Watch Out For Flying Rocks: Creativity with LEGO Projectile Propulsion Systems
"You can't solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level."
Hello, everyone! We're about to get started, so go ahead and get seated. This is the presentation on LEGO projectile propulsion systems, so if that's not the workshop you came to attend, now's the time to get out of here and do something else. But I can assure you, this will be a very interesting and informative presentation. Of course, I wouldn't be giving this presentation here today if it weren't for two very important groups of people.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
The first group I have to thank is all of you. It is LEGO fans like you that inspired me to create this presentation in the first place. In fact, this presentation is so jam-packed with information that I've had to rehearse it multiple times just to ensure that I stay within the half-hour time limit. Therefore, I won't be able to answer any questions during this presentation. However, I depend on fans like you to provide suggestions that will help me improve my presentation for the future. Therefore, if you have any comments, questions, or constructive feedback on this presentation, please write them down so you don't forget them. Then, either ask them during the question-and-answer period after the presentation’s conclusion, or you can speak with me afterwards at my booth. I'm located at table 14-A. Here's my contact information, if you'd prefer to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to take a quick photo for your reference. Speaking of photos, this presentation was created by me, and most of the photos were also taken by me. I have included photo credits at the bottom of each slide.
But I wouldn't be presenting here today if it weren't for one other very important group of people. I'm sure you have all been having a wonderful time at the convention; I know I have. So let's go ahead and give a big round of applause for the organizers of this year's Bricks Cascade Convention!
A Bit About Me
All right, for those of you who don't know me, my name is Kent Slocum, and my day job is working as a Cast Member at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California. When I'm not working, however, my two main hobbies are board games and LEGO. Now, living in Anaheim is expensive, so I don't have a lot of room to store a lot of LEGO. So even though I'm passionate about LEGO, my apartment doesn't look like those videos you see online of people whose garage is full of shelves stuffed with bins all color-coded with assorted LEGO brick. I realized very early on that LEGO can be a very expensive hobby if not managed properly, so I have decided to specialize in building only certain types of LEGO MOCs. But that wasn't always the case.
My Dark Age
One question that a lot of Adult Fans of LEGO get is "When was your LEGO Dark Age?" I suppose this is a popular question because it's inspiring to hear tales of redemption. It's the LEGO equivalent of giving one's testimony. However, I haven't really ever had a LEGO Dark Age. After all, I've been building with LEGO for as long as I can remember. This was my first LEGO set:
I'm sure that most of you will recognize this set as part of the Life on Mars theme, which was released in 2001. I was five at the time. My parents were wise not to buy me a massive, complicated LEGO set. It only took that small, inexpensive set with an alien and an astronaut to spark my creativity. Such a small set still had an incredible capacity for imagination. Even though it had precious few LEGO bricks, it was a start, a beginning on my journey to my defining LEGO moment.
The next two LEGO sets I received were actually promotional sets that came in McDonald’s happy meals, which were first released in 1999.
The set itself was pretty simple, but on the back of the instruction manual was a small picture of a LEGO ninja set layout.
I was fascinated by that small picture, and I fantasized about getting those Ninja sets, which I never did. The next LEGO set I specifically remember receiving was the LEGO fireboat.
After that came the LEGO rescue helicopter.
I had the LEGO rescue helicopter for a very long time, but somehow the instructions were lost, which is unusual for me, since I still have every single instruction manual for all of my sets. One of the most traumatic events of my childhood was when that set toppled off my bedroom dresser and crashed onto the floor. Although nothing was broken, I had to rebuild much of the set. Since I no longer had any of the instructions and I didn’t even know that the internet existed, much less that it was possible to obtain digital PDF copies of instruction manuals for every LEGO set in existence, I was horrified when I discovered that I couldn’t remember how the tailfin went back together. I did the best I could, but that haunted my for a long time, and I still shudder at the very thought of it. This entire time, I was a loyal member of the LEGO fan club, receiving LEGO club magazines and catalogs through the mail. I would stare at those magazines for hours, absorbing every single detail. The one set I truly desired above all else, though, was the LEGO Indiana Jones Jungle Duel set.
I didn’t care for the minifigures, but I really, really, really wanted the ants, the crate with a banana inside, the campfire, and the tent. I was the happiest boy alive when I received that gift, and I played with it late into the night. However, it took a serious incident for me to fully focus on LEGO as my building medium of choice. I had been saving up money for a very long time, and after Christmas one year, my dad took me to Toys ‘R’ Us, back when it was still in business. I eventually ended up in the building toy section, and I saw the new line of LEGO Castle-Fantasy Era sets. The only set I actually remember seeing was an assembled Troll Battle Wheel in a clear-plastic display case, and I wanted it. It was just so awesome!
But I also saw on the other side of the aisle a massive Megabloks set. To my young, naive, inexperienced eyes, the Alien Agency sets looked unbelievably cool. So I bought this instead:
And that was my defining LEGO point. I would not be here today if I had not made the mistake of spending my hard-earned money on that Megabloks set, because I would not have fully understood the value of the LEGO building system. It took me a whole two days to assemble that massive Megabloks set, and I discovered that something was definitely NOT COOL. To begin with, many of the pieces didn't fit together very well. Others came apart too easily. And there were an awful lot of stickers that started peeling almost as soon as I applied them. But the icing on the cake that cemented my disdain for Megabloks was that the finished set did not actually match the picture on the front of box. That's right; the image on the front of the box wasn't just an alternate build; it was a completely different set from the one detailed in the included instruction manual. I had purchased the set for what I saw pictured on the front, not for something else. And that was the point where I vowed to focus on LEGO from then on. And I still stand by that belief; I’ve been blown away by the quality of official LEGO components and their customer service. So it took a Megabloks set to finally pull me from a casual LEGO fan to a serious LEGO builder.
My Approach to Building with LEGO
Remember when I said that I don't have the budget or the space for an entire garage full of LEGO bricks? Well, in order to afford and store my LEGO collection, I've had to specialize. That means I've developed a unique approach to the way that I build with LEGO. The interesting thing is, there are actually four broad approaches to building with LEGO. In order to show you what type of builder I am, I first need to explain the four different categories of LEGO builders.
The Four Types of LEGO Builders
To begin with, the first type of LEGO builder I have observed is the Imaginative Builder. This is often a younger person who doesn’t care about building, only about playing. This type of builder dumps out all of the bricks from a new set and promptly discards the instructions, instead choosing to throw something hastily together and begin acting out a massive battle or a secret mission or a tea party or something similarly exciting. If someone builds a set for this type of builder, it will eventually fall to pieces through heavy use, and the instructions will be lost. But this type of builder won’t be concerned; they’ll just build something else that is equally suitable for imaginative play. The best example of this type of builder is the one depicted in this classic LEGO ad:
The second type of LEGO builder that I have observed is the Strict Builder. This is often a middle-aged person who doesn’t care about playing, only about displaying. This type of builder carefully and quickly assembles the set according to the instructions, then proudly displays the set for all to see on a shelf. They tend to keep the instructions safely filed away, and may even keep the original box that the set came in. They may interact with the set, but when they do, they are careful not to damage or break anything, and must reset everything afterwards. They play by the rules, and won’t let imaginative and hyperactive young builders get near their LEGO sets. The best example of this type of builder is "the man upstairs" from The LEGO Movie.
The third type of LEGO builder is the kind most people aspire to be: the Master Builder. This is one of those superstars who may or may not work for the LEGO Group. They are capable of taking a massive pile of random bricks, or a massive collection of carefully sorted bricks, and transforming them into a beautiful piece of art: a sculpture, a mural, a motorized machine, or a huge diorama. These people are certainly creative and imaginative, but they often work on a huge scale, far beyond the abilities and budget of average people. They have resources that exceed the annual disposable income of most people. Their work is usually beyond minifigure scale, but if they do build things that minifigures inhabit, it is usually so large that it can only be displayed in a very impersonal, distant way, which hinders interactive play. The best example of this type of builder is Nathan Sawaya, who curated the incredibly successful exhibit "Art of the Brick."
The fourth general kind of LEGO builder is a bit harder to find. I call this type of person the "Plussing" Builder. Since I have worked at Disney for a while, I have decided to adopt the term "Plussing" from Walt Disney Imagineering. In Disney parlance, "Plussing" means to take a good idea and make it even better. The Plussing Builder, will start by constructing an official LEGO set according to the instruction manual, but they will be constantly analyzing it as they do so. Then, after the set is built, the Plussing Builder will continually make changes to the set, upgrading it and improving it incrementally. Perhaps a poor play feature will be improved. Perhaps a weak connection will be strengthened. Perhaps boring minifigures will be replaced with more exciting ones. Perhaps plain pieces will be swapped with printed ones. In doing so, the Plussing Builder creates something completely new, while still retaining what was good about the old. In short, the Plussing Builder uses existing LEGO sets as idea launchpads for original creations.
Now, of course, most builders in real life are combinations of all four of these types. Although I identify most strongly as a Plussing Builder, I also tend to be a Strict Builder. And that's okay. By identifying which type of LEGO builder I am, I can address my weaknesses and focus on my strengths. Which type of LEGO builder are you?
Builder Types In the Real World
Let me use a non-LEGO example to help you visualize this for a moment. Currently, Disney Imagineers are working on improving the classic Disneyland Fantasyland dark ride Snow White's Scary Adventures. Suppose four different Disney Imagineers were assigned to the task of improving this classic ride.
If the first Imagineer was an Imaginative Builder, he would probably tear out the ride vehicles and convert the attraction into a spooky indoors laser-tag arena, with a Snow White theme, where guests are shooting virtual arrows at each other and the Evil Queen. The attraction would still be called Snow White's Scary Adventures, but it would barely resemble the original attraction, if at all.
If the second Imagineer was a Strict Builder, he would probably pour the entire improvement budget into maintaining and polishing the existing attraction. He would give it a fresh coat of paint, replace all of the things that had worn down or worn out, and assign a new minimum age requirement, to prevent little kids from goofing off and damaging anything. The attraction would be perfectly preserved in its entirety.
If the third Imagineer was a Master Builder, he would probably tear down the attraction entirely and build in its place a massive looping dragon coaster that gives thrill-seeking guests the ability to scream past the Sleeping Beauty castle at 75 miles per hour. The attraction would be incredible and ground-breaking, but it wouldn't make guests feel as though they were actually in the story.
If the fourth Imagineer was a Plussing Builder, he would install state-of-the-art projection and audio equipment into the existing dark ride, enhance the attraction’s narrative with new animatronics, and transform the ending of the attraction with a more satisfying conclusion to help tell a more cohesive story. It would be the same attraction that park guests have come to know and love, just better.
In fact, that is exactly what the Imagineers are currently doing with Snow White's Scary Adventures: they are keeping what guests love about the current attraction, and then harnessing the power of new technology to enhance what needs to be improved. As a result, Snow White's Scary Adventures won’t be destroyed, or replaced, or preserved: it will be improved into a memorable fan-favorite attraction for years to come.
My Approach to Building with LEGO
That is how I manage to build with LEGO without exceeding my budget or space constraints: I enhance existing LEGO sets with improvements that breathe new life into them. Existing LEGO sets already are the product of immense research and development by the LEGO Group, and I am simply breathing new life into them.
Take, for example, my recent work on the LEGO Ideas Tree House set. This large and beautiful set already had a large number of details and features that made it more than just a display piece; it practically begged to be played with. However, due to its immense size, many things were left out in order to reduce the piece count and the cost. I added these things back in to enhance thee detail and playability of the set.. For example, I improved the staircase so that every other step had an exposed stud. This permitted minifigures to be posed on more than just one step. All of the remaining stairsteps, as well as the rope bridge, were given tiles printed with wood grain, to deepen the level of detail in the set. On the ground, I rearranged the clothing on the minifigures so that the father was wearing the fishing torso. Then, I replaced his black whip with a real LEGO minifigure-scale fishing pole, which I strung with black string so that he could actually fish. Then, I also gave him a hand-held fish net to catch his haul. Since the set came with several pairs of scissors, I added some twigs for the mother minifigure to prune. I replaced the plain red mushrooms with printed discs that looked more like actual mushrooms, and grew the mushrooms from three to four. I replaced the candles on the picnic table with a more realistic lamp, since campers these days don’t use candles. I improved the variety of food on the table, adding a hotdog, watermelon, orange juice, milk, and a waffle with a reversible sesame-seed bun on the other side. I slid an extra book under the children’s bed, so they have a little more variety of things to read before going to bed at night, and changed the clock in the parent’s room to have a real clock-face. The bathroom got a roll of white toilet paper instead of green, and I added more foliage to the entire trcee to make the canopy look fuller. I installed a zipline for the boy to enjoy, and replaced the jewels buried under the ground with printed tiles that have money-bags on them. A printed tile with an old sock on it served to liven up the kids’ bedroom, and I moved the microscope into the middle of the room to make room for _____ on the shelf. I put locks on some of the drawers. I addressed some serious gaps in the railings around the treehouses while adding more variety to the color, shape, and printing of the railings. I added pop-out balconies to the other two treehouses, and added a bald eagle on one railing to add a bit of additional wildlife. I added a minifigure who appears to be a repairwoman, but some of her supplies (including a saw, axe, and bag) suggest otherwise. More seats were set up around the campfire, and a teenage minifigure was added to enjoy the swing. Tiles with studs on them were added to help pose minifigures around the treehouses. Now, I know what you are thinking: “This is a lot of change!” And, it is. However, I don’t consider this “major” change, since the set still maintains the basic shape and overall design from its original version.
A more drastic change would be the case of the London Escape set from the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. Originally, the London Inn was merely one component of a larger set, which included two wagons and several minifigures.
However, I was much more interesting in the building than the minifigures or the wagon, so I started to improve it. The first thing that bothered me was that the hinged feature, while interesting, didn’t hinge all the way. Also, there wasn’t enough exposed baseplate indoors to permit me to pose minifigures. Therefore, I lengthened one side, added a larger baseplate, and changed the roofline so that the building could fold all the way up, or all the way out. However, rearranging this set resulted in the fairly large chimney being shifted to the opposite side of the set. In order to give the chimney a reason to exist on that side of the set, I added a very large fireplace, which looked more like a forge.
Therefore, I merged this set with the Village Blacksmith set, so that the Village Inn would be run by the Blacksmith’s wife, and so another hinge could be added, which appended the blacksmith’s workshop and waterwheel to yet another side of the build.
Of course, this required another major change in the form of some sort of connecting mechanism to hold the building together when closed. I solved this problem with a “snap” connection disguised as a set of swinging doors.
In order to maintain the “openness” and playability of the set, I hinged the roof, widened the opening on one side of the set, and shifted the second floor of the set to the side that swung outwards.
It seemed unrealistic to me that the original set had no way for minifigures to reach the second floor, so I added a spiral stone staircase, which fit in well with the overall color scheme of the build. Underneath this second floor, I installed a jail cell of sorts, which contained a safe and two sets of removable walls. One wall I made to “explode” outwards when a tile printed with dynamite was inserted, but I increased the flexibility of this feature by also constructing a wall of barrels that could be inserted into the same space. I actually borrowed this exploding wall feature from the classic Western set Sheriff's Lockup:
This is a good example of how the end result looks nothing like the original set, although the spirit of both sets is closely retained, and many of the architectural highlights remain. I think this is a stronger set, both structurally and for playability reasons.
Of course, I knew that I couldn't keep buying and improving random sets. I needed a particular theme to follow, and ever since that fateful day in Toys 'R' Us, that Troll Battle Wheel kept coming back to me.
Thanks to Bricklink, I was soon the proud owner of my first LEGO set with a working battle feature: an actual cannon that fired rubber-tipped darts. This single set, all by itself, ended up convincing me to focus solely on LEGO medieval fantasy as my theme of choice. The second set I acquired from that series was the Troll Ambush Wagon.
This had a cool missile-firing function, and that’s when the wheels in my head began turning: what other ways were there to fire LEGO pieces at your enemy? I started spending a lot of time of Bricklink, looking at sets from all genres and series. When I found a set that had a firing mechanism of some kind, I would download a PDF of the instructions and read through the build to recreate the mechanism without having to buy the entire set myself. And that’s how I came to be something of an expert in LEGO projectile firing systems. Now, I figured that I couldn’t be an expert without first owning at least one example of each of these firing mechanisms, so I began slowly accumulating them over time. And right away, I noticed that these firing mechanisms could be sorted into two broad categories, with a third category located where the other two overlapped. Now, you may not have noticed this, but once I point it out, it will be so obvious that you will not be able to un-see it.
The Three Kinds of LEGO Projectile Launch Systems
LEGO projectile launching systems come in three broad varieties: Purpose-Built Systems, Brick-Built Systems, and Hybrid Systems. Purpose-Built systems involve one or more bricks that were created specifically for the purpose of firing LEGO bricks. The Troll Battle Wheel is the perfect example, because it uses the Rubber Dart Launcher. Other Purpose-Built systems include the following:
The pneumatic foam dart launcher from the Mars Mission theme:
The pull-back spring-loaded cannon from the Pirates theme:
The disc launcher from the Exo-Force theme:
The spring-loaded stick shooter from recent themes:
The ball launcher from the Bionicle themes, and used in this Power Miners set:
The stud shooter:
The rotary stud shooter:
The round plate shooter:
The pull-back Technic racers arms, etc.
The net launcher:
So far, this piece comes in a bright yellow color and also more subtle bluish-gray color:
Interestingly, net launchers used to be slightly more brick-built, like the one used in this remarkably similar Jurassic World set:
And before that, net launchers were even more creative, like the one used in this Dino set:
Speaking of brick-built net launchers, a Brick-Built projectile launch system is built from scratch, using pieces that are not necessarily intended to be used only for propelling LEGO pieces through the air. We are all familiar with flick-fire missiles:
A rare example you might not be aware of is the mine-laying function of the submarine set:
Another great example are the net launchers included in many sets. By themselves, the pieces all serve other purposes. When put together, however, they form an incredible synergy and are capable of performing a much better function. The example which I have already mentioned is the Troll Ambush Wagon. This uses a LEGO basketball/soccer spring-loaded minifigure base as the power to propel a Technic axle out of a Technic arm. The Technic arm then drops down under the force of gravity, ready for the next firing round. This is ingenious, and I went looking for more examples. In the Viking sets, they have a double-firing version of this system, which substitutes a rotating Technic axle with paddles for a human finger, which increases the number of projectiles and automates the system to some extent. The Viking sets also had one with a double catapult, which was a brilliant idea. Catapult have been used in LEGO for a very long time, and are a great example of Brick-Built projectile launching systems. Some are a simple and small as a plate on a fulcrum, and others are a bit larger and more complicated. The LEGO Castle sets made good use of catapults, such as this one:
Or this one:
Or this one:
Interestingly, this small catapult's construction is nearly identical to the one in this Knights' Kingdom set, which was side-mounted to Jayko's horse's saddle:
What makes this mobile launcher even more useful is that is has a rubber band, which is a step up from the previous catapult design which required a human finger to press down with enough force to hurl the projectile.
This idea of using a rubber band as the propelling force for a catapult is continued in the Knights' Kingdom Attack Barge, shown here:
While we are on the subject of catapults, let me briefly describe an area of crossover between Brick-Built and Purpose-Built projection systems.
I am sure you are aware that there are some LEGO bricks which are, quite literally, catapults. There is a small one:
And a large one:
Clearly, these pieces were designed with a specific purpose in mind. However, they can't fire LEGO projectiles by themselves. They are only the arms and buckets, not the complete assembly. They still require a fulcrum and a support beam (usually Technic axle).
For example, here we have the most basic set-up for the small catapult:
On the cover of the instruction manual, you can see that it is composed of simply three pieces, not counting the round brick that is used as the projectile:
Here is a similarly straightforward catapult using the same small piece with fulcrum assembly:
Then, there is the slightly sturdier but more involved version where the small catapult piece uses two fulcrums:
Then, we have a similar situation with the large catapult piece, which can also be supported on both sides as a launcher:
Or in a different configuration, as shown in the rotating catapult turret assembly on the castle wall in the set below:
A very similar large-catapult turret setup can be found on the castle wall in this set:
An interesting thing to note is that this set also features a rubber-band propelled brick-built projectile launcher in the form of a bow. It is mounted to the bow of the skeleton warship. The same design was repeated in the following set:
While these rubber-band powered launchers are clearly brick-built, the catapults that use the special catapult pieces seem a bit more Purpose-Built. Therefore, I would place them somewhere between Purpose-Built and Brick-Built Projectile Launch Systems. They fit in this area of overlap between the two main categories. However, some sets have made the distinction even fuzzier, by using the catapult pieces in ways they weren't probably intended. In the Lord of the Rings theme, the Pirate Ship Ambush set contains a small catapult side-build, which uses the small catapult piece in a way we haven't seen before:
Now, we can place all of these different types of LEGO projectile propulsion systems on a Venn Diagram, to see where LEGO tends to lean:
Projectile Propulsion Systems
Now although I primarily focus only on LEGO medieval Troll sets, my favorite theme of all time was Power Miners. I have several of the sets, and ended up giving them all to my brother, who has several more sets. One set it particular caught my interest the moment it was released, although I only got it used on Bricklink many years later: the Boulder Blaster. Although Lego has made another set that is also called the Boulder Blaster (a serious mistake on their part), this is the original Boulder Blaster, and it features a unique function that I have never seen in any other set. It clearly takes its inspiration from the missile launcher in that a Technic arm is pre-loaded with axles and the magazine drops down when a missile is fired, thus loading up for a new missile. However, it uses a rotating Technic axle to alternately pull back and then release a rubber-band loaded Technic arm. This arm, when released, strikes the end of the Technic missile, propelling it forward with great force. This system is pure genius, and I immediately saw the benefits over the spring-loading minifigure base system. Less likely to misfire, less likely to come apart, easier to adjust the strength of the firing pin, and faster, more accurate firing. I embraced this system and adapted it for the Troll attack wagon, adding an extra feature: it could now fire two clips of missiles simultaneously. This not only doubled the weapon’s capacity, but it also permitted me to alternate the missile’s firing pins so that the stream of missiles was near-continuous. The most concerning problem, of course, was how to replace the clips once they had been expended. I decided to compromise: use shorter Technic arms, which although they would have to be changed out more often, they were short enough to drop out of the bottom of the attack wagons and leave room for new clips to be dropped in from the top. Each wagon can hold several extra clips. Of the course, the firing angle is critical, since a good arc improves the force of the attack, helps the missile arc over enemy defenses, and also prevents the missiles from sliding out of the clips while at rest. The Lego Movie 2 set of Metalbeard’s Heavy Metal Bike is a great example of both of these two types of projectile-launching systems, since it has Purpose-Built cannons on one side and a Brick-Built shark launcher on the other side.
LESS IS MORE: Inspiring Creativity With Constraints
There is a famous saying which states "Necessity is the mother of invention." I’ve always been a bit disturbed by this quote, because having need doesn’t necessarily result in invention. If you don’t have enough materials, you can’t invent anything, even if you’re absolutely desperate. I think a far better saying would be “Necessity is the mother of creativity.” When times get tough and resources get tight, people are remarkably good at reimagining ways to use the things that they already have. Despite the fact that nearly all of us would probably agree with this statement, I also suspect that many of us are uncomfortable with necessity. Given the choice between need and plenty, we would all choose plenty. Especially when it comes to building with LEGO, We simply can't get enough. Bigger builds require more parts, and more parts cost more. Building bigger requires buying more. I used to be a slave to this mentality. I was constantly buying more pieces and more sets to build what I thought I wanted. Still, I needed more pieces. I never had enough. My thirst for LEGO was insatiable, and bordered on an addiction. I thought that I couldn't be creative if I didn't have a wide variety of pieces to work with and a sufficient quantity of bricks to choose from. I used to think that the key to creativity was being able to build anything I wanted. However, I come before you today with an astounding suggestion, the result of my personal experience: a lack of LEGO isn't good for creativity. It's essential.
When you have a limited number of LEGO bricks to work with, you must "make do" with what you have. You must substitute. You must switch. You must swap. You must insert pieces that you wouldn't have otherwise chosen, creating something you couldn't have otherwise foreseen.
In order for this to work, you must be willing to have an open mind about the results. Don't be overly focused on just one result. Let yourself be led down interesting paths and into strange ideas, even if they lead to dead ends. If you find that you've discovered an interesting interaction between two pieces, take the time to see if you can put it to use somewhere. If you find one unique piece, see if you can integrate it into your design. Go on side-quests, then come back to what you were originally doing. These aren't distractions; they are realizations. They are proof that you're doing it right, that your mind is breaking out of its confines. You're thinking outside the box! Your builds are becoming more creative; you're beginning to have epiphanies.
It doesn't matter if someone has already thought of what you just discovered. What matters is that YOU just discovered for yourself. It finally makes sense to YOU; and that means you can put that idea to work. It's implanted in your brain, and you may need it in the future.
I have something to show you: something of my own invention. It may not seem all that impressive to you. You probably won't find it mind-blowing or inspirational. But that's okay; it doesn't have to be, because it has been inspirational and mind-blowing to ME. And what's exciting to me may not be exciting to you. But once you unlock your creativity, you'll make your own exciting and mind-blowing discoveries. You'll invent your own amazing things.
I was originally attempting to make one of these:
And because I didn't have the right pieces, I ended up turning it on its side and transforming it into this:
Throughout history, fasting has been seen as a way to transcend the physical needs of the human body and focus on the spiritual. Throughout the centuries, many religions have seen fasting and praying as a sign of devotion and spiritual connectedness. I ask you a hypothetical question: don't we all want a Pure, unfettered creativity is akin to a spiritual experience; it moves you in ways that simply following the directions cannot. Putting constraints around your building is like fasting: it cleanses your system, clears your mind, and brings a whole new level of clarity to your work. It erases all of the unnecessary junk from your designs, and puts pure inspiration back into your builds. It brings simplicity out of the complexity, and lets you see things in a miraculous new way.
Therefore, I urge you to put this to the test. Self-impose a LEGO famine in your building space. Stop buying bricks, or buy random ones. Limit yourself to just one bin, or to just one color. Whatever you do, it must be drastic, or the results won't be dramatic.
When I discover something incredible or create something amazing, I begin to shudder with excitement. My heart rate picks up, and I feel a rush of hormones. It's a deep, visceral feeling of adrenaline, concentration, satisfaction, and longing. You feel a new sense of confidence, of determination, almost as if nothing can stop you now. And it can't because once you truly taste what real creativity is, there's no going back. Oh, it'll be tempting to go back to the luxuries of piles of bricks and duplicate pieces, but you should do so sparingly. Only when you have a clear plan that sprang from your creativity. Until then, let creativity guide you into the unknown. You'll be glad you let it.
LEGO Weapon Launch Mechanisms (Projectile Propulsion Systems)
Of course, I have my favorite sets and themes (and you'll see some of those today), but maily I only focus on LEGO weapon launch systems. That doesn't mean I own of every type of LEGO weapon launch mechanism in existence, because I don't. And that's mainly because they don't all work equally well. But what I have done is obtained copies of the very best-designed examples, which I will show you here today. For quite some time, I downloaded and red instruction manuals like people read comic books-obsessively. And I've finally figured the best and worst systems to use in your creations. So here is the theme that got me started on this specialty: LEGO Castle. If you look this theme up on BrickLink, it is called Fantasy Era, and you can see why. The peaceful kingdom is being attacked by Trolls and undead skeletons, and the dwarves are helping the knights fight back. If you look at the sets in this series, the trolls and skeletons are nearly always on the offensive, and the dwarves and knights are nearly always on the defensive. Both sides are using dragons and magic. The Trolls have a sorceress, while the skeletons have a powerful evil wizard. As is common with LEGO themes, there are very clearly-defined bad guys and good guys. What makes this so interesting is the fact that there are actually FOUR different factions: the trolls and skeletons on one side, and the dwarves and knights on the other. The color scheme for the good guys is dark blue and gold, while the trolls prefer dark crimson, sand green and black, and the skeletons prefer white, black, and red. The skeletons like bones and ribs in their weapons and architecture, while the trolls build with wood, iron, and fangs. Enough of the overview: why did this theme get me interested in weapon launch mechanisms? Well, the bad guys use three different types of projectile propulsion systems, and the good guys use three different systems. Although there is one example of the knights using a rubber-band missile launcher, the good guys primarily use catapults. Even though the Knights use Bionicle spheres and the dwarves use rocks, the principle is the same, and both types use a rotating base to help take aim. Catapults have been around ever since LEGO introduced the axle, and it's not hard to figure out why; they're easy to build, simple to reload, and straightforward to operate. Here are some images of LEGO catapults through the years. Their simplicity is their downfall, however. Catapults generally only launch one projectile at a time, they tend to take up a lot of space, and they are subject to a lot of human error. It is all too easy to misjudge the distance required fot launch. Because of their short range, LEGO catapults are clearly superior for the god guys's defensive fortifications. On the other hand, the bad guys' attack systems use distance and speed to maximum advantage, well suited to their offensive role. Let's take a look at what they use. The troll warrior mini-set uses a flick-fire missile system. Simple and effective, but hard to reload, tricky to fire, and easy to misjudge the strength needed for launch.The Troll Battle Wheel uses a spring-loaded Technic rubber dart cannon. Effective, but not very creative or authentic. The Skeleton Ship uses a rubber-band missile launcher, which is also effective, but like the dart cannon, it is slow to reload and can only handle one missile at a time. It tends not to shoot very far, either. This type of launcher is used in one Knight set, as well. The Troll Assault Wagon uses a system that is mimicked on the Troll Attack Warship: a rapid-fire shooter that uses a spring-loaded basketball base to flick the missiles out. This is a much more interesting (and promising) method of missile launching, so I did some additional research on it. After looking at other LEGO sets, I realized that the Trolls, even with all of their sophisticated weaponry, got three critical things wrong. To begin with, they used smooth axles for missiles. This was a huge mistake, because the missles are very loose in the Technic holding piece. They tend to fall out during loading, unloading, or heavy use. In addition, the natural shaking that occurs as the spring-loaded backboard strikes the missiles and the Technic bar drops down tends to cause the Technic balls to wiggle free of the end of the Technic axles. A far better approach is to use the smaller snap-in missiles with stud ends like those used in flick-fire missile launchers. There's a reason why flick-fire missiles are the most popular LEGO weapon launch systems today. The clip holds the missile in place until a sizeable forces strikes it, and it pops free. The problem is, the spring-loaded backboards can't deliver enough force to push flick-fire missiles free of their clutch power. Pulling the backboard too far back only causes the backboard to pop out of its anchoring--a problem that the LEGO Viking single-wide launcher addressed by placing a stop piece beneath the backboard. The troll sets do not have this stop piece, and oddly enough, neither does the Viking double-wide launcher. Instead, the Viking double-wide launcher has a crank mechanism that allows the operator to automate the firing of both launchers simultaneously, without having to worry about pulling the backboards back too far or not delivering enough force. The clever ninety-degree difference between the position of the pieces on the axle allows the launchers to alternate between firings. After observing thee features, I made significant improvements to my Troll Assault wagon, adding a stop piece and a crank. But the backstop was still not powerful enough to launch flick-fire missiles, and it also tended to swing back and forth in a way that further reduced the firing power on its front edge. A new solution was needed, and I found it in the LEGO Power Miners Boulder Blaster. The Boulder Blaster does not use flick-fire missiles, but it eliminates the spring-loaded problems altogether by switching to a rubber-band striker that cocks back via an off-center cam shaft turned by a wheel. It is somewhat similar to the blacksmith's forge from the same series. This preserves the automatic, rapid-fire function while providing, strong, consistent power. I rebuilt the Boulder Blaster missile-firing mechanism using theme-appropriate colors and pieces, and was pleased with the results. Well, some of them. There was still the matter of reloading. Each Technic clip holds only four missiles. Four turns of the wheel, and you're out. I needed a system that would provide enough clerance to allow the used clip to drop out the bottom and insert a fresh clip in the top. This proved impractical, however, as only launchers mounted on castle walls would be capable of such a feat. Instead, I turned to the Technic chain system, with works like an ammunition belt. A gear pulls the chain through and eliminates the need for a great deal of clearance. This extra space was put to use instead for swivel and tilt direction and degree control. Here, let me demonstrate how fast and smooth this is. Isn't it amazing? I also built one that uses a rotating wheel from the Power Miners series like a gun barrel. Now, you are probably wondering two things at this point. First, "Why am I so obsessed with building my own missile launching systems, when there are plenty of pre-built solutions available?" The other question you probably have is this: "Why does the LEGO Group not realize this and use this system in its sets?" Here's my personal pet theory. The LEGO Group has plenty of brilliant Master Builders and avid fans who have almost certainly thought of this before. But such an advanced system would have to be the centerpiece of a seet, not a feature. We can see that large, complex weapons often constitute 30-50% of a set, like the Viking launchers, the Boulder Blaster, and the Mars Mission space base. It is simply too much work, when simpler, more elegant solutions exist (but do not necessarily perform at such a high level). For example, it is easy to add flick-fire missiles to nearly any set from any theme--from super heros to city police. The Nexo Knights pioneered the "pizza launcher," as I call it, which is essentially a flick-fire launcher for circular (instead of cylindrical) missiles. Minifigures can now hold at least three different types of guns that use the flick-fire principle, but with the clutch power of single studs. There are even six-stud revolving-barrel cannons! Two often-overlooked missile-launching systems were more common in the past than they are today. Bionicle and Hero Factory extensively used ball shooters, and Exo-Force used disc launchers. ------ used pull-back plastic arms to launch frisbee-like discs (aiming was so hard, they made it a game to see how many you could get into the storage container). There have been a few versions of net launchers (see DINO attack, DINO 2000, Jurassic World, etc.). Even further back, LEGO Explorers used a track to help a large ball pick up speed, but it never left he ground, so I can't officially count it as a Projectile Propulsion System. One source of inspiration is LEGO Robotics, such as Mindstorms, NXT, and EV3. While we see a lot of motorized catapults, there are disc launchers and ball shooters, as well. The compressed-air pneumatic system promises a lot of potential for powering missile launch systems, but many people do not have access to the necessary LEGO power functions.