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!

Video Link

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!

Video Link

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.

Video Link

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!

Video Link

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.”

Video Link

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!

Video Link

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).


Image Link

“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!”

Video Link