Playing with LEGOs can be serious business. Kids and adults alike are constantly pushing the limits with deceptively simple plastic bricks. Fan-run LEGO conventions take place nationwide now, including regional gatherings that include Brick Fiesta in Texas, Bricks by the Bay in California and BrickFete in Canada. Todd Webb is a LEGO enthusiast who organizes the annual LEGO fan festival BrickFair in Northern Virginia. "It's like canvas and paint, without the years of training," he said. Here are 10 impressive LEGO creations that quickly became fan favorites.
Bat Cave. Carlyle Livingston II, a former pro visual effects artist turned mobile app developer and BrickCon's Wayne Hussey created the LEGO Batcave from about 20,000 pieces. "Wayne is the BrickCon version of me," Webb said. Their cave, inspired by the original 1960s TV series, took 400 hours to finish and delighted Batman fans with details like textured cave walls, a Batboat refueling area, an internal lighting system and even mini bats hanging from the ceiling.
Space Station in Space. Building a straightforward replica of the International Space Station from LEGOs in a couple hours might not seem that impressive here on Earth, but Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa made the model last year while he was actually aboard the International Space Station. A video shows Furukawa fitting the parts together for the meta construction inside a sealed container. When he takes out the completed LEGO model and lets go, it floats in space. "I hope this experience inspires (children) to make greater efforts to study science and technology," he told CollectSPACE.com in an interview.
Robotic Chess Set. Built by engineer Steve Hassenplug and his friends, Monster Chess is exactly the kind of LEGO creation it sounds like. Measuring 156 square feet, the enormous chess set cost $30,000, used 100,000 elements, 25 NXT intelligent bricks, a laptop, and took a year to construct. The pieces seem like they're playing on their own, and when it's one side's turn, the raised horse legs on the knight pieces move in the air. Webb called the robotic LEGO chess game a regular crowd-pleaser. "It's been at BrickFair AL the past two years and is slated to appear in BrickFair New England, too," he added.
Functioning Printer. Fourteen-year-old Leon Overweel produced an impressive working printer last year from LEGO Mindstorms, specialized kits with parts to build custom, programmable robots. Overweel's PriNXT employed several motors and sensors to control a felt-tip pen. "The kid’s age and multi-language computer skills are pretty awesome," Webb noted. But other functional LEGO printers exist, including a whimsical one made in 2010 by the user Horseattack. Adorned with LEGO minifigs or minifigures, the "Lego felt tip 110" was built and coded from scratch with a wiring demo board along with homemade analog electronics and sensors. It even achieved 75 dots per inch.
Rubik's Cube Solving Machine. LEGO Mindstorms that connect bricks to robotics opened up new possibilities for great geekery. A prime example: Mike Dobson and David Gilday's CubeStormer II, a LEGO machine designed to solve Rubi's Cubes that uses a Samsung Galaxy running an Android application. Commissioned by the British semiconductor company ARM, the machine broke the human world record in 2011 by solving the cube in 5.352 seconds. Webb cautions about relying too much on non-bricks, though. "Once you step outside actual LEGO, things get less impressive real fast," he said.
Harry S. Truman Aircraft Carrier. An IT consultant from Munich put everything on the line when he constructed an enormous version of the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier. Malle Hawking risked his family life and his wallet in 2006, spending more than $15,000 and a year working on the project. Inspired by a documentary, Hawking built the nearly 15-foot-long model using Internet photos and roughly 300,000 bricks, the Daily Mail reported at the time. He also landed a world record. Hawking's feat continues to impress today. "This aircraft carrier is absolutely stunning" Webb said.
Giant Working Crane. LEGO fans know Alvin Brant around the Southeast as "the giant crane guy" who erects extremely tall, working cranes from bricks. Webb calls Brant a personal friend and remembers one particular crane that stood up by itself. "Because it's so long and so heavy, he just built it out flat on his driveway then set the motorized gears in motion," Webb remembered. In 2004, the Post and Courier profiled Brant, who was working as an installation manager at a sign company. Back then he built a $1,200 crane that was 14 feet tall. He went on to break the world record for tallest LEGO crane with one measuring nearly 20 feet.
Life-Sized SUV. To celebrate the opening of a LEGOLand theme park in Florida in 2011, a life-sized red Ford Explorer made from 380,000 bricks rolled out of the automaker's plant in Chicago. The SUV required 2,500 hours and 2,654 pounds of parts to create. Webb compared it to another creation earlier that year, when the staff at LEGOLand in California constructed a blue Volvo XC90 for general manager Peter Ronchetti as a prank. They felt his real Volvo needed an upgrade.
Mystery Box. LEGO enthusiast Todd Wilder posted his "Mystery Box" MOC -- short for "my own creation" -- to an online LEGO user group in 2011, calling it his biggest LEGO project ever. Inspired by MC Escher drawings and Mark Haddon's mystery novel "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," Wilder created a design involving tessellated question marks. This complex box made from nearly 8,000 parts contains a series of hidden compartments that open in succession. "You took something as simple as a box and made it one of the most elaborate MOCs I've ever seen,” one commenter wrote upon seeing the images. Another fan saw it first-hand and wrote, "I'm trying to convince him to send it to MOMA."
Life-Sized LEGO You. New York-based artist Nathan Sawaya specializes in creating large-scale LEGO sculptures. He’s also part of the LEGO Group's selective Certified LEGO Artist program, which helps certain talented builders get bulk parts directly from the company. "His story is well known in LEGO community, but tends to really entertain those who haven't seen his human sculptures yet," Webb said. He added that for $60,000, Sawaya would build a life-size version of you. Several years ago, Sawaya created a life-sized Stephen Colbert from about 30,000 LEGO bricks. It took him several weeks. Colbert joked on his show, "This is America, use Lincoln Logs."