No-Good Octopus – Funny Octopus Ride (41373)

Being a lover of oceanic sea life, LEGO sets themed around this subject are of course high on my list even if they are only tangentially related. That’s why the Funny Octopus Ride (41373) from this years alternate-ish boardwalk fun park series in LEGO Friends ended up on my table.

First Things first

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Box

To get the obvious out of the way before digging into the details, given the title I chose: No, this set isn’t good. So many things with it are so wrong in so many ways, that I’m going to sound like a negative Nancy all throughout this article. Of course it’s up to you to make up your own mind and draw your own conclusions, but perhaps consider this a sincere warning about what you may get yourself and your kids into.

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Overview

I myself had been pondering whether to get this set on and off so many times. The pro argument to pursue a purchase was of course once again my desire to get some good parts for my stock and funny enough the set delivers on that front. there are a number of unique parts in the form of re-colored elements that didn’t exist before, there’s a lot of Dark Pink elements, some of which like the smooth pin connectors are also a first and of course then there’s the balloon shells which I wanted to add to my collection, being that I didn’t have one of the older Friends or Elves sets they were featured in in the past. I have vague plans for a model in my head that I might actually need them one day.

It also so happens that quite incidentally the set also contains the exact four rounded plates in White that I might need to rebuild the smaller promotional Gingerbread House (40139) from 2015. With the official Winter Village Gingerbread House (10267) available and me indeed considering buying it eventually, this seems almost inevitable. I also like the transparent tubes. They could be a great way of decking out a better Hidden Side ghost lab or something like that. And finally there’s that printed 1 x 1 popcorn brick. I never bought the small Popcorn Cart (30364) polybag even when I had a chance, so it’s good to catch up on that, too.

Engineering Degree Failure

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Front View complete

The actual construction of the model is super simple and ultimately that’s the biggest failure of the set. It’s really not pretty to look at and as someone who started out with Technic and through his 3D work has a working understanding of some of the finer points of mechanical engineering (at least that’s what I like to think) it just feels wrong, wrong, wrong. Sure, it’s for kids and the build needs to be straightforward and easy, but it still doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Point in case: Someone forgot that there is this little thing called friction and ultimately the whole “system” (in the physical/ engineering sense) is totally bogged down by it. No, unfortunately it’s not as easy as turning the knob at the top of the octopus’ mantle. I as an adult struggle to overcome the initial “stickiness” (static friction), my mom can’t do it easily and I don’t even want to imagine how a first grade school kid will have to make quite an effort to even get this going.

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Front View separated

There are two main issues here: First there’s the Technic elements used on the arms themselves and by extension the internal axis inside and turntable below the balloon-y body. It’s all a case of the overall forces becoming to strong no matter how much you wiggle the bushes around to loosen up the connections and reduce tension just like there is no good way of dealing with a 10 units and 12 units long axle plugged together and sticking them into stacks of axle holes at the top and bottom. This, BTW, is yet another exercise that requires so much force that it may be beyond a kid’s capabilities. There’s just no way to get this perfectly balanced so everything moves lightly and without getting stuck.

The second and by far just as critical an issue is of course the corrugated hoses vs. the arms themselves. If you think about it for a second, what you are creating here is a ratcheted mechanism with four (!) “teeth” burrowing themselves in the crevices of the hoses. Even if they do so only superficially it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see how this adds up to considerable resistance. What’s worse is that even if you assume that part would work, there’s still this little problem with plastic sliding on plastic. Ironically the friction here is too insignificant to ensure that the connectors actually smoothly roll on the ridges of the hoses, and when they don’t, they just scrub along. After a while both the connectors and the tubes will get dull and show scratch marks. That much is certain.

Animal Pods or Pod Animals?

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Shark Pod What makes this so sad is that the passenger pods on the merry-go-round are actually quite neat they nicely illustrate that if the set wasn’t betrayed by its shoddy cheat mechanics it could have been something great. The shark is particularly nice and if you replace the foothold piece for the figures with a tile you could re-use it in many scenarios once separated from its mounting plate. It would even fit into the Dolphins Rescue Mission (41378) as a shark circling the ship wreck just as it might fit e.g. as decoration on the Pirates Theme Park Rollercoaster (31084). The highlight here is of course the little 1 x 1 modified hinge plate in Dark Blue, a new and thus still relatively rare and expensive re-color of this element.

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Clam Shell Pod

The clam shell isn’t nearly as complex, but for what it is supposed to represent sufficient plus you get another load of the Bright Pink 1 x 1 heart tile.

 

 

 

 

 

On first sight the crab looked a bit weird to me until I realized what this was actually supposed to represent. Aside from the way too short “legs”, which really are only stumps, I guess the failure is the lollipops/ paddles not being in Yellow plus there being no claws. In a way this makes the whole thing look more like a bug.

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Crab Pod  LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Crab Pod

The turtle is basically just another variant of the one in the Turtles Rescue Station (41376) and the poly bag variant mentioned in the article or for that matter even the Elves oneLEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Turtle PodDepending on how you interpret it, the basic ingredients are always the same as is the building style and whether one’s shell is Dark Azure and the other’s Reddish Brown ultimately makes little difference. in the end it’s probably down to there only being so many ways to skin a cat, i.e. building this model, if you want it to be at a specific size. Similar to the shark here at least another re-color of that little round hinge in regular Green making this worthwhile. A small complaint would have to be that they easily could have included angled 1 x 2 wedges (29119, 29120) to represent the flippers, given that they already have the 1 x 1 modified plates with the clip in Bright Green in place. This would not have interfered with the rest of the model and made it so much more “realistic”

Stranger in a strange Land

LEGO Friends, Funny Octopus Ride (41373), Fluke PartIn yet another anecdote of LEGO‘s quality going down the drain these days, this time I actually had a completely wrong piece in my set, meaning an utter fluke that doesn’t even remotely resemble any item that the set actually uses. The part in question is a 2 x 4 curved slope part in Dark Orange from the Deep Space Rocket and Launch Control (60228) set in the City line of products where it is used on the large central booster sections.

The irony here is that this single piece gives me so many ideas, I almost wish they had mixed up an entire bag that contains all the eight slopes used in that other set. If you look at it long enough, you just can see how this would make a perfect padding for an ocre-ish colored leather sofa or padded seating bench in a restaurant, bus or train. With this yet again being a new re-color of this part for the first time exclusive to the set you can see how this would be valuable to a guy like me who’s always thinking about the next possible project.

and what was the part it was actually supposed to be? Of all things a Dark Bluish Grey 4 x 4 round plate used on the socket of the octopus mantle! See how neither the shape nor the color relate to one another? Those sorting cameras at the LEGO factory really must have had a bad day. Anyway, thankfully I had a few of those pieces in my stockpile and in fact the color doesn’t even matter because the parts are mostly invisible and any of them would do, but if I hadn’t, I couldn’t have finished the model that evening. It’s one thing if some small 1 x 1 tile is missing that you can add on later, but it’s a different thing when a critical structural part is missing from a bag.

No Fun in the Fun Park

While I’m certainly not a fan of entertainment parks and fun fairs, I can get behind the concept as a technical and artistic challenge in the LEGO world. In fact I have been tinkering with such mechanisms on and off and if I ever finish them, one day some pretty awesome contraptions might come of it. Yupp, it sounds like self-indulgent  boasting, but at the very least it’s going to be better than this. A lot (presumably). It shouldn’t be too much of a challenge to surpass the hacky cheat mechanics, if you allow me to put it that way.

Overall I don’t know how to sum up all my frustrations with this particular set. It’s neither a good example for overall design and aesthetics nor for engineering. It just falls short of even the lowest expectations and is for all intents and purposes quite terrible. Unless you have a specific use case like myself for scalping the parts and/ or are willing to put in some major work to improve the details, you are not doing your kids or yourself any favors. I paid 25 Euro during an Amazon flash sale for this, but at the end of the day this feels too much for such an awful set. Paying the full 40 Euro would be totally crazy.

didn’t want to look at this abomination for much longer and couldn’t disassemble the set fast enough to salvage the components while they still were pristine. That’s how bad it is. Clearly the mess with the missing/ wrong part did nothing to improve my mood, either. The only things that gave me some joy are the little pod creatures, but that’s just not enough, unfortunately.

Under the Sea – Deep Sea Creatures (31088)

WhaleTurtoiseI love all kinds of underwater creatures. It’s a subject that keeps following me around and from watching documentaries to it being a recurring theme in my artistic work, be that computer graphics or traditional drawings, it’s something that simply massively interests and inspires me a lot. To give you an idea I’ve included those three little preview images for some stuff I had on one of my old web sites and I still have stacks of unfinished sketches and scribbles of even more creatures.
Sharky

All that being the case, it seemed an almost inevitable, natural development and foregone conclusion that I would buy the Deep Sea Creatures (31088) set one day. In a way I was pretty excited and really looking forward to its release as part of this years first wave of new sets. Oddly enough, while LEGO seemed to have no issue rolling out their The LEGO Movie 2 sets even before Christmas last year, this one took quite some time to even appear in online shops and on store shelves. I was only able to order it around the end of January.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Box

Now I don’t buy the basic Creator sets a lot. If you are a reasonably seasoned LEGO user, there’s not much you can gain from them. Most of these sets fall basically in one of three categories:

  • Cars and other vehicles, many times extremely simplified and stylized.
  • Simplified and often quite small houses and buildings.
  • Animals and robots based on hinge and joint armatures with some cover pieces.

To make a point: It’s quite repetitive to a degree and quickly becomes a matter of “Seen one, seen all.”.  There’s not much incentive to revisit this series once you have built a small number of similar sets, if you wanna put it that way. It’s also usually a very short-lived bit of fun with the build process being (by necessity and intentionally) quite simplistic and quick. Finally, also inherently a limitation of who those sets are designed for, you won’t find that many valuable special parts in there, so they aren’t the best way to bolster your repository, either.

There are of course exceptions and the Deep Sea Creatures set is one of them. Basically in the aforementioned scheme it would fall into the mechanical puppet category, but from the outset I had a much different feeling about it in that it clearly aimed at a bit more realism and more complex design. I immediately took a liking to it and therefore right from the start decided I would get at least two sets on the chance I might want to keep the assembled models around permanently. At some point I then decided to go full on crazy (and incidentally make it simple to compare all models for this article) and got myself another two of those boxes, bringing it to a full four.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Lineup

The four models in question are the actual main build from the set, the Great White shark and the secondary builds for the squid and the angler fish. The sperm whale is a bonus build based on a digital instruction you can download for free from LEGO‘s building instructions archive.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Lineup with leftover Parts

Having four sets at hand allowed me to lay out the models and what pieces are left over with each build, which kinda reveals that I may have gone a bit too crazy on the whole matter. Except for the shark that apparently was used as the foundation, the other sets do not even come close to using all items in the box. If you plan to pursue the same strategy, be prepared to end up with a ton of extra hinges, small plates and also some larger parts for the spares box, not all of which may be that useful. Personally for me I would likely have preferred it the other way around – some more parts in the set and the models built to a slightly larger scale, thus using up more of those extraneous parts – but I’m not complaining. All of this stuff will find its use eventually.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Shark, Overview

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Shark, Crab As already mentioned, the hero model is a Great White shark which is not only proven by it using all the parts, but on balance it also being the largest item and in my view also the one with the most emphasis on overall design. It’s just looking damned good! This model also perhaps has the best little companion creature by ways of a crab. That’s not only a neat way of sneaking in the surplus parts needed for the other models, but in this case also gives you a sizeable second creature to play with while at the same time totally being something simple enough you could have thrown together from your own parts collection. On the other hand the “treasure chest” with the sea weed doesn’t feel that useful, even less so since it’s literally not used for the other variations, either. I guess one way of looking at it would be that I now at least have four of those elements in Bright Green when I only had them in other colors before.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Shark, Left

The shark’s body is made up of three segments that are assembled individually and then connected using small ball joints. This allows for some poseability, but not that much in the end. However, it apparently was enough to inspire JK Brick Works to create their own custom moving version of it with the necessary modifications for more flexibility and less friction and the video dropped just a few days ago just in time for this article. It produces a nice swimming motion, which however would be more in line with smaller shark species. If you check out videos, Great Whites move actually rather slowly and rigidly, with the main drive coming from the tail fin, not the overall undulating motion of the body. That is to say for ultimate realism you would need to change the motion pattern or redesign the model to represent a different variety of shark.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Shark, Right

The building techniques in this model are quite varied and use anything from large wedge elements to represent the head’s top to a bunch of perpendicular/ studs on sides construction to attach curved slopes to the sides and capture the curvature of the body. Regrettably, LEGO opted to not design some custom fin parts or include suitable re-issues from their back catalog (this wing element in a different color and with less prominent texture looks nice for instance), so all the vertical fins are made from 1 x wide bricks and slopes, making them rather thick. The smaller fins are represented by flag pieces and wedge plates, which preserves at least some semblance elegance.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Shark, Bottom

Looking at the underside reveals that the model is made sturdy by some large parts such as the inverted curved slopes on the tail and the straight symmetrical slopes in the middle section. On the other hand from that angle you also see the lack of coverage on the jaw, indicating that this model is really not meant to be viewed from this position and ideally would just sit flat on the table/ floor. Not a biggy, but I would argue that they could have thrown in those two or three extra slopes.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Shark, Mouth

How aggressive and convincing the shark looks is of course all in the facial features and thankfully the LEGO designers were able to capture this perfectly. The head looks strong and bullish while retaining its sleek, dynamic overall appearance. Somehow even the teeth look convincing, though the genuine article naturally has a lot more of them and they are smaller. regardless, the proportions are pretty well-balanced and it just works.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Shark, Mouth

The eyes are an interesting construction with a transparent neon yellowish green bar being inserted into a black Technic pin and the eye being further enlarged by a bushing on the pin. This makes the eye stand out and contributes to the fierce look because otherwise it would be barely noticeable – in nature those eyes are quite large, but buried deeply in the skull, so typically only a small dot can be seen. I quite like how the were able to resolve this dilemma without making it look too ridiculous.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Squid, Left, Mantle closed

The second model you can build from this set is a squid and I mean that in the broadest possible sense as a squid just being some underwater creature with tentacles. The funny thing with this critter is that the model represents all of these species, subspecies and variata, but at the same time not a specific one. It encapsulates typical features from calamari, sepia and octopi, more hinting at them than explicitly re-creating individual bits 100 percent in perfect detail.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Squid Left, Mantle closed

That’s amazing, yet also massively confusing as the interpretation as to what it may be entirely depends on how you view it. Are the tentacles at the front or rear end? Is it swimming forward or in reverse? Is it idle and waiting for prey or already attacking? You literally can waste an afternoon speculating on the details and then further complicate things by doing your own modifications. A simple change of pose or reversing the direction of a slope can totally change your story. My preferred interpretation is that this is some infant or adolescent calamari that could happily be swimming in the more shallow regions of the Caribbean before its big enough to venture out further.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Squid, Left, Mantle open

No matter which view you adopt as your own, one point is very obvious: There are only six arms. To boot, they are pretty much way too short for octopi and calamari, yet also not a good match for sepia. If one were serious about this, this would need to be changed from the ground up. Since I now have four of those sets and some extra Dark Blue parts in my collection, I have it on my agenda to create a more correct looking squid one of these days.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Squid, Right, Mantle open

It’s not all bad, though, as you can see that quite some thought was spent and the limitations most likely stemming from the lack of more parts. After all, this is just derived from the first model and needed to fit in its part allotment and financial budget. The hinge on the mantle is a nice touch, though admittedly in the open position it looks way too much like someone chopped into the creature. If at all it would have to be the other way around with the open sack being at the bottom, so for your own build you might consider using a fixed position or padding out the interior with some extra bricks to make it look more solid.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Squid, Right, Arms expanded

Due to the absence of two arms, posing the tentacles and finding a nice position can be a bit tricky. The main hiccup lies in the lack of volume on the blue arms in this case. It also doesn’t help much that they are mounted at the center when in reality they would be attached to the outer hull. Another point that would need improvements in a potential reworking of this set.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Squid, Bottom, Arms expanded

The underside is in principle pretty much the same as on the shark, so no big surprises here. In terms of the tentacles to me it almost looks better than from the top, though.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Angler Fish, Overview

Moving on to the third model in the set, the angler fish is a really ugly mofo just like its counterpart in nature. It’s my least favorite of all the options and in this case the problem is exacerbated by some clunky construction techniques. Once more you very much feel that it could have been done differently, but there was no room in the budget for the extra parts that would have been needed and the designers had to settle on less.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Angler Fish, Right

Out of these issues, the inadequate rendition of the actual lure is the thing that stands out most. It really looks like an odd street lamp. A better way to emulate its appearance would naturally have been the inclusion of one of those dinosaur tail pieces that LEGO so often uses elsewhere. Conversely, the teeth would of course look a lot more “correct” if the had been made up from claw/ barb elements as they are commonly used for spikes and thorns on dragons and such. It’s in a way even ironic that they added multiple rows of teeth when that would have been more adequate for the shark.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Angler Fish, Mouth, Right

The bright green eyes distract a lot and assuming they are supposed to large bulgy ones would be more appropriate for one of those fish that bury themselves in the sand near shores and reefs. Seems to me a black 1 x 1 tile or plate would have sufficed, as the eyes are really tiny, beady things on real angler fish.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Angler Fish, Mouth, Front

The fourth and final model, the sperm whale, is a kind of stylized, comical version of the beast. That’s fine by me as with the shortened, stubby body it really looks like a baby whale having fun. In my opinion it’s better than the squid or angler fish and perhaps should have been in the set right away in place of one of the two even if it is stylistically very different.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Whale, Overview

The construction is quite similar to the shark with only some parts having been switched from front to back and the middle segment apparently removed, yet at the same time it also borrows some techniques from the squid’s mantle for the shaping of the upper mouth/ head. I wouldn’t necessarily say that they trimmed away the fat, but the simplifications make an already accessible build even simpler. This could be a good model even for smaller children that they can finish quickly. It also is the least scary-looking of them all and even cute, so you might want to consider starting at the end and building this first.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Whale, Right

Returning to the anatomical correctness of features one last time, it should be little surprise that they don’t hold up. Aside from the overall body length being too short, the fins and fluke are also way too small. There are large specimen of whales out there where a single ventral fin is three meters long! They literally could smack you to death without taking any note of it.

LEGO Creator, Deep Sea Creatures (31088), Whale, Mouth

If you disregard my nerdy obsessing about some details simply because I love this stuff so much and those tidbits of info I’ve seen in hundreds documentaries keep popping into my mind, this is an overall excellent set. The models are well thought out and fun to build. Even better – while not the most exotic and rare parts, all of them are actually pretty useful. I must admit that hadn’t there been so much Dark Blue, I probably would have been reluctant to get four sets, but the way it is they can be used for roofs on buildings, nice looking cars or even just generic, unobtrusive details on other models and that can never be bad.

On the subject of color there is of course any number of ways to skin this. make no mistake – the Dark Blue is not “realistic” by any stretch of the imagination nor are the white bellies. This is unfortunately something that strikes me as an unresolvable conundrum – many sharks are all sorts of grey, so anything from Sand Blue to Dark Bluish Grey would work. The same goes for whales while on the other hand squids can be anything from pale White to Dark Orange or Dark Red, including all sand and earth colors inbetween as well as greys. Conversely angler fish can even be transparent. They couldn’t have accommodated all the options and you have to be fair about it.

I at least could try that Sand Blue shark thanks to garmadon, Garmadon, GARMADON (70656) and the other The LEGO Ninjago Movie sets I bought and whose parts I therefore have in my collection. It should also be relatively simple and cost efficient to rebuild the models in Dark and Light Bluish Grey if you can spare a dime on Bricklink. And if you don’t, the original set is still a superb little purchase for around 11 Euros or even the MSRP of 15 Euros and gives you some nice items to put on your shelf.

News & Masters

This week has been full of news with LEGO rolling out imagery for the soon to come wave of new sets for early 2019. While 2018 will certainly go down in history as a not so great year for many of the regular product lines, things seem to improve quite a bit next year. Check the official photos on whatever is your favorite LEGO news site such as this one for instance.

I don’t care much for a Porsche being a Porsche, but what gets me pumped is that at long last we will be getting white mudguard and curved rectangular panels with Technic set 42096. This would finally allow to rebuild some older sets in consistent colors. The other Technic sets look quite okay, too, though with my drawers being filled to the brim with parts it’s unlikely I’ll get the Corvette (42093) or Tracked Loader (42094).

The new Stunt Racer (42095) somehow has the crowd divided with most criticizing the increased price while the model contains a few less parts and is smaller. While people accuse me of being overly negative at times, this time it seems the situation is reversed. If I didn’t already own the old Tracked Racer (42065), I’d be totally up for this model.

The point here is of course that nobody forces you to buy on day one at full price and I’d bet that just like the old set you can get the new one for 45 Euros one day if only you wait patiently for the right opportunity. That and of course you simply don’t buy these kits for design, you buy them to play. It’s a simple “Use it or don’t.” situation. My only peeve is that they are not using the new Powered Up! stuff, which I take as a bad sign that there are technical issues and the cost is too high. Likely another technological dead end LEGO created for themselves.

Elsewhere the The LEGO Movie 2 sets made waves. Personally I can’t get behind the retro-looking stuff, since I never had any interest in LEGO until a few years ago, but other people love it, so I guess those Benny the Spaceman (and his crew) minifigure sets will sell like crazy. For me the Systar-themed sets are much more interesting, which should come as no surprise if you read this blog regularly and know my inclinations towards Friends sets and the like.I really like those rounded shapes in White, Dark Turquoise and Magenta and the new Salmon color is the icing on the cake. Lots to love there for me.

The rest of the new releases (so far) are of limited relevance. I’ve never been much into City, so I’m not getting particularly giddy over the reintroduction of light and sound bricks, but of course it is a step in the right direction and should at least catch up a tiny bit to Playmobil et al. Star Wars is definitely showing signs of fatigue with most sets once again just being rehashes of older ones with the necessary adaptations and improvements. I kinda love the Microfighters set with the Sand Green Dewback, though, so it may be worth a look.

Overall I’m pretty pleased, even though of course on a highly selective basis. This most definitely gives me a much better gut feeling than many of the half-baked releases this year, especially when it comes to sets that are within my typical range of what I might be able to afford. Of course not all sets have been revealed yet and there’s still room for super-expensive disappointments, but at least there’s some options to fall back to. I’m ending this week with a good vibe after it started out rather icky with the German version of LEGO Master.

Yepp, I indeed wasted an hour of my life on Sunday watching it and I just found it plain awful. To me it’s typical low-brow private TV fare. Everything was hopelessly exaggerated and schmalzed up, but in the end it was just as boring as those cooking and baking shows following the same pattern and dragged on for way too long. Most disappointingly, though, it didn’t seem to be anything about the mastery of LEGO techniques. Lumping something together that halfway works seemed to be enough and that’s simply not interesting to watch when it should be all about finesse and sophistication….