Thoughts & Views: Hey, LEGO, put on a happy face


From the Department of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Down under, at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, the head of its Human Interface Technology lab has been studying the faces on LEGO mini-figures.

I am not sure exactly what Human Interface Technology is, but it apparently has something to do with “improving human computer interaction.

” I’m not sure what that is either, but the first thing I thought of was:

‘’Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?”

“Affirmative, Dave. I read you.”

“Open the pod-bay doors, HAL.”

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

But I digress.

The HIT expert, Dr. Christoph Bartneck, has reportedly examined 3,665 LEGO minifigures produced from 1975 to 2010 and has discovered what is, to some, an alarming trend.

According to the university’s website, he found: “The number of happy faces . . . is decreasing and the number of angry faces is increasing.”


Said Bartneck, “Children’s toys and how they are perceived can have a significant impact on children. We cannot help but wonder how the move from only positive faces to an increasing number of negative faces impacts on how children play.”

Hey, this is important stuff. Bartneck will present a paper on his findings at the International Conference on Human- Agent Interaction, to be held in August in Japan.

Suppose we are raising a generation of children who can never outgrow the psychological effects that growly, grimacing LEGOs had on them as tykes. Eventually, I am sure, there will be a “Criminal Minds” episode based on the predations of a LEGO-warped unsub.

And LEGO’s response? According to Britain’s The Guardian newspaper, the company’s communications manager, while not directly addressing the New Zealand research, “said every toy developed by the manufacturer was tested by a range of children, while child psychiatrists, parents and teachers were also consulted.”

He also noted that in LEGO games, “the good guys always win in the end.”

And, he told The Guadian, if parents are still concerned, “they can always just switch heads with another figure.”

By the way, the name of the LEGO spokesman is:

Roar Rude Trangbæk.

You can’t make this stuff up.

On another matter entirely, up in Boston, the murder/ racketeering trial of the infamous James (Whitey) Bulger is beginning. According to The New York Times, the defendant is apparently irked most by reports he had been an informant for the FBI, since “nothing was more despicable in his insular Irish enclave of South Boston than a rat.”

This reminded me of a joke I heard during The Troubles in Northern Ireland:

Q. What do you have if you have one Irishman?

A. A secret.

Q. What do you have if you have two Irishmen?

A. A conspiracy.

Q. What do you have if you have three Irishmen?

A. An informer.

The subtle subtext of this is not that there would be an actual informer, but that (the Irish having a mistrustful streak) one of the three would inevitably begin to suspect one of the others.

This riddle was told to me by a supporter of the Provisional IRA, which I mention only because I do not wish to be accused of ethnic profiling. The Provo and I both thought it was funny.

– Karen Zautyk

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