Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lego

Illustration for article titled Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lego

Do you want to know how many bricks are produced per minute? How many bricks have been produced in history? What's the best-selling set ever? What has been the worst? Do they recycle? How did they survive the crisis that almost killed them? How successful is Mindstorms? What are the actual names of each of the pieces? Why there are no blondes in Lego sets? Why there are extra pieces sometimes? Here's the definitive mega-reference, straight from Lego.


I have organized all your questions in groups: about the company, environment, design, trivia, crazy questions, and the future.


Why is there a hole in the head of the mini-figs now?
We added this hole on the top of the head just in case any kids got one of the heads stuck on their throat. That way they would be able to keep breathing.

• Why did I always have pieces left over when I built my castle sets? Do they just do that to jack with kids?
For two reasons: first, because some pieces are so small that they weigh too little to be measured by their scale, during packaging (you will see this when I publish the factory tour. J.) Second, because it's better to have too many of those pieces than have one of them missing. Since we statistically know what pieces may get lost, we include some extras when appropriate.

• Why there are no blonde minifigs in the regular Lego sets?
Because they will look bad with the yellow heads. There are blondes, however, in the licensed lines, like Star Wars or Harry Potter.


• Why aren't Lego figures ever sold separately from the sets?
Minifigures can be purchased separately on a limited basis. Some of our Lego stores sell the minifigures separately. You can also purchase minifigure pieces through Lego.com in the Pick-a-Brick wall. Additionally, there is a set called Community Workers which features nothing but classic minifigures. However, watch shelves in the coming year, you never know what you might find! (What I want to know is where the heck can I buy stormtroopers helmets for all my minifigs. J)


• What do you call the different pieces internally? Any other name beyond bricks, like "flats" for the flat pieces or something similar?
We refer to the standard pieces as bricks. Flat pieces are either plates (these have studs and are 1/3 the height of a Lego brick) or tiles (these are the flat pieces with no studs). Everything is referred to by its stud count, so a classic Lego bricks is referred to as a 2x4. Carry that out, and you can see there are 1x2s and 2x3s and 1x8s and on and on and on…

• Why did you change the color palette?
The color palette changes as our themes change. However, our basic brick colors—red, yellow, blue, green, black and white—will always remain as staples in the assortment.


• Why don't Duplo blocks integrate with Quatro blocks like the regular Lego bricks integrate with Duplo?
Duplo bricks are indeed compatible with Quatro bricks, just as Lego bricks are compatible with Duplo bricks. Lego provides the only building system that is compatible from birth to collector!

• I want you to ask the Lego gang for the definitive answer on the plural for Lego bricks. Is it, as we Brits say, simply Lego, or is it, as some Americans insist, Legos?
Actually both the Brits and the Americans are wrong—but are all forgiven! "Lego" is an adjective and is not meant to be a standalone name. It should always be Lego bricks, Lego building, Lego products, etc.


• Why there are no black minifigs?
When the minifigure was first introduced 30 years ago, it was given the iconic yellow skin tone to reflect the non-specific and transcendental quality of a child's imagination. In 2002, as more licensed properties were added to the assortment, the decision was made to introduce ethnic and skin tones more in keeping with the actual characters and personalities who were being replicated. This included the introduction of black minifigures. However, these ethnic minifigures are only used in our licensed sets, all Lego playthemes continue to use the generic yellow face.

About the company

•How many Lego bricks are produced each year?

Approximately 19 billion Lego elements are produced per year. 2.16 million are molded every hour, 36,000 every minute.


• Approximately, how many bricks they've ever made since Lego started to produce them?
More than 400 billion Lego bricks have been produced since 1958. There are about 62 Lego bricks per person of the Earth's population.

• How many Lego sets do they manufacture per year?
The number of sets varies per time of year and per year. In the U.S., we launch on average 130 new sets per year. Approximately 7 Lego sets are sold every second around the world.


• How much money do they make per piece?
Because we have so many specialized pieces, the average cost per piece is difficult to name. For example, a 2x4 Lego brick does not require the complexity to produce as a Lego minifigure or a Lego fence piece. The molds that we use to create Lego elements are very expensive to design and produce.

• When can we buy ANY Lego element on shop.Lego.com (and maybe get recommended replacement suggestions if they are not available). If I will pay $300+ for a GREAT Lego Technic model used on eBay, I certainly would have no problems dropping the same into one of my own creations?
We are always working to improve the assortment of pieces available through our Pick a Brick service. Right now we have over 900 elements available. Unlike the traditional toy retail business, it's more difficult for us to project which individual pieces or elements will be in demand in a given time period. For example, we know that kids like Lego sets with wheels. So if a new set has wheels, we look at other sets historically that have wheels to predict the demand. But in an individual brick fulfillment, we have no way to know when someone may decide to build a six-foot monster that is orange, thereby requiring a huge amount of orange bricks. As a result, we currently limit the number of bricks available so that we can maintain healthy inventory and prevent consumer frustration, but also test to see what people want the most on a piece by piece basis.


• Why is Lego so expensive?
Quality and safety are the top concerns for the Lego Group. To ensure the best and safest products, Lego bricks are made with the highest quality materials, which does factor into the cost. Using premium materials ensures that the product is not only safe, but that it is durable enough to hand down from generation to generation. [I was told in the factory that their tests show that no bricks have ever decomposed or released any chemical substances. -J]

• I'd like you to ask the Lego guys, why they don't have all the parts available for order as singletons or in bulk on their web site?
See above.


• I'm curious as to why they discontinue series and sets more rapidly now than they did in the past. It used to be that a series could be counted on for multiple years, now it's barely 12 months and they're "no longer produced." Is this marketing? Logistics? Or are trends really changing that fast in their market these days?
The toy business has become a very fast-paced and competitive world—almost mimicking the fashion industry in how quickly things come and go as fads. The life of a typical Lego play theme line can range anywhere from one to three years. However, there are certain themes—like Space and Castle—that we consider evergreen themes, and those are rotated in and out over the course of a few years. When a theme is a classic, we often maintain the theme, but rotate the new models on a shorter term to maintain novelty and interest in the market.

• Will Lego sell bulk bricks again?
The Lego Group has never stopped selling bulk bricks. Our Creative Building buckets and tubs are available at all major and specialty retailers. New boxes of bricks are also available. Additionally, if you're in the area of a Lego store you can stop at a Pick-a-Brick wall or visit the Pick-a-Brick section of Lego.com.


• Has the Mindstorm's investment paid off?
The Mindstorms product line has been an incredibly successful venture for the company. The Mindstorms RIS 2.0 is the #1 selling product in the company's history, and there are over 1 million RCX bricks that have been sold. Mindstorms NXT, the next generation of the original robotics toolset, also has been very successful.

• What country buys the most Lego sets per person?
Germany is the number-one Lego market, in fact, Lego is the number-one toy company in Germany. The top-selling lines in Germany are Lego TECHNIC and Lego CITY. The U.S. is the second largest market, with the top-selling lines being BIONICLE and Lego Star Wars.


• How did they re-launch the company when it was almost bankrupt?
As a company we were very lucky to have survived our crisis. We had some very rocky years, but it was our fans who got us back on track. We were trying to do too many things and deviated from what we do best: classic building. To regain our footing, we went back to basics and focused on the brick and those core themes on which our company foundation was built, like City and Castle. We also shed the things that were not related to the toy business—we licensed out our video game development to the best partners and we sold off our theme parks. Thankfully for us, our fans were patient and welcomed us back with open arms. Fortunately, no matter how much the market changes and kids tastes vary, there will always be room for classic Lego play.

• What is the best selling Lego set ever made?
The Lego Mindstorms Robotics Invention System set is the best-selling Lego set ever. Over 1 million of these have been sold globally since their launch.


• What theme was the worst selling one they have made?
A few years back, we strayed too far from our core product line when we entered into an action figure line called Galidor. With no traditional Lego construction elements, it proved to be unfamiliar to Lego fans who expect a certain kind of play experience from the Lego brand.

• What theme is the best seller, excluding Basic sets and town?
Every country has a different best-seller and as we rotate themes in and out different themes rise to the top. Over the last 50 years we have seen that Town, Space, Castle and Pirates are the evergreen themes that seem to always have a place in the hearts of Lego fans. Right now, Lego CITY is the number-one theme around the world, and other global best-sellers include Lego Star Wars, BIONICLE and Lego Indiana Jones.


• Why don't they (Lego online shop) ship Lego to Hong Kong?
We are always looking to extend the reach of our Lego products and where they are sold and shipped. Currently, Lego products are sold in stores in Hong Kong.


• What happens to all the bad pieces? Is there a Lego heaven? Do they recycle them?
Due to the precision of the brick molding machines, there are very few "bad" pieces—only 18 elements in every million produced fail to meet the company's high standards. Extra pieces or pieces from boxes that are caught on the line and identified as missing pieces or have boxes that are slightly damaged are used for donation boxes that are distributed to underprivileged children's organizations around the world.


• Why there is no recycling program for all the plastic they produce?
Lego Bricks are recyclable, just not in the way that most people think of recycling. Lego bricks are one of those things that never break and most people pass them down from generation to generation, thus keeping them alive. Also, during production we recycle all of the residual plastic used. In the molding machines, we crunch any faulty elements and put the granulate back in to the mold. Plastic that we can no longer use is sold to industries that can make use of them.

• Is the plastic currently used to form Lego the same as it was 20 years ago?
The plastic is almost the exact same plastic used 20 years ago. Slight changes to the mix have occurred, but the quality has remained the same.



• How much the tooling costs are? Who makes them?
The price of a single mold is very high. Most of them are made in Germany.


• How much is Lego considering the Adult fans vs the children when designing sets?
When we design sets, we take both children and adults into consideration. Children are our primary audience, especially as it relates to the core play theme sets; however, much of what appeals to children in today's Lego sets has strong appeal among adult fans as well. With Lego Star Wars, adults are equally considered. In designing any set, it's about the balance between the building experience and the play experience. We do also leverage our direct to consumer channels to provide ultimate collectors sets, special exclusives, sculptures and models that are designed with skilled builders and adult fans in mind. We sometimes even invite our adult fans to help us design new sets.

Mindstorms NXT is a great example of how we worked together with adult fans to determine what the set would include, with a particular focus on ensuring that the end result was as compelling for a child as it was for an adult user. We continually look to our community of both kids and adults to ensure that we are meeting and exceeding expectations.


• Why did they changed the founders rule to never make gun like elements?
The company still has a no gun policy when it comes to realistic or military play scenarios. However, in order to stay true to the strong licensed properties we incorporate to the Lego portfolio, we need to stay true to those properties and sometimes that involves including weapons. In our own play themes, some element of good vs. bad conflict is typically considered to provide for role play opportunities. In those instances, the setting is very clearly a fantasy world. (Fortunately, there are third-parties who do this, like the amazing people from Brickarms. J)


• I would like to know why they are using so many specialized pieces in their sets now instead of using more "basic" bricks that allow for greater building outside the set the pieces came in. Why have Lego sets for the latest few generations been dummied down?
This is an impression that many people have but, in fact, the piece count has been reduced drastically and there's a move back to roots in Lego, not only for creativity but to save money. Lego went from 12,000 different pieces to 6,800 in the last few years-a number that includes the color variations.

• Why do they use so many 'cheater' bricks... i.e., instead of stacking 4 1x2 bricks they produced a 1x2x4 brick. Or those HUGE chunks uses for castle walls. Sure it speeds construction, but it reduces creativity/playability.
Sometimes larger bricks are used to help kids ease into building and help them complete the model faster so that they can get to the play experience. We have learned that there are many different types of builders out there—some are all about the building experience, but some are about the play experience. We try to balance our portfolio to appeal to both groups.


• Has the decision to make faces other than the smiley face caused problems in any markets?
Changing the minifigure faces first happened in 1989 with the introduction of the Pirates line. Since that time, we have had very few questions from consumers. For those Lego purists out there, we have left the original smiley in the assortment so that a familiar face is always there.

• I would like to know what happened to the good old days of really complex, lifelike models? I have some of the old classics still like the Semi Truck with the pneumatic crane on the back, the JCB Excavator, the all wheel steer sports car, the Ferrari esque car with the 4 speed gearbox... Where did models like this go?
We still have awesome Lego TECHNIC sets and models that carry extreme levels of detail and functionality. They aren't always available in the mass retail channels, so you often need to look for them on Lego.com or other specialty retailers.


• How long do they take to develop a theme, all the sets, start to finish?
Over the past few years we have been able to dramatically decrease the time it takes to develop and produce a new set. The average development period is now about 12 months from start to finish, down from 2-3 years previously.

• What's with all the stickers lately? Don't they pre-print anything anymore? And if you have to take the stickers off to disassemble the sets, why not have replacement sheets available on Shop-at-home?
Certain elements are still pre-printed; however, we find that the stickers allow for even more details and more realism in any given set. We understand that it can be frustrating sometimes, and encourage anyone with questions to contact our Consumer Services department.


Crazy questions

• Any plan to sell real-life brick-size Lego pieces? I want to build an actual house.
We have no plans at this time to sell real-life brick-size Lego pieces. You'll just have to build your house of normal materials for the time being.


• Why do Lego look so delicious but taste so bad?
As your parents probably told you when you were young, there are some things that shouldn't be eaten. Lego bricks are one of them. Please keep them away from your mouth.

• Are bricks available in truly staggering quantities, for artists wishing to explore the possibilities of Lego as a medium for large scale sculpture?
We always encourage creativity and love our Lego artists. Unfortunately at this time we don't have a system put in place to sell staggering quantities. Pick-A-Brick and buckets and tubs are the best solution for those looking for large quantities of classic bricks.


• Where can I buy a legit golf shirt with the Lego logo embroidered on it?
Lego shirts tend to come in and out of the assortment. Currently, we do not have a golf shirt in the assortment, but keep checking back!

• When will Lego's produce a beer stein kit complete with a tap?
We love your creativity, but the Lego Group probably won't be producing a beer stein kit in the near or distant future; however, if you are so inclined, you can design your own on LegoFactory.com.


The future

• Any plans to refresh old sets like Blacktron or the monorail?
We are constantly looking back at the past to help shape the sets of the future. As of now there are no plans to refresh these sets, but what's to come is always a mystery.


• Would you include Mindstorm technology in normal Lego sets?
In 2007 we introduced the Lego Power Function system, which allows models to come to life using motors and sensors without the programming feature of Mindstorms. For those looking to combine Lego building with Mindstorms technology everything is compatible.

• Why don't you use LEDs?
Currently we do not use LEDs, but our designers are always coming up with new and exciting ways to enhance the building experience.


• I know you do Lego Ferris wheels, but have you ever consider a Lego roller coaster?
In deciding what products will go to market, there are numerous factors that we have to consider. As a global company, we try to pick products that have global appeal. We also look for models that have the best building and play experience. Our model designers are always coming up with new and great ideas, roller coasters may be included in that, it's just a matter of making sure it works in the current assortment.

• Would you consider doing Lego sets based on famous history scenes, for education?
Anything is a possibility with the Lego System. We have created models of famous landmarks, like the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower, and we have an Education division that is always coming up with new ideas. But if you don't want to wait for this one to surface, there's always Lego Factory where you can design and build your own historic scenes.


• I really wish they weren't discontinuing their 9V electrified rail train sets. My question is why?
As a company, we are very focused on the core bricks and developing the "system of play." With the recent development of the Lego Power System, we are able to replace several non compatible applications with one electric system. Unfortunately, this means that we are moving from two systems with trains to one coherent system.

• Will Lego continue to reach out to a more adult audience with more intricate and larger sets?
Our adult audience is very important to us and we will continue to produce the larger, more intricate sets, which are typically found in our direct to consumer channels and other specialty retailers. The latest introduction is the Lego Star Wars Death Star.


• Where are the clear Lego? Glow-in-the-dark? Recycled? Corn Plastic? Rubber? LED Illuminated? Rustic?
New products and elements are always in development. We have had glow-in-the dark parts in several sets in the last few years, and we also have light bricks in select sets. We use rubber to produce Lego tires—did you know we're the world's largest producer of vehicle tires?

• When will the 9v train tracks and motors be coming back to factory?
Unfortunately, the 9v train tracks are being phased out and we are moving toward a more coherent system using the Lego Power System.


• Does Lego have plans for Wi-Fi connections for Mindstorm?
Mindstorms NXT includes Bluetooth capability for wireless communication and downloads.

• Will Lego produce trikes and the old bikes again?
As of now there are no plans to produce trikes and old bikes.


We have a very strong licensing department who are always working with leading manufacturers to identify new categories and products that can carry the Lego brand name.

• When will the new train sets be introduced?
Our designers, as well as some faithful fans are working hard to get the new trains ready for market. We expect that these sets will be on sale in 2009. More details to follow!


• Why don't we get the serious RC stuff in the US?
RC models are available in the U.S. Check your local retailer, or visit the Lego shop.

• i just started to get into the Lego trains and purchased the remote control set with extra tracks...now they are not available! There was talk of a new series of trains but I can't find the reference now. The question is simply: what's the plan for Lego train sets?
See question above


• Why won't they bring back for good the space theme?
The space theme is an evergreen theme for us. We currently have Lego Star Wars and Lego Mars Mission themes to satisfy consumer demand for space themed building.

• Are there any chances that Lego will ever start producing modern day warfare Lego, with tanks and helicopters and what not?
We have a strict policy regarding military models, and therefore, we do not produce tanks, helicopters, etc. While we always support the men and women who serve their country, we prefer to keep the play experiences we provide for children in the realm of fantasy.


• Could you ask them if they plan to do another Star Wars robots Mindstorms set please?
As of now there are no plans to come out with a new Star Wars robot kit; however, we encourage all of our fans to create their own.

• I am a major fan of the Star Wars Lego, I have the Death Star on my coffee table, and I was wondering I they were ever going to make models based on the expanded universe?
With the Star Wars franchise, anything is possible! Keeps your eyes open for exciting new things.


• When are they going to be releasing an advanced model of the Batman rambler?
As of now there are no plans to release this model.

Thanks to all the readers who submitted all these questions. Please note that some of the questions you sent about licenses were not included because the Lego people are as secretive about their future products as Apple is.

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I love how so many of these questions are from cynical 20-somethings who are like "Hurrr, durr, how come LEGO sets aren't as awesome as they were when I was 7 years old?"

And then the answer is, "Actually, they are, if you'd just pay attention." I don't live the LEGO life like I used to back in the day, but I still get the occasional small set for myself, or as a present from my girlfriend, and they're just as good as ever, if not better. The Creator sets are excellent.