5 Surprising Ways Toys Made The World A Better Place
So Christmas just happened, and right now a good number of you out there may not have a very favorable opinion of the LEGO brand because of the injuries you've sustained from stepping on their easily dispersed, hazardously pointy products. But despite their propensity for inflicting grievous wounds upon those who lack vigilance when entering toddler habitats, for some reason this particular line of toys just seems to be involved in an extraordinary amount of goodness in the world. More than just about any other corporate concern I can think of, in fact. Even more than Big Tobacco. And I promise you that I have not received any form of compensation (yet) for bringing up the story of ...
A LEGO Wheelchair For Disabled Tortoises
Turtles have it rough. As if carrying the weight of an unspeakably cumbersome shell around at all times isn't bad enough, metabolic diseases can sometimes leave these already-leisurely creatures practically immobile, unable to support all the extra weight an unforgiving God has burdened them with carrying for eternity. Such a condition would certainly spell doom for a tortoise in the wild, and even if one was kept as a pet, the owner would have few reasons to refrain from turning it into a hearty soup.
But not everyone is that practical, and one Teutonic terrapin named Blade had the good luck of having an owner who cared enough to lug him over to the local veterinarian. And in an even bigger stroke of kismet, this particular vet actually gave enough of a shit to go through the trouble of building him a working wheelchair.
If The Human Centipede trilogy gave you an irrational fear of creative German doctors, you can skip to about 1:00 to get straight to the turtlin'.
A lot of doctors would have taken one look at Blade and started taking practice swings with the euthanasia mallet, but Dr. Carsten Plischke of Bielefeld, Germany, saw another solution. Taking inspiration from the toys that his schnitzel-grubbing kinder had littered throughout his house, he used some glue to mount a LEGO "skate" on the underside of Blade's shell, with the goal of giving the incapacitated reptile the necessary clearance so that he could use his still-working legs to scuttle pointlessly once more. And the goddamn thing worked like a charm.
His owner wisely chose not to purchase the optional nitrous package.
Dr. Plischke's mecha-reptile concept was a winner, but he's not the only kind-hearted soul out there turning turtles into Decepticons. Meet Schildi, who was found abandoned and got a rolling replacement LEGO-limb after vets were forced to amputate his leg:
Then there's Beamer, the handicapable tortoise from Connecticut, to whom doctors retrofit a LEGO motorcycle by screwing it backwards into his shell. Reportedly, he's been lumbering around with this thing for the better part of 20 years now. That's pretty damn impressive when you're talking about the kind of toy that, at least where my kids are concerned, usually has a lifespan that can be measured in hours.
I hope they make sure he always stays indoors, because they've essentially created
the world's first Happy Meal for coyotes.
Animals aren't the only ones who can benefit from an outside-the-LEGO-box solution to a missing appendage. Check out the humans who are using them to create ...
In olden days when someone lost a limb, the lack of decent prosthetics generally meant they just rounded up whatever materials happened to be lying around to jerry-rig their peg-legs, hook-hands, and tin contraptions for their syphilitic noses. The technology of fake body parts has come a long way since then, but amputee Christina Stephens of St. Louis decided to channel the can-do spirit of her ancestors (and become an Internet sensation to boot) by using all the LEGO bricks left in her basement to fashion a leg worthy of the world's sassiest pirate.
Stephens (who lost her leg when she was changing the brake pads on her Prius and the jack slipped) claims her motivation for making the video was to "destigmatize amputation and make it less scary." Putting the fun back into phantom-leg syndrome is a worthy goal, I suppose, but unfortunately it turns out her creation isn't in any way functional, and to actually walk around on such a contrivance would be the equivalent of Ashton Kutcher punking someone with a live-action rubber crutch joke. But for those who think that LEGO's involvement in prosthetics would only ever be of the symbolic sort: Did you know that they have something called a Future Lab? And that they're helping to develop things that might conceivably make more children wish they spent their after-school hours around the whirling blades of industrial farm equipment?
This definitely isn't going to do the fireworks safety advocates any favors.
Dario, the kid with the Robotech-looking cyborg enhancement up there, is showing off the new IKO creative prosthetic system, which is not simply a perfectly functional synthetic appendage but also a platform for creativity. What that means is that the rubberized grabbing hand that's normally in place can, according to Ramy Zabarah of Popular Mechanics, "be replaced by whatever creative contraption its wearer's heart desires."
Or supervillainous, apparently.
So far this appears to be mainly of the tractor-loader and whirling-light varieties, but the article itself points out how fun it would be to "have laser guns at the end of your arms." And anyone who's ever had a nightmare about Inspector Gadget finally getting his shit together and heading up a brutal, tech-based dictatorship can see some of the disturbing implications here.
Never has it been so easy to prune the weeds so that the mighty orchids may flourish.
The LEGO Star Wars Proposal
Wacky proposals are a dime a dozen, and any nuptial-starved doofus can hire a skywriter, embarrass themself and their entire bloodline with a flashmob, or fake their own death in an attempt to secure a marriage commitment. But for nerds in love, romance can present a much trickier proposition. There's a fine line to walk when your goal is to honor your shared love of the geekier things while simultaneously proving your willingness to spend the rest of your life with them in holy matrimony (or at least in the same raiding guild). Well, a man named Stephen Dempsey of Pennsylvania appears to have nailed it.
"Well, I'm Jewish and her parents are Catholic, so we decided to go Sith."
Wisely forgoing the temptation to use LEGO to build a life-size Patrick Stewart with a sign reading "Will you engage my heart?" Dempsey chose to profess his undying devotion via a Star Wars presentation. But he didn't take the easy way out by constructing a Han and Leia on Hoth diorama or some horseshit. He took the rather counterintuitive approach of embracing the Dark Side -- by constructing a replica of an Imperial Star Destroyer, complete with a crew of little stormtroopers inside and a miniature Darth Vader to serve as ring bearer. It just made sense, because as he explains:
"The reason why I picked Darth Vader was not only because he is one of my favorite [characters] in the Star Wars franchise but by what I think he symbolizes. Although he was a villain in the Star Wars realm, he still cared about those who [were] dearest to him, hence why he couldn't kill Luke. I wanted to relay the message to my fiance that, no matter what, I will always be by her side, through the bad and the good, and in sickness and in health ... to the farthest corners of the galaxy."
"Would you please do me the honor of accepting my probe?"
Then, once everything was prepared and the time was right, he got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Amanda, in a parking garage. Not the most romantic setting, really, but maybe you could make the case that it was the closest he could come to the rancor pit in Jabba's palace. Anyway, she was a little apprehensive at first, presumably puzzled by the offering of a galactic symbol of genocide, but her heart was soon captured like a tractor beam by Dempsey's heartfelt words:
"I told her our love was like this ship and the people inside it. Its shields deflect and defend from any outside force wanting to get in and destroy us. Then I opened the star ship and there stood Darth Vader holding the engagement ring. Then I said, "Amanda ... will you be my co-pilot?"
"They were all out of kyber crystals, so I got you cubic zirconia."
She said yes, he strutted around in front of all his pals over on Reddit, and the rest is history. Well, I guess it will be, after they get married in June 2016. If you're feeling like a little random, out-of-the-blue generosity, maybe you can even buy them that espresso machine or that Rubbermaid food storage set that's still languishing on the gift registry. Just try not to think about how those items might be disassembled, incorporated into a costume, and put to use in some roleplaying scenario during the honeymoon.
"LEGO Saved My Life"
Even if you don't care much about British people blabbering on (quite eloquently) about cars, you may have heard of the BBC show Top Gear. It's one of the most widely watched television programs in the world, has spawned numerous spinoffs, and is also responsible for a number of driving-themed music albums (possibly in a scheme to take advantage of those viewers who confuse host James May with Brian May of Queen). One of the other (now former) hosts on the show, Richard Hammond, wasn't fired for punching a producer and calling him a lazy Irishman like one of his co-workers allegedly was, but a few years ago he came very close to losing his job along with his life, when this happened:
Since he's not Irish, authorities probably ruled out the possibility that he fell asleep at the wheel.
Back in 2006, Hammond (nicknamed "The Hamster" because of his fondness for pork) was hurtling along in a jet-powered Vampire dragster when he lost control and performed a nearly 300 mph flip, causing the roll cage to skid along the track, with his head leading the way. His rodent-like qualities were a blessing that day, seeing as a taller man could very well have been decapitated. Still, the severity of the crash left Hammond with the type of brain injuries that resulted in a host of unpleasantly Gary Busey-esque neurological issues.
His impairments included a reversion to a child-like state, during which he rediscovered the obsession with the LEGO bricks he had when he was just a blind, hairless pup. Luckily, it turns out that fiddling with plastic bricks was exactly what his brain needed to mend, and he soon began to see great improvement in his spatial awareness. In fact, he now credits LEGO with his recovery (along with a card game called Top Trumps) going as far to say that the toys saved his life. To commemorate this fact, Hammond's friends and co-workers presented him with a LEGO model of the car he crashed in, complete with a little plastic him, clearly shitting himself, behind the wheel.
Top Trumps was also honored, with the color scheme perfectly matching
the garishness of The Donald's toupee.
Hammond has since returned to television work, and his LEGO-assisted recuperation has been largely a success. Plus, a few of the neurological side effects have been of the weirdly entertaining variety, as he now reports a better ability to remember telephone numbers, and he can now celebrate his narrow miss at becoming a vegetable with a new appreciation for celery. And to further sing the praises of the healing power inherent in rectangular Danish polymers, the folks at Top Gear made a video starring the entire cast ...
Including whatever the hell a "Stig" is.
... as they would all appear in the LEGO universe.
LEGO And The Make-A-Wish Foundation
I'm not sure what it is about those stabby bricks that makes them such a popular request from kids involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Honestly, with all the stories out there about theme park excursions and volunteers who spent their time assembling elaborate creations in the homes of terminally ill children, I wouldn't be too shocked if someone accused the Foundation of colluding with Lord Business in an insider LEGO-stock-trading scheme.
"Perhaps you'd care to explain to the court exactly how a 6-year-old such as yourself
was able to afford an Italian manservant."
It's hard to choose one particular wait-there's-some-sand-in-my-eye example over another, but my personal favorite is the one about the boy named Dylan, who coped with the constant pain of mitochondrial disease with a healthy (at least in this circumstance) LEGO fixation. While cooped up at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, his top priority wasn't watching TV or playing Xbox. Instead, he devoted just about every waking hour to assembling multicolored, fantastical objets d'art, with his mother describing his hobby thusly: "It's magical. I never thought that a brick would bring so much happiness to my child." Such was Dylan's dedication that he would often refuse to interrupt his work for things like injections, baths, or even when an honest-to-gosh Star Lord happened to drop by.
Dylan's condition was unfortunately of the sort where the Make-A-Wish people got involved, and when they showed up to interrogate and extract from him his fondest desire, it was, well, LEGO of course. But not for himself. Heck, he already had an entire donation website set up to scratch that itch.
Seriously, kid. You could be setting your sights a lot higher.
What Dylan proposed instead was that a team of "LEGO masters" be shipped in to build a replica of the hospital he was staying in, "complete with a helicopter pad, a cafeteria, a gift shop, and even an operating room." Staffed by miniature versions of his doctor and nurse friends, the elaborate project was to be undertaken with the goal of raising money for mitochondrial research. And though his condition is exceedingly rare and unpleasant, his hope was that others wouldn't have to deal with symptoms such as passing, according to his mother, "up to a hundred kidney stones a day."
People who pass just one stone can spend decades learning to smile again.
Now you may have noticed I've been using the past tense when talking about Dylan here. That's because I couldn't find any mention of him after 2014, and frankly I feared the worst. So I went ahead and called his grandmother, and it just so happens I don't have any dreadful news to share whatsoever. It turns out he's out of the hospital now, back home, and everyone in a one-block radius is still presumably getting used to wearing clogs to avoid the ever-present risk of arch impalement.
Are you running out of LEGOs? Then try making more with this 3D printer that is made out of LEGOs in The 7 Most Ridiculously Advanced Machines Built Out of LEGOs and some of our kinkier readers will surely want the 50 Shades of Grey LEGO set as seen in 35 LEGO Playsets Too Awesome to Exist .
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