I had been out of the Lego scene for a while by the time my daughter started playing with the stuff. In the sets she opened there was often this odd thing that put me in mind of a ski, or maybe even a ski slope. It didn’t seem to be part of the main design. It looked more like a tool, albeit one whose purpose struck me as being slightly alien. My daughter knew what it is, and, actually, it is a tool. It’s the Lego Brick Separator.
As far as I can understand the Separator goes back in lineage to 1987, which is about the time I stopped playing with Lego. The tool is a beautiful thing, often orange or teal, a slope with a few funny bits at the wide end. This tool has three main purposes, I gather: a wedge for separating bricks from base plates, a lever for applying pressure up or down to pull bricks away, and a sort of pokey bit for removing wheels from axels.
I love it because it feels so useful – it has an aura of deep utility to it. And I also love it because it acknowledges the sort of shadow world of Lego, that you build with it, sure, but you also have to take it apart. When I was a kid, the main Lego brick Separator was either fingernails or teeth. This one feels much safer. It’s also fun to just carry around in a pocket with all your other junk and maybe feel like you’re a bit more prepared for the world.
Lego and video games have an interesting history. I’m not sure that the massive sellers actually have that much to do with Lego – certainly not as much to do with the brick aspect as the branding aspect, which certainly Lego is brilliantly gifted with. When Apple Arcade gave us Lego Builder’s Journey it felt like a step towards more of Lego’s brickiness. Here was a puzzle game whose dioramas seemed to actually be built of bricks. The stars were not the licenses like Marvel or Lord of the Rings, but the iconic pieces from sets themselves. It was a world of Lego that came from the big tub of parts which is always the centre of any good Lego collection. Doodads and baseplates and studs and all that stuff. It was extremely refreshing.
I think the Lego Brick Separator could fit in somewhere like that. A puzzle game, perhaps, about working things backwards, taking them apart, and acknowledging that a central Lego state is all about doodling with plastic, letting your hands work, getting a feel for what’s right – and what’s wrong and needs to come apart.
Lego has lasted because you can take it apart. Sure, the licensing is extremely creative and tinged with genius – I am desperate for the Bjarke Ingels Lego House set, and the Ghostbusters HQ – but this stuff lives on so long and passes from one generation to the next because you can take down what’s old and rebuild something new. It’s reinvention and imagination, and who doesn’t need a handy tool to help with that?