All posts by Benjamin Flessner

Donut Math

I’m definitely playing too much of The Simpsons: Tapped Out these days. Eventually I’ll move onto other obsessions, but since I did some interesting math (and I hate throwing anything away that can be preserved digitally), I thought I’d share the results of a mathematical solution I came up with.

Donuts are the “premium” currency in the game – i.e. they’re what you can spend real money on, and they enable you to progress through quests and tasks more quickly as well as let you buy premium items, characters, and decorations. As you progress through levels, you earn bonus donuts until you reach level 939. After that, each “level up” gives you a choose-a-door option where you can win 1, 2, or 3 donuts. You can always spend $50k (in-game currency) to open up another package if you don’t like your first option, and there have been several lines of thought as to what the best strategy is to go for here. I went for a different tack – I already had more in-game dollars than I could ever spend, and placing a few bloodmobiles (the free-donut engine of choice among high-level TSTO-ers) would bring up several of these level-up bonuses in a row. Because I know time is my most precious commodity, I set out to figure what was the fastest method of getting donuts, regardless of the price in dollars.

Continue reading Donut Math

40,000 Lego Technic Pieces

Someone at work asked about my storage system, and since I tend to share way too many details, I figured I’d turn it into a blog post instead.

First off – a couple disclaimers: this is not a brag post. I know there are plenty of collectors out there with walls and walls of meticulously-sorted Lego parts and I’ve (mostly) gotten over my inferiority complex and accepted that I’ll never have a massive collection like them. On the flip side, this is certainly not a prescription on how to do anything. It’s just a continually-changing work-in-progress that meets my needs right now: a cheap and easy-to-find-everything-in-reach solution for building sets and MOCs from my desk.

Continue reading 40,000 Lego Technic Pieces

20 Years of Technic – Part II

I’m quite behind on updating these, but I’ve continued building all Winter (actually, I’ll let you in on a secret – it’s actually July and I’m finally creating this article; maybe I’ll surround it with other builds; maybe it’ll be the last one ever!).

I finally got all the pieces to create the full 8856 helicopter (with proper light gray parts, not that newfangled light “bluish” gray) and put it next to a helicopter MOC I had sitting around since November. Amazingly, the “flex cable system” parts still work quite well, if a little finicky. (The joystick in the cockpit tilts the top rotors in both directions)

As a coworker just said – it’s pretty crazy comparing Lego instructions from 30 years ago to today. I had to do a lot more stud-counting and axle measurements than I do nowadays. Also, we’re now spoiled by axle-colors (evens are usually red or black, odds are gray or yellow); back then, everything was black.

After sorting out all the light-gray from light-bluish-gray pieces (especially the half-pins…. :shudder:), I may end up just leaving this one together on display. I don’t want to go through that again, and realistically, I never end up using the old studded Technic parts in new MOCs. Alternatively (hah) I really enjoy completely alt-builds, so maybe I’ll try to make something using just these parts. Who knows… maybe I’ll end up with more than 3 designed MOCs on Rebrickable yet…

20 Years of Lego Technic

Written in late 2019 during back-log review of Lego interest

The next Lego experiment didn’t cost me a dime. Well, it probably did awhile ago. One of my old Technic sets from my childhood was 8856 – Whirlwind Rescue, and when we were digging out Legos, we discovered I still had all of the rarest pieces from this set. Knowing I had built the helicopter a few times before, I thought I’d check out the hovercraft. Some of the gears are a little touchy and tend to pop off, but overall, it’s a pretty fun look and neat mechanics.

Well, the Jet Plane that was currently a shark also has a hovercraft MOC. I thought I’d build it and compare it to my old set which was originally released in 1991. They were amazingly similar! It’s especially interesting to compare the old studded designs to the now mostly-studless Technic construction. It’s also much nicer to use fat gears as turning knobs rather than smooth discs. Still, pretty fun to see two designs just over 20 years apart turn out so similar!

Local Estate Lego Deals

Written in late 2019 during back-log review of Lego interest

While I was scooping up deals on Star Wars critters, a local estate-sale company started listing dozens of Lego sets on an online auction site. I missed most of the first round, even though many lots went for $1 or $2. I wasn’t particularly interested in them, but figured if I could get them for a buck, they’d be worth it for the parts. For the second round, I was more successful, and I got a LOT of parts. Let’s dig in.

The one set I did get from the first round was the 70818-Lego Movie’s Double-Decker Couch. My kids put it together while I was on my trip and sent me this picture of Ghost Vitruvius with an actual half-eaten sucker. It is also a great set containing many minifigs. Even though I already had Emmet and Unikitty from Lego Dimensions, Ghost Vitruvius, Lord Business, and Benny were great additions. L has taken a particular fondness for having Benny operate some of my heavy Technic machinery…. but I’m getting ahead of myself…

Continue reading Local Estate Lego Deals

Growing Star Wars Family

Written in late 2019 during back-log review of Lego interest

During a business trip to Atlanta, I bought, destroyed, re-built (with the help of a good friend from Epic), and then packed 75187 – BB-8. That’s right – I’ll travel halfway across the country for a good deal! Of course, at the same time a Slickdeal popped up for the 75230 – Porg set, so that was waiting at home for the girls to help build.

The seller of this BB-8 didn’t feel too inclined to disassemble him before delivery, so I sort of half-closed my eyes while I took him apart because I much prefer the enjoyment of assembling these sets rather than just seeing them sit on the shelf (which is probably why, instead of them sitting on my shelf, they’re now going to a family member to enjoy as they see fit).

Since I built BB-8 all by myself, it was only fitting that the Porg was built by my daughter upon my return from Atlanta. After that, I discovered there had been a little Lego store polybag of a mini-Porg that I just had to add to the family. Interestingly, I built him entirely from pictures, only to discover at the very end that instructions were available online if you looked very carefully. Oh well, it was fun to create on my own! So while they were on my shelf, I did have a little Star Wars family (both the BB-8 and Porg sets came with minifig-sized versions as well).

Porg, BB-8, Mini-Porg, Baby-Porg, Baby-BB-8, and a Couple of Droids

Below is the story of how I shared my discovery, murder, and reanimation of the newest member of the Flessner lego family.

Continue reading Growing Star Wars Family

Red Shark – a Technic Marvel

Previously I had explored a couple of MOCs (My Own Creations) of my kids’ sets that others had posted on Rebrickable, but this was the first complex MOC of one of my own Technic sets. User Tomik took a jet plane set and created something totally different: a Red Shark that had fluid tail wagging and mouth-opening actions. Even though it was a quarter number of pieces as the modular Pet Shop, I remember in particular my dad being particularly impressed – expressing disbelief that an airplane set could turn into this!

I had also heard this could be motorized, and I did eventually get the basic power functions motor kit to wire this up. I’ll admit I needed some help getting it connected up, as my experience with “new era” Technic is not quite up-to-snuff. But once I had the motor connected, this became the kindling to what would eventually become my obsession – complex mechanical technic builds! This seemed like a marvel at the time, but I hadn’t seen nothin’ yet!

10218 – Pet Shop Modular – a great family experience

Written in late 2019 during back-log review of Lego interest

My first “real” Lego set after the dark age was the modular Pet Shop. Although this was before I started doing lots of documentary pictures of builds, this was a fantastic experience for the whole family. Essentially two separate buildings with 3 floors each, this allowed each of my daughters to share a section of the building. Even our 5yo can proudly point to a section and say she built it.

Of course, since I bought it used, it did unfortunately come minus a few missing pieces. Fortunately there’s Bricklink – an amazing place to find loose parts and old sets, but little did I know the rabbit hole I was about to get sucked down into…!

Continue reading 10218 – Pet Shop Modular – a great family experience

Building the fake UCS Imperial Star Destroyer

Written in late 2019 during back-log review of Lego interest

The very first set out of my “dark age” wasn’t even a real Lego set! I had researched and collected a “wanted list” of complex sets, mostly comprised of modular buildings and a few Star Wars sets (sure, who wouldn’t want to build the Death Star?). I had done research and known Lepin was a bad, bad brand since they essentially steal Lego designs and re-sell them as their own. Off-brand bricks are fine; copying designs and assembly instructions page by page is definitely not. Still, when I saw a Craigslist ad for a 3000-piece star destroyer for $50, I perked up. Though it was only $270 when it was released in 2002, used sets routinely go for $700 minimum online. I knew I was taking a risk (and hurting my self pride), but I got the thing for $40.

Essentially the experiment was to see how bad these Lepin bricks were and also just build something huge and get rid of it as quickly as I could. Surprisingly, most of the bricks were pretty decent for being off-brand. The instructions were nicely spiral-bound, though the 1:1 images were laughably NOT full-size (more like 80-90% sized), so essentially useless. Plates and magnets all bonded together just the way they were supposed to. The only really bad bricks were the half-pins which were used all along the length of the ship to hold the greebling (new term I learned during my deep dive into Jangbricks reviews!) in place. Most had little to no clutch power, so the details kept falling off.

This thing was surprisingly huge! But as I had some “real” lego sets to start building, I wanted it out of the house ASAP. Actually ended up making $20 on it, and the buyer wanted it “destroyed into oblivion”. H & I also enjoyed taking it apart piece by piece into a deceptively small box for its size. This thing was surprisingly huge! But as I had some “real” lego sets to start building, I wanted it out of the house ASAP. Actually ended up making $20 on it, and the buyer wanted it “destroyed into oblivion”. H & I also enjoyed taking it apart piece by piece into a deceptively small yet heavy box.

Geo-Slump

I just used this family blog as a reference for someone, only to see that it hasn’t been updated in almost two years! I have a handful more geocaching stories (though maybe none as exciting as almost stranding my family in Governor Dodge!) to tell, like the Whereigo through the USS Arizona memorial, that I led my Epic team-lead through through only to finally discover a thorny stump with no cache. When I parted the company after 12 years, one of his friendly send-offs was “thanks for teaching me that geocaching can be frustrating and unfulfilling!” Or another coworker with whom I actually found a neat bridge-hidden cache in a warehouse district…before being chased away by the local rent-a-cop.

In 2017, I was caching constantly. I almost made > 1 cache-per-day that year (decent for someone who does have a life, family, and full-time job apart from caching). Then in December, disaster struck, and I was out of the game (and most of life) for a few months. I never quite recovered – sure I did a bit of caching in 2018, but my heart wasn’t into it. It took some friends from work and a healthcare conference in Canada to rekindle the interest.

I claim major geo-fu rustiness, but when a coworker asked me to show him some some geocaches in downtown Montreal, he was the one who ultimately ended up finding most of the ones we attempted (though I did surprise him by finding a couple ingeniously hidden ones, including one I had found several years prior the last time I was in Canada). On the last day of the trip, I took a hike with an old friend up Mont Royal; we both thought we might die, but we were rewarded with spectacular views, 3 new smiley faces (again, he found a cache that I could not!), and a reminder that geocaching always takes me to new places I might never have discovered otherwise.

I’ve now been excitedly planning a 5-day road trip surrounding our team week to Denver, CO in July. I started by finding many of the missing squares on my Fizzy and Jasmer grids, but then when I started researching high-favorite caches, I discovered a world of roadside wonders right along my route. And who knew you could drive to the top of Pike’s peak now?! Perhaps I still have more geo-stories to tell yet…provided I don’t fall off a cliff or get bitten by a snake first!