In the winter of 2005 – 2006, I spent six months as a Lego retail employee. During my tenure with the Lego group, I learned a lot about building from fellow employees and spent some free time outside of work building my own custom models (better known as My Own Creations or MOCs in the Lego community). The summer after I left Lego, there was a convention called Brickfest, where Adult Fans of Lego (AFOLs) met, displayed their creations, and shared their knowledge with each other.
Three years later, I decided that I wanted to get away from New York for a weekend around the time my friend Lee told me he was going to be attending Brickfair in Washington, D.C. and after talking to him about it, I decided I would join him on his trek. And so began our three day voyage from New York to the multitude of plastic bricks that awaited us.
As the sun slowly came up Friday morning, we left Lee’s house to begin our weekend. After a four to five hour drive, including short breaks in the driving, we arrived at the hotel that hosted the convention. Rather than worrying about inconsequential things like our lodging, we immediately registered for the convention and began to set up the MOCs we were planning to display. Lee had predominantly brought Mindstorm robots to display, while my MOCs were fairly varied, a couple Lego computers, a Lego skull, a beer mug, a few video game characters, and the Lego picture taking robot built for this convention that I had named Touristbot (and that a couple of my friends informed me that they had renamed Norman Fitzpatrick).
Friday at Brickfair is a fairly relaxed affair. Everyone sets up their displays, from the Great Ball Contraptions to the large train displays, and takes a look at what others are offering for view. With approximately 600 registered attendees, there was plenty of space in the large ballroom to move about and take it all in. In the early evening, the opening ceremonies welcomed us all, allowed Steve Witt from The Lego Group to address the gathering, then they raffled some sets. This led into dinner and the only bad experience of the weekend for convention goers.
Friday night, one of the local Lego stores hosted a sale, wherein many items in damaged boxes were sold to convention attendees for major discounts. Since Lego parts come bagged within the boxes, damaged boxes are a deal for Lego enthusiasts who want to get sets cheaper or just purchase them for parts to build their own MOCs. Attendees were let into the store via a lottery system, wherein people were let in by groups. The early groups were able to hoard a majority of the damaged stock, leaving almost nothing for the people who didn’t have the luck of the draw.
Saturday began with a quick trip for an unnaturally unhealthy breakfast and then back to the hotel for the first of the two public days. Where registered attendees could display items and spend the weekend among their fellow Lego enthusiasts, the general public was able to buy tickets to come in between 11am and 4pm and see what the convention goers had put on display. A hectic five hours that left us all exhausted and happy to see them go.
The high point of the day was the Mindstorms sumo competition. Instead of the usual static displays or displays that moved in place, robots built specifically to battle each other were placed in a ring and attempted to push each other out. A Battle Bots like competition, but without the heavy weaponry.
With the public gone, a quick address by the con organizers quickly led to dinner and a return to the ballroom for evening activities. There was a speed building contest between two teams attempting to build the large Eiffel Tower set [link], a build contest where contestants were given a couple boxed sets and told to make something original with them, a white elephant game where players exchanged Lego sets, and a drunk speed build that was poorly conceived because contestants were regularly given jell-o shots but the amount of time it takes to digest them was longer than it took the winner to build the set. I chose to participate in the get beer and drink the in the ballroom activity, where attendees were encouraged to bring beer to the convention and hang out and drink among the Lego creations.
After waking up early for an award ceremony that didn’t happen, I found out via a posted list that my two nominees lost. My Lego beer mug lost to a Lego bikini and TouristBot lost to a Lego Mindstorms ATM. With the knowledge of my loss, it was off to a hotel breakfast and preparations for the second public day. Another day of the masses walking the hall to examine our creations and watch another round of sumo until 4pm. With a sigh of relief, we watched them leave and began to break down our creations until closing ceremonies. The organizers addressed us and raffled off the sets that had been on display by the Lego Group (of which I won a pirate set), then it was time to finish putting away our toys, say good bye to our fellow AFOLs and head out on the road home.
After leaving Brickfest in 2006, I felt creatively drained. I didn’t build or create anything for a while afterwards. Three years later, I left Brickfair brimming with ideas for new creations. From Mindstorms to sculptures to a project I’m developing under the name “The Evil MOC of Evilness,” I can’t wait to start building for next year, and to meet more great people like the folks I met from Australia and my new Twitter friends Brickworkz and katekintail (who wrote an excellent recap herself).