My mom would take me to visit her parents, which (once the sun went down and I couldn't run around outside) was very boring. I didn't have my huge lego collection from home, but they did have a small collection from when their kids were younger.
No hinges, no spinners, no windows - basically nothing special, just bricks and long-thin-flat pieces. (I don't know the terms).
boring, boring, boring...until I discovered that you could take a thin piece and connect one dot from above and below to other pieces( "-=" ), and that piece was now free to swivel. If the two pieces you used were also long thin pieces, you could connect the other end to a single dot of a fourth piece, and you now had a double joint. ( "-=-" )
I built many "robots" top play with like this, that were basically 90 degrees from normal (the "top" of the legos would be the "front" of the robot.
I played with Legos for years in a variety of ways, but this was one of the few where I "discovered" something. Other times I learned to alter direction of the build by containing a length of joints inside a "tunnel" of bricks, so that the plane of the joints would be at 90 degrees to the plane of the bricks (the "top" of the bricks could be the "top" of the figure, while the "top" of the joints would be the "front" of the figure, or vice-versa). This allowed me to build humanoid figures with knees that faced forward but arms that bent outward or over the "chest", or scorpion-like figures with claws that closed side-to-side but legs that extended out to the sides and moved up-down.
Later I expanded the collection with more special pieces that allowed me to put such joints on hinges or spinners, but I honestly believe I'd never have gotten there if I hadn't been bored with no other options. I'm POSITIVE others knew these tricks, but I never encountered it in any of their materials and I didn't have friends to tell me.
I was excited about mindstorms, but as they became more advanced when I was just out of college and busy learning how to handle a marriage and a career I never got into them, and I wonder if they encourage their own sort of discovery like that, or if it's too specific.
The analogy would be following the Lego set instructions vs. self-directed free play with a few limited pieces is like traditional math class vs. learning math via playing with the Logo turtle.
Also the “Lego Mindstorms” product was a collaborative effort with the MIT media lab, and is named after Papert’s book.
That opens up tons of interesting possibilities. Goes to show you what a kid can think of when they want to have some fun.
> busy learning how to handle a marriage and a career I never got into them
Well, I hope your kids get a chance to do that, you may live vicariously through them.