2018 LSB Contest: Week 4 Wrap Up

With only 4 days remaining in the 2018 LSB contest the action is heating up and the big guns are starting to fire.  At the time of this posting there are 151 entries (more than double the total from last week) which are still pretty evenly split between the big 3 categories.  Even the diorama-based District 18 is up to 16 entries compared to just 3 last week.  I was very surprised to see that the robust turn out still pales in comparison to the 2017 iteration in terms of the sheer number of entries.  With just a few days to go, the total number of bikes would have to more than double to make up the difference.  Quantity isn’t everything though and I’d call this year a great success regardless of the statistical outcome. As you can see on the list below, last year’s turnout was unprecedented and the numbers were bound to decline somewhat from that record high.  340 entries is madness…that’s got to be some kind of record for any Lego related contest.  This year’s iteration is already the third most popular of the group and is in striking range of second place with one full weekend still to come.

2009: 207  (this is the least accurate number, many bikes/builders have been deleted)

2010: 146

2011: 122

2016: 67

2017: 340

2018: 151+

I have to admit that I’ve fallen way off on my commenting and I’m not sure if I’ll catch up.  I think the optimum window for constructive criticism has closed, there simply isn’t enough time remaining for the builders to implement feedback before the deadline.  Of course the critique might still hold value to the participants regardless of the time frame, offering them something to consider for next year’s event, but my primary goal was to help out the new participants and early birds.  It’s difficult for the judges to also act as hype men and I hope that my enthusiastic critique was encouraging in the early stages.  This update will be my final words on the contest, I’ll leave it to our own Ted Andes to wrap up the proceedings once the dust has settled and the winners are announced.  Even though I’m sure I’ll miss out on some great last minute entries, the prize-snipers don’t do much for me and I’d like to leave some room for the judges to put their critical stamp on the proceedings. Ted, as soon as you recover from the madness, I hope we’ll see an article from you and the boys.

As you might expect, the bikes are getting better as we go along so let’s get to my favorites of the week.  The usually reliable ABIDE category took a dip this week and it was surprisingly easy to select my favorite bike, the “Red Devil” by robbadopdop, it was one of the few bikes in the pool that I wouldn’t change anything at all.  It ticks all the boxes for me: looks like a bike, innovative parts use, looks fast, and every detail sings.  I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Carter Baldwin’sTesla Arrowhead“, because of it’s innovative use of stop-motion that really ups the ante in terms of presentation.  However, it wasn’t my favorite of the week because in the ABIDE category the bike is still the focus and I found Carter’s offering to be too similar to his entries from last year and for my money the Red Devil leaves the competitors in the dust.  I think Carter might possibly have been better served holding back his game-changing  background for the District 18 category where the background matters as much if not more than the bike.

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The ENFORCE category remains mired in boilerplate, and my decision for the week’s best was a tough one.  There were a number of very good bikes, but very few that I would categorize as great.  In the end I selected the “D-18 Scout” by perig perig mostly because it doesn’t follow the standard black-and-white highway patrol model  most of the participants have opted for, going instead with a pretty effective camouflage pattern.  I love the insect-like shape of the bike and the unconventional orientation of the operator.  The entry violates my ad nauseam complaint about stock handlebars, but the rest of it is so good that I can overlook it.  I’m still quite surprised that out of the 60+ reviews I’ve left, nobody has called me out on using the same stock handlebars myself for all three entries last year.  The reason I hit it so hard in my critique is because I believe every part matters in a build this small and the best piece of advice I received on my bikes last year was to ditch that particular part.  I’m not saying it should never be used, but I do think builders should at least try and improve upon a detail that is so prevalent in official sets.

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The strongest entries for the week all seemed to be stacked in my least favorite category and it was good to see REBEL have it’s moment in the spotlight.  I was torn between a couple of bikes, there was a little something for everyone this past week, from hamster wheels to a lightning octopus to an HR Giger design , but I finally settled on the “Mole Patrol” by Tammo S.  It’s just a tight build from the nose to it’s wonderfully bulbous ass.  The combination of angles and textures take it over the top for me, and the curved sewer wall was a nice touch too, even if it seems a little unfinished.  Much like the “Red Devil“, there isn’t a thing I’d change about this bike.

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Thankfully there is finally some action in the DISTRICT 18 diorama category, although I’m a little surprised how similar many of the entries look with their 7-11 sized buildings and conventional roadways. For my selection I ended up going with an offering that perhaps has my least favorite bikes, and some custom graphic shite I could do without…but it grabs me in a way that none of the others do.  I’m referring to “Decommissioned Industrial Area KT17″, by Alessandro G.  I love that brown girder that runs through the middle and the gull-wing overhang.  There are dioramas that are more detailed and offer better minifig action (like FonsoSac’s awesome street demolition), but I love the simplicity on display here, it’s the only entry that seems immersive to me.  Sometimes less is more.  I could also do without the text on the image, the font is annoying and the placement (especially in the upper right corner).  This diorama hits all the right notes for me and it definitely elevates what are mostly forgettable bikes.  I want to see more of this world.38686454170_a5a368f1fe_o.jpgSo congratulations to Ted, Zenn, Cole and all the participants for another spirited speeder bike throw down! I was indeed entertained.  I don’t envy the job ahead for the judges, it won’t be easy to select winners from so many great entries.  I look forward to getting back into the arena next year.

2018 LSB Contest: Week 3 Wrap Up

The annual Lego Speeder Bike (LSB) contest has rounded the final turn and is staring down the final straightaway to the March 5th deadline.  As many constant readers know, I’m all about the numbers and week 3 of the showdown saw another impressive jump in total entries to 69 across all categories.  That number has gone from 7 to 36 to 69, which one might expect as a natural expansion curve, but the number I didn’t expect is the even distribution of bikes in each category.   Abide, Enforce and Rebel each have 22 entries at the time of this posting, and the Distcrict 18 category understandably lags way behind with only 3 entries dude to it’s elevated level of difficulty and requirements.  A slightly deeper dive into the numbers reveals that 33 builders have entered the arena, with the number of entries per builder breaking down like this.

10 players with 1 entry.

13 players with 2 entries

7 players with 3 entries

3 players with all 4 entries

Having reviewed every entry in the pool I feel pretty safe in saying that the overall quality of the entries has increased as well, as you might expect.  For most people, more time spent refining a bike means a better bike.  The only thing I find troubling about the numbers is the number of people sitting on 3 entries after 3 weeks.  When I competed last year there were also 4 categories and I allotted a weeks building time for each one.  While I realize not everyone would adopt this strategy I do think it takes most people about a week (or weekend) to conceptualize, build, photograph and post a bike.  Obviously the goal can be completed great deal quicker as the three guys who have posted in the District 18 thread prove, but the results of such a fast approach has proven to be less than stellar.  In fact, all 3 entries in the diorama category are forgettable and disappointing.  That may seem a harsh thing to say, but I feel a little better saying it because I left them all detail reviews days before this posting, so my objections are old news.  I would also point to the relatively low numbers of favorites and reviews.   All 3 entries are variations on the same theme: cop chases rebel while abider looks on.  The basic premise is about as interesting as the stock handlebars featured on 80% of the bikes.  Beyond the basic theme, the contestants are flat out not putting as much effort, respect or creativity into the background as they do the bikes…which while fine for the individual categories, is a poor decision for the District 18 category.  I’m obviously biased because diorama is my preferred genre of building, and it probably pains me more than it should to see people going through the motions instead of trying to break through the boilerplate and give the audience a show.  I want to see some dioramas like last year’s offerings from Carter, Zach, Jeff, and I’ll arrogantly attach my own name to that list.  Whether the image goes edge-to-edge like the examples I just showed you or not doesn’t matter to me, so let’s not rehash that old argument about which is the better approach.  The bottom line is that the 2018 competitors need to step up their diorama game, 2017 is laughing at them.

Before I get into the bike spotlights, I’d like to discuss a disturbing trend that is one example away from being the unofficial theme of the contest…poop.  Maybe the builder, Nick Poncelow is right, and that I’m just not down with toilette humor but his plumber bike from the abide category really put me off.  I just don’t get it…the plumber took a dump on the seat of his bike?  Is that the plumber you want walking around your house?  I think the idea of a toilette shaped seat is funny but a dookie?  Not so much.  As if that wasn’t enough, contestant GolPlaysWithLego sneaks a poop emoji into the presentation of his bike.  It’s a great bike, why tell me it’s a steaming pile of shite?  Am I old and out of touch with is issue?  If you have an opinion on this alarming and creeping issue in the contest, please leave your crappy takes in the comments.

Now it’s time for my favorite build in each category for week 3.  The ABIDE entries were a mixed bag but I really like the Downtown Ride by Faber Mandragore, especially after a couple of small but important revisions he made to both the bike and the base. I continue to be amazed by the percentage of people who are actually taking advantage of the feedback from the audience.  The camera angle on this official shot doesn’t really do the bike justice, so if you dig it, make sure to follow the link and take a look at the other photos.  I still think the base looks a bit generic, but it’s cut above most of the other entries who treat the vignette/stand as an afterthought.  I also dig the special effects, they’re noticeable without being overwhelming or distracting.

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The ENFORCE category had a couple of good entries this week but my favorite is the L.E.V. 5 by oOger, whose name always make me think of the word booger, which is unfortunate because I’m a big fan of his work.  This entry checks all the boxes, clever parts use, exotic parts, good stickering and it looks cool from every angle.  Many builders tend to avoid developing the bottom of the bike, but oOger goes the extra mile.  If you’re going to go for the boilerplate highway-patrol pursuit bike look, you can’t do much better than this. It looks fast and aggressive and ready to intercept a rebel or an abider jacked up on meth.  I’m not a huge fan of the helmet (ant man?) but I like the way you can see his eyeball through the face-mask.  I’m still not completely sold on the base, although it is an unusual part choice.  Even if it doesn’t make sense to me, it ultimately looks pretty cool and I suppose that’s all that matters.  It certainly makes me want to see more, and I hope the builders incorporates it into his District 18 entry if he chooses to do one.

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Rebel remains my least favorite category and it contains fewer bikes that I find interesting.  I admit to being burned out on the Mad Max, post apocalyptic vibe, which isn’t really fair to hold against a builder but I’m going to do it anyway.  This entry by F@bz was one of the exceptions, I can’t say enough good things about it, and he’s really the first competitor to take maximum advantage of the vignette/base.  With the Volkswagen badge and the banana-yellow color scheme, it seems like it would be better suited to the Abide category, but the context and choice of driver helps to move the needle towards rebellion.  I also appreciate the backwards cap on the driver, so many people use hair, which immediately robs the bike of any sense of movement.  The background may be of the boilerplate concrete urban variety, but it’s pretty sweet boilerplate.

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If you’ve been reading this series of wrap-ups you’ll know by now that my favorite aspect of the contest this year is watching builders improve their entries based on the feedback provided by roaming critic gallery.  Week 3 brought so many examples of constructive criticism in action that it’s no longer noteworthy in terms of these wrap up posts.  It has almost become the norm.  Even if I didn’t see any more examples of builders using feedback from this point on I’m ready to call this contest a success in terms of spreading the gospel of the critical process.  The number of good quality comments is increasing each week as more people seem to be willing to offer suggestions and opinion even if it’s occasionally a negative one.

With one week to go I expect to see the veteran prize-snipers take their shots and the District 18 category to finally attract some great entries.  If you’re still on the fence about entering the contest you’ve still got time to get in on the action, and none of the categories have a clear winner yet.  Rutherford, get off your ass and build a bike already!

2018 LSB Contest: Week 2 Wrap Up

We’re two weeks in to the annual LSB contest on Flickr and the number of entries has spiked from 7 to 36 with even more bikes floating around the pool, untethered from the official threads.  I planned on going back and comparing the totals to last year’s numbers but as it was pointed out last week, this edition of the contest is it’s own unique creature and probably shouldn’t be compared too closely to it’s predecessors.  So I’ll leave that kind of analysis until the final wrap-up or maybe leave it for Ted if he chooses to close out the proceedings with a piece for the Manifesto.  I’m also quite lazy and just keeping up with commenting and offering my unsolicited critique on each and every entry is taking up a good deal of time.  On that note, my favorite aspect of the contest seems to be getting stronger with each passing day, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many contestants not only accepting of feedback but also willing to go the extra step of incorporating the better suggestions into second drafts.  Critique should rarely be taken in it’s totality but rather approached with a salad-bar mentality where you just grab the ingredients that make sense and taste good.

Jonathan Gilbert took his bike to the next level with a little help from the audience.  Although I’m not one of these guys who think every exposed stud must be covered with a tile, the first version of this bike was just too knobby.  The background so overwhelmed the bike in terms of quality that it was distracting, so cheers to Jonathon for going after it aggressively and smoothing out the bike while adding details like a windscreen, side mirrors and headlight.

The same can be said for FonsoSac, who improved not only the bike but the base as well and with one revision took his bike from participant to contender by paying attention to the criticism.  I think some people are just mailing it in when it comes to the base because the rules say the base will not factor into the judge’s decision making process.  Now, while I’m certainly NOT calling the judges liars, I do believe that if two bikes are really similar in quality the bike with the better base will win.

ska2d2 cites the encouragement and good advice of fellow competitor Pico Von Grootveld for improvements to his entry, and again, it’s not just the bike that’s better for the the criticism but the base as well.  Just changing the orientation of the motorcycle shell made a world of difference but he went the extra mile and improved the rider, and nearly every significant aspect of the design.

To quote Deltassius in one of the conversational threads, the “roaming critic gallery” may be small, only three or four builders, but it does seem to be having a positive impact on both the quality of the bikes and the community spirit of the contest in general.  I’d bet money that the gallery will eventually comes up against someone who doesn’t want to hear their (our) jackassy opinions, but for now it’s been unusually gratifying to promote the concept of constructive criticism rather than just gasbag about it on the blog.  Shout-out to Werewolff who I see comment on just about every single entry, it’s one thing to participate and build a bike, but it’s another thing entirely to reach out to a competitor with words of encouragement and critique.  I just wish there were more constant readers out there making the rounds with us.

As for the bikes of week two, there were a lot to choose from when it came down to highlighting the best of the group, so I decided for the sake of brevity (wouldn’t want to make anyone’s patience grow too thin with excessive commentary) to limit my observations to one example from each category.

The ABIDE category is proving to be the most popular, varied and intriguing of the group so far.  My favorite of the most recent crop of offerings is the “Sea Snipper” by P.B., I actually liked halfbeak’s entry better as a pure bike, but if I was a judge this would be my pick.  Unlike halfbeaks’ bike it has a clear purpose, offers a bit of comedy and tells more of a story with all the attachments and the robotic sidekick.  I really like the spindly look of the front, out there on a single precarious bar/antenna.  The octopus camouflaged in the water is a great addition to what is otherwise a pretty simple base.  25394476857_7a66d58d29_o.png

The ENFORCE category is where you’ll find most of the boilerplate of the contest, there are some slick entries to be sure, but everything is very…expected, that is with one notable exception of the “Impounder” by halfbeak.  Most entries are content to resemble highway patrol bikes, suitable for pursuit and very little else, but this bike has the specific and somewhat horrific capability to snatch a driver and/or it’s bike right out of the not so friendly skies.  The friendly Frisbee drone is also a nice touch (tied in by the decals), along with the simple but effective base.  The lime green really pops and helps accent the bike.

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The REBEL category is a little problematic in it’s vague definition and I think it’s the most difficult for the contestants to fully engage with.  It reduces the basic concept to stereotypes like the rebellion of Star Wars or Mad-Max style biker gangs.  I’m prepared to be persuaded that the category is actually the most liberating and nobody has really taken advantage of it yet, but so far it houses my least favorite entries.  Of course there are always exceptions and if I had to declare a winner of week 2’s offerings it would be the “Junkspeeder” by GolPlaysWithLego.  I think it definitely falls into the Star Wars spectrum of rebellion, but it adheres to the rule of cool and looks very fast and aggressive.  I’m not sure if it looks like it was created in a junkyard…but the roll cage makes up for any thematic weakness.  The base is modest but a cut above many of the competitors, that tentacle throws just enough of a monkey wrench into the mix.  Is it a plant?  Is it a tentacle?  Is it a snake?  I don’t know but it looks odd in the best possible way.

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It’s still early so there are only a couple of entries into the diorama-based DISTRICT 18 category. I’m not terribly moved by either one so I’ll wait until week 3 to add those into the mix here on the Manifesto.  Since the action over here has faded a little as we slip towards the jaws of DA3 and hiatus, why not head over to the LSB contest and encourage the participants?  There is a hunger out there for good quality feedback which is rarely in short supply around here.

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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Ted Talks: Party Hosting Tips

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

YOU LOST!!!

YOU LOST!!! Artwork by polywen

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

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Legohaulic: “Tea Party Time.”

Setting the Table

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

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

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

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

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

My Lady...?

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

“Forced Fun” is the WORST!

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

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

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

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The Clockwork Show (Video)

Charis Stella – The Clockwork Show

Party Favors / Door Prizes

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

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

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

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

“Pimpin’ Made Easy”

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

“Save the date”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Coffee’s for closers only.”

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

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

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

RSVP’s and Sending out Personal Invites

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

The Rager

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

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

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

Judging, Results, and Sending out Prizes 

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

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

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

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

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Winter Village Post Office

Personalized “Thank You” Notes

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

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

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

6071241592_9d42b1e5e6_o.jpgFigbarf…Legohaulic style.

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

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

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

…And finally, don’t host it alone.

253055698_eed9077e5f_o.jpgDunechaser – Teamwork

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

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

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

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apocalust – Janitor

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