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“Illegal” Lego Builds (2006) [pdf] (bramlambrecht.com)
387 points by nvr219 25 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments

Ah this explains why my kid brought me that cylinder-through-cone for me to take apart.

BTW the last slide says "Play Well". That's what you get when you tranlate "Leg Godt" from Danish. Which is where you get Lego from.

A useful reminder that LEGO is actually a set of injection moulded parts with extremely fine tolerance, such that even the printing must be taken into account. It looks like they've run some of those models through finite element analysis software to calculate the force too.

Some of my mechanical engineering friends think of working at LEGO the way others think of working at Space X or NASA. I’m pretty sure all of those models have run through finite element analysis.

Stupidly tight tolerances, tons of computer analysis, modular parts and making things out of plastic are a fresh out of school ME's wet dream.

It takes age and experience to develop a taste for making things that are loose and cheap but through creativity of design still somehow manage to do the job.

Also note: don't use pieces outside of LEGO or Technic. That includes powerful motors attached to technic axles, steel axles or bricks, bearings, etc. The bricks were designed with certain assumptions in mind and you will ruin your pieces over time doing that. Source: experience.

I think if you want to avoid ruining pieces, you need to be more careful than just not using third party components, e.g.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umN2iHsw3UY

This channel is amazing! At some point, yt recommended it and that was the only time it recommended something truly unique. The channel not only does hoisting tests but also rev-tests, which are interesting as well.

That channel is partially why I made the comment. Using LEGO to do things that obviously strain the pieces beyond what's intended is not advisable. Really fun though!

That video is surprisingly stressful to watch

That was a great video. Just run everything in parallel. And make sure you get decent string.

My god. Poor Lego.

Amazing video

Wait, this is HN! Figuring out how to use things in a way they were not intended to be used is the very essence of hacking ;)

I seriously wonder how much of engineering and architecture progress humanity made exactly because there is a generation that grew up with toys like Lego.

What is the origin of this document? Is it meant for designers at LEGO? Very cool!

Most interesting was the description of the Audi kit that changed their testing process.

The presentation is about the rules that LEGO designers use internally, but it was delivered to an audience of fans at the 2006 BrickFest convention.

It's a document describing "illegal" ways of putting bricks together, which means that they are not for the designers of LEGO but amateur (as in non-official builds) builders as they are usually not as strong and using the bricks in a way not intended by the design.

Edit: if you read through the posted documents of the "Legal vs Illegal" ways of putting bricks together, some of them have description of why it's considered illegal.

For example:

"Both ends of a Technic hole are larger than the diameter in the middle. Until it ‘snaps’ into place, the half-peg is in compression and could be permanently damaged over time. Also, by not being locked into place, the element can easily pop out during play."

Edit2: actually, now when I read it again, it does seem to be a document for official LEGO designers (from LEGO designer Jamie Berard) about how to NOT design the sets. Sorry for the confusion.

> some of them have description of why it's considered illegal.

They all do. The slides are "animations" displayed on sequences of slides. As far as I noticed, every illegal technique had an explanation of why.

Most of these seem very natural (if you've messed with LEGO before), but I hadn't realized that specific materials choices were the reason that the cone-around-bar construction is a problem (I remember having a terrible time trying to undo that exact configuration). Super interesting deck!

One thing that the presentation only slightly addresses is the standards for overall structural integrity. Official sets seemed to favor a very "light" building style (to make constructions simpler? to save on materials?) that had a reasonably sturdy base (so the set can be picked up without collapsing) but which were vulnerable to lateral attacks or dropping (which would shatter stacked stud-based connections). My experience was that you could typically make models much stronger by adding vertical/diagonal braces via technic pieces.

This is pretty awesome. A lot these are pretty intuitive and the satisfying "click" is definitely something a child can understand.

LEGO has more rules than this in my opinion. One thing that I did not understand as a kid was why other kids built things where there were no 'rules' when it came to colour. If I built a house then the bricks would have to be consistent regarding colour, the scope and design would be limited to what was available. If there weren't enough bricks of a given colour for the roof (for instance) then there would have to be a design consideration there, so maybe a line of substitute colour bricks could be used, or another house in the town scene rebuilt to get the required coloured bricks with that one having the substitute colour.

Using all the bricks in the suitcase would also be a requirement, so larger projects, e.g. that Saturn 5 rocket would be a skilled use of available resources, the limits on the design being the black and white bricks for the actual rocket with the obligatory lunar rover able to be made in another colour, e.g. yellow. A randomly coloured Saturn 5 would not fly.

I also think that there should be an occasional worrying project from a child's creativity. For instance, if the news has some story of military exuberance then a child really should be modelling whatever it is, in this day and age something like a Predator drone would fit the bill. Political statements from ten year old kids in LEGO art remind the parents of what their world has become.

Feng Shui is also another rule. This has to be innately learned and understood. This is how to learn what design is, by experimenting and refining one's LEGO craft. Taste is a vague thing and if you can build tasteful LEGO models then that sets you up in life for being able to think for yourself in other domains and do better than the instructions on the back of the box.

The lessons learned apply to the web, if you can create fantastic LEGO models and have the taste to get the rules of what goes mechanically as well as regarding unofficial colour and Feng Shui rules then there is no reason why you can't create beauty online in a world where everyone else is serving up div soup, copying from the instructions.

I love how the audi tt lego car is as poorly engineered as the real deal.

As a kid I figured out the perpendicular connection trick, the height of a “1” tall (flat plate kind of) piece is the same as the width between two pegs, so you can wedge em in there for neat reasonably sturdy perpendicular connections.

(A standard brick is 3 tall, in this calculus)

Yes, more precisely the elementary unit is the difference between the width and height of a 1x1x1 brick, which is also:

* half the height of a plate.

* the distance between the edge of the brick and the edge of the stud (half the distance between studs)

* one third the diameter of studs

* the height of the studs, except for the LEGO logo (which means that in some cases hollow or recessed studs are very helpful, because an illegal connection can become legal with hollow studs; https://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?P=8586... is a very useful element in some intricate builds).

* the difference between the base and the top of the headlight brick https://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?P=4070

* the thickness of angle brackets such as https://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?id=109...

The LEGO system is great and everything makes a lot more sense once you figure out that the height of 1 brick and 2 plates is the same as the width of 2 bricks. For example I made a car where the sides are built "front to back" and attached sideways to the chassis (https://rebrickable.com/mocs/MOC-7455/bonzinip/awd-champions...).

In addition, the inside diameter of hollow studs is the same as the diameter of clips and minifigure hands, and the same as the inside diameter of Technic pegs. There are a lot of newer parts that use this "secondary" system, but the basic measurements were established in the 70s. See http://www.newelementary.com/2016/12/bravo-three-one-eight.h... for more information.

I use Lego blocks as a metaphor for mathematics (a discrete number of building blocks, with rules how one can connect them to each other). In this context, an explicit list of illegal constructions makes this metaphor even stronger.

A plate slotted into another at right angles, and plugging a brick into a fence, were standard techniques when I was a lad. Returning to Lego in later years with my own kids, the various bricks introduced in the interim with studs on top and the sides, obviating these hacks, were the most glaring (and welcome) innovations.

I believe the Lego fan jargon for the side-quest pieces is SNOT blocks (studs not on top).

I always thought SNOT just meant that you couldn't see any studs on the presentation surface, for example, such that if you took a picture of your model then you wouldn't see any studs.

Is it broader, like to mean using a brick in such a way that normally the studs would be on top but now they're in a different position? Or something like that, e.g., not just in the overall aesthetic?

I admittedly don't really know all of the terminology. My kid has recently gotten old enough for LEGO, so I'm starting to learn more (or relearn what I knew as a kid myself maybe).

If you want to see actually illegal Lego, Google "lepin star wars"

Come at me, LEGO police

Awesome! When I was a kid busy tinkering with this stuff, I often wondered whether models made by set designers had to adhere to a minimum standard of structural integrity. Now it seems a standard does exist, and here are all the illegal moves. I wonder how exhaustive is the list, and whether there is a document with a set of legal builds considered best practice?

Slide 12. "... the resistance becomes too great and there is the potential for elements (and children) being stressed."

Note that this still pertains to the old (studded) Technic bricks, not the new (studless) ones.

Studded Technic bricks are used a lot in non-Technic builds these days.

From a builder's perspective, all rules are advisory. You may want the specific effect these rules state is a problem - what if you want something to detach with less force than the "click"?

But these rules are really for Lego's internal use - I can understand the company wanting to make sure that kits it sells work properly in isolation, but obviously they can't control the other kits it will be mixed with. Maybe this means that they should have considered more possible combinations when designing those particular parts?

Anyone know the software they used for those models? Some artifacts remind me of the early build of Sketch-Up.

Lego Digital Designer, or LDD. No longer supported, but you can still download it and use it in Offline Mode.


Slide #34 is the best.

(Questions? No (+ jokes))

I was surprised by page 24: "Definitely Illegal!"

The ⊥ shape is apparently illegal because "because the receiving brick has smaller dimensions than the one being connected to it."

I always thought that was intentionally possible.

I am fairly certain that several older models that I had as a kid had this designed in. So Lego themselves changed their stance on this over time.

It's legal with a tile, illegal with a plate due to the LEGO logo getting in the way.

So happy to see this here, I was looking for the slide deck for months but wasn’t able to google for it and everyone I asked didn’t know it.

Also, don't let your family gift your children with counterfeit blocks. I know it isn't socually acceptable to complain when you receive gifts but I had to lecture my family I will not accept even single counterfeit block because they ruin the fun.

Lego is expensive. Not everybody has the kind of money to buy brand name Lego. As a Lego 'puritan' I would never give anything but the real thing to kids but if someone were to give my kid a present that is not 'the original' the only words I would use would be 'thank you', after all, who am I to judge someone else's purchasing power.

The plastic they use used to be very good but more recent mixes are actually not all that good, they turn brittle after just a few months outside of the packaging. Especially 1x1's will spontaneously cracked when they have been connected to a stud at the bottom.

Counterfeit blocks aren't really counterfeit either, Lego itself is a counterfeit product, it was an idea taken from a UK company.

If you get a set of megablocks mixed in with LEGO, your kids will regret it over time.

Unless you want to keep two separate organization systems and never cross build, I had to say thank you, write a nice card, and then donate it.

Lego is a company with name and patents. Other products purporting to be "Lego" while not produced by the company named Lego are counterfeit according to EU law.

I understand Lego seems expensive and that might have something to do with the sticker price dictated by the appeal the blocks have to the buyers and also quality control the company has in place to make sure everything is durable and fits perfectly. I have 30 year old blocks and new ones and everything snaps together predictably and tightly. I also haven't noticed any of the bricks get brittle over time. I fully expect my grandchildren to keep playing with the blocks I played with as a child.

The fact that blocks are getting constant use over many, many years makes them actually very cheap compared to other toys that frequently get broken in hours or days and get quickly forgotten. My kids 3 and 5 spend large part of their time playing Lego which makes me not regret the hefty price of the blocks.

The sticker price is bad way of deciding whether the toy is cheap or expensive. Is $1000 toy that will be constant source of enjoyment and creative education over many years (and possibly your grandchildren) an expensive one compared to $30 toy that will offer no educational value, will only make loud repetitive noises and get broken in couple of hours and quickly forgotten? I don't think so.

There are other formats of blocks that are much cheaper and do not purport to be Lego-interchangeable. Just use those if you are concerned with costs.

Most of the legal related points you raise above are demonstrably false.

Nearly all of Lego's patents have expired across the world, and as of today it is perfectly legal for companies to release competing products that are compatible with Lego's interlocking brick system.

There are many manufacturers releasing compatible bricks, most famous of which (at least in the west) is Mega Brands, a Canadian company, known for MegaBloks and Mega Construx. More recently quite a few Chinese companies have popped up such as Lepin and Oxford.

Today, most of Lego's legal battles involve companies stealing the designs of Lego sets (as in, the full set design, brick for brick) and re-releasing them, the primary culprit being Lepin. Oxford primarilly release their own designs and therefore are left alone.

Your quality arguments do hold some merit though, as the design process of both the set and element design that Lego goes through is unmatched. However at least in the quality department, Chinese brands are coming close. They however have the benefit of Lego doing all the design for them in the first place.


Sources: https://boingboing.net/2005/11/17/judge-to-lego-your-p.html https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/lego-loses-... http://curia.europa.eu/juris/liste.jsf?language=en&num=C-48/... https://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/02/business/worldbusiness/bu...

Lego's patents were in about as bad faith as you could possibly find. They stole someone else's idea after obtaining samples, made some improvements and patented the result.


They bought the company later in an attempt to whitewash all this sordid history.

The problem is that they tend to have dimensions that almost match. If I make a wall of bricks, and put a single off-brand brick in it, then suddenly the wall isn't fitting together anymore properly because of that mismatched size. The same goes for all kinds of more complicated constructions.

They're compatible enough so that they can be connected with lego pieces, but incompatible enough so that they shouldn't be connected with lego pieces. So we keep all the off-brand bricks in a separate boxes to avoid intermixing; you make a whole thingy only from lego bricks and a different thingy only from not-lego bricks.

Some b-brands are junk; not worth the price of admission. But I've also seen - and checked - a bunch of really good fakes, especially 'Blox' is so good that it passes almost every test that I can throw at it including aging in sunlight over long term exposure.

the problem is not lego clones but poor quality lego clones. however with the patents for the lego material expired the clones are now of sufficient quality that it is hard to distinguish them from the original.

Does their software check these design rules automatically?

#13 made me physically ill

Lego has made their decision, now let them enforce it.

Is there a reason that they’re using such low polygon count models? They look like poorly exported STLs from some CAD package.

They're screenshots from a 13 year old desktop application. In 2006 The Elder Scrolls Oblivion was considered high-end graphics.

In 2002 I was using well established CAD software that handled curves just fine. One of my first undergrad projects was modelling LEGO.

CAD is a different beast to game engines.


There was even a shareware version called Pro/Desktop.

These screenshots are from a consumer-oriented LEGO design tool designed to run on a typical PC.

And these CAD packages also ran on typical PCs. Most of my classmates used their own laptops; I couldn’t afford one. Sure you’ll need a powerful workstation for a full assembly of a complex machine like a car where every part is fully modelled and contrained (oddly enough today’s packages continue to sap vastly superior resources to do much the same work) but drawing a high quality LEGO block with just primary features with Phong shading is trivial for consumer hardware from 2002. There’s more polygons in the 3D spinning screensavers in Windows 2000.

The shareware tool Pro/Desktop was incredibly light. There’s some misconception here that PCs couldn’t draw a few hundred polygons as recently as the early noughties.

Looking at LEGO specific software and tools like LeoCAD, which originated in the late nineties, they appear to have been able to render bricks just fine. I’m left with the impression that the images used were done so with an artistic intent.

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