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Imaginative engineering

"On your mark. Get set. Build!"

And with those words from a Lego representative, Michael Brilhart had five minutes to assemble a bumblebee using the little plastic bricks provided in the Family Challenge section of the "What Will You Make?" Lego tour that came to Baltimore during the weekend.

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Michael, who is "almost 11," quickly went to work pulling yellow and black bricks out of a pile on his table. He alternated those bricks as he built the bee's body, so it looked striped. He created eyes out of white cylinders and red dots, and wings from long, clear plastic pieces.

"Bzzzz, bzzzz," Michael said, attacking his aunt, Lynn Brilhart, with his creation. She had made a misshapen basket that provided no protection whatsoever - and also proved there was no doubt who was the master builder in the family.

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"That's all I usually want for Christmas - Lego sets. I'll stay downstairs and build them all week," said Michael, who lives in Pikesville and would like nothing more than to be a Lego master builder professionally.

Along with hundreds of other children sharing that dream, Michael spent yesterday afternoon at Port Discovery in downtown Baltimore, the sixth stop of Lego's 20-city North American tour. The Danish toy maker wasn't hiring yesterday - it usually prefers those with college degrees - but officials said the event was a good way to groom future employees.

"We've had a lot of kids say, 'I'd love to be a product designer. I'd love to be a master builder,'" said Michael McNally, a Lego spokesman. "We say, 'Keep building.'"

Parents, too, delighted in the event - and not just because they didn't have to clean up afterward. They helped their children build Lego creations, show off their work to a "master builder," and see the handiwork of adult Lego fanatics, who created a model city and space station.

"It's a terrific toy because it leaves so much to their imagination," said Joe Schwartz of Towson, who was helping his 6-year-old son, Wyatt, assemble some kind of four-legged animal.

"It's supposed to be a bear. But it might be a lizard. Or a cat," Wyatt said. Though he has only been playing with Legos for a few years, he estimates he has "maybe a million" Lego bricks.

This year marks the toy's 30th anniversary in the United States. The company was founded in Denmark in 1932.

The company employs about 7,200 people worldwide, including 40 "master builders" who create the larger-than-life Lego models that are on display at Legoland parks and stores. One of those builders, Kurt Zimmerle, was in Baltimore yesterday consulting with children on their creations that they brought for evaluation.

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"The kids of Baltimore have brought to me the most interesting and fun things on the tour," Zimmerle said, insisting he does not say that about every town. Children brought spaceships, robots, castles and an 18-inch-long Blue Angels plane.

Even adults got into the act. The Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area Lego Users Group had a display featuring towering cranes, trains and pyramids, as well as a giant camel. Club member Jim Foulds of Mechanicsburg, Pa., said he can't remember a time when he didn't play with Legos.

"Legos for me is great down time. It allows my brain to cool down," said Foulds, 29, an information technology developer who has about 250,000 Lego pieces. "There is no limit to what you can make."


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