The Greatest Two Hours in Field Day

Yesterday I’m pretty sure I set a world record. I mean it’s not official or anything and it probably doesn’t sound that impressive on this of all days, since today is the 82nd anniversary of “the greatest 45 minutes in sports.” Admittedly, that was pretty impressive, too.

It was in 1935, at the Big Ten Track and Field Championship in Ann Arbor, Michigan that Jesse Owens tied the 100-yard dash world record and then smashed the world records in long jump, 220-yard dash, and 220-yard low hurdles. With a back injury. In just 45 minutes.

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What truly impressive feats of athleticism look like. By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R96374 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5368787

I don’t run if I can help it (unless I have let one of my friends or one of my sons talk me into it, because I’m a sucker) but that sounds like a pretty good day to me. Owens went on to dominate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics as well, and had it been a different, more just era, he would have raked in the endorsements. He did become the first African American depicted on a Wheaties box, but the big money sports endorsements he hoped to gain by leaving the realm of amateur sports behind, never materialized, and his career as an athlete was unfortunately short lived. Still, he remains one of the greats in sports history.

I will not go down as such. I doubt anyone will name a stadium after me, or craft a statue in my honor. I’ve not yet discovered the athletic niche that could land me on a Wheaties box, and at nearly forty, I suspect my time for that may be running short.

But I am proud of my accomplishments yesterday, when I served as the parent-in-charge at the lasso golf station at my son’s elementary school Field Day. By now I’m sure you’ve seen this game, played at company picnics and backyard barbecues.

You might choose to believe the entirely unsupported speculation (which more credible lasso golf experts might refer to as a “wild guess”) that cowboys in the Wild West played a similar game using tree branches and live snakes. Or you might believe that it emerged from campgrounds in the early to mid-90s and is new enough it hasn’t quite settled on a name just yet. You may know it as “ladder golf,” “ladder ball,” “horsey golf,” “dangle ball,” or even just “balls on bars.”

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Oh, that game!

I’m sure there are more regional names as well, but the basic idea of the game is that you have a three-rung ladder-like structure and you throw bolas at it to try to get them to wrap around the rungs to score points. And by bolas, I mean two balls attached to one another by a rope, similar to the weapon used regularly by pre-Columbian societies to trip and take down animals. So, obviously, this is a great game to play with third through fifth graders.

Actually, we had remarkably few people get tripped up, or even get clocked in the head, which was something of a miracle given that initially the game was set up to throw toward the playground and that grade school students have a tendency to wander across any old field of play they happen upon. But very early on I did discover one major hurdle to lasso golf success.

Because the darn bolas get tangled. I don’t mean that once in a while they might get twisted around one another and have to be spun out. I mean that every single time an oh-so-helpful child picks up more than one of them at a time and holds them in his or her hand for more than 0.2 seconds the ropes form into a knot that might as well be held together by superglue. Honestly, I might rather play with live snakes.

But Field Day is about fun and parental perseverance. And so despite the fact that the mother I was partnered with disappeared before the first game could even begin (I have to assume she wandered off and got recruited to lead a rousing game of fun noodle javelin throw), and the line for my incredibly popular lasso golf station never dropped below ten or so anxious kids, and the bolas frequently ended up on the other side of the playground or across the kickball field, where I couldn’t always manage to grab them before an oh-so-helpful grade schooler scooped them up, immediately accidentally tying  the knot of all knots, I got pretty good at running a smooth game.

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Just a small knot here.

In fact, I got so good, had someone been handy with a stopwatch (and if anyone bothered to keep records of such things), I’m pretty sure I would have easily smashed the world record for the length of time it takes to untie a lasso golf bola. I probably shattered the record several times over the course of my two hour sentence shift.

Now I’m not saying I’m a world class athlete, or that this was the greatest two hours in sports. But it might have been the greatest two hours in Field Day, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get any big endorsement deals out of it.

From Ox-Drawn Wagon to Airplane: Sharing Dysentery for Thanksgiving

In April of 1852, a twenty-one year old husband and new father named Ezra Meeker, set out with his wife and infant son on a trip to the West. The journey began in Eddyville, Iowa and ended more than 2000 miles away in what would become Washington State.

The Meekers certainly weren’t the only ones to make the journey over what had come to be known as the Oregon Trail. In fact, an estimated 400,000 folks loaded up their ox-drawn wagons and made the trip over at least part of the same well-worn trail west during about a thirty year span in the middle of the 19th century.

By all accounts it was a difficult journey, leaving an estimated 80,000 emigrants dead from starvation, exposure, disease, or accident. But the Meekers made it alive and well, establishing a brewing business that made them a fortune they eventually lost.

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76-year-old Ezra Meeker in Omaha, on a mission to preserve history. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

And like I imagine most of the survivors of the Oregon Trail would claim, Ezra Meeker remembered the dangerous move westward as a transformative experience, perhaps even THE transformative experience of his life. So when it came to his attention that much of the old Oregon Trail had been plowed over and forgotten, he set out on another journey to preserve it.

In 1906, at the age of 76, Meeker put together a team of oxen and an authentic wagon to make the journey once again, in reverse, this time for the purpose of establishing monuments along the original trail. Again the trip wasn’t easy, but he made it all the way to Washington DC to meet with President Theodore Roosevelt. Then he wisely took a train back home.

Before the age of 93, Meeker managed to make the journey several more times, once by Pathfinder automobile and once by airplane, making him the only person known to have traveled the Oregon Trail by wagon, train, car, and plane.

Ezra Meeker spent more than twenty-five years of his life advocating for the preservation of the Oregon Trail, afraid that this epic journey undertaken by so many brave pioneers would fall away from the collective memory of the American people.

But what Meeker didn’t realize was that, thanks to the genius of Minnesota educator Don Rawitsch, such a thing could never happen. A student teacher in an 8th grade history class in 1971, Rawitsch was looking for a way to help his students grasp the dangers inherent in the 19th century American westward migration. What he came up with was a simple computer game in which the player leads a wagon party from Independence, Missouri to Oregon’s Willamette (which rhymes with d@#n it!) Valley.

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The trail is fraught with peril.

And most likely dies along the way.

If you were an American elementary school kid in the eighties, nineties, or early 2000s, you most likely played a version of the educational game Oregon Trail. And you most likely got dysentery and died. Or maybe you drowned while attempting to cross a river, or your wagon broke down and you died from exposure, or you caught cholera or typhoid or you ran out of ammunition and you starved to death. Or maybe, like Ezra Meeker, you actually made it to the end of the trail.

If you never played the game, you now have another chance. There are some recent electronic versions available, but none, I’m sure, that are as fun as a card game based on Rawlitsch’s original idea. My sister-in-law brought a copy of it to family Thanksgiving, and let me just tell you, it provided hours of hilarious entertainment, as well as a lot of death.

The card game is filled with nods to its electronic predecessor, complete with bad computer graphics, instructions to “press the space bar,” and frequently doled out calamities, including immediate death by snakebite. Players work together as a team of as many as six pioneers, and if even one person reaches the Willamette Valley alive, everyone wins.

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I braved the Black Friday crowds to buy my own copy of the game, because my sister-in-law won’t be here for family Christmas, and dysentery is something to be shared.

But that probably won’t happen.

Even Ezra Meeker finally met his match. In 1928, on the verge of yet another Trail journey, this time in a Model A Ford, specially designed with a top that resembled a covered wagon, the 97-year-old fell ill with dysentery (or possibly pneumonia) and died.

The Pokémon Pandemic is Upon Us…Go Wash your Hands

In February of 1512, a Spanish Conquistador named Juan Ponce de León received a royal commission to pillage, plunder, and claim the rumored islands northwest of Hispaniola. King Ferdinand specifically wanted this honor to go to Ponce de León, a Spanish son of a good Spanish family, because he did not want to cede any more power to Diego Columbus, the uppity son of that silly Italian fellow who’d done all the exploring for them in the first place.

Ponce de León had travelled to the New World initially on the second voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1493. Though it’s not clear what he did in the meantime, by 1504 he became the right hand man of the appointed governor of Hispaniola, Nicolás de Ovando, by effectively squashing a rebellion by the native Taínos.

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Juan Ponce de Léon, pillager, plunderer, and Pokémon Trainer extraordinaire. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Thus began Ponce de León’s widely successful career of murder and exploration. He soon set off for the island eventually known as Puerto Rico in search of riches rumored by the Taínos, in exchange for which he enslaved many of them and gave the rest smallpox because he never washed his hands. He did find a great deal of gold, but by the time he returned to Hispaniola, Ovando had been usurped by the pesky Diego Columbus and a power struggle soon raged.

So when King Ferdinand suggested Ponce de León go exploring, he was probably pretty happy to oblige. He was the kind of guy who would jump at the chance to gather slaves, glory, and eternal youth, even if it meant wandering into a dark alley at 2 o’clock in the morning.

Because, yes, I think it’s safe to assume that if Ponce de León were alive today, he would be pretty obsessed with the game Pokémon Go. Now I don’t know where else in the world this game may be at this point, but here in the US, it made its debut earlier this month, and I’m telling you, wash your hands, because the pandemic is coming. If you are in the US and you don’t know the game yet, it’s what those people wandering aimless through your neighborhood while staring intently at their phones are doing.

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There’s one! Oh wait, no, that’s just a toy. photo credit: 对阵/Versus via photopin (license)

I was just a few years too old to get caught up in the Pokémon craze the first time around and I’m going to sit it out this time around, too, so if you one of those obsessed (and I’m betting you’re not because you wouldn’t be wasting time/cell phone battery on reading this post), then I apologize for the following explanation.

As far as I can figure, Pokémon is a game in which you capture little powerful creatures and make them fight each other for your entertainment. In the late nineties, you did this by buying or trading Pokémon cards that you would play against your friends who would try to counter your attack with whatever cards they bought or traded for.

Now it’s gone mobile and realistic-ish, because through the magic of Internet mapping, Pokémon (the critters) can show up anywhere at any time and in order to capture them, all you have to do is throw Pokéballs (whatever those are) at them or hatch them from an egg by walking around like a crazy person.

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Ah the good old days, when Pokémon was just a game that everyone was obsessed with. Oh, wait…

 

And if that’s not exciting enough for you, yes, you can make them fight, and you can take over “gyms” from other Poképlayers (a word I think I just made up, but probably not).  The “gyms” are located in real-life public spaces, businesses, and even private properties that were once designated as something else, without any permission whatsoever given by the property-owners, or any recourse for those who don’t want their property to be a part of the game.

Did I get this about right?

And people have become absolutely obsessed with this game. I know because when I first heard about it maybe three or four days ago, it took over my Facebook feed, where so many of my otherwise pretty rational friends began posting screenshots of all the funny little places they’d found Pokémon, like in the bathroom stall at work. I would say an equal number of otherwise rational friends began railing against the posts and the crazy people stumbling about staring at their phones in places they ought not to have been, like the bathroom stalls of someone else’s workplace. Then I turned on the radio and the dj was droning on and on about Pokémon Go and I realized that even though I didn’t understand a single word, she assumed all her listeners knew exactly what she was talking about. And they probably did.

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Virtual Pokémon in the non-virtual world. I admit, it looks pretty fun. Thanks to my multiple FB friends who, when I put out a call for a pic, obliged quickly and enthusiastically.

 

So why are people so obsessed with the game? All I can think is that they are reliving their childhoods, searching for a little bit of that wonder they felt in their youth, and hoping that by scouring a dark alleyway at 2 o’clock in the morning, and taking over new lands (or “gyms”), perhaps they can find it.

The great rumor mill of history suggests that that’s what Ponce de León was after as well when he stumbled into Florida. In addition to gold and slaves and glory, he was searching for the famed fountain of youth. Of course there are no contemporary sources that suggest this was the case, and even if he was seeking it, he never found it. In 1521, the conquistador was shot by poison tipped arrows fired by native inhabitants of his new land. Sapped of the strength even to throw a Pokéball, he died shortly after. And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

But despite the possible private property issues and potentials for abuse, which will need to be worked out, the game seems innocent enough. I wish all the Pokéballers (another word I think I just made up, but probably not) good luck on their quests for youth. But seriously, go wash your hands.

 

Almost 43 Quintillion Ways Not to Solve A Rubik’s Cube

On May 19, 1974, a Hungarian professor of architecture figured out how to build just the right model to aid in teaching algebraic group theory to his students. The model was a cube, composed of 26 smaller cubes that could freely rotate around one another without falling apart.

And the model was useful, but there was a small problem. Because once the professor started moving the individual cubes, he quickly realized that what he really had on his hands was a pretty great puzzle that even he wasn’t sure how to solve.

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How hard could it be?

It took Professor Erno Rubik over a month to sort out the solution to his wonderful new puzzle toy, which could be rearranged in 43 quintillion different ways. Now, personally I find his success pretty impressive, but given that the current world record for solving a single 3 x 3 Rubik’s Cube is a cool 4.9 seconds, and that a little girl who was not yet three did it unofficially in 70 seconds, it’s maybe a little embarrassing.

But no other toy has captured the imagination of the world in quite the same way as the Rubik’s Cube. It quickly became the most popular toy in Hungary in the late 70s, and when it launched onto the International scene in 1980, it became a defining image of a decade.

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Okay. One side solved. That wasn’t so bad.

As of this time last year, Rubik’s Cube remains the single best selling toy of all time, with over 350 million cubes sold, at least .0004% of which have been solved. The rest have either been pulled apart with pliers, had their stickers removed, or been simply left for dead under a heavy piece of furniture.

Because the majority of us haven’t made it through all 43 quintillion possibilities yet in order to solve it. I admit, I was one of those kids who was never able to do it, and it’s possible I may have pulled off a sticker or two in an attempt to return it to its pristine state (which doesn’t work very well). And so I was never a big fan.

But I am a big fan of the Internet and YouTube, responsible most recently for teaching me important skills like how to tie a bow tie (which I can do, like a boss) and how to make a terrific balsamic chicken (which, not surprisingly, my children will not eat). So, a few years ago, I decided to recruit some Internet help and finally solve my Rubik’s cube problem. After all, if a mantis shrimp can solve the puzzle (It can’t. Don’t believe everything you see on YouTube.), then surely I can.

And I did. No, really, I did. I followed the instructions very carefully and I messed it up. A lot. I threw my cube across the room several times. And I started again. And I eventually got it to work out. It took me a little longer than 4.9 second, but shorter than a month.

True story.

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The only tool you’ll need to finally solve your Rubik’s Cube. photo credit: Solving the Puzzle via photopin (license)

Of course anyone who has ever owned a Rubik’s cube (and there’s a 1 in 7 chance that includes you), knows that you can’t just leave it done. Those colors call to you. They just have to be scrambled, and no matter how much you resist it will always happen.

So, I thought, just for the purpose of this blog post, I would give it another go. I’d done it once. How hard could it be?

Um, the answer to that is HARD. Like, really hard. I think I watched the official Rubik’s Cube solving guide videos somewhere in the neighborhood of 43 quintillion times before I threw the cube across the room where it disappeared under a heavy piece of furniture.

But as Erno Rubik once famously said, “If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.” So, I think I’ll stick with it. I’ll solve it again someday. That is if I can ever find it.

The Dark Days of Pinball: How I Nearly Took a Sledgehammer to a Snowman

Seventy-four years ago, on January 21, 1942, Fiorello La Guardia, then mayor of New York, finally got around to addressing what can only be described as a scourge on the good citizens of his city. Long before loosie cigarette vendors and giant cups of killer soda, New York still had its fair share of problems. The biggest one of all was pinball.

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Fiorello La Guardia, then mayor of New York, probably addressing the public about the dangers of pinball.

 

Mayor La Guardia wasn’t having it. “Pinball,” he explained while gesturing wildly, “is a racket dominated by interests heavily tainted with criminality.” He issued a directive to the NYC police department, expressing that the rounding up of pinball machines throughout the city was to be their top priority.

Over the course of a few weeks, police raided seedy pinball establishments confiscating more than three thousand machines. Then the mayor himself, a grand politician, took a few highly publicized swings at them with a sledgehammer, smashing them to bits.

Time and resources well spent, I’d say. But then I’ve never been very good at pinball, a game of some skill and a lot of luck.

And right now I feel as if I’ve been playing it for the last three days. We had a long weekend this past weekend, with Martin Luther King Day on Monday and an additional teacher inservice training day for our school district on Tuesday.

My sons are eleven and eight, close enough in age to be really good friends and also terrible enemies, sometimes in the very same moment. So while we all enjoy the occasional break from school, it can start to feel like an elaborate game of pinball.

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You know, the one thing I didn’t think to do was take my kids to an arcade to play pinball. Huh. photo credit: P1010858 via photopin (license)

 

Everything is going along fine. Their imaginations are running wild and they’re having fun. Then they get bored. They fight. Someone ends up crying. I start yelling. I take a deep breath, pull back the spring loaded pin of creativity and launch them an idea, something new to try, a game to play, a project to work on, a friend to call, or a book to read. It works for a little while. Enthusiastic and hopeful, they bounce off the walls and I rack up a few creative mom points. Until they get bored. They fight. And someone ends up crying.

By the end of the day on Tuesday I had pretty much exhausted every idea I ever had for keeping them busy. We were on the brink of something terrible. And that’s when it started to snow.

The call came around 10:00 that night. The boys were tucked in and sleeping and I was just beginning to relax, unwinding from the woes of the day before heading to bed myself when we received notice there would be no school the next day.

I love my children, but when I thought about spending another day of launching creative ideas at them only to wind up with one (or all) of us in tears, I was ready to whack a snowman with a sledgehammer.

That’s kind of where Mayor La Guardia was at, too. Because he’d already spent years trying to clean up his city. He’d taken on crime, ridding the city of the slot machines that funneled gambling money to the mafia.

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And that is how you become the kind of mayor that gets an airport named after you.

 

And then the criminals launched pinball onto the scene. At the time, the game didn’t yet include flippers, and so involved much more chance than skill, pilfering, according to the mayor, “nickels and dimes given [children] as lunch money.”

He wasn’t alone in his crusade against the game. Cities across the US joined in the fight and banned pinball, sending it into the even deeper recesses of the shady underground, where only the most hardened of criminals could find it.

New York’s ban lasted until 1976 when a heated pinball-focused City Council hearing ended in a spectacular demonstration of skill by Roger Sharpe, by day a respected young magazine editor, and by night, a hardened pinball criminal from New York’s seedy underbelly.

Sharpe played for a bit with mixed reviews and then in one final attempt to impress, he called a difficult launch, and delivered. The City Council immediately declared that pinball was more than a game of mere chance and the ban was lifted.

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This could have been me. photo credit: Snowman Vs. Sledge via photopin (license)

 

Fortunately school is in session today, but if it weren’t, I’d have had to institute a ban on creative mom pinball. I’d have been making a few highly skilled calls myself, frantically launching my boys toward the homes of friends or grandparents. Because if they’d been home with me again today, I’m pretty sure I would have taken out a few snowmen with a sledgehammer.

That’s How it Could Have Happened.

It all started with a dinner party. In the early 1940s, musician Anthony Pratt made his living performing concerts at hotels throughout the English countryside. The popular evening entertainment of the day was dinner and a murder mystery.

In these live-action whodunits, actors and guests spread through the hotel, seeking clues to solve a murder. As guests answered questions about the murderer, crime scene, and weapon, it occurred to Pratt that he might have the makings of a board game.

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That blue game piece looks awfully guilty to me! photo credit: Houseguests, Weapons via photopin (license)

He played around with the idea and in December of 1944, applied for a patent for his game “Murder!” In 1949, with a few tweaks, Pratt’s game went into production with game manufacturer Waddingtons as “Cluedo.” Simultaneously, Parker Brothers released the game in the United States, calling it “Clue.” The game was a hit.

Then in December of 1985, Paramount released a film adaptation of it. All the brightly colored game characters arrive at a spooky mansion on a stormy night for a dinner party and a series of murders.  The critical response to the film was more or less “meh.” But audiences who had grown up playing Pratt’s game liked it fine. The film developed a cult following proving to a curious world that Tim Curry looks better in a tuxedo than in women’s lingerie.

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A brilliant cast, witty dialogue, and a plot based on a board game. Perhaps not cinematic gold, but definitely a lot of fun.

I played the game Clue a lot when I was a kid. And though I didn’t see the movie in the theater, it was one of my favorites. I watched it frequently on VHS, complete with all three possible endings and a load of pithy jokes. When our boys started enjoying the game, we showed them the movie and they loved it, too.

So when a theater near our home screened Clue as part of a throwback film series, we geeked out. We rearranged our schedules, grabbed our tickets, and stayed out late on a school night to see it.

It was totally worth it. The catchy score was louder, the old mansion was creepier, and the growling  guard dogs were scarier. With a large crowd laughing along, even the pithy jokes were funnier. Of course it didn’t hurt that between handfuls of butter-soaked popcorn, my youngest was reciting right along with every line.

His favorite part occurs during the first ending in which Wadsworth the butler reveals that Miss Scarlet is the murderer.  The two of them debate whether any bullets remain in the revolver, with Wadsworth eventually wrestling it away from Scarlet. When he then accidentally fires it, the bullet severs the cord holding the chandelier. The chandelier nearly falls on Colonel Mustard, engaged in recounting the fired shots on his fingers, taking him by complete surprise.

It didn’t matter that my son already knew the scene because everything’s better on the big screen. Though originally released to theaters with only one of three endings, this screening of the movie included all three. We watched and laughed and went home happy.

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Redefining the term “party crasher.”

And that’s how it could have happened.

But then, a couple weeks later came our turn to host a large crowd of neighbors for the annual Christmas party. After a lot of baking, cooking, arranging, and cleaning, we were just about ready for the party to begin. The wine glasses were lined up on the kitchen island and my husband stood at the stove with the last of the food nearly ready. Guests were due to arrive in about fifteen minutes.

I washed and dried one last cooking pot, hung it on the iron pot rack/light fixture above the island and walked out of the kitchen. I had just made it through the doorway when I heard a very scary noise.

I looked back to see my husband, miraculously uninjured, doing his best Colonel Mustard impression. Inches behind him, the pot rack had crashed onto the counter, shattering the wine glasses, sending shards of broken glass across the kitchen and dining room.

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Maybe I’ll just keep my pots on the garage floor. Seems safer.

 

Soon after, the doorbell rang. My first instinct was to shout like Mrs. Peacock, “Oh, whoever it is, they gotta go away or they’ll be killed.” But instead, I took a shaky breath, opened the door, and explained our situation.

It was a little darker in the kitchen. We swept up a lot of glass. But in the end, we managed to have a really nice evening with some very understanding neighbors. And best of all, no one was killed. In the kitchen. With the pot rack.

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It could have very easily ended like this. photo credit: Trentham Gardens – First Aid Unit – North Staffs Voluntary First Aid Service via photopin (license)

Playing Well: Pretty Much the Coolest Job in the World

In 1934, Danish master carpenter and builder Ole Kirk Kristiansen held a contest to find a new name for his burgeoning toy company. Since1916 Kristiansen had been operating his carpentry business in the town of Billund, Denmark,constructing mainly houses and household furniture.

With the start of the Great Depression in the 1930’s, construction became a difficult way to make a living and so Kristiansen turned his attention to toys. With the shift came the need for a new name and while Kristiansen had a couple of good ideas, he also had a homemade bottle of wine, which he offered up to the employee who could come up with the best idea.

The best idea was a clever contraction of two Danish words, leg godt, which translate as “play well.” The company, of course, became LEGO, a worldwide building brick phenomenon that pumps out more than 5 million little plastic blocks per hour, which is coincidentally about the same number that are currently scattered on the floors of my house.

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Creation Nation. There was a large outline of the US on the floor with attendees invited to build a small sculpture to help fill it in. Some were just silly and fun. Others modeled famous landmarks. Still others were inspired by McDonald’s. Because what’s more American than that?

My kiddos are LEGO fanatics. And so are yours most likely because on average every person on earth owns 86 LEGO bricks. Granted, my dog probably ingested more than that number yesterday alone, but there’s still a good chance you have a few lying around. If you want to find them, just take off your shoes and walk around for a bit. Always works at my house.

So it’s probably no surprise that when the traveling LEGO Kids Fest visited St. Louis this past weekend, my family jumped at the chance to go. I’m glad we did, because it was a seriously cool event. For two days, the Edward Jones Dome at America’s Center, normally the football stadium for the St. Louis Rams, was put to a much better use. It became home to a maze of huge LEGO sculptures and interactive building activities.

Kids and their families participated in build challenges and group art projects, teaming up to design and race cars or construct strength-tested bridges. Attendees could enjoy numerous free-play areas set up with tubs full of individual colors so that if they had a hankering to make a replica of the Taj Mahal using only purple bricks, they totally could.

Or it was the perfect place to fulfill the lifelong dream of climbing on top of a big pile of bricks and making a LEGO angel (because who hasn’t dreamt of doing that?) before sitting down to construct a giant multicolored fish taco.

My favorite experience, though, was when we took a break and went to a presentation given by one of the LEGO Master Builders, of which there are only eight in the entire world, all based out of Enfield, Connecticut.

This elite group is responsible for all of the giant LEGO sculptures you might see at the LEGO Kids Fest, or the Mall of America, or Disney World, or anywhere else you might find a giant LEGO sculpture.

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Yep, even Emmett has been Kra gl ed.

We had the opportunity to meet Master Builder Chris Steininger during a presentation on interlocking build design in which he encouraged all the little Master Buidlers in Training to try different structures, and then strength test them with heavy metal wrecking balls. My sons learned their lessons well, intentionally designing weak structures to achieve more spectacular destruction.

Chris talked a little bit about the design and build process and he patiently answered about a hundred questions from the kids in the audience, most of which were some variation of “Do you have the best job in the world or what?”

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Coolest. Job. Ever.

Not surprisingly he answered, “Yes,” explaining that even though sometimes there are frustrating design issues to work out and building a new model, layer by layer, gluing each in place along the way (yes, for all you LEGO Movie fans out there, I’m sorry to tell you master builders do use “Kra gl e”) can be tedious, basically what he does for a living is play well. And what could be better than that?

Which is what Ole Kristiansen decided, too. It would be a few years before the emergence of the patented stud-and-tube interlocking brick system that is still inspiring little builders today, but in 1934, Ole knew what he wanted his company to be about. And deep down, he also knew what he wanted to call it. He decided to stick with his own idea and called the company LEGO. There’s no record of whether or not he shared the bottle of wine.