There's not much that matches the enduring appeal of Lego.
Whether you're 6 or 60, there's the potential for joy in that box of bricks. You can't say that about other toys. About Barbies or Ninja Turtles or bubbles.
So many adults still play with Legos, in fact, that there's an acronym for them: AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego).
Nate Flood, a 44-year-old Lincoln police officer, is your quintessential AFOL.
Growing up in the mid '70s, Flood got into Lego big time. But when junior high hit, girls became not gross and Legos became uncool. He let Lego go.
It wasn't until his early 30s that he rediscovered the toy. He was shopping at Target with his daughter and came across a “Star Wars” Lego set on clearance. When he made his own Lego “Star Wars” stuff, he always thought it would be cool if Lego made an official set. He bought it, and gradually got back into his pre-junior high passion. Thankfully, his parents kept all his Legos.
Flood was also a WWII buff, as all adult males eventually are, his favorite movie the German submarine thriller “Das Boot.” Watching the movie one night, he was inspired to make a submarine conning tower out of Legos. This eventually built up to making whole battleships, then whole fleets, some of his creations 7-feet-long, taking thousands of Legos and a few years to make, each of them schematically accurate.
See more of Flood's work here
AFOL are legion, though it's difficult to gauge just how many of them there are. Lego doesn't even know.
“The general speculation is (AFOL) make up between 5 and 10 percent of Lego's business,” said Chris Malloy, the leader of the Lincoln and Omaha LEGO User Group (LOLUG), which has about 20 active members.
And that 5 to 10 percent would include only adults who buy Legos for just themselves. The number gets bigger when you consider parents who buy sets for their children but spend just as much time themselves building castles and cars and “Star Wars” starfighters.
Mark Carson, owner and founder of Omaha's Fat Brain Toys, said he sees quite a few adults buying Legos. One 83-year-old customer told Carson he buys Legos to keep his hands and mind busy. Carson himself spent Christmas break with his 18-year-old son tackling an ambitious Lego construction project.
The tug of Lego is ageless, he said. “That classic bucket of bricks. You dump those out on the floor, need no instructions, and you let your creativity loose and see what comes out.”
AFOL come from all walks of life, but, said LOLUG leader Malloy, you can generally break them into two camps: artists and engineers.
The beauty of Lego is that it's both hard science and complete freedom; it supports both boundless creativity and rigid constraint. Builders can go wild or follow the instructions, sometimes in the same project.
The 27-year-old Malloy, who works as a graphic designer when he's not Lego-ing, falls firmly into the artist camp. “For me,” he said, “it's an art medium. Lego provides a really great outlet for creativity and allows me to translate ideas into a three-dimensional form. It's somewhat constraining because you're working with a limited pallet, and yet it's a very large pallet.”
Look out in "The Lego Movie" for this Malloy-made piece of George Washington crossing the Delaware. See more of Malloy's work here
Meghan Nelson, a 31-year old microbiologist who runs a Lego business with her husband, said the creativity of Lego feeds her scientific work, and vice versa. Each stretches her brain in different directions.
Nelson is so loyal to Lego she grows physically ill when she sees a Mega Blok, a “knock-off Lego” toy that any good AFOL hates. If at a department store she sees Mega Bloks in close proximity to Legos, she'll shift the Mega Bloks down the shelf a bit.
"It's just not the same thing," she said.
See more of Nelson's work here
John Tooker, a 27-year-old software engineer in Lincoln, fell in love with Lego as a kid and never stopped loving it. He made a Lego cake topper for his wedding. He made a Lego version of the board game Go. He's in the middle of a years-long construction of a Nebraska State Capitol replica. Tooker can even get a little philosophical about Lego.
“I've always liked the fact,” he said, “that you can take all these little parts and build something bigger. Each of the individual parts is not terribly interesting, but they come together as a whole. It's more than the sum of its parts.”
See more of Tooker's work here
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Some facts about Lego
• The Lego Group is one of the biggest toy-makers in the world, along with Mattel and Hasbro.
• Lego Group was founded in 1932 in Denmark and is still owned by the family who founded it.
• On average, each Earthling owns 86 Lego bricks.
• Ten Lego sets are sold every second.
• Lego is short for the Danish words “leg godt,” which means “play well.”
Info from BBC and Lego.com.