They say the language to learn these days is not Spanish or French or even Chinese, but computer code. It is the most basic building block of everything we do, from making Zoom calls to buying toothpaste on Amazon to writing a report for your boss. Sure, you can punch up an existing app or program and do most of what you need. But if you want to do something a little bespoke, something not off-the-shelf, then the ability to code lets you create anything you can imagine.
Back in the day we did the same with LEGO®. Long before there were computers, LEGO® blocks were the child-friendly way of building something from nothing. While Meccano and Erector Sets were made of metal and required tools, and Tinker Toys were wood and good for abstract designs, LEGO’s plastic bricks were more manageable, compact and “concrete,” in the sense that a wall was a wall. It took only the most rudimentary of motor skills to snap one onto another, and before you knew it you had something that looked like a rocket ship or a house.
Just like code, each individual piece was basically nothing when existing as a standalone. There were big pieces and little ones, round ones and flat ones, and specialized shapes you only needed once in a while. You could follow a pattern to get a basic car or airplane, customize that construct to have five wheels or three wings, or create something from scratch that no one had thought of before. I started that way, eventually using the bricks to make a case for an old FM radio I was rebuilding, and a hollowed-out skyscraper with a secret door where I could hide my bubble gum from my sister.
I moved on, and LEGO® did too. Not content to just make more bricks in different colors, the company started making more refined sets with specialized pieces to enable builders to create castles, space stations and pirate ships. You can get a kit that enables you to build a model of the Coliseum, a VW Camper Van or the Sydney Opera House. They started doing movie and TV tie-ins, from the DeLorean from “Back to the Future” to The Kwik-E-Stop from “The Simpsons.” And just released is the largest kit ever created (so far), enabling you to create a world map that measures over a yard wide and 2 feet tall, consisting of 11,695 pieces, most of them single studs.
But while I appreciate the detail of their model of Big Ben, the working mechanics of their Roller Coaster and the architectural accuracy of their Eiffel Tower, I confess to be taken by one of their newest creations. That’s because while just slightly smaller than the real thing, it looks remarkably similar to my most constant college companion. Back in the Dark Ages when I went away to school, the most important piece of technology I owned was my portable typewriter. I learned to clean the keys, and to flip the ribbon when the ink got low. I became adept at wielding a little brush of white correction fluid, learning to dab it on carefully, then blowing on it gently until it dried. But maybe the greatest skill of all was learning how to reinsert an already typed sheet back into the roller and line it up so a correction would look more like a book report and less like a ransom note.
And darn it if LEGO® hasn’t gone and made a faithful recreation of my Olivetti. It has a center typebar that rises every time a key is pressed, the carriage moves from right to left until it needs to be slid back, and you can feed in a piece of paper that will move up as you type. Alas, there is no ink in the ribbon, so your word processor and printer combo shouldn’t feel threatened.
According to early reviews, it’s a fun kit to put together, with very little repetition, and working mechanics. And perhaps best of all, as one reviewer says, “The sound of the keys is also almost exactly what a real typewriter sounds like! It’s just so dang cool.”
Cool indeed. Now if LEGO® would just make a model of a crappy stereo, I can feel like I’m back in freshman year.
Marc Wollin of Bedford still likes to build things. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at glancingaskance.blogspot.com, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.