The evolution of the LEGO computer block

Recently we’ve been sifting through about six tubs of LEGO bricks that I grew up with and still own. It has been an archaeological dig through my past. Not only is it fun to find certain blocks I used to love, but I’ll often come across some aborted or half-destroyed creation and I’ll almost instantly (and quite eerily) remember why I built it or what corner of my LEGO universe it occupied. This is from two decades ago, mind you. But the real treasure in this dig are the non-LEGO items buried in the brick-silt. Small, fractured toys, leaked batteries (and their dried acid), dessicated food stuffs, and all manner of childhood jetsam probably make up 5% of the brick tubs. Your hands become visibly dirty after running them through the tub for just five minutes. But even the scum tweaks nostalgia a bit.

I’ve recently discussed The coolest LEGO brick ever. During the latest excavations I made it a point of picking out all the computer-type bricks I could find. Here’s what I found.

First, the classics, in two versions. There’s the command line terminal on the left and the flashy-button sci-fi bleep-bloop box on the right. No one ever knew what that one did, but it flashed and bleeped and it seemed right at home on the launchpad. The evolution of the colors is the interesting thing in how it roughly sketches the evolution of real case colors. The earliest blue computers derived from spaceships and command bunkers, evolved into the beige-box ubiquity of the IBM PC era and thence to the whites of the post-iMac world.

The special find was this version of the command line model. It is inverted so that it hangs above the minifig user. Because, as is obvious, computers that you dangle over your head mean that you have a lot of screens to keep track of and that you are, thus, supercool.

In the LEGOverse computers seem to have taken a step backwards after the golden age of space-inspired computer blocks. At least the early machines had screens. This lot of button panels seem like a throwback to analog days. Not sure what to do? Press the red button.

‘Course, sometimes you needed the big iron. Here’s the only LEGO mainframe with removable front plate that I know of.

And lastly, assorted bricks that belong to what you might call targetting computers. The one on the right actually lit up when attached to a battery. Still not as cool as the classics, but in their vectory goodness they echoed Battlezone, flight sims, and other important arcade games of the era.

At this point I thought I pretty much had the complete evolution of LEGO computer bricks documented — at least up to the point that LEGO sets and themes diversified to the point of incoherence. (What in the hell is Bionicle?) But I should have known better. LEGO geeks have done a far more thorough job of documenting computer bricks than I ever could. But hey, even the best archaeologists only confirm what’s already known, right?