drone category…  Wouldn’t you rather see that sitting on your shelf, then some homely anorexic elf?

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Further details can be found on the “Space Jam!”  contest group on Flickr.   Get in on the “Space Jam!” and spread the sci-fi love!

“Woah-ho-ho… I don’t play defense.”

The Culling of the Flickrsphere or How SmugMug Changed a MOCer’s Refuge.

It must be a full moon because the Manifesto has new content from an old friend of the blog.  You may remember Werewolff Studios from his frequent offerings in the comment section here, or his memorable Blog or Die! essay from 2017.  Our fanged Australian correspondent has some thoughts on recent developments in our shared hobby, so without further ado, take it away Mr. Wolff!

Greetings all! Resident lycanthrope here, and I hope you’re all doing well. I won’t waste much time here, because I want to get into the meat of this post and I’ve spent too long procrastinating as per usual.

Procrastination-300x232So, for those living under a rather large pile of rocks, you’ve probably all heard of the recent shake-up over on Flickr, namely the culling of the one free terabyte of space originally offered to all free users. Following on from this, they proceeded to limit available photos on free accounts to 1000, which seems an awful lot larger than it actually is.

I’ve been wanting to write something about this for awhile, but held off for a number of reasons. One was too see how the community at large would respond, another was to wait until I could collect my thoughts fully.

Mostly though, I reckon I was waiting for someone much betterer at article writing than me to smash out a response. Ah well. I guess you’re stuck with my crock of half-baked nonsense.

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Now, first things first, I completely get the business side of this move. Storing the countless millions of photos that fill the Flickr-sphere can’t be cheap, and a push for pro accounts seems like a relatively logical step. Plus, it’s not like everyone’s being left out to dry. Pro accounts were 30% off during the month after the announcement and the actual removal of user’s data will only start to take effect on February 5 next year.

Wait…removal?

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Yep, now we come to the main part of this whole mess. Starting in February, free user’s with over a 1000 photos will have all their images deleted, from oldest to newest, until the number reaches 1000. Post any more, and away goes another photo, never to return.

Understandably, this has left quite a few users upset (including several here, I’m sure). I too have been left feeling rather dejected (despite my current photo level sitting at 108), and what’s left me feeling flatter than roadkill is the realisation that the safe haven for the Lego community that Flickr has become has started to crumble.

For me, it started with MOCpages, and through that website I began to find my little place in the online community. I met people, made friends and had discussions with others whose interests aligned with my own. For a pretty introverted kid, it was brilliant.

But over time, I began to notice the ‘Pages decline. Though I’d always said I’d stick with it until the end, I began to realise that more and more people were leaving the site. They were fleeing the sinking ship and hopping on board the HMS Flickrtastic. Eventually I bit the bullet and made a Flickr account, intent to have it as a back-up.

Then came Decisive Action 3, and everything changed.

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All of a sudden, the dying website of MOCpages had it’s life support kicked into gear. The activity bar started to crackle back to life, and every attack window brought a wealth of discussion and conversation that could go on for ages. And then there were the private groups, both on and off of the Pages, racking up the ideas and plans for global domination.

Heck, the private group for the Host of Immeasurable Destruction, Dooming Enemies Nationally (*wink wink*) racked up over 3547 comments, with over 29 conversation threads by the end, and it wasn’t even the main group! And it all happened over four months.

The proof was in the numbers. Builders were coming back, and there was fresh blood at every turn. MOCer’s who’d only heard of MOCpages in passing suddenly had accounts and were posting regularly. The main page actually had rotating posts, to the point where you had to plan exactly when was the optimal time to upload, to ensure that your nation got the most MILPO possible. It was intense and it was brilliant.

Note that word ‘was’.

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Yes, dear readers. I’m sure those that were playing, or even those spectating , remember those days of pure frustration. Despite giving the absolute best possible staging ground, the old site refused to meet the demands it’s occupants put forth. For some unexplained reason, the servers decided to change. Then the classic ‘Bonk Smash Thud’ message became as common as missed attack windows.

Carefully laid tactics and time-based attacks were abruptly ruined by downtimes, builds disappeared off the homepage after being there for mere minutes, trolls dragging them down into the abyss. Were we hacked? I’m pretty sure we were hacked at some point.

And then, near the end, our valiant Overlord Goldman contacted Mr. Sean Kenny directly, using the website that Sean was the most active on; Twitter. After receiving nothing back, our Overlord tried again, a little more forcefully, trying to get something, anything, out of the captain of the leaky site.

Welp, he certainly got something.

He got blocked.

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No response, no acknowledgement, no answers; just blocked. That was it. Keith and the DAS decided to end DA3 shortly after. It just wasn’t sustainable and nobody was enjoying the experience to the level that they should’ve been. Was it disappointing? Of course it was. I personally had a whole plan laid out to backstab my team, than backstab the backstabbers. I had builds in the pipeline, ready to go for the sudden MILPO boost I needed.

However, the real question was this; was it justified? Yes, it was. For me, this was the last straw. The Pages were crumbling too fast. The story-telling group I was a part of had dropped in it’s activity as well, and there just wasn’t any real reason to stay. I had to try going somewhere else, refocus my time on a website that mattered. So, with that I packed my bags and leapt onto the still floating life raft that Flickr had extended.

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Flickr was my refuge. Though I was (and still am) admittedly more involved with the art community there, I had friends to talk with again. I had activity, I had more followers, I had room to grow. That shift in thinking really helped me at the time, despite only being a few months ago.

And then SmugMug came along and decided to switch everything up.

That room to grow was suddenly stifled. I had had plans to migrate my 43 episodes strong Insurgency story over to Flickr, but now I couldn’t. Doing so would bump me up over the 1000 photo limit, and any future episodes would demolish past ones. If I truly wanted to migrate everything over, the Pro account was the only option. It was a strongarm grip to pay up or stay quiet.

True, it wasn’t as bad as the MP crash. I still had people to talk to, and there was, and is, little wrong with Flickr’s software when compared to the Pages. But still, I could feel the first gentle rocks against the ship, not dissimilar to those I’d felt before.

How long will SmugMug be satisfied with this push for Pro Users? Will they decide in a few months to drop the photo limit to 800, or 500, or 50? Will they ban photo-posting from free accounts? Will they stay quiet as the community cries out for changes? I’m not sure, and that’s a scary thing.

I think, in the end, it seems like an uncertain time for those in this Online Lego Community. There doesn’t seem to be an entirely reliable place to turn to, a website that meets the needs of this little internet niche. Instagram is an option, but for a more story-focused builder like myself, it’s not ideal. Our good friend LukeClarenceVan had started building a website that shows an awful lot of promise (seriously, go check out the MOCshare discussion page here), but he’s understandably busy, and it’ll be awhile before it’s fully up and running.

The MP refuge is starting to shift, the Flickrsphere is adapting. The future of this community sits on somewhat loose ground, without a space to set its foundation. Who rightly knows how it’ll all turn out?

Thanks for reading all.

Wolff.

Ted Talks – “Brickworld 2018: A Con Odyssey”

Hey Kentucky! Welcome back to the Manifesto and more importantly to our regular feature Ted Talks, where friend of the blog and bon vivant Ted Andes shares his wit and wisdom on a wide variety of topics.  Without further ado, take it away Ted!

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The monolith

Evolution

In the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”, a large black slab of extraterrestrial technology is discovered by our presumed hominid ancestors, causing a considerable shift in their evolution and marking the dawn of mankind.  Thousands of years later at Brickworld 2017, another significant discovery was made; a number of “White Brick” monoliths had been placed around the display hall, sometime during the dawn of Sunday morning.  Sure enough, they appeared yet again at Brickworld 2018.  Perhaps they are the harbinger of another shift in our evolution… an evolution in both the LEGO convention experience and in the community of builders at large.

The White Brick

“I think that white brick is really the heart of what we all want the community to be and represent, rather than the manufactured recognition that pretty much all awards have disappointingly come to be.” – Matt rowntRee

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The “White Brick” monoliths are the same size and shape as the red, brick-built trophies given to the winners of each Brickworld awards category.  As with the monoliths in “2001: A Space Odyssey” these “White Bricks” also contain many mysteries.  One of which is that these bricks are actually hollow boxes that contain a surprise MOC inside, many times personalized to the receiver.  So where did they come from? Why did they start showing up?

Since the “White Bricks” closely resemble Brickworld trophies, the easiest explanation for their appearance is to recognize noteworthy displays that had been passed over for a nomination.  If you haven’t attended Brickworld Chicago, the award nominations are doled out in predetermined categories; Best Vehicle, Best Spacecraft, Best Mech, Best Building, etc.  People certainly build MOC’s to purposefully fit them into these categories, while others consider the categories after the fact (and some even make them fit on a lark).

For those people who just want to “build something cool”, many times they don’t know what awards category their builds should go into, if any at all (…and I’m not sure why it is up to the builder to decide that for themselves).  As a result, many epic builds fall through the cracks when it comes to award nominations. They either don’t fit well into any category, get lost in the sheer number of displayers… or perhaps for other reasons?  Like “so-and-so never gets nominated, so let’s throw them a bone this year”, or “so-and-so always gets nominated, so let’s nominate a different builder instead.”  Rather than merit alone determine the nominations, politics and popularity creeps in (there was one such dubious nomination in “Best Spacecraft” this year).  You can play the game, but as you live by the sword, you die by the sword too.

The “White Brick” started appearing last year on such un-nominated builds. In 2017, Andrew Mollmann and Cecilie Fritzvold were two recipients of the “White Bricks”.  Andrew had built a most excellent “Grand Budapest” façade that year.  I’m not sure which of Cecilie’s builds that her white brick was placed in front of (perhaps for her “Goomba”?), but she did have a banner year in 2017.  She had received a Brickworld award nomination for best vignette, and was also part of yet another “Best Group Layout” win for the Eurobricks collective (they won this year too – 3 years in a row!).  She even defeated Chris Maddison in “Iron Builder” earlier that year, which was no small feat.

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Cecilie Fritzvold’s “Goomba” – so what’s in the box?

This year, however, the “White Bricks” weren’t only placed in front of un-nominated builds. Learning who else received them has led to an important discovery regarding their true meaning; The “White Bricks” recognizes those people who make the Brickworld experience special in some way, not only through creating displays but also through meaningful engagement within the community.

One such “White Brick” was given to Victor at Eclipse Graphx.  At first he had thought a customer accidentally left it behind.  When he opened the box, however, he discovered his Eclipse Grafx logo placed inside. Victor has always been a great supporter of the building community.  He definitely stepped up in a major way for us during the speederbike contest, by creating those custom printed tiles that we distributed to worthy participants. Victor receiving a “White Brick” was great recognition and well deserved, and I know receiving it meant a great deal to them.

Our friend Simon Liu received a “White Brick”, although technically it wasn’t actually white.  It had been built using trans-clear and trans-red bricks, and integrated into it was “The Heart of Brickworld”.  There is no doubt that this brick belongs on his shelf.  From my very first Brickworld, and probably from his first, he has set a positive paradigm for others to follow; inclusiveness, generosity, kindness, always build something new and fun, etc..  I was happy that I could extend some of that hospitality back to him prior to Brickworld this year.  Simon was so taken in by the charms of Louisville, KY during his 2017 “Pub Scouting” trip that he made a return trip.  We got the chance to hang out the weekend before Brickworld, along with Alec, Caleb, and Evan who joined him on this year’s “Brickworld or Bust 2018” tour.  I guided them to rockin’ local distilleries, hot-chicken joints, brick stores, escape rooms, and a meet up with John Klapheke too.  Good times.

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Simon Liu: The “Heart” of Brickworld

The rowntRee received one too, with his containing a dick with crabs inside… Wait, what!?! … I haven’t seen any pictures, but maybe I don’t want to. I guess that makes him the “STD of Brickworld”?  On the surface it definitely sounded insulting, but leave it to rowntRee to see the deeper symbolism in all things. He declared it the “Dick of Brickworld” brick and a badge of honor, showing that he doesn’t care about preconceived notions or anyone else’s perceptions. It is recognition that people in the community who “call it like they see it” are a necessity, however bluntly they put it, and he will own it and wear it with pride…  Honestly though, anyone who thinks rowntRee is a dick is way off base (or he’s merely reflecting back what you are projecting). I shared a room with rowntRee this year, upon Keith’s unwavering endorsement, and I concur that the main is worth his weight in gold.

Lords of Acid: Crablouse (lyrics are NSFW, but the beat is a rager… )

Lastly, I myself was honored to receive a “White Brick” placed in front of “The Shadowlands” collaboration.  We didn’t receive a Brickworld award nomination, but I wasn’t really expecting one… although I definitely hoped we would for our contributors’ sakes (I was happy to at least see Barbara Hoel get a nod for Brickworld Master Builder). I simply wanted to put on “one great show” this year, and the “White Brick” was a great recognition for all our efforts, creativity, and innovation…

However, the ever-insightful rowntRee saw that it was actually recognition for much more than that.  Inside the brick-box contained a cool little Portal MOC.  I hadn’t thought that deeply about why that was the MOC inside, but rowntRee saw it as a metaphor to how I opened up the way for so many others to join in on the fun.  It’s true that I could have done a solo layout, but what’s the fun in that?  It’s so much better to “open it up”, to be inclusive, and share in the experience.

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I do strive to recruit at least one new person to Brickworld each year.  In both of my first two Brickworlds I successfully inspired, or convinced, at least one new person to come to their first LEGO con; Christopher Hoffmann and I shared our first in 2016, then it was Jen Spencer last year.  This year I thought I could get Jake RF to cross that threshold, but it was not to be.  But the streak is technically still alive.  Saturday evening an old friend that I used to work with, Jina, happened to be in the area.  Seeing a Facebook I made for the collab, she decided to check it out.  Special thanks to Barbara for providing one of their family’s unused full-registrant badges so that Jina could stick around and walk the floors with me after public hours (and it turns out that she and Barbara are neighbors!).

Those thoughtful touches are what make the “White Bricks” all the more thoughtful and impressive.  You have to look beyond the surface and see the deeper meaning inside of them.  I admit that I was originally a cynic when they first showed up last year, and judged these books by their cover.  I was blind, but now I see … It also makes you wonder how many of them were premeditated (like Victor’s and Simon’s), and how many were created on the spot. For example, was rowntRee always destined to receive the “dick with crabs”, or was it pre-built and looking for a worthy recipient? Looking back at the MOC that Cecilie received in 2017, perhaps that random “ant” wasn’t so random either.  It could be recognizing her quiet unassuming demeanor, yet you can’t help but notice all of the things she ended up dutifully building, carrying a building load 100 times more than expected.  To date, I don’t think the interior MOC’s have ever been repeated… Questions abound…

 So far as I know, the mysterious distributor(s?) has yet to be identified or step forward. Noticing how personalized the “insides” of the bricks were this year to the receiver, is the distributor someone that all of the recipients know?  Is there a “White Brick Illuminati” watching over us?  Being that I’d prefer that the anonymous distributor(s) remain anonymous, these are questions best left unanswered.  The mystery is what makes it even more special (and because if they do get unmasked, the locusts of nomination seekers will certainly descend upon them).

I think non-official trophies like this are the way of the future. We all need to show better appreciation of each other’s creativity and contributions, rather than fall into the self-centered trap of an awards competition. These types of awards also reward creativity and innovation more than those boilerplate, predetermined nomination categories are capable of doing.  To the innovators should go the spoils!

“The Race at Shadowlands”:

 “Damn, this is cool. The concept has come a long way from the butcher paper 2 years ago.” – Christopher Hoffmann

Video by Dennis Price

Indeed the speeder-race concept has come a long way from the butcher paper deserts of the Tech West.  Although my 2016 speederbike rally collaboration was cool, especially having pulled it all together in only single month, I just had to revisit the speeder race concept and set it to motion.

For each of my Brickworld collabs, I try to recruit a new person to join in the fun. It is putting into practice Keith’s boiler plate interview question, “Name 3 builders whom you would like to meet and build with someday”.  It was really awesome to get Barbara Hoel involved this year, with her alien botany, and I am so glad she joined in.  I had learned that she always considered her plant sculptures as “space” creations, so it was serendipity. I also learned some of her techniques in how she lays out her landscaping, which I can now use to hone my aesthetic eye (clusters of odds and creating visual triangles, among other things).

A huge thanks also goes out to all of the other “Orphans & Outliers” who contributed to the project; Dan Church, Gil Glomshire (aka Dennis Deathdog1), and Michael Frost (Kingdomviewbricks) played major roles in bringing this display to life (and Micah Beideman who was on the ready to fill in any last-minute landscaping needs). A huge thanks also goes out to Rowntree, Adam Myers, Noel Peterson, Paul Wolfe, Noah McDonell, Matt De Lanoy, Sean Mayo, and Simon who all helped round out the display with a crowd of fun spectators. Everyone’s efforts and support really turned this display into a crowd favorite.

James Burrows also deserves a huge shout-out. He has a tremendous Jurassic Park themed rollercoaster layout also using the CDX system, and he helped us out EMMENSLY by giving us a ton of pointers in troubleshooting.  It really gave us the confidence that we would get the race track operational.  I learned a TON about getting this system working, and in return I showed how the system could be used in ways that had yet to be explored (or at least publicly).

It was great driving up and back to Brickworld with Dennis too.  Having a great traveling companion always makes the long drive go by so much faster.  Dennis really stepped it up on the Shadowlands collab, and was my right hand man during the entire set up (even during those times when I didn’t know which end of the coaster was up).  Thank you again, sir knight of Glomshire.

Meeting New Faces:

Overall it felt like I really didn’t get to socialize with everyone nearly as much as I had wanted to, due to how much time I spent working on getting the speeder-coaster going (and keeping it running during public hours). It was worth the effort, but I definitely had less time to appreciate everyone else’s creativity than at past Brickworlds.  I didn’t even get to attend any of the sessions.  “Sorry” to all of you that I didn’t get to meet up with or talk with more

That said, I did finally meet quite a few people that I had yet to meet in person.  Notably to readers of the Manifesto I got to meet up  Cameron, our resident “Barnacle” Builder Extraordinaire who delivered quite a few compelling Bionicle articles to us during “Blog or Die!”.  It’s a good thing he was wearing his Manifesto T-shirt during registration so that I could pick him out from the crowd.  His funky chicken even got a nomination for “Best Creature”.  Represent!

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“Do the funky chicken!”

One entirely new face for me was meeting David Slater.  Holy crap, did he build some awesome cars!  His lime green Dodge Charger (or was it a Challenger?) deservedly won for “Best Vehicle”.

I also finally got to meet Shane; I’ve been a big fan of his artwork for some time, and in turn he has been a consistent fan of my builds. He was there for the live demo of “1×5 Games” new strategy game “Clunkers”, and share some of his artwork for a new card game called “Nutpunch!”  If those sound like game names that “rowntRee & Flor” might come up with, you’re absolutely right.

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“Ain’t that a punch in the nuts…”

Improvement ideas and closing thoughts:

In closing, here are just some things that crossed my mind this year…

 “MEDIC!!!” So my lower back was a total disaster after being hunched over the display tables for almost 3 days strait trying to get that coaster working.  I could hardly get any sleep because of it.  I propose that every Con should have an area with those people that give reversed chair back-massages.  I promise that us builders that fall into that over-40 age bracket will pay up, and handsomely.

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Google Images

“MORE (or LESS) BOOZE, STAT!!!” I think a breathalyzer is a necessary addition to any evening of drunken builder activities.  I don’t know the full story, but our good friend Rowntree had to restrain an angry drunk (or at least a badly behaving drunk) that thought “drunk build hopping” was a good idea.  Blood alcohol level thresholds should be set for both “drunk enough” and “too drunk” to participate.  Trust me, passed out and/or puking is no way to spend the aftermath of a drunk build. People pushing themselves towards the thresholds of alcohol poisoning should be discouraged.

“MALÖRT!” … the only needed improvement here is that we need to come up with some Brickworld themed slogans to go along with it:

“MALÖRT! – The rocket fuel that gave birth to Blacktron!”

“MALÖRT! – Tonight is the night you dry hump Captain Marvel!”

“MALÖRT! – Better that chewing on unclean playbrick!”

“MALÖRT! – The real reason why Tyler Halliwell ran away to Scotland!”

“MALÖRT! – Heath made me do it!”

 So that’s a wrap on this Brickworld 2018 wrap-up.  Feel free to chime in with whatever I missed in the comments below, or share your own stories.  Until next time…

“MALÖRT! – It’s like getting a nutpunch to your mouth!!!”