Lego Set 70816: Benny’s Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP!

As a person who really dove into Lego with the 1978 Classic Space sets, the character of Benny in The Lego Movie, the 1980-something spaceman with the cracked helmet, really appealed to me. I loved those sets and have done new creations that hearken back to them.

When they released the spaceship that Benny finally gets to build as a set, I knew I had to get it. Sadly, my Legos are lying abandoned these days, but the spark is still there. Benny’s spaceship is very much a throwback to the Classic Space era, and I was ready to go back there again. I built it this weekend.

My intention was going to be a post full of photos, illustrating the various steps, but most of the pictures I took with my camera didn’t come out well. Enough did, though, that I can give you a good account.

The set is a big boy, with 940 pieces. At $100, it goes a little over the base dime-per-piece cost, but not terribly so, and as we’ll see, there’s a lot you get here.

There are seven bags of pieces, two instruction manuals, and a sticker sheet.

Here are the results of bag #1. Let’s zoom in on the minifigs.

Wyldstyle is in a rocking Classic Space version of her outfit (the “hood” part of the hoodie is actually a separate neck piece, so now any blue torso can have a hood!) and Emmet is disguised as a robot.

Here are the contents of bag #3, with the Classic Space logo and a good old red 2×4 brick, the best brick of them all.

I normally don’t put the stickers on pieces, but for this one, I did. Here’s one reason I usually don’t. I am terrible at stickers. I slowly, carefully line them up and then bam, they go on at a crazy angle and I have to pull them off and try again. In this case, on a clear window, the final result looks terrible.

Benny himself shows up in bag #5, the first bag of instruction manual #2. Earlier in the build you make a little place that holds tools, one of which is a wrench and the other…a hammer? “No!” I outraged. “It should be a walkie-talkie! Wrenches and walkie-talkies were what the Classic Space astronauts had!” When Benny showed up with a walkie-talkie, all was once again right in my world.

This was a cruel, cruel trick, Lego. Two stickers, on two different sloped bricks, that were intended to form a continuous line between them. And I had to do this twice!

…and then, as you can see here, they’re separated anyway! Also, check out Space Unikitty!

And here’s the finished product (click on it to make it supernova-sized).

This ship was an absolute blast to put together. It’s full of really cool and clever connections. You non-Lego people will have to bear with me going full-tilt Lego nerd for a moment, but there is a connection involving an old school wheel that blew my mind. A thirty-year old piece being used in a way I had not only never seen done but didn’t even know was possible! And I love the use of the sideways arched windows as engine intakes.

The pieces are a great mix of old and new. A lot of stuff I haven’t seen since the old days (check the “air horns” on the top, just behind Unikitty!) and a lot of great new pieces, including some 2×2 round tiles with a stud-sized hole in the center.

There’s a lot of play value here as well. You get five minifigs, including Unikitty. The ship fires eight missiles: four flick-fires, two big yellow rubber ones, and two new (to me, at least) ones on either side of Unikitty. The cockpit opens and seats three (though the canopy doesn’t close all the way if anyone is in the very front seat.) The little spaceships on the side detach. Between Unikitty and the radar dish is a bay holding two little robots that can come out. Unikitty’s area flips up to reveal a small control area, tool storage, and a screwed up sticker on a window giving a view of the engine core or something. Pushing in and pulling out the center engine on the rear extends and retracts the wings, which can reveal or hide the yellow rubber missiles. And the bad guy robot has a little pursuit ship of his own. What’s more, this thing is built sturdy. Despite its size, it is well constructed and can stand up to play.

Do I have any quibbles? Minor ones. I’d like to have seen the yellow-black-yellow stripes seen on early Classic Space sets included here somewhere. The bottom of the ship isn’t finished off well, looking like the bottom of a Lego model. I’d like to have seen a few more classic pieces used. But none of those are deal-breakers, obviously.

And here are the extra pieces, including an extra newfangled missile to replace the one that goes under the bookshelf in 5…4…3…

If you’re a fan of Classic Space, Neo-Classic Space, or great Lego sets in general, do not pass up Benny’s Spaceship, Spaceship, SPACESHIP! There’s a good reason he’s got that great big smile on his face.

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I Had That! #19: Commodore VIC-20 and Commodore 64

By 1983 I couldn’t take it anymore. I was begging for a computer. My dad relented and somehow didn’t get me a Radio Shack one; I have no idea how that could have happened, and can only assume they were too expensive. Instead I got a Commodore VIC-20.

Even at the time this was kind of a My First Computer. It only had 5K of RAM (note: that picture of it above uses 44K) and had a weird 22 characters by 23 lines display. Let’s look at how that would look.

Even at the time this
was kind of a My First
Computer. It only had
5K of RAM (note: that
picture of it above
uses 44K) and had a
weird 22 characters by
23 lines display.
Let’s see how that
would look.

Nevertheless, I loved having it and got what I could out of it. There were games on cartridges you could get (Gorf, Radar Rat Race, an a few others), I did BASIC programming on it, and I even got a modem for it, allowing me to set foot in the world of New Orleans BBSes, which simply cannot be overstated as a factor in my development, for good or ill.

It wasn’t too long before I was outgrowing the VIC-20. Again, my folks miraculously relented to upgrade me to a Commodore 64 some time in 1984. I suppose I finally had taken an interest in something that wasn’t in their minds a complete waste of time (they were wrong).

With the C64 I was now playing with power. I continued some programming and BBSing on its sprawling 40×25 display, but the games! Oh, the games! The C64 was probably THE machine for games until the Nintendo came along. When I met Joe, who had recently moved to town and had connections to a big pirate group, My collection of games exploded. (I’d trade him my Star Wars figures for disks of games; he gave the figures to his little brother.) I could do a series just on the C64 games I liked. I got the crazy slow disk drive (it was considered a major technological innovation when someone wrote a program that could format a 5.25″ floppy disk in only four minutes), the modem, a printer, and a monitor. Also joysticks galore, since the joystick port was compatible with the Atari 2600′s and there were a wide range of available options. I broke my favorite one during a savage game of Jumpman.

(The printer story is funny. My cousin was going to sell it to me for something like $125, which was more cash than I had at the time. My folks saw this as an opportunity for me to come up with a plan for paying them, be responsible, etc. Instead I immediately sold my VIC-20, plus all its accoutrement, including the black and white TV I used for it, to a different cousin for $125. My lesson in budgeting and managing money would have to wait.)

I say I did programming on the C64, and I did, but the vast array of available games stunted my interest there. There wasn’t much motivation to create games of my own since I already had plenty of great ones to play. I subscribed at the time to Compute! magazine, which had games and things you could key in, and I did those, but I seldom looked at the programs themselves to learn more programming. The C64 had more powerful graphics and sound, but they were also more complicated to use, and ready-made games won out over the learning curve.

There’s a lot of nostalgic love for the C64, and there’s good reason for it. It was a relatively inexpensive machine that was fat-packed with potential and a wide range of available games. I’ve briefly toyed with emulators, but they didn’t really captivate me.

When did I get it? Fairly certain I got the VIC-20 in 1983. On January 1, 1984, I logged into the Y’At BBS as “Big Brother” and posted “Big Brother is watching you!” on every one of the discussion topics, and I’m fairly certain I did that on the VIC-20. And I know I got the C64 not long afterwards, in 1984.

Do I still have it? As I said, the VIC-20 got sold to my cousin Shane to finance a printer for my C64. The C64 was sold in the winter of 1986 (after I got the Tandy 1000) to my friend Charlyn. She complained not long afterwards that a lot of the game disks weren’t working anymore, and I realized this was because she was storing them on top of the monitor. She is, incidentally, a for-real computer programmer now.

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Another Goddamn Mass Shooting

One person tried to use a shoe bomb on an airplane and thirteen years later everyone still has to take their shoes off to board a plane. But here’s yet another mass gun murder of several innocent people and we still do nothing. When are you assholes going to realize that NO ONE IS TAKING YOUR GUNS AWAY. You won. You can have all the guns you want. The only “gun control” that came out of Newtown was we had a brief discussion of how many bullets you get to fire at a child before having to reload and the quickly-reached consensus was, “as many as you want”.

Believe me, we who don’t worship the trigger and the magazine are completely aware that we’ve lost, that we will never have a gun policy in this country that isn’t decided by the most insane gun fetishists. We fully realize that the NRA owns every inch of the gun “debate”. We’ve resigned ourselves to living in the only industrialized nation that goes through this shit on a near-weekly basis. All we ask is that you knock off the fake martyrdom and victimhood and paranoia about your precious, beloved guns being taken away. You won. Go celebrate by buying yet another goddamn gun.

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‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?’ by Roz Chast

Roz Chast has been putting out hilarious, bizarre, disturbing, and absurd cartoons for years, mostly in the New Yorker. Her work, done in a jittery, nervous style, explores the ridiculous anxieties of middle-class Americans. In her new book, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, she turns the view onto herself and her elderly parents and their impending deaths.

As the title states, this is not a happy subject, although Chast mines rich veins of humor in her memoir, especially when it comes to the relationship between her abrasive, know-it-all, domineering mother and her sheepish father. But even in the funny moments, and there are plenty, there’s only one way this story can end, and in America, it’s not a happy one.

Chast starts with her parents doing reasonably well, even at an advanced age. But eventually events happen that require them to move to A Place, and then the decline speeds up, first with her father, and then her mother. But the decline never speeds up enough. Chast writes:

“Here’s what I used to think happened at ‘the end’: One day, Old Mrs. McGillicuddy felt unwell, and she took to her bed. She stayed there for about, oh, three or four weeks, growing weaker day by day. One night, she developed something called a ‘death rattle,’ and soon after that, she died. The end.”

What I was starting to understand was that the middle panel was a lot more painful, humiliating, long-lasting, complicated, and hideously expensive.

What Chast discovers is that death is not just a topic that her parents didn’t want to discuss, nobody wants to discuss it, and so it’s swept into the corners, neglected. We as a society won’t face it so when it comes to be our turn we endure this awful extended nightmare that no one will acknowledge long enough to do something about.

Along the way we also find out about the relationship between Chast and her parents as she grew up, and they with one another.

It’s not an easy relationship, and this is added to the mix. It’s difficult enough to care for a dying parent for whom you have great affection. It’s even harder to do so for one for whom you don’t. A lot of Roz Chast’s own many anxieties were helped along by her parents, and the guilt of not wanting the burden they represent is added on top of them.

Roz Chast is at the absolute top of her form — of the form — here. Her writing is sharp and insightful, and her artwork perfectly suited to the matter. The way the text and the art interact with and inform each other is phenomenal, and a turn the art takes towards the end is powerful and heartbreaking.

This is a comic not to be missed. It’s one of the greats.

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Illuminati: Is Controlling the World Just a Thing of the Past?

This weekend, out of the blue, I found myself wanting to play Illuminati, a card game from 1987 (this edition, that is) published by Steve Jackson Games. I hadn’t played it in years, and it’s been decades since I played it regularly.

I first bought it back in the mid-80s, but it wasn’t until I was in college at LSU that it really got played. Kurt, Anna, Chris, Kyle, and I would regularly try to take over the world, usually involving Anna being certain I was winning on turn two and blasting me as much as she could. It was a fun time.

A brief gist of the game: Each player is an Illuminati, a secret group bent on controlling the world. Other groups, such as “Convenience Stores”, “The FBI”, “The Music Industry”, “Girlie Magazines”, and “Elvis Impersonators” are revealed, and you are trying to recruit or destroy these groups to further your sinister goals. Each Illuminati has its own agenda that gets it victory, or it can go the brute force method of simply controlling a specified number of groups.

It’s based on The Illuminatus! Trilogy, a sprawling, sloppy, near-unreadable hulk of a tome written in the 70s that satirizes much of the culture and counter-culture of the time, in which various folks are trying to stop a plan by the Illuminati, but get caught up in conspiratorial wheels within wheels.

I played Illuminati before I was really into hobby games, and it was coming off the 80s anyhow, which had a totally different angle on boardgames, so we saw nothing wrong with the game as it was. These days, though, it’s a dated relic of an earlier time. It’s clumsy, the different Illuminatis are not remotely balanced, and it has the usual Ameritrash polarizing elements: dice, randomness, player elimination, take-that, direct attacks, general goofiness. It plays exactly like a game from the 80s, down to the fact that it doesn’t recommend playing with three, assuming you have four people who are down for a game of Illuminati. The endgame consists of smacking down whoever’s currently about to win until someone does because everyone else has run out of money, and it can drag the game out.

I got some of the Sunday group to play it with me, and they weren’t too impressed. I completely understand. Yet, I still have affection for the damn thing. Part of the attraction for me is the theme. I was into the whole Illuminati conspiracy nonsense back before the Internet made everyone an expert on it. I’m the guy who was the only person who ever checked out Charles Fort’s The Book of the Damned from the LSU library. I read The Illuminatus! Trilogy not once but twice, and then later a third time! Hell, I read Cosmic Trigger, written by one of the Trilogy’s authors, Robert Anton Wilson, which was as big a load of nonsense as could be communicated on paper. So yeah, I’m down with the theme, and that probably explains 80% of my enthusiasm for the game. (Side note: It really, really bugs me that SJG acts like it invented and owns the whole Illuminati, Pyramid, Fnord, Discordian, etc stuff, but we have a post to get through so let’s not get me started on why SJG bugs me.) The game actually spurred my interest in the topic, rather than the other way around.

It’s pretty much ignored now. Though Steve Jackson Games released expansions for it between 1999 and 2010, the last expansion consisted only of 18 cards. (I, of course, bought all of these despite never much playing it.) Compare that with SJG’s Munchkin, which released fourteen expansions in the time it took me to type this sentence. There are only a handful of plays for it on BGG in any given month. It seems like its time is gone, and that may be for the best.

It had a brief moment in the early 90s, when the collectible card game surge caused everyone to try their hand at one. SJG retooled the game into Illuminati: New World Order which was an even sloppier, even more unbalanced, broken mess, despite having some good ideas for the game. Naturally I bought into that game, but gave up on it being something playable almost immediately. I still have the cards, though, unlike nearly every other CCG I tried. People have been trying to fix the game ever since, but the common solution seems to be “play the original version instead”.

The game is dated not only mechanically, but thematically, with cards like “The Phone Company” but I honestly think there’s something there. It might be as simple as paring down the massive number of cards to a more reasonable stack to get rid of some of the dated and wonky ones, as well as the boring ones that don’t add much. Some folks on BGG have suggested that sort of thing, but I just don’t know how well I could sell even an allegedly fixed Illuminati game to my group again. Maybe it’s just time to let it go.

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I Had That! #18: Battle Beasts



“Fire BURN Water! No. Wait.”

That was my friend Gene and me screwing up the ad for Battle Beasts.

These little guys had the gimmick that each one had a heat-sensitive sticker on it that, when warmed, revealed which faction it belonged to: Fire, Water, or Wood. Fire beat Wood, Wood beat Water, Water beat Fire, in an eternal cycle of combat. This is a pretty neat idea on the surface, but what kid wants these battles to be concluded without prolonged violence?

I was too old for Battle Beasts when they came out in the late 80s, but I loved the designs. Look at these guys! The paint jobs are great, they all have character, and their tech had that Japanese look that was so intriguing at the time. Also they were cheap. They were probably my first foray into collecting (buying) toys without the intention of playing with them.

This is not to say that I didn’t have favorites. Although there was apparently some kind of extended backstory behind these guys, I didn’t know or care about it, I just picked who were good guys and who were bad guys. I believe the good guys were led by the fox in the white armor (middle row, second from left) and the bad guys by the shark (far right, front row). There wasn’t much to this classification; they pretty much just stood on a shelf.

They came in packs of two, which might explain why I have two of the dog on the far right of the back row. I guess he was pack with two different guys, one of whom I really wanted. I say I “collected” them, but unless I had more than these few that have wandered I didn’t stick with it for long.

I’m kind of surprised there hasn’t been a gritty remake of these guys, or foot-tall versions of them for nostalgic fanboys with a lot of extra cash.

When did I get it? Wikipedia says they came out in ’86 in Japan, and somewhere else says they also came out in America at the same time. This sounds reasonable, though I probably got them closer to ’87.

Do I still have it? Yep, they were among the few things that got rescued from the Big Nerd Box. I even have some of the crazy plastic weapons they came with, though I don’t know which one goes with whom.

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