New York Magazine

Lego Is the Perfect Toy

Even if no one can really agree on what kind of toy it is anymore.

Lego is an idea as much as it is a toy; if you try hard enough, you can fit the entire story of the last century of child’s play and the hopes and desires of every parent into one of its 9.6-millimeter-tall rectangular plastic bricks. Molded in a thermoplastic polymer, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, Legos are known for their durability, which is why you can pull out the 30-year-old Legos stashed in your parents’ basement and, dated color schemes aside, they’ll be the same as they ever were. Not only will they look the same, but they will fit together with every other one Lego has ever made, even those going back to 1949, when a Danish toy-maker named Ole Kirk Kristiansen made his first plastic brick. Lego calls it the System of Play, and it is both a manufacturing principle, allowing the company to reuse the same molds to make infinite new sets, and a play proposition: The more bricks you own, the more you can build.

Like all 6,500 Lego elements—cubes, rectangles, octagons, wheel beds, arches, even the tiny semi-circular hands of yellow mini-figures—the standard brick has a variation of just 0.004 millimeters, which means Legos are more precisely crafted than your coffeemaker, your television, even your iPhone. It’s this precision that makes it possible to use Legos to build a 16-inch replica of the Taj Mahal (5,922 pieces) or a full-scale version of the X-Wing Starfighter (5,335,200 bricks).

Psychically, the Lego brick is also distinctly calibrated; it operates in a space shared by childhood imagination and parental ambition. For children, Legos allow them to build whole universes to their idiosyncratic specifications. For parents, Legos seem like the vegetable your kid actually requests and then eats in heaping mounds—a toy that’s also a building block for future creativity, a mechanics lesson that doesn’t feel like schoolwork, a wholesome embodiment of Scandinavian craftsmanship, something tactile in a world that is increasingly pixelated. It is the plastic plaything that even the parent most committed to natural, wooden toys will gladly buy. It is also more popular today than it has ever been, which is a surprise even to some at the company, since roughly a decade ago it was nearly bankrupt.

When Lego’s sales began to drop off in the 1990s, the company sought counsel from outside advisers, who warned of a dire future. Childhood was getting shorter, kids

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from New York Magazine

New York Magazine5 min read
The Magnificent Six
THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS DIRECTED BY JOEL AND ETHAN COEN. NETFLIX. R. THE FAVOURITE DIRECTED BY YORGOS LANTHIMOS. FOX SEARCHLIGHT. R. FOR DECADES, it was easy to undervalue Joel and Ethan Coen—not their droll, hyperliterate dialogue or know
New York Magazine5 min readPolitics
Trump, Trapped
ON NOVEMBER 7, President Trump woke up to a world in which Democrats had smashed through a gerrymandered map to win three dozen House seats, depriving him of both his legislative majority and his effective immunity from congressional oversight and ac
New York Magazine6 min read
My Friend Willy
After decades apart, our art critic sits down with his old friend Willem Dafoe to talk van Gogh.