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How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

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How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

Postby royalbrickcustoms » Thu May 30, 2013 11:06 am

Hey everyone,

I was just wondering how the LEGO Pick-A-Brick system worked.

Do you fill up a cup and pay by weight, or do are the cups a standard price and you fill up the cups as much as you can and then pay for them.

Also is there a place (besides Bricklink) were you can buy lego 1x4 bricks and 1x6 bricks in bulk for cheap?

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Re: How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

Postby soccerkid6 » Thu May 30, 2013 11:21 am

PaB cups are 15$ for the large cup, 8$ for the small, in the U.S. anyways. LEGO discovery centers have PaB walls that use bags, and those are priced by the weight :)
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Re: How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

Postby Bruce N H » Thu May 30, 2013 1:33 pm

Hey,

On the PaB walls, remember that they change up their inventory as new pieces come in, so you should check back with some regularity. Over on BrickBuildr there is a Pick-a-Brick inventory page where you can see what is currently on the wall at your local store. i think this is totally dependent on AFOLs who have recently visited the store logging in and updating the list, so you'll note that some stores have been updated quite recently (I see one in France was updated earlier today), while there's one on the list that was last updated two years ago, so YMMV. The more people utilize and help update this tool the more useful it will be, which is a good reminder to myself that the next time I stop by my closest store to take the time to note what's there.

When buying bricks on the PaB wall, since it is by volume you can try to maximize your purchase. Bricks stuck together take up less space than those randomly jumbled in. This effect is maximized with small plates. OTOH, I've never had the patience to sit and stack together a million small pieces to better get them in the cup. This Flickr set shows, though, that you can get up to 50% more bricks for your effort, and I think the effect would only be increased if you were talking about small plates, since the stud is an appreciable percentage of the total volume of, say, a 1x1 round plate.
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He says this took two AFOLs an hour. As I said, I'm not that patient. I'd just spend another $8. OTOH, even if you don't want to take that time, you can do other things to maximize your bricks. If, say, you are getting a bunch of 1x4 bricks, fill in a layer, then go over to some small element like a 1x2 plate or tile and throw in a handful, then tap the cup to let the small bits filter down into the gaps between the 1x4 bricks, then repeat.

LEGO.com has a individual brick buying option, the online PaB, but it's overpriced. (E.g. all 1x4 bricks cost US$0.20, whereas on Bricklink it looks like I could get a large quantity of dark bley for 0.06-0.08 each).

Brickset just announced an upcoming new auction site - Bricktrader. Looks like it will be sort of a LEGO-only variant on eBay. Of course there is also eBay.

Where are you? If there is a LUG in your area you might be able to part in Lugbulk orders, which would be the best way to get a large number of the same element. Many LUGs participate in events like parts drafting, which could work for you, or you may just meet up with a Bricklink dealer who is willing to give good deals to LUG members. Back when I lived in LA and went to a few LUGOLA events, there was a brick dealer who would bring in his bins of unsorted bricks and would let us dig through and gave a huge discount vs what he charged in his Bricklink store for the sorted pieces (plus, of course, no shipping).

Garage sales and second hand stores may work for you. I've never had great success that way, but I probably don't work as hard at it as some. If you have a Tuesday Morning store near you, you should check it out occasionally. I've had great luck there. They buy large lots of leftover inventory from warehouses and sell it at deep discount, and occasionally will have LEGO. I've never been in a Big Lots, but I think they're pretty much the same. Does anyone know if they carry much in the way of toys?

Anyway, hope those help.
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Re: How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

Postby ultrapaladin » Thu May 30, 2013 4:07 pm

I remember the PaB in Time Square was measured by weight. They did not use cups but utilized small plastic bags. This was back in 2006 though, I don't know if it changed or not.
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Re: How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

Postby royalbrickcustoms » Thu May 30, 2013 5:26 pm

I live in the southeastern US (near Augusta, GA where the Masters golf tournament takes place). Unfortunately there are no LUGs within an 3-hour driving radius of my house. :( The closest Lego Store is in Atlanta, GA 3 hours away from me. :(

Anybody have any more suggestions?

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Re: How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

Postby AK_Brickster » Thu May 30, 2013 5:41 pm

I think just about all of the good sources for cheap Lego have been listed. Unfortunately some areas just aren't as conveniently located near Lego stores or LUGs as others. Lego isn't what I would consider an "inexpensive" hobby, so absent of stumbling across a tub of unsorted brick at a garage sale, you're ultimately going to have to just spend a few bucks to be able to have a massive collection.

If you have a few dollars to invest into inventory, you can always dabble in reselling to generate a few extra dollars, but that requires staying on top of local sales and discounts and knowing what the resale value is of various sets. I resell a little bit, but unless you can find something at 30% off (basically only clearance stuff), you aren't going to make much of a profit because often other resellers are already selling stuff at 10-20% less than MSRP.

One thing I do on occasion is if I see a set on sale for about 20% off, I'll look to see if there are any valuable minifigs in it and then sell the figs on BL and keep the bricks. If you can recoup 50% of your purchase price by selling figs, that means you're getting the bricks for about 60% off, which equates to relatively "cheap" brick. Also if there are parts that you don't think you'll use (for example, I only build castles, so space parts aren't much use), you can try to sell those too.

Personally, I prefer to keep those bricks though since I figure that I'd rather have a bucket full of space parts than the $5-10 I'd get from reselling them, in the off-chance that someday I decide to do something other than castle.

Here is a article from 2009 that gives a few pointers, many of which are still applicable today: http://www.brothers-brick.com/2009/01/2 ... editorial/

(My one comment on that article would be that the resale market has gotten quite a bit more competitive since 2009, so profits aren't nearly as lucrative as they were back then, but it can still be useful. EDIT - On re-reading his article, shipping costs have gone up a lot too, so if you get into doing this, be sure you are charging enough for shipping that you won't be losing money. I actually bought a postage scale since I resell sets as well on occasion.)

I hope that my advice and that from those who have already commented have been helpful!
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Re: How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

Postby Bruce N H » Thu May 30, 2013 7:22 pm

Hey,

I just wanted to add a thought to something AK said above about having a 'massive collection'. This isn't so much for RBC, since he's been here for a while, as for others that might read this thread. A key thing to recall is that some of the people in the community have been literally collecting for decades. So, unless you have some massive amount of cash, you're not going to get the same collection size overnight. If you are in this hobby for the long haul, just be patient, and buy when you can get a good deal. If you simply buy one mid-sized set each month, probably within most AFOL's budgets, after a couple of years you'll have a lot of ABS. If your collection is smaller, realize that you can still make pretty amazing MOCs, it's just the subject matter that will change. Perhaps you won't be building full-sized multi-baseplate castles, but you can easily build something small, like a seige weapon and a section of wall, or even something like a vig or microscale. The biggest mistake, IMO, is when someone enters the hobby and feels that they right away have to accumulate enough to build something enormous.

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Re: How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

Postby AK_Brickster » Thu May 30, 2013 7:30 pm

That is an excellent point, Bruce. Trying to match collection sizes with people who have been in the hobby for years shouldn't really be a priority. I've actually found that having a larger collection than when I was younger results in me having less time to build these days, as I spend a lot of time sorting new aquisitions or looking for that ziplock baggie with the exact piece I need.

To echo Bruce, work with what you have, be patient, and keep an eye out for bargains along the way. Eventually you'll build up to having a substantial collection, but it doesn't happen in a week, a month, or even a few years.

(Sorry that we've strayed off-topic a bit from the original PaB question. Good discussion though!)

To get back on track, if you have time to stack bricks, you can get a lot more in the cup that way, but keep in mind that you'll also have to UNSTACK them later on, which can be even more work than packing the cup in the first place, particularly if you're stacking 4x6 plates right on top of each other. I usually will stack big bulky stuff where I can see that throwing them in loose will be extremely inefficient, but I value an hour of my own time more than $8, so I'd rather just pay for the extra cup in most cases.

Also, several "studies" have shown that you can get a better value if you use the small cups instead of the large ones. The relative volume per dollar is slightly better with the small cups (plus, I find them more useful in a secondary role as sorting containers than the big cups)
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Re: How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

Postby Bruce N H » Tue Jul 30, 2013 4:01 pm

Hey,

Just bringing up this thread again, in my post higher up I showed how someone got about 50% more 1x2 bricks with careful stacking. I suggested that you might be able to do even better with plates than with bricks, since there is more void volume in a stack of bricks than a stack of plates. For a demonstration of this, see these two stacks of trans clear elements (yes, sitting on my dashboard outside of my workplace):

Image

You can see through the stack of 1x2 bricks much more easily, since the space of one brick isn't all filled up with the stud of the brick below. Anyway, yesterday I was by my closes LEGO store, and on the PaB wall they had a lot of 1x1 round plates, including trans dark blue, trans light blue, and trans clear. I filled up a small cup with these, thinking they'll be useful as water or maybe do one of those mosaics where the color variation is all based on the height of stacks of trans elements. A few other bits got in the mix, as the bin of trans clear 1x1 rounds also had some other trans clear elements and was just scooping things into the cup. Anyway, we'll see what sort of MOCs these result in, but this morning I sorted and stacked the plates. Then, just to test my hypothesis about efficiently filling, I put them all back in the cup. As you can see, there is an empty volume of about a third of the cup.

I was surprised that it does not seem like there is a big difference between bricks and plates in how much extra you can get between loosely filling cups and carefully stacking. In both of these cases it seems like the gain is about an extra fifty percent worth of elements. One possible consideration is that, even with the void volume inside the plate, 1x1 rounds just randomly mixed together do a pretty good job of doing efficient stacking on their own. An interesting experiment would be to make stacks of 2 1x1 round plates, and then randomly mix those. That way you'd still have very small, almost spherical objects that would shuffle together pretty well, but you'd also be using up some portion of the void volume.

Image

A few caveats:
-This is all by eyeball. I didn't go back and fill in the resulting empty space with extra parts, and then count them to see the actual difference.
-There is a liability to stacks of 1x1 round plates - they don't easily slide past each other due to the lip and groove. So there may be gaps in the way I piled these stacks of plates together that would not happen with, say 1x1 square plates, or 1x1 bricks or round bricks.
-The indentation in the bottom of the cup is kind of problematic in trying to come up with efficient filling, as you need different size stacks around the outside than you need in the middle. With the bigger cups the indentation is a smaller percentage of the whole, so this effect is lessened.
-OTOH, I've heard others say that by volume, the smaller cups are a better deal. Has anyone filled the two cup sizes with water and compared their actual volume, and then divided by the cost? I can easily do that tonight, but it seems such an easy test that someone's surely done it.
-The inclusion of about 30 1x2 trans clear bricks (which were mixed in the bin with the 1x1 trans clear round plates on the PaB wall) could throw this experiment off, but it wouldn't be by much.
-It seems obvious that for larger, odd shaped pieces, the effect of efficient packing would be maximized. For instance, I didn't get any, but some odd bracket piece was on the wall (this or something similar). I am certain there would be a huge difference between the number of those you could randomly throw in a cup vs efficiently packing them.
-I've always held that I would rather just pay an extra eight dollars than go to all this trouble in the store. I stack at home while doing something mindless like watching TV, but I wouldn't stand there in the store for a half hour stacking bricks. Of course, the bigger volume of ABS you get, the more $ you would save this way, but then of course you would also spend that much longer in the store. Does anyone know if there comes a point that the store employees ask you to move along? Or do they just understand that there are going to be some obsessive AFOLs who will do this? Most store employees I've spoken with are very well acquainted with the AFOL community, if not actually involved themselves.
-Just thinking in two dimensions, squares can tesselate - that is, they can stack together to fill up an area without having any gaps. Circles cannot - there are always gaps. So perhaps there would be a significant difference between stacking 1x1 plates and 1x1 round plates.
-OTOH, these are ultimately going in a cylindrical cup at the LEGO store. So that might give the advantage back to the round elements vs the square elements.

--

Okay, I got even geekier in a response to a comment on Flickr. I'll repost this here:

BTW, I should note that in real life I'm a chemist, and there are many areas in chemistry where how things pack together closely is very important, like when you look at the structure of crystals, or how molecules in a liquid are in contact but shift past each other. I'm sure there are similar discussions in mathematics, engineering, etc. And this can have very practical effects. For instance, if you produced a product that could be packed together in different ways, but one way took up much less space, that would have serious consequences for shipping costs, warehouse space requirements, shelf space requirements at stores, etc, that all impact on profits. A 20% difference in space requirements would make a serious impact on the company bottom line.
If I think about this much more I might totally geek out and come up with a scholarly paper based on this (if someone hasn't already done that). How cool would that be to come up with a paper based on the Pick-a-Brick wall and publish it in some scientific journal like Acta Crystallographica (an actual journal on crystal structure science).

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Re: How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

Postby AK_Brickster » Tue Jul 30, 2013 4:22 pm

Bruce N H wrote:I've heard others say that by volume, the smaller cups are a better deal. Has anyone filled the two cup sizes with water and compared their actual volume, and then divided by the cost? I can easily do that tonight, but it seems such an easy test that someone's surely done it.

Without having the link in front of me, I can't direct you to the exact numbers, but I can tell you that I've definitely read an article where someone did exactly that. The "volume per dollar" for the small cup comes out ahead by a penny per ounce or something like that. Not wildly better, but better, nonetheless.
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Re: How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

Postby Bruce N H » Tue Jul 30, 2013 4:44 pm

I wonder if this slight difference in value between the two cup sizes might be offset by the diminished effect of the indentation at the bottom, on the argument I suggested above that it is easier to efficiently pack the larger portion of the cup without the indentation than that little trough at the bottom?

BTW, I should note that this is on my part all academic musing. I don't buy enough on the wall to really make this worth my time. I'd rather just spend the money for an extra cup if I really needed the extra parts.

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Re: How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

Postby AK_Brickster » Tue Jul 30, 2013 5:25 pm

That's a good point Bruce. (And don't worry, I enjoy a bit of academic musing myself ;) )

A counterpoint would be that the sides of the small cups are proportionally more vertical, meaning that there is less variation in diameter from bottom to top, which I think makes packing them efficiently to be a bit easier.

Plus, I usually just pack the ring in the bottom with grass pieces anyway, which I always need more of, so I don't mind that a higher percentage of the cup's total volume is taken up by that void. I think that you lose an equal amount of "useable" space to the diameter variation of the large cup that it likely breaks about even.
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Re: How do LEGO Pick-A-Brick Cups work

Postby Lil_Curt » Tue Jul 30, 2013 5:38 pm

So just as an Fyi. I have a case of 1x4 light bley. And it takes 6 large cups packing losely to make up that case. Could probable get it in fewer if i take the time to stack but i was intrestwd in seeing what it would be by doing a quickie run in the store. So if you have the means it is cheaper to buy by the case in that instance. Just a intresting factoide.

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