LET ME tell you a story. Years ago, before LEGO® Life, before the internet, and before instructions required us to place only 2-4 elements per step, it was common to find inspirational ideas for further constructions on the back of the box that you bought your LEGO sets in. No Instructions. No parts list. Just a single picture. Sometime several. Town, Castle, Space: all themes from ‘back in the day’ featured these alternate builds. And they provided inspiration to further develop our play ideas.
As time has passed, these alternative builds have often vanished – unless a set is labelled two-in-one or three-in-one. There are many reasons for this. A story relayed to me in the middle of Denmark a couple of years ago suggested that in part it was because LEGO customer service kept getting requests for the instructions from distraught parents. There is no doubt that over the years, we have seen an increase the baseline ‘difficulty’ of a set. The average part count has increased, the average part size has decreased and we have a much broader parts palette than ever before, and an increasingly sophisticated way of joining elements together than was in use forty years ago. Back in the 70’s life was simpler, we hadn’t started (on the whole) to build out in different directions yet: we were yet to see the Erling Brick (also known as the headlamp brick or washing machine brick) – that didn’t appear until 1980. And the only elements with real curves were wheels, radar dishes and arches. Life was much simpler.
And because of this level of simplicity, it was easy to give a young mind a nudge, and see a new vehicle or building created. And so the LEGO Ideas book 6000 entered our lives. There had been prior Ideas Books – Produced every few years since the 1960’s. One of the early books followed adventures of a brick built family travelling around town, providing ideas for vehicles, buildings, animals and people. But because of the scale involved, some of these models were relatively large, and would have taxed the collection of even the most enthusiastic family of LEGO fans.
Then in 1978 we saw the arrival of minifigures: celebrating 40 years last year, Castle and Town provided different eras in which to play, with Space following close behind (waiting until 1979 in some markets – including Australia). Past, Present and Future.
But now we had minifigures, as well as a variety of sets ( including both new and old parts). An approximate scale could be readily derived, and three buildings could well mark the start of a town. And it was in this milieu that the 6000 Ideas book arrived. My copy is dated 1979, and the price tag on the cover would suggest that I probably got it for Christmas that year.
In an era where many models could be reversed engineered by a nine year old with patience and a box full of bits, this book gave us inspiration in town, space and castle (even if some of it seems a little weird when viewed with 20/20 hindsight).
We followed the adventures of two characters – initially unnamed, the 1980 edition ( certainly the American edition) named them Bill and Mary. With torso prints not available in sets, these two characters took their appearance from stickers included in the centre of the book. Closer inspection suggests that Bill may have been made by applying the blue and white stripes to the torso from 646/361. Mary’s white torso/red legs were available as part the Red Cross Car (623) or the 606 Ambulance. The hair might have been slightly harder to find… The brown hair appeared in several town sets 1979, while Mary’s red hair first appeared in the days of the ‘stage extra’/proto-minifigure in 1975’s Hospital 363, and then in the Castle set 383 Knights Joust in 1979.
Now that we have some characters, we also get a story, as well as building hints and ideas: There is plenty of information provided about the comings and goings in their town, and as you look through the wordless book, the story leaps up, and becomes more and more engaging. And it goes something like this – but not exactly, because this is how I interpreted it. I could be wrong…)
Bill and Mary: A Love Story, Filled with Adventure
Bill and Mary are an optimistic young couple, who are new in town. Mary is working as a teacher in the local elementary school, teaching third grade children the finer aspects of spelling and multiplication tables, while Bill works as a logistics officer at the local port facility.
Having recently moved to the area, they build a house. They then head off to visit the town: Mary goes to the hairdresser’s – while Bill does the supermarket shopping, and enjoys a cup of coffee.
They return home, only to find their house on fire. If only they had used a qualified electrician. Fortunately, this LEGO Town is well equipped with emergency services, including a fire brigade that is second to none. Police and ambulance also attend.
Later, demonstrating either extraordinary resilience, or adopting an inappropriately optimistic mindset, Bill and Mary go to the circus. After riding the horse and enjoying watching the performing animals, they go out to dinner at the Windmill Restaurant.
The next day, their house has moved closer to town, and had a second floor added. They organise for someone to deliver their new furniture, grateful that it had not yet been installed in the house before the fire. On the spur of the moment, Mary buys a new coffee maker.
After taking delivery Bill returns to work at the shipping company, and Mary walks over to the school.
After work, Bill picks Mary up, and they take a drive through the picturesque countryside. As they head back towards the town, their car suffers a catastrophic tyre failure.
Not content to merely puncture, the tyre has escaped the embrace of the wheel rim, and made a crazy dash for freedom, leaving Bill and Mary stranded for a while.
Using a roadside emergency telephone Bill is able contact a tow-truck driver. He agrees to take them back to town, and tow fix the wheel at his garage. For a fee. And it will take a little while.
To pass the time, they visit the local airport – with lax perimeter fence security – and they stand by the tarmac to watch the planes come and go. Bill and Mary are both plane spotters and like nothing more than to spend an afternoon at the airport watching the activity, and hoping to get a view of the new helicopter ambulance that has just arrived in town.
They return to the garage, on foot, just in time to find their car ready to pickup. Mary reminds Bill to take better care of the tire’s air pressure in the future.
With sore feet, and a ringing in their ears, they decide to spend the evening at the cinema, watching the latest release: It Came From Classic Space.
It’s a great film, full of adventure, intrigue and wonderful gadgets, but runs until late in the night.
Bill and Mary are the last to leave the cinema, and on arriving in the car park, they find their car, along with its newly repaired tyre, missing. Its its place, they find a spaceship. So they do the only thing that you would consider doing if you found a spaceship, after your car was stolen whilst watching a film full of inspiring images of outer space: They put on air tanks and helmets, and take it for a ride.
What happens next will astound you!
Come back next week as we continue our exploration of the 6000 Ideas Book. But we are not just going to revisit the story: Once we have completed this story, we will go on a larger, wider reaching quest…
But more of that next week. Until then,