On Saturday, January 14, 2012, I packed the family in the car and drove the two hours from Huntsville to Birmingham, solely to attend AL BrickFair 2012 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. While not affiliated with Lego, the fair celebrates all things related to those wonderful, multicolored, little bricks. Although we arrived within an hour of opening, we found the small exhibit hall crammed with enthralled adults and joyous children. I used an old amusement park trick and guided my family to the back, but alas, many other people apparently know that trick too.
The Lego builds were quite impressive, each one built by enthusiasts of all ages. Most of the exhibits were from folks in Birmingham and Huntsville but I saw a number of displays from around the country; there was even one young builder who came over from France. My favorite part was the Mindstorms robots playing chess. Imagine a chessboard built out of Lego stretching 20 ft on each side. Each piece is a separate Mindstorms robot that is controlled by a central laptop, and signals are sent to the individual pieces through LabView. The programming was impressive. Pieces other than one being moved would would slide out of the way. Captured pieces dutifully wheeled themselves to the edge of the board. However, there was a problem with the pieces squaring themselves in the center of each square, and the presenter was constantly adjusting recently moved pieces using his foot or a window wiper on a 10′ pole. In a similar playing area a different set of robots were used to play Robo Rally. They took some liberties with the forms of the robot pieces; my favorite was the R2-D2 maneuvering around the board. The board was even more impressive than the chessboard; it was complete with pits, conveyors and spin squares. Repair and flag squares were marked as well.
Nearby was a city skyline with the largest Lego ‘glass’ and brick structure I’d ever seen. Approximately 8 feet tall, it was surrounded with a dozen other buildings representing a city block. Down the side roads were numerous Lego figures, including several platoons of stormtroopers. That seemed strange until I rounded the corner and saw a realistic DragonCon banner draped across one of the smaller buildings. The DragonCon parade is famous for its legions of marching stormtroopers.
A Rube Goldberg contraption transported miniature (1 inch) soccer balls down a 30 foot stretch, and back again. As I walked down the line I saw a river of balls bobbing along all sorts of Lego powered conveyors, pulleys and lifts. At the center of the line the balls were catapulted into the air to fall unerringly into a funnel. The balls resumed their jiggling and bouncing and at the end, a train conducted the balls back to start the process again.
There were several other displays dedicated to the many Lego themes. At one long table groups of girls, and women young at heart, were busily assembling the latest Lego lines of kits, Friends. A long airport runway was surrounded by a number of buildings, police and fire cars, and airplanes, inspired by the popular City line. Dozens of castles, large and small, showed off the imagination of their creators. Brick pits and tables scattered with Lego board games invited attendees to explore their imaginations. And of course, the fair was filled with Lego Star Wars Vehicles, Hoth ice bases and Episode I inspired battlegrounds.
If a BrickFair comes to your neck of the woods be wary in the vendor section. I could not find any kit for sale that was not marked up from list price. Having said that, there was a number of small aftermarket pieces for sale to customize your Lego creations. Most were weapons to be carried by a Lego miniature, with a wide variety of swords and guns. So if you need a Final Fantasy inspired wide bladed sword or a Klingon Bat’leth, you now know where to go.
I think nothing demonstrated how Lego inspires creativity and passion more than the family that created their own stop motion movie. They spent two years recreating the Biblical battle of Jericho using Lego figurines and sets. They did a pretty good job too, judging from the dozen folks watching the movie in the vendor area.
My nine year old son judged BrickFair to be a very worthy trip, and has a new gun to outfit his Lego figures. I agree it was well worth the drive. If there is one in your area, get there early and expect a boisterous crowd.
Wired: Everything under the sun pertaining to Lego, as well as a few things Lego doesn’t make.
Tired: Heavy crowds makes seeing the exhibits a slow process.
[Note: This post was written by former GeekDad contributor Robert Adams.]