People, especially kids, love to stack things to make structures. If you imagine an exceptionally abbreviated history of building toys, you’d start with simple wood blocks, which grew into Lego, which in turn led to the digital revolution known as Minecraft. Now a new interlocking cardboard block set hopes to give youngsters big tools to make life-sized creations instead of digital block construction.
I spent a few hours this past weekend watching my two young nephews — both of whom are voracious Lego and Minecraft (and the equally brilliant Magnatiles) consumers, and brought them a gift: a box of unbuilt Buildies blocks. The fold-and-stack cardboard blocks, which have just a few hours remaining on Kickstarter, are reminiscent of Lego with their interlocking tabs. There’s one major difference, however — they’re roughly the size of an actual cinderblock, allowing the boys to build in a scale they can actually inhabit.
With a home full of distracting toys, this would be an interesting experiment. Could I extract them from their digital distractions and get them to do some actual, physical building?
It started with the presentation and unpacking of the box. The blocks come unassembled, and are quite dense when folded and packed up. We pulled all the pieces out and stacked them in piles, because — as noted — people love stacking things. Then they cautiously figured out how to fold one of the bricks, learning which tab needs to slot where, and how the interlocking pieces affix themselves. I stepped back and realized, there’s a LOT of work to do here.
What happened after that was pretty amazing. The brothers organized an assembly line, enlisting their uncle and grandfather, and sunk fully into the process of building all 44 full blocks, plus the eight smaller blocks. One of us would pull the perforated pieces off, the next in line would fold the brick, the third would add the tabs, and the last would place them in the structure.
So it continued for an unbelievable four hours, minus a thirty minute lunch break where the brothers showed me various Minecraft-themed music videos on YouTube (apparently there’s an entire industry dedicated to making variations of popular songs, but with lyrics about digging holes and fighting Creepers). Most kids don’t seem to have an exceptionally long attention span, so their dedication to making the fort was impressive.
Finally, with the bricks stacked four levels high, the roof was applied, blankets and pillows were found, and the the slumber-worthy fort was completed. Sure, there were scraps of cardboard all over the living room carpet, and yes, the blocks may not store well in small places (unfolding them seems like an unwise venture). But, as always, the kids were enamored with stacking their bricks.
A few days later, after much begging, the grandparents filled the back of a pickup truck with all the pieces and drove them to the boys’ home. I look forward to seeing what they make next.