21 August 2023

The Good Parts

Editing is the untold hero of storytelling.  Editing is what turns information or an idea into an actual story.  When the information is arranged and structured, some things are emphasized and some are left out.  It makes sense.  It flows.  It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  And it gets a point across.  With the right edits, that information become a good story.

One of things I wanted to do with this blog is tell my story with LEGO, and that means I get to choose where to start.  And I'm going to start underwater.

I love the water, but I'm not a good swimmer. In calm, slow-moving water, I can flail my limbs around enough to keep my head above the water and slowly move in an intended direction until I get exhausted.  Months of instruction at the YMCA a decade and a half ago did not significantly increase my proficiency, so PFDs are still my friends.

I were to try to plan a memorable, life-changing event like a marriage proposal, you might thing it would look something like this:

And you would be wrong.  It looked more like this, only wetter:

I proposed to my wife underwater.  Pretty cool, right?  It was at Discovery Cove in Orlando, the "swim with the dolphins" day resort from the same people who run SeaWorld.

After just a couple months of dating, my wife and I knew we wanted to get married and we didn't want to wait long.  There was shopping for a house, some rings, and a dress.  We met each other's families.  But I still needed to ask a very important question.  When I proposed, it wouldn't be a surprise that it was happening.  But I could still make it a surprise WHEN it happened.

My wife was travelling a lot for work, often with short notice, and this was a problem for me because I needed to plan.  I couldn't plan a proposal if I didn't know where she was going to be.  So when she had training scheduled in Orlando, I knew that was my chance.  I would meet her there after class, and we would schedule an activity that couldn't be missed.

I definitely considered LEGOLAND.

Well, not that one.  The one in Florida.  We are both LEGO fans, and it was already very much established as part of our relationship, and everyone knew it.  That was part of the problem.  It was too obvious.  We love LEGO, but also many other things.  I actually moved the ring from a jewelry store box to a LEGO box so that it wouldn't attract any undue attention.

But space is cool.

astronaut by Lia Chan, rover by me

And Cape Canaveral isn't too far from Orlando.  Turned out there was a rocket launch scheduled for the weekend.  But launches can get cancelled or rescheduled, and this one was going to be in the evening.  It the launch happened as planned, wouldn't I be able to take her attention away from it?  Would she be annoyed for missing it?  Would she even see the ring?  Would I drop it in the dark?  It would be fun to go, but I needed something else.

We like animals, including aquatic ones.  And my wife used be SCUBA certified.  Orlando isn't on the coast, but that hasn't stoped a theme part entrepreneur yet!  So found about Discover Cove, and I learned they had engagement packages.  I could choose to have a dolphin pop the question for me, or we could do it myself, underwater, while wearing giant tethered bubble helmets as part of their Sea Trek attraction.  And the park would handle all the tricky logistics of hiding the ring until the appropriate moment when I was wearing a swimsuit and a bubble helmet.

When we got to the park, I surreptitiously transferred the expensive jewelry in the LEGO box to a park employee in the men's room.  We went on to our cabana, snorkeled a bit, and then continued to our scheduled Sea Trek.  It was arranged that I would be the last one in the water, and before climbing down the latter I asked the staff remaining above to confirm that everyone knew what was going to happen here.  And I took the plunge.

The weighted helmet kept me planted on the ground through our guided tour of their artificial reef.  There were lots of fish and manta rays.  Staff pointed out various other aquatic critters along the path, and then picked up a horseshoe crab and handed it to my wife.  With her distracted, they handed me a treasure chest.

the fish looked nothing like these.

I got down on one knee in the sand.  The change in angle pushed the water line in the helmet momentarily up to my nose, but having attracted my wife's attention away from the crab I continued and opened the lid of the treasure chest where the critical question was written inside.

Alisa was surprised, and I avoided inhaling a fatal amount of water.  Park staff conveniently offered her a laminated sign that said "Yes!".  Interestingly, they had not prepared a "No" option.  Fortunately, it was not required.  You may have already guessed this because throughout the story, I have been calling her "my wife".

a nice little gazebo at Norfolk Botanical Garden where people get married (but not us)

And that brings us back to the idea of editing your LEGO story.  A better writer may have left you hanging about how this was going to turn out.  Or an editor might have given the writer that tip.  I don't have an editor for this blog, but when it comes to LEGO, my wife is my editor.

As my LEGO editor, and my muse, and my sounding board, when I spin crazy LEGO ideas, my wife listens.  She asks details and raises important issues I missed.  When I'm going a little too far, she reels me back in.  She helps me concentrate on the good parts of the idea.  She keeps me from forgetting important details or being bogged down in the technical challenges.  When I can't figure out how to build something, she'll suggest some good parts to use.  She makes sure I don't take on challenges that are beyond the constraints we have to operate within.  When I find a way around an obstacle she pointed out, she appreciates my success and keeps on editing from a new perspective, making the story better still.

We haven't really figured out how to build LEGO at the same time.  We don't have the space or the time, and I can never get the bricks organized enough for her to work without stressing out.  But we still do LEGO together, as a builder and an editor.  And we make a great pair.

Curved Wall Technique: Spigots and Sinuous Structures

Despite the orderly pattern of studs on LEGO parts, those round studs are the key to building large structures that include curves, look organic, or even embrace chaos. The family of techniques that allow construction of curved walls with simple round and rectangular LEGO elements opened my eyes to the possibilities of this hobby.  I was at my first LEGO convention, BrickFair Virginia 2015, when I spotted this technique in use.  It's fairly common and by no means new, but it was new to me. It was a pivotal event in my transition into an Adult Fan of Lego (AFOL) and has captivated me ever since.  I've used it in plenty of my own creations, and spotted it everywhere, including LEGOLAND.

this round-walled lighthouse is at LEGOLAND California

saw this at BrickFair, from builder Mark W.

this was at the The Unofficial Toy and Plastic Brick Museum in Bellaire, OH

Simply put, when a stack of bricks is held together by a column of round studs, those studs can act as a hinge.  All that stops it are those pesky corners you find on most LEGO elements. 

The easiest way to remove the corners is to leave gaps, and that means using something a little longer than a 1x2.

Every column of bricks is now freed from the orthogonal grid, and can be positioned across a wide range of angles with respect to its neighbors, from jarring zigzags to graceful curves.

The caveat is that the resultant walls are latticework.  While providing handy footholds for adventurous climbers of either the plant or animal variety, the resemblance to common masonry is minimal.  

Fortunately, LEGO makes rounded elements.  In fact, they started doing so way back in 1955, three years before they settled on the modern form of the classic 2x4 brick.  One of the first round elements made was also LEGO's smallest part at the time: a 1x1 round brick.

In its early form, this element lacked the bottom lip found on the modern version, make it easier to build clean, smooth columns but a bit more difficult to separate one from the stack.  For a while after the first redesign, it retained the solid stud.  Switching to hollow studs created an attachment point for 3.18mm bars while also reducing the choking hazard for the youngest Lego fans.

Regardless of the design variant, these round bricks are functionally identical when stacking them in walls, and perfectly sized for filling the holes in the 1x3 lattice. Not only that, but their rounded shape conveniently stays out of the way of the pesky corners of adjacent rectangular brick, allowing flexible walls to retain an impressive range of motion.

Circles are the logical extension of curves, and once you have enough bricks to close the loop, you can add to the circumference as much as you wish in 4-stud increments.  Unfortunately, using this pattern you can't make the diameter much smaller than 24 studs without rudely intruding on the designed tolerances of your elements.  Fortunately, there are lot more elements to choose from.

LEGO has a few round parts which are a bit narrower than a 1x1, and swapping these into your structure is another way to build smaller round shapes.

In the last few years, LEGO has introduced 1x plates with rounded ends.  These allow the maximum flexibility.  Having SO many degrees of freedom creates all sorts of new opportunities, but makes it harder to create smooth, constant radius structures.  But sometimes you want crazy flexible shapes, and with LEGO, there's always a way!