DIY Haunted House

Since the actual Lego Haunted House (10228-1) is no longer available (I tried in September; my order was canceled due to excessive demand for the product), I decided to take matters into my own hands. Noticing that my prized Green Grocer (10185-1) has many of the sand-green pieces used in the official set, I decided it was a prime candidate for sacrifice.

After dismantling the entire modular building (not easy on the fingertips, that), I got to work. Following a further several hours of building, rebuilding and building some more, I was satisfied. I even have the Ghostbusters (21108-1) to lay siege!

Those familiar with the original set will notice that I used many techniques and styling elements from the original set. Indeed I did make some areas structurally similar, but a number of things are pleasingly different. Lacking the shutter pieces that can be mounted at peculiar angles, I resorted to boarding on top of the shuttered windows instead. I was most proud of the third-floor window, which has two boards mounted at opposing angles. Fortunately, I was able to find enough dark-tan 1x2 masonry bricks to achieve the peeling-paint effect from the actual set.
This picture better displays the extra side porch, which also features crumbling steps.
More visible also is the wraparound porch on the second floor, which connects to
the bedroom. I pirated the skeleton-leg-and-hammer railing from the Green Grocer.

This one shows the step detailing of the front porch.

Here is the fully furnished interior, featuring a bed frame, clock, kitchen, bookshelf
and several other details.

Kitchen, fireplace, smokestack, spiderweb and crumbling floor tiles

More tiles, dishware rack, clock, bookshelf, bed frame (with dead guy),
curtains, and boxes and crates on the top floor

The building is built on two plates with hinge plates, opening in a similar fashion to the actual set.
Note also the roof access door.

And lastly, how better to display it than amongst the other modular buildings, with a Ghostbuster invasion to boot?

I had a lot of fun with this one. While I do realize that not everyone has Green Grocer (It's currently much more expensive than the Haunted House, in fact), I think it could be easily done with any number of other buildings. The builder is only limited by his or her own imagination.
 Happy Building!

It's a Wagon!

On July 24 each year, the state of Utah celebrates Pioneer Day. This holiday commemorates the arrival of the first settlers in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. In Utah, this holiday is a pretty big deal (hence fireworks are legal). For my own celebration of this occasion, I decided to try to build a covered wagon. (This because I didn't have my own; the only one ever produced by Lego was the Covered Weapons Wagon [6716], which is fairly rare nowadays and likewise very expensive.)
I didn't have a massive infrastructure for Western-type models, so I used parts from an array of Castle sets plus anything else I could find. It is drawn by a pair of cows (they look remarkably like oxen) from the Medieval Market Village [10193-1]. The front wheels are mounted on a pivot to allow steering, while the rear wheels are stationary. I think the hardest part was sewing the cover, which is made of actual fabric. The cover is supported by three flexible rods, which feed through sleeves in the fabric and into sockets in the wagon's bed.

The bed of the wagon contains supplies like cups, knives, various food
items, a lantern, a letter, and a book.

The design I used for attaching the flexible rods did not afford much extra
room, but it was sufficient for what I put inside.

Finally, I found a spot of empty dirt out in the garden to do some environment shots, which include other Lego scenery like shrubs, snakes, scorpions, a cow skull and a forgotten wagon wheel. These pictures were the most fun part of the whole model.

I really couldn't resist putting one in black and white. It makes it seem much more historically accurate.

This model, while fairly simple, presented its own challenges and gave me a chance to incorporate fabrics and natural scenery into a project. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Happy Building!

Titan and Vindicator Submarines

For undetermined reasons, I recently felt motivated to build a submarine. I have built many submarines over the years--some great, others not so great, and some downright strange. However, this time I felt much more ambitious, so I set about dismantling every Aqua Raiders set in my possession. (Don't get me wrong, I'd rather use Aquazone, but I have a larger infrastructure for the newer sets).

The Titan, like many of my other models, began with the cockpit. The design came from an interesting idea I had, to use the large windscreen panels from the Aquabase Invasion (7775) at angles I hadn't seen before. So, after two days of building, redesigning, rebuilding and brick math (yes, building using opposing angles can take some extra thought) I finally arrived at a model that was sturdy, functional and visually striking. The cockpit features seats and controls for three, along with extra scuba gear.

From the cockpit I started working my way back, building an airlock tunnel, fins, engines, a cargo area and other features. The door to the airlock opens when not otherwise impeded, though it is cramped enough to be pretty impractical during use. The large scaffolding columns along either side were a feature I wanted from the beginning, and built the rest of the model around. Behind the airlock is a small sliding track, on which the tiny submersible craft from set 7775 can be mounted and released out the back of the vessel. I later added hoses and valves (always a nice feature) and decided they may be used to regulate the airlock. There is also a spare air tank nestled between the hoses and scaffolding columns, just barely visible in the picture. Mounted above the cargo track is a Blunt shooter (That's just what I call it; the real name is 'Technic Missile Launcher'), which has a limited range of motion both vertically and horizontally. The propellers are the only pieces not from an Aqua Raiders set, since I didn't have any others bulky enough to suit my needs.

I used the leftover pieces to build a docking pad of sorts, which also doubles as a nice display stand. It isn't terribly flashy, but has some useful things like air tanks, spears, etc. With more bricks I'd love to make a better one, but it was not opportune at the time.

Along with the Titan, I built a much smaller, personal craft which I dubbed the Vindicator. It's a little smaller than the Deep Sea Treasure Hunter (7770) but has all the bells and whistles, namely jets, fins, control panels, spear guns and translucent cones (who knows what those are ever meant to really be?). For this model I toyed with the idea of the pilot merely hanging on, with no actual seat. As a result, there are no exposed studs on the entire craft, making for a sleek, hydrodynamic look. The main spear guns are also locked in place and not removable, which I needed to do in order to have the connection between the jets and the front of the fuselage. (Yes, there are additional spear guns on the bottom for minifig use). It can also be easily attached to a joint and transparent post for display (seen below).

I enjoyed building both of these models, and I intend to build up a large enough collection of classic underwater sets to use those themes as well. In the meantime, Happy Building!

Happy National Robotics Week!

April 5-13 2014 will be the fifth annual National Robotics Week.The event is recognized in many different ways, often by the holding of a robotics-related activity or event. For details and information about events nationwide, visit the Robotics Week site.
The purpose of the event according to the official website is as follows:
  • Celebrate the US as a leader in robotics technology development
  • Educate the public about how robotics technology impacts society, both now and in the future
  • Advocate for increased funding for robotics technology research and development
  • Inspire students of all ages to pursue careers in robotics and other Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math-related fields
You may notice that this is only the fifth year in which this event has taken place. In fact, it only became nationally recognized in Congress on March 9, 2010 in House Resolution 1055, "Supporting the designation of National Robotics Week as an annual event." In fact, the resolution attributes the purpose of the event to renowned science fiction author Isaac Asimov, as stated below:
 "Whereas the second week in April each year is designated as 'National Robotics Week', recognizing the accomplishments of Isaac Asimov, who immigrated to America, taught science, wrote science books for children and adults, first used the term robotics, developed the Three Laws of Robotics, and died in April, 1992: Now, therefore, be it resolved..."
In preparation and celebration of this week, I have not only been working with my Lego Mindstorms sets, but also reading several of Asimov's sci-fi novels. I encourage everyone to find their own ways of commemorating this week, whether through reading, building, or attendance of an event. Happy Building!
DARPA's  Atlas robot, which is being developed for rescue applications.

Popsicle Stick Ballista

Popsicle sticks are a versatile building material. They can be used to make things like bridges, lamp shades, and most importantly siege engines. I have built multiple miniature weapons with these sticks before, such as catapults, trebuchets, and siege towers. However, only recently did it occur to me to try a ballista.

A ballista is a stationary ranged weapon that is in many respects similar to a crossbow. They were made in all sizes and forms, but they all share the same function: launch bolts at the enemy. They get their power from torsion coils, which the arms of the bow are attached to, and most often they have a winch for winding up the weapon.
Sketch of an ancient ballista
I cannot take all of the credit for this project myself. I made several of my own adaptations, but I got the basic plans from Storm The Castle, an excellent site for all your medieval-warfare-related needs. The instructions for this project can be found here. Meanwhile, this is how mine turned out. (This pictures do not show the base for the machine). It works very well, successfully shooting its makeshift bolt several feet, with a surprising amount of force for such a small construction.
Isometric view, with the string drawn

Rear view
If you are going to attempt this project, I recommend letting the glue dry for several hours or overnight before stringing it up. Also, USE STRONG STRING. I ended up snapping a few torsion coils before it finally worked. Enjoy!

OYLC Part III: Sorting Sets (Special Cases)

Welcome to Part III of OYLC (Organizing Your Lego Collection)!
This post covers how to sort a Designer or Creator set. For the other parts of this series, select a link below:
Part I: Sorting Bricks
Part II: Sorting Sets
Part IV: Storing It All

The simplest way to sort out a set is to build it. However, Creator and Designer sets pose a problem to this strategy. These types of sets include instructions for multiple models, and it is rare for one or a combination to use ALL the pieces. One way to tackle this problem is to simply build all the models one at a time to make sure you have the pieces for them, but this approach takes a long time and can cause you to miss some pieces. I have found that the quickest and most direct method is a hard inventory.

To take a hard inventory, find the inventory in the back of the instructions (or online if you don't have it) and lay out each type of piece one at a time. While this method is an unnecessary hassle for a normal set, it works wonders for Creator sets. Once you have laid out all the pieces you can find to the set, write down the ones you are still missing, so you can find or replace them later.

Once you have found all the pieces in the inventory, it is a good idea to build all the models one at a time after the fact. The inventories in the instructions sometimes have misprints, which you have to catch yourself. Misprints are more common in older sets, when the inventories were a new thing.
This is a picture of the inventory I took for my Deep Sea Predators Designer set (4506).
As I later built the models, I discovered I needed one piece that was not in the inventory.
Even with this setback, I was able to sort the set completely in under three hours.
Note that it will take longer if your pieces are not organized as directed in earlier segments.
If you or someone you know are in the process of sorting your collection, please take the time to read the other segments of this series (links are at the top). Good luck and Happy Building!

The Stellar Striker: A Lego M-Tron MOC

As with most of my models, this one has a bit of a back story. Unlike my other ships, which I build out of sets and then disassemble, all of the parts for this one came from a yard sale. I'm experimenting with buying lots of random pieces from yard sales and other outlets, so I can have a sort of stock resource for building permanent creations. That way, I won't have to worry about taking them apart to reorganize sets. This ship was one of the first of such models, a permanent creation which I will one day use to help fill a large layout I'm designing.

When I returned home from my first major yard sale acquisition, I dumped out my haul to assess my new inventory. I had scored several pricey minifigs (Davy Jones, for one), and a large pile of pieces that I thought were interesting or useful. Then, I decided I should take advantage of this new resource by building something. I enjoy "winging it" when I build, so I dove right in and started putting things together. This was one of the products of that endeavor, and my personal favorite.

This is the first ship I have built in the red, black, and trans-neon green of M-Tron from 1990. It is one of my favorite space themes, but I haven't worked much in it due to lack of resources.
The finished product. All of the pieces came from the same yard sale except the M-Tron pilot, which I had on hand.

As seen here, the front section is built around the base of a cannon from
a pirates set.

I accomplished a visually interesting shape with the diamond-shaped front
and curved rear.

I was satisfied with the result, so I used some of the remaining pieces to build another vehicle to go with it. This time I had to use the central piece with the logo from my own collection, but I didn't need it for anything else, so I can keep that one assembled too. This one has no name as yet, but it doesn't really need one.

It has enough trunk space to hold a few tools and one of the
signature magnet-topped boxes of the theme.
I had lots of fun with both of these models, and I plan to hit many more yard sales in the future so I can build more permanent ships. In the meantime, you might want to look out for Lego at yard sales in your neighborhood. It can be a great way to boost your collection in a cost effective way. Happy building!

The Cosmic Conqueror: A Blacktron II MOC

Having recently seen the Lego Movie (and yes, it is as good as they say), I kept thinking about Classic Space astronaut Benny's incessant exclamations of "Spaceship, spaceship, SPACESHIP!!!". So, as a result, I decided to go with it and build a spaceship.
Benny is a Classic Space astronaut and Master Builder in The
Lego Movie. He has a worn logo and cracked helmet from age.
He also floats around as if he were in space, though all the other
characters must abide by the laws of gravity.

 However, since my Classic Space collection is lacking (working on it), I decided to use Blacktron II since my resources were more extensive. Blacktron II is one of my personal favorite Space themes, and I had a wide pool of pieces to use from my various sets. I dumped out my entire BTII collection: the Galactic Scout, Super Nova II, Two-Pilot Craft, Allied Avenger, Aerial Intruder, and Alpha Centauri Outpost. After two days of building on and off, I decided it was finished, naming it the "Cosmic Conqueror" in accordance with the Blacktron II name formula of a space-related adjective followed by a somewhat menacing noun. I must admit, I surprised myself with the results.
The minifigure is provided for scale. The ship measures eighteen inches long
and fourteen inches wide. I used the large windscreen panel to accommodate a larger cockpit.

A front view

An overhead view displays the triangular shape common among classic sets.
I departed from the spheroid-cockpit design that was characteristic of Blacktron II
because it was impractical for a ship this size.
 For this ship, I started with a sturdy, multi-layered base and worked my way up. I used several unorthodox connections and unusual angles to get the desired effect. As a result, I have plates, antennae, and even monorail supports sticking out on interesting diagonals.

The Cosmic Conqueror has seating for five: three in the main cockpit and
two others in small side cockpits.

One of the side cockpits

An underside view shows the jets and landing gear. The wheels of the landing gear
stick out only just beyond the jets, so it rolls freely but preserves the image of the
underslung jets. Notice also the hollow spaces on either side of the "spine" of the ship
near the back. These make the ship very easy to pick up and hold, which is a plus.

This shot shows the impressive array of engines I managed to stick on the back. The top engine of the central triangle
formation is suspended by robot arms, making it adjustable.

This gives a better view of the positioning of individual engines, including the
sideways faceted panels.
These shots display the lights from the 9V brick that came with the Alpha Centauri Outpost. Whenever I build a
sufficiently large Blacktron model, I can't resist incorporating the lights.

This angle provides a good view of the many components jutting out from
the heart of the ship.
I enjoyed building this one immensely. It's the largest spaceship I've ever built, and, I have to admit, one of the most well done. It's extremely sturdy, interesting to look at, and stays true to many signature qualities of Blacktron II. If you've never tried a large spaceship before, I recommend trying one to see what you can do. In the meantime, Happy Building!

Airplane Meets Cement Mixer

Due to the upcoming premiere of The Lego Movie, I have attained a fascination with the associated sets. The ones I am particularly interested in are the ones that rebuild into other things: the Ice Cream Machine (70804), the Trash Chomper (70805), and the Castle Cavalry (70806). These are perfectly regular sets, being an ice cream truck, garbage truck, and castle-- that is, until they are rebuilt into some rather extravagant flying machines.
The Trash Chomper (70805)
The Ice Cream Machine (70804)
The Castle Cavalry (70806)
I was interested by the idea of rebuilding ordinary things into ridiculous aerial vehicles, so I reached for the one vehicle I could not possibly picture flying: my Cement Mixer (60018). By this point, I knew it was pretty much going to turn out awesome or completely stupid. However, being myself, I strive for the former.
The fateful Cement Mixer

After about an hour of fiddling with the limited array of pieces, I eventually came up with something I liked. I managed to build something that might pass as flight-worthy, while preserving the ability of the drum to rotate. I turned the wheels sideways to make jet engines, a concept I was first introduced to by the MX-41 Switch Fighter (7647) back in 2008. I couldn't resist adding a rotating turret, too. I myself was impressed by the end result. It was difficult due to the somewhat narrow palette of parts to choose from, but despite that setback, it turned out just fine in the end.

An Isometric View

Example of the turret rotating

Overhead view
All in all, I count this one as a success. It looks pretty good, and it was lots of fun to build. Sadly, due to my limited City collection (I mostly work in Space and Castle), I don't have any other vehicles to try this with. I do, however, have lots of resources to do something like the Castle Cavalry. In fact, I'd love to see what I could do with the monstrous Trolls' Mountain Fortress...
Anyway, this one was really fun, and I recommend trying something like it to see what happens. In the meantime, watch out for the new sets (and the movie, of course), and Happy Building!