A toy story: U professor has passion for Lego

University professor Roy Cook’s interest in Lego pieces goes far beyond simple sets.

University of Minnesota philosophy professor Roy Cook is currently a Lego ambassador and member of TwinLUG, a group of adult LEGO enthusiasts. Members of the group including Cook designed and use Micropolis, featured above, which allows individual builders to build modules and connect them to create a micro scale city.

Amanda Snyder

University of Minnesota philosophy professor Roy Cook is currently a Lego ambassador and member of TwinLUG, a group of adult LEGO enthusiasts. Members of the group including Cook designed and use Micropolis, featured above, which allows individual builders to build modules and connect them to create a micro scale city.

Spencer Doar

While the mislaid brick remains the bane of barefoot late-night snackers, Lego has undergone a shift in the 21st century. 

For avid hobbyists like University of Minnesota philosophy professor Roy Cook, Lego  provides a problem and a pastime that has grown to a collection of some estimated 2.5 million bricks and encompasses his whole basement.

 Cook is a former Lego Ambassador, and co-founder of the Twin Cities’ Lego User Group, or TwinLUG. His scale models of the state Capitol and the Cathedral of St. Paul are currently on display at those respective locations. 

“The trick is to get things as close as possible — you can never get the dimensions exactly right,” Cook said.  “You need the critical details.”

In the case of the State Capitol, the eagles at the base of the dome were a challenge. Lego does not make an eagle piece, but they do make an owl.  Cook needed white owl pieces though, which only could be found in a large Harry Potter set.

It’s at this point when Cook and builders like him turn to third-party sources to acquire specific pieces or quantities that wouldn’t be viable in-store purchases(think StubHub but for Lego). By Cook’s estimation, there are a few dozen people who make their living solely as unofficial Lego distributors. 

But his commissioned work is only a small part of Cook’s hobby.  He was a Lego Ambassador for TwinLUG, connecting Lego and the community. 

The Lego Ambassador program’s origins lie at the turn of the century, when Lego realized the need to be better in touch with its adult consumer base. 

“For a long time Lego thought that for every adult who spent $100, there were 10,000 kids who spent $10,” Cook said.  “They started doing some research and realized that wasn’t true.”

Cook experienced what many adult fans of Lego, or AFOLs, call a “dark age,” a period of time when a childhood interest in the building block toy is followed by a hiatus.  For Cook, that ended at the age of 31 when he decided to make a mural of his nephew with 1×1 Lego bricks for his first birthday. 

Now, besides his micro-models of city scenes and buildings, his mural work is well known in Lego circles. 

Those circles converge in June for Brickworld, a Lego convention in Chicago.  This year sees Cook building his largest model yet, a 5 1/2 foot-long model of the Hall of Justice from the ’70s television series “Super Friends.”  

But his building interest does not seem all that out of place when you realize that Cook’s lower arm tattoo is that of R2-D2’s access panels.