Ted Talks: “Sweep the Leg!” (Blog or Die! Entry #2)

Accepted entry for the “Article” category.

Author: Ted Andes

Word Count: 2,090

Ted Talks: “Sweep the Leg!”

 

If you are a “constant reader” of the Manifesto, you may have read past articles about award motivation (“Give me the prize!”“), or about tips for throwing a good building contest (“Party Hosting Tips”)… But what about how to actually win them, you ask? Gather round, young grasshoppers. It’s time for me to lay down some advice on how to compete at the highest level, and how to take down those heavyweight champions of the world.

Who am I to give that kind of advice? I’m just some bum in a fedora hat and black leather jacket… a bum who clawed his way out of the unwashed masses of “also-rans” to win 7 building contests (and counting) and place in the prize categories of at least 5 more. Yo Adrien! Be warned that once you are armed with this advice I’m about to give you, victory is still never assured. It is still dependent on how the contests are judged and who else shows up to compete. However, if you DO want to be a champion of the MOC-tagon, then it’s time that you started training like a champion. Now “Bow to your sensei!

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Hit the gym
Your gym training ritual is still built on the foundation of becoming a better builder: “Wax on. Wax off.”… Oops, I mean “Build your collection – Build some contest MOC’s – Get critiqued – Repeat”. Over time, you will develop your signature style and a bevy of NPU techniques in your personal arsenal. Whenever you lose a bout, put down those sour grapes, pick yourself up, and learn from the builders who are winning these contests. What have they got that you haven’t got?…

Know your enemy
For each contest you enter, study the genre, the judges, and the competition (and the rules too; don’t be “that guy”). See what has been done before. Learn what defines the genre. Learn the judges’ style preferences. Learn the techniques and tricks of the top builders of the genre… then look for their blind spots. What haven’t they done before? Are there any ruts that your competition have fallen into that you can exploit? Will they be overconfident and rely on their old bag of tricks? Can you anticipate what they will do?

Choose your “finishing move”
Aw man! You just thought up the most awesome idea for the latest contest? Good… Now get it out of your system and think up a new one. Odds are it was the most obvious idea that half of the other entrants will end up building too. You can either try to be the best at executing that obvious idea, or instead you can kick it up a notch by adding a twist. Most of my winning entries were never that first idea that I had.

For that added twist, I try to think up a “fusion” idea that takes the contest genre in a new and different direction. For the “Rock n’ Roll Steampunk” contest, I built a snow covered floating island instead of the typical verdant grassy knoll. I also merged a steam train with a steamboat. For speeder bikes, I fused them into the Wild West setting of the “Lone Ranger”. Judges tend to gravitate towards builds that have a good mix of both the familiar and new.

Don’t “settle” for second best
Now that you’ve finally come up with your true killer idea, it’s time to get building. As your build comes together, remember that what’s “good enough” to meet the rules is not necessarily “good enough” to beat your competition. You aren’t competing against the contest rules. You are competing against your fellow builders. Be aware of what they actually do, and make any needed adjustments during the fight.

I see too many builders who appear to settle. They give the impression that they think their contest entries are like raffle tickets. They think they have an equal chance of winning as long as they just enter something good enough by the deadline that meets the rules. Nope. Building contests are won on merit (typically), and not random chance (typically). The folks who settle like this are the contest’s cannon fodder, barely worthy of a participation brick badge. It’s even worse is when they are the “turd polishers” too, writing elaborate descriptions and backstories for their inferior MOCs. If they put that much time and effort into the building as they did in overcompensating they might stand a better chance. So keep buying those raffle tickets, chumps. I’m sure you’ll win someday… Or you can wake up, like I did, and tighten things up. “Push it to the limit!

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As I’ve said in a prior article, I used to think 2-3 really cool NPU ideas/shapes for a build were good enough, and I “settled” by neglecting the details on the rest of it. That all changed with my M-Wing victory. I realized that you have to give equal importance to the entirety of the build. Now I’ve established a “one day” rule for myself; Every time I think the build is done, I let it rest at least 24 hours. If I don’t come up with any further improvement ideas in that time, then it likely is done.

Get some good sparing partners
Getting an early critique from others on your WIP (work in progress) can be helpful to identify those areas of your MOC that you might be “settling” on. This isn’t something that I normally do during a contest, but I know it has helped others. You can send a pal a private e-mail with the WIP photos, or use the private image feature in flickr and send a link. You can even expand these sparring sessions into some live build-chats with a bunch of other folks from your ‘dojo’. This can really raise the level of competition, amp up the competitive spirit, and be a helluva lot of fun… but it may also lead you astray from achieving victory if you get too caught up in it. Remember this when you join up with the Cobra Kai dojo – YMMV (your mileage may vary). In the end, it’s Johnny that gets to the finals and is still the dojo’s favorite to win.

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Commit
The “commit” part is to build your MOCs like you are never going to take them apart… Ever. Get those stickers/parts that you need to finish the model in style. You hear those builders saying “I’m not going to Bricklink any parts this time” for their entry? That mentality is for suckers who don’t want to win, or suckers who want to have a ready-made excuse for when they don’t win (the exception being people who already have a crap-ton of bricks in the first place, and likely already have all the parts they need… if they could only find them).

Starting my collection out of my dark age, I always viewed contests as the “Lego rich getting Lego richer”. The people that have the good parts selection are going to have the good builds. Doing the best you have with what you’ve got usually won’t even get you a cookie. To even that playing field, you have to go and buy those needed parts and stickers that make your model look its best. For the M-wing, I bought the smoke colored canopy, stickers to put on the canopy and wings, and the mini-figure pilot. I do draw the line on cutting parts, and most contest rules do too anyways.

Back to stickers. If the contest allows, get them (or make them) and apply them. What’s that you say? You don’t wanna, because you’re a “purist”? You don’t wanna because you plan to use those parts again for something else? With that lack of commitment, I guess you don’t wanna win either. “It’s a waste of life!

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Making your own stickers is easier that you think if you have a printer at home. This is all it takes – Once you find a cool graphic or font to use, go buy some print-on address label stickers (the ones that are 2-5/8 inch x 1 inch). With the size of most Lego parts, you usually won’t need to print out anything larger. This also allows you to “print on demand” without wasting an entire sticker sheet. Just print what you need, peel, and save the rest of the sheet for later. Generally the white labels are the best to use. I’ve tried out the transparent/translucent address labels, and they are only really good on white or light gray parts.

You may also want to apply some shiny clear packaging tape over them. This is to give the sticker some strength, protect the printing, and give it a shiny look to match the shine of the plastic surrounding it. To do this added step, it is handy to have an already spent sticker sheet that you can use to put it all together. You can temporarily apply the printed label to the left over wax paper, then apply that shiny tape over the label, and then cut around the printed graphic to complete your sticker. I use the scissors of a small Swiss army pocket knife to cut around the graphic, and then the tweezers to peel off the backing and apply the sticker…. “It’s a good thing.”

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You could even go the extra mile and buy some custom parts. I bought some chromed parts out of Europe for one of the speederbike contests, although I never ended up using them (part tolerances, ugh). You could buy some custom screen printed bricks too. For on-line build contests though, I think the stickers get the job done. If your build will be shown in public, you may want to get custom printed bricks done instead (if allowed in the rules).

Discipline your image
This means taking good photos, with good lighting and clean photo editing. This means going the extra mile, stretching the rules, and building sweet dioramas. However don’t let that overshadow the model itself (that can lead you back down the path of “turd polishing”)

Photography and photo-editing merit their own dedicated articles. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you out, especially if you are on flickr. In the end, you will have to find the solution that works best for your situation. To get the win, you will likely need to practice your photography and photo-editing just as much as building.

And finally, “Sweep the leg!”
Well… not exactly. “Sweep the leg” in the context of this article means that you need to do the things that you may not want to do to win… like waking up at the crack of dawn, and cracking open some raw eggs to guzzle down. To have any chance of winning, you can’t be lazy. You have to do those little things that give you an edge, and that sharpen your gladiator sword. It does not mean resorting to underhanded tactics against your competitors, or poor sportsmanship. That’s just bad karma.

What’s even more important that winning the contest is maintaining a good standing within the building community. You want to be competitive, not combative. It’s that community that judges these contests too (especially in FBTB contests with open voting). If you ever want to be invited back to compete, don’t bite off a piece of your competitor’s ear. “Fly high now!

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Victory!
All of this advice alone isn’t enough to get you the win, but it paves the way to become a consistent title contender. Along with this knowledge, you still need that competitive fire within you to improve your building skills, that “Eye of the Tiger”, and a little bit of luck. Rocky didn’t win his first championship bout, but he gave it a good fight against Creed that kept the people talking about rematches and sequels. The Karate Kid took his lumps, and his limp, and eked out a dubiously edited victory (…C’mon man. There’s no way that he actually gets past Dutch).

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“Blog or Die!”
… and what about this “Blog or Die!” contest thingy? “Get them a body bag… yeahhhhhh!!!” because this article just laid the competition flat on their backs. You think you’ve got what it takes? Then get off your backsides and show me what you’ve got! MATANGO!

Hey Mr.Miyagi! We did it! We did it! Alright! Woohoo!”

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Friday Night Fights [Round 13]

Welcome back fight fans, to Sin City Nevada for another flying-guillotine edition of Friday Night Fights!  This week’s bout will be fought in the cold reaches of space using advanced technology that might be within reach in say…the next 200 years.  Without further preamble, let’s go to the tale of the tape.

Fighting out of the red corner, from the well-appointed boardroom of the Sentec Aerospace Bureau, it’s Nick “Nasty” and his “SAB S-44 Kestrel“.

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And fighting out of the blue corner, from the red sands of Mars Colony, it’s “The Human X-acto Knife” xiei22 and his “BLUE Phobos“.

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As usual, constant reader, you are tasked with deciding the outcome of this pugilistic endeavor and determine who will receive a week’s worth of bragging rights.  Simply leave a comment below and vote for the MOC that best suits your individual taste. I will tally up the votes next Friday and declare a winner before announcing the next bout.

On the last Friday Night Fights….

It was the skirmish of the sky-boats, in all their foppish glory with international fishing rights on the line.    In the end, Felipe “O Touro” Avelar and his “Mestiço“ scored a harrowing 6-5 victory over “Jackhammer” JPascal and his “Ramona“.  Felipe records his first win and improves his record to (1-0) while JPascal falls to (0-1).

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Color Commentary:

For those of you not in the know, this week’s combatants are also competitors in the popular Real World +200 building contest which just concluded on Flickr.  The event brought out some truly impressive starfighters, and what it may have lacked in sheer numbers (33 entries), rarely have I seen a contest with a higher overall level of quality.  There are only a couple of sloppy models, the vast majority are good and several are great.  These happen to be my two favorites, but the match-making was easy this week because I could have selected half a dozen models from the contest.

A few weeks ago when the contest turnout wasn’t looking so good, one of the hosts (and frequent contributor to the Manifesto comments section) went on the Flickr group AFOL 16+ and wondered aloud why that might be.  Of course I had to chime in with my two cents and I came of more harshly than I intended.  The three guys and one gal who ran the contest did a fine job, and I think I let my dislike of the main design inspiration from  TV’s “The Expanse”, and my general attitude towards the 16+ group to cloud my appreciation of the topic. Since the TV show was the primary point of reference mentioned in a pretty vague contest description, the whole thing turned me off and I assumed the same must be true of other builders.  Although I enjoy The Expanse as a show, I think the ship designs are horribly uninspired. However, I also stand by the criticism I mentioned on 16+, concerning one of the first entrants who was allowed to break the rules. As I wrote before, I know the point of the endeavor is inclusion but that kind of shit bothers me. For so many contests, rules are rules…but only until somebody complains.  It should not come as a shock to any constant reader that I’m a grumpy old dick sometimes.

I’ve known the hosts from years of interactions online and in person, and they are all good people who put up some great prizes and clearly inspired some fantastic work.  If you have a chance, check out the other entries, it’s definitely worth your time if you’re at all into sci-fi.  Kudos to Simon, Carter, Kate and Christopher for running a good show.

Fire for Effect:”Give me the prize!”

This is the fourth salvo in Michael Rutherford’s regular column, Fire for Effect. Take it away Mike…

I’m trying to narrow my focus today.  I offer a very narrow thesis and I will endeavor to get straight to it.  But still… go get a beer… or two.  Oh, and before we start, I am curious: How many of you read this blog in the can?  A co-worker (and AFOL) told me that he habitually waits until he is in the can before he reads this blog.  Like he might have time when he isn’t in the can… but he waits until he is (is in the can)… and then he reads it.  I was sort of taken aback… but then I thought about it (yeah… I know.  Of all the things to think about, right?).  Is it a strange thing that only he does?  Or is it actually a new norm that I’m just not clutched into?  So, ummm… are “WE” in the can right now?  You, constant reader… and I?  Together, in the can?  For the record, I don’t read, or write for that matter… in the can.  Ever.  Just so you we’re clear.

Well, I guess that pretty much shot the notion of getting right to the point.  How about catching up by jumping straight to my point!

Thesis: Awards at Lego fests are good for the state of the hobby.

Supporting points:

Competition.  It is a culturally universal concept which, when controlled, can motivate innovation, improvement and excellence.

Limited competition focuses this potential but requires rules.  Rules equate to cooperation.  Obscure rules undermine cooperation.

Transparency prevents obscurity.

Transparency is lacking in Lego conventions.

Let’s get all Aristotelian!

  1. Competition fosters improvement.
  2. Awards are competitive.

ERGO

  1. Awards foster improvement.

Thesis clarification:

Competition.  An environment and an event wherein participants try to get or win something that someone else is also trying to win: to try to be better or more successful than someone or something else (Merriam Webster).   Competition is broader.  It exists in a natural state.  Trash the normal rhetoric about gazelles competing with cheetahs on the savanna.  They don’t compete… they mutually support one another by perusing separate but interrelated agendas.  Remember that it is not the cheetah with whom the gazelle competes, but rather the other gazelles.  The cheetah is relevant to the gazelle… but the cheetah wants neither the limited supply of grass, nor to mate with the limited supply of hot gazelles.  Yes, cheetahs and gazelles run together, at the same place and at the same time…but they are running for DIFFERENT REASONS… running DIFFERENT RACES… often right after dinner for the gazelle, and right before dinner for the cheetah.  But the gazelles all know their race is not against the cheetah.  It is against the next slowest gazelle (the one who the cheetah is going to actually catch).  For the gazelle, it’s all about the grass and the mating (So what you’re saying is… Keith is a Gazelle?).  Getting what the other gazelles want.  That is the competition.  Be a better gazelle, get more grass and more ass.  Competition incentivizes gazelle to be BETTER gazelles.  This is what I mean when I say: Competition fosters improvement.  Take a look at gazelles.  Most of them are pretty good at gazelling.  The not so good gazelles?  They are harder to spot…  Usually busy feeding the cheetahs.

So its clear then.  AFOLs should run across the savanna until we catch one another, and then kill and eat one another (frequently wedging our dead AFOL victim up in a tree to protect the body from other conniving AFOL rivals).  NO!  Don’t be silly!  Most of us would stroke out from the shock to our cardiovascular systems!   Duh!

Here I say only that competition is part of natural life (and yes, I have a bias towards artificial systems that “borrow” from natural systems because nature pretty consistently kicks ass!) and that it fosters improvement.

But there is more to the VALUE of COMPETITION.  It is CULTURALLY UNIVERSAL.  War is competition.  Religion is competition (lots of overlap with war).  Commerce is competition (again, with the overlap).  Exploration, science, agriculture… almost every field of human culture (non-natural) has a competitive aspect.  Yea rowntRee… Art as well.  Further, all these fields overlap and interconnect.  It’s quite a weave actually.  All humans from all cultures do this stuff.  You might even say it’s universal.  Makes for some tough problems.  COMPETITION CAN ALL BE HIGHLY DESTRUCTIVE!   I mean… I started the list with WAR for god’s sake!   Let’s review the concept of LIMITS… Yea?

Limited competition is all the competition that happens within agreed upon parameters.  Sometimes vague, as with underlying cultural assumptions, and sometimes specific, as with… wait for it… rules.  If ANY participant in a limited completion abandons these parameters, these rules… then the competition becomes unlimited again.

Continue reading “Fire for Effect:”Give me the prize!””