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This Week in Freudenfreude: Child Is Father of the Man

In some cases, when a toy becomes a subject of political controversy—like, say, Mr. Potato Head—we are inclined to roll our eyes. That said, we are not averse to the general argument that children are impressionable, that toys play a big role in young people's lives, and therefore that certain toys might well be problematic from a messaging perspective. The Barbie line alone, having been around for 65 years, and having spent much of that time trying to push the envelope, has ended up in hot water at least a dozen times. For some of those, we don't know what the people at Mattel were thinking, and agree with the pushback. Like, which genius approved the Black Barbie called "Oreo Fun Barbie"? And in 1997, for God's sake, not 1947.

We mention this because there are a lot of times when a toy company's screw-up (or their reasonable decision) gets attention and becomes politicized. We don't remember too many cases where a toy company's good work gets that kind of attention. It is for that reason that we pass along this story about Lego.

Most folks will know that Lego bricks have raised circles of equal size on top, like this:

Several Legos, on top of a Lego

Meanwhile, the people who make Lego bricks took note of the fact that another thing that uses raised circles of equal size is... the Braille alphabet. And so, the company's staff decided to take advantage of that insight. They engineered bricks that work as normal, but are also encoded in a manner where the circles on top represent the various Braille letters. This is no small feat, as Lego bricks are manufactured to extremely precise tolerances (which is why knockoff bricks work poorly). The company began distributing test sets to schools for vision-impaired children in 2020 and, after refining the bricks in response to feedback, will now begin selling them to the general public.

In an era where text-to-speech readers exist, some people believe Braille is outmoded, and no longer necessary for non-sighted people to learn. However, as it turns out, there are plenty of non-sighted people who like to do what sighted people do, which is read one thing while listening to another. Who knew? Further, it's not like you can use text-to-speech on things like elevator buttons. So, the new Lego set can help both non-sighted children and the sighted adults who interact with them regularly to learn Braille in a fun way.

It's true that Lego is a Scandinavian company (they're based in Denmark), which means they're pinko commies, and are basically the Canadians of Europe. Nonetheless, we must congratulate them on their efforts, which are undoubtedly a labor of love, since there aren't fat profits in such specialized toy sets.

Have a good weekend, all! (Z)

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