Stressed by the Elements: Saturn V, Tiles, Plates and the Legality of Connections.

In which I build the Saturn V Ideas set, almost lose it in a wind gust, consider the legality of the American flag on the moon and Jamie Berard helps us to establish that plates and tiles are more different than we may have previously considered…

IMG_7086I have just been fortunate to complete one of the most satisfying builds I have attempted in recent years.  The LEGO® Ideas Saturn V Rocket  21309 was released on June 1st, to wide accalaim. The Rambling Brick was fortunate to secure a copy on release day, courtesy of of the LEGO® Community Engagement Team.  Any opinions expressed here are, however, my own. The set has been subject to backorder on for some time, and production continues to catch up with demand.  This may take some time.

IMG_7116Since completing the model, I have been confronted by a severe weather warning, with the possibility of destructive winds – up to 120 km/h (roughly 70MPH).  This is a shame, as the winter sun has been shining brightly today: just what you need to take stirring, outdoor shots of an amazing model.  On setting the model up outside, it became apparant that there are reasons for spaceflights being delayed due to bad weather.  I managed one or two shots before catching the falling bohemoth, as it attempted to attain equilibrium in its ongoing battle with the forces of nature. That is to say, i caught it before it hit the ground.

Perhaps I’ll try again on a less windy day.

There have been endless articles discussing the LEGO® Ideas program, the quality of the building experience (Spoiler: it’s awesome), the number of printed elements (fun fact: the letters U-S-A can be rearranged to spell AUS- I wish our country had a manned space program ‘back in the day’), it’s overall size (it is one meter/metre/ 3’3″ tall), the nostalgia for adults who were enchanted by the moon program as children (or adults!), the way you can store it upright or lying down on the handy stand and just how there came to be a coincidental 1969 elements in the build ( including the brick seperater, which I made a point of having to use).  So I will not bore you with any of those.

Distress from the elements

IMG_7111I would, however, like to discuss something with you that had been bothering me about the final phases of the build.  Specifically the moon landing vignette. Look at the American flag.  It’s printed on a transparent clear tile. The tile is wedged between two studs.

IMG_7108This is a move that has been used in the depths of LEGO® history, but not in recent years. Examples in ancient history include 617 Cowboys, and 375 Yellow Castle.  However, plates have also been used (697: Stagecoach) in this setting.  More recently, there have been discussions about the legality of using it as a building technique. By using the term ‘legal’, I am referring to a technique or connection that fits into the set of rules for designers to use when creating a LEGO® set.  Just because a connection is possible does not mean that it is in the best interests of your LEGO® pieces.

horses ears

Stressing the Elements

In a presentation that has been circulating the internet for a few years, ‘Stressing the Elements’, Jamie Berard, now Design Manager for Creative Expert talks about the principles of legal and illegal building techniques, as far as contemporary set design is concerned.  This particularly relates to techniques where bricks may ‘just fit’ or potentially damage elements. Pieces connected to other pieces should not be under stress – with constant compression, or forced into situations where there may be technical limititions.

This presentation specifically mentions wedging a plate between two studs as ‘illegal’.  This has been used in the past, as I mentioned, but not in recent years. (page 24 for those playing at home).  But does this apply to tiles?

Setting the Record Straight

At the LEGO Fan Media Days in June, I had the opportunity to ask Jamie Berard about the use of this technique, and questioned it’s legality. He was happy to clarify a few issues with me:

Jamie Berard:“It is important that you know, that is is an old version of the presentation.  We are aware that it is out ‘in the wild’ but it has been updated. That is not the version we use for inhouse presentations anymore. There are a few issues with plates: plates are  slightly thicker than tiles. So, even if you take a 2×2 plate with a single stud and finger groove, as was used in the LEGO Games (Ed. that is Design ID 87580), it is just a little thicker, to provide strength in accomodating the studs. Also,the height of a stud is slightly greater than the distance between the edge of the plate and the stud, so it cannot completely fit in place.”

RB: “So, are you saying tiles slot in easily, and don’t put any stress on the studs?”

JB: “That’s right”

Taking it to the LEGOratory

between studsSo I took this knowledge home to the Rambling Brick LEGOratory, to see what I could learn from this new found knowledge.

Was this something that could be Empirically tested, or just a theoretical construct set up by those who have access to the actual molds?

I placed a 2×4 plate, a 2×2 plate with one knob and a 2×4 tile, edge on between the studs of a 4×8 plate.  There is no doubt that the tile was able to slide in easily.  The modified plate was definately firmer to put into place.  When placing the plate, there is an obvious increase in force required to push it into place.  Then, when looking at it from the side, there is a very definate gap between the base of the plate, and the edge of the plate inserted in between the studs.

Then, in an exercise stressing the limits of my macro lens and personal visual acuity, placed the plate, tile and modified plate all on plate, and focussed on the borders between the elements as best as I could.

tile plate.pngIt would seem that the  non-studded aspect of a plate is roughly 5.7% thicker than the tile. This is approximately 0.2mm, marginally thicker that the text ‘LEGO’ that appears on top of a stud.  I accept there may be a little parallax error creeping in here.  I also wish I owned a micrometer to confirm this difference. Do you have one? Can you check for me? Why not let me know in the comments below

This may not change the way that I get to sleep at night, but it does help to explain why the tile between studs has been used more frequently in history, and why it remains able to be used today, whereas a similar move with a plate may not be so readily accepted, even if it is possible.

In conclusion:

If you have the slightest interest in the subject matter, this is a great set to build, display and marvel at! The building techniques used maintain a good level of interest, even though you are essentially building a tapering tube.  If you are unable to get it in the short term, be patient. I believe it is worth the wait.  The chance to clarify the difference between plates and tiles, and what might be considered a legal connection with one, but not with another was interesting, and helps to increase my understanding as far as how the design process works for LEGO® sets.

For the record: FIVE OUT OF FIVE Arbitrary Praise Units.

I hope this has been of interest to someone out there. If it was you, why not let me know in the comments below, and follow the blog for further news, reviews and exploration of the insignificant and interesting.

Until Next time


Play Well!


15 thoughts on “Stressed by the Elements: Saturn V, Tiles, Plates and the Legality of Connections.

  1. Interesting analysis of a building technique that I have never tried! I am still on the fence about this set… The science/space geek in me is just dying to have it. The “responsible”, budgeting adult inside is telling me that Ninjago City and the Old Fishing Store will both be released in the next few weeks, and they go better with my LEGO city (and will also cost an arm and a leg).

  2. Grabbing some parts around the office and my calipers, I measured the following parts:
    tile 1×2 – 3.14mm
    plate w/ 1 stud – 3.17mm
    plate 2×2 – 3.2mm

  3. Wonderful Article, and very useful info when building int he future 🙂 I bought the Apollo V on release day, had to wait 2 weeks for it to be back in stock, but worth the wait, and worth every penny!

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