You know what? I have never seen these before - most probably because they are really, really small. You would need to be physically shrunk by Rick Moranis to see them properly. You would need to be 35 years-old to get that reference.
I'm (eventually) talking about Nanoblock, building toys that are a lot like Lego (Denmark's primary export), but micro-sized for micro hands and eyes. And ants. And unlike Lego instead of building things like Avengers and Gandalfs, you get to build giraffes and electric guitars:
Stylishly packaged, they are manufactured by Kawada, which I assume roughly translates into "Extreme Choking Hazard". To find out just how small they are and how much fun I had... join me after the jump!
To further understand them, let's look at the explanation that appears on the back of the bag:
So smaller blocks mean that you can build smaller models than you could build with larger blocks? I suppose that does make sense! In fact, as I delved deeper into this "entertaining hobby" I quickly realised there was indeed a method to this madness. To see what I mean, let's start with the giraffe.
That's a lot of stuff for a little bag. 130 pieces in total! But it's meaningless without a comparison for scale. So I enlisted a leading expert on nanotechnology, Mr. Lego Tony Stark:
Note that I also enlisted Wolverine and a monkey because you can never be too sure with these kind of construction projects.
This should give you an idea of how small these bricks are:
This is Lego scaled for Lego men. It's what Lego children play with. The single stud pieces are about as big as a bee's knee and almost as cute.
When I first started building this I almost felt like someone was playing a joke on me. It seemed like an almost masochistic task! The pieces are incredibly small and fiddly and at first don't seem to hold together nearly as easily as global frontrunner Lego. They can also slide out of alignment once connected depending on how you orientate them so at first it's hard to keep everything square.
At first the instructions seem a little alien if you're used to the Lego ones, but they do make sense once you start to get into them:
I was more worried about this huge warning:
What are they trying to tell me? That nanobots will enter my body, exponentially multiply and take over my vital organs until I wake up tomorrow to discover that I have made a Kafka-esque transformation into Mecha-Godzilla? Possibly!
A lot of crotchetty oldster whine that modern Lego uses too many specialised pieces. Well that's definitely not the case here. There are no curves or uniquely molded parts. The whole set consists of basic studded bricks in various sizes. It's actually a bit of a nostalgia kick if you grew up on Lego in the late seventies/early eighties. Behold the inspirational power of what basic building blocks can accomplish!
And the truth is that, once you start to put a few layers together, something miraculous happened. A little giraffe was forming...
I found building with basic blocks to be a little bit bland, but I did enjoy what was slowly taking shape:
And if you're worried about losing all these tiny pieces, don't be. God. You are so paranoid. These are the spare parts that I had left over at the end of the build:
Almost enough to make a second giraffe! (Unless I did it wrong).
But I think I did it right because here's the final result:
That's a giraffe all right! Just like it promised on the package! Let's check him for scale:
Wow. So the finished product is actually a lot bigger than you may think. But imagine if it had been made with full sized bricks. It would be at least eleven feet high and weigh as much as refrigerator. So they were actually onto something with this scaled down size. It's all the joy of building something big at a fraction of the space and cost!
But what's a giraffe without an electric guitar? I wouldn't want to live in that world!
Here's our new problem to solve...
Except this one is far more straight-forward as it's relatively two-dimensional:
I should note that Lego Iron Man and Lego Wolverine are not actually building this model. It is merely an illusion that I have created with my camera. No deception was intended. Forgive my wizardry.
Not quite as many spare pieces leftover this time. Tally them up, monkey!
And here is the glorious finished product!
I think it marks the first time I've been instructed to stack 16 blocks on top of each other!
And here it is for scale:
Again, the finished product is larger than anticipated. If this was made of regular sized bricks then a giant could play it.
These are both from the small, cheap sets and there was a lot of variety available. Other things I saw included a rabbit, a panda, a grand piano and an electric keyboard. I think the theme must have been wild animals and their favourite musical instruments.
Bigger, boxed sets are also available for about double the costs and these seemed to mostly be landmarks and architecture. Oh, and a space shuttle. I don't know what they cost in the US, but in pricey Australia they were an average of $10 for the small sets and $20 for the larger ones. Which is reasonable when you consider the distinguished competition.
Overall it's a fun gimmick but I don't think you'd want more than one or two of them.