When the Legos traveling show, KidsFest, comes to Minneapolis this weekend, it'll be greeted with enthusiasm by "brickheads" of all ages.
On Friday night, Caroline Lambert will click her kids into their seatbelts and drive to Minneapolis so her kids can play with Legos.
"I'm not really sure why we need to go to Lego KidsFest," said the Apple Valley stay-at-home mom. The Lamberts have plenty of Legos, thanks to Reid, 9, Henry, 7, and Ella, 5 -- maybe as many as 20,000.
That's a lot of tiny multicolored plastic bricks for her kids to snap together, tear apart and create just about anything they can dream up -- and for Lambert to accidentally step on with her bare feet.
But it's not even close to the millions of Legos and Duplos that will be dumped on the floor at the Minneapolis Convention Center for the three-day building frenzy dubbed Lego KidsFest. The event -- the first of its kind in Minnesota -- is expected to draw 35,000 Lego lovers, or "brickheads," as they're called.
For toddlers and preschoolers there will be free-build stations with Duplos (which are twice the size of regular Legos). For elementary-age kids and pre-teens (Lego's core market), there'll be interactive activities, such as a car-building station with a racetrack. For the advanced: demonstrations of Lego's robotics line, Mindstorms.
But the event isn't for kids only. Some people, it seems, never outgrow the click of the brick. One is retired middle-school math teacher Judy Payne. To Payne, "Lego is not just a toy; it's a medium. It's art."
Lego KidsFest will start its five-city tour in Minneapolis because we've proven our love for Legos with the Mall of America store and the Lego Castle Adventure exhibit (now at the Children's Museum in St. Paul), said Andrew Watner, vice president of sales and marketing for the tour.
"The Twin Cities is a core Lego fanatics market," said Watner. While Lego events have done well in Chicago, Boston and Hartford, Conn., in Minneapolis, "at a month out, our ticket sales were the best ever," he said.
The appeal may stem from our shared Scandinavian roots. (The bricks were invented by a Danish carpenter and the name comes from the Dutch words for play, "leg," and well, "godt.") And our above-average populace and long winters may also breed a deeper connection to the plastic bricks, said magazine editor Olivia Herstein.
Herstein has been waiting for the KidsFest to give her children -- Miriam, 5, and Nava, 3 -- the Legos that Herstein played with as a kid.
"It's so fun as a Gen-Xer to share Legos with my girls," said Herstein. "It's the same reason we go to a re-release of 'Star Wars.'"
It's the "Star Wars" line that most intrigues Reid Lambert, with its spaceship kits, scenes from the movies and video games. But he also breaks down the kits to make his own objects, something called MOCs (my own creations) in Lego language. Reid doesn't need the instructions on a kit. "I can usually get a pretty good picture in my mind," he said.
So can 14-year-old Cody Bennett from River Falls, Wis. He's made a Lego hydraulic crane that lifts a Lego boat off a Lego trailer, as well as an excavator, a camper, tractors, trucks and "a tower that went up to the basement ceiling. I had to take it outside and build on it," he said, "and then I had to get ladders." It topped out at 4 1/2 stories tall.
Cody will be at Lego KidsFest with his younger brother Derek, 11, because the boys, both Boy Scouts, have secured two of the coveted 250 volunteer spots reserved for Scouts. Some Scouts will demonstrate robotic projects in order to earn a new robotics badge. They'll also help younger kids work on their projects.
Judy Payne will be there to help, too. Payne, a supervisor at the Mall of America Lego store, and other Lego store employees will roam the Lego KidsFest floor to offer their building advice. But she'll take time off to bring her adult daughter, Sarah, and her grandkids, Owen and Zoe, to the event.
Payne, an AFOL (an Adult Fan of Lego), bought a Lego set for her daughter when she was 5 weeks old. But it was Payne, rather than her daughter, who clicked with the toy. "There was something about the brick that really got to me," said Payne, "something about the feel of a brick in my hand."
Payne and her husband, Bill, still play with Legos. They're currently building a 20- by 18-foot train layout that includes a zoo, a farm and a Renaissance fair.
To show the range of this versatile toy, Payne likes to ask this question: "What's the one thing you can't make out of Legos?" She also gives the answer: "A soft blanket."
Herstein might add comfy slippers. That's because she knows what's in store once her daughters get back from Lego KidsFest and dump their legacy of Legos on the floor.
"My feet -- and vacuum -- will never be the same," she said.
Stephanie Wilbur Ash is a freelance writer in Minneapolis.
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