Age 35, and Something Went Snap

(Above And Right By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Tamara Jones
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 26, 2006

The masters of the plastic universe are baffled. From their imaginations, their computers, from their calloused fingers, magnificent kingdoms have sprung. They can re-create the Seven Wonders of the World in a literal snap. But now they huddle in their model shop of Legoland California and contemplate the seemingly impossible:

How in the rectangular heck do you give a Lego bride a Lego bosom?

Tim Petsche considers miniature chef hats borrowed from a Lego kitchen set. Too big. What about a couple of Lego daisies? someone else suggests. Too weird.

Too bad.

Such are the dilemmas of grown-ups in a child's fantasy job.

Petsche and his five teammates are the salaried elite in a vast subculture of adult Lego hobbyists whose collections of little plastic bricks overtake entire rooms at home -- professors and lawyers and accountants and engineers who find a creative outlet in the sturdy Danish blocks. People who reclaim and reassemble lost childhoods piece by tiny piece.

"You go into what we refer to as the Dark Ages, when you stop playing with them as a kid, but come back to them as an adult. Some people stop at 12, then break out their Lego sets again at 30," explains model builder Eric Hunter, 36, who landed his dream job a year ago at America's only Legoland, in the Southern California coastal town of Carlsbad.

Hunter and the other master model builders work in a Carlsbad shop filled with some 2,000 floor-to-ceiling bins full of virtually every piece Lego has created, in every color (that would include the seven shades of pink). Outside in the theme park, their obsession with detail is why a small black Lego rat can be found in the New York subway display, and why Secret Service men on duty in mini-D.C. all look alike and sport tiny earbuds.

"I have Lego thoughts and dreams," Hunter says. "I'll be driving down the freeway and I'll see a building and think, 'Can I build that out of Lego?' "

His work is focused on a planned Las Vegas exhibit, due to open next spring in the park's Miniland U.S.A. Designers expect to use more than 2 million bricks to build miniatures of famous Vegas hotels and casinos, complete with a tacky wedding chapel and Lego showgirls.

Hunter is painstakingly putting together a miniature Excalibur Hotel, which, he notes cheerfully, has 2,200 windows and 28 turret styles, details gleaned by a Lego reconnaissance team dispatched to Vegas to study and photograph the real thing.

Patience is a given for AFOLs, as Adult Friends of Lego are known. Hunter spent a decade building his dream car out of more than 10,000 pieces: a '91 Acura NSX that he fell in love with while working in a carwash. His Lego version was two feet long and a foot high.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company