“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Friday 26 September 2014

Feeling for Lego Minifigure Series 12

This post is my second departure from the ethos of "random encounters with the unusual" to take a peek into the world of Lego. So if you are expecting my usual trip into the unusual, you may want to stop reading now. However for those of you who are about to commence your search for Lego Minifigure Series 12, which are now starting to hit the shops, please read on!

To assist fellow hunters I have put together an overview of:

1) the chances for finding a particular character in a box of 60 minifigures;
2) a guide for what to feel for when trying to identify each character in the blind bags.

In my previous post on “Hunting for the Lego Simpsons!” I also provided an overview of the bump/dot codes that could be found on each packet. I have not included a review of the bump codes this time around because it is now widely accepted that the bump codes only work for small batches of the minifigures and that there is significant regional variation in the codes. Given this lack of consistency in the bump codes the best tactic to find the character that you are after is to stick to the tried and tested “feeling technique”, so this guide will solely focus on that.

Lego Minifigure Series 12 Character Distribution in a box of 60.

From a single box of 60 minifigures the character distribution seems to be:

 Three of each in a full box:

  • Character #1: Wizard
  • Character #2: Hun Warrior
  • Character #3: Fairy Tale Princess
  • Character #7: Lifeguard
  • Character #8: Prospector
  • Character #9: Jester
  • Character #15: Genie Girl
  • Character #16: Spooky Girl

Four of each in a full box:

  • Character #5: Battle Goddess
  • Character #10: Dino Tracker
  • Character #11: Pizza Delivery Guy
  • Character #12: Rock Star
  • Character #14: Piggy Guy

Five of each in a full box:

  • Character #4: Video Game Guy
  • Character #6: Space Miner
  • Character #13: Swashbuckler

The character distribution follows the trend that started with the Lego Simpsons minifigures, with the distribution of characters being relatively even, making it easier to get a complete set by selecting blind bags at random. Prior to the Lego Simpsons series, some of the full boxes of 60 would only have had two instances of some characters and six instances of other characters, which would make getting a full set of characters via random selection rather tricky. Even though Lego have taken the option to make the distribution in the boxes more customer friendly, the best way to ensure that you get a complete set of characters whilst suffering the minimum of duplicate characters is by using the feeling technique.

A feeling guide for Lego Minifigure Series 12.

When hunting for Lego minifigures in blind bags, the best method for confidently identifying the character you want is by feeling the components in the packet and targeting the distinguishing components for that character.

To start off, once you grab a blind bag, shake it. Shake it well! Shaking the packet well helps to ensure that all of the small loose components drop down to the bottom of the bag. Once you have done this, you need to feel the packet for the components that will help you to identify the character you want. Here is a quick look at what key components make specific characters easy to identify.

The whole gang.

Character #1 – Wizard:

The easiest part of the Wizard to find is the 1x3 "rod" that forms the bottom part of his staff as this is unique to the Wizard. The telescope piece that forms the top of the Wizard’s staff is also unique to this character and is another easy component to feel for. The 2x3 slope that forms the Wizard's legs is also easy to find, but the Fairy Tale Princess also has this piece, so be careful. The Wizard and Fairy Tale Princess also share a pointy hat in common, however the Princess' hat is straight and has a hair texture at the bottom and a plaited hair section that comes halfway down her torso. Conversely, the Wizard's hat has a curve at the tip which helps to distinguish it from the Princess’ hat.

The Wizard.
Character #2 - Hun Warrior:

The Hun Warrior’s round shield and his sword are the pieces to target when trying to find this fella. If you find a large round piece in the packet with a protuberance on the back (the shield's handle) you have either found the Hun Warrior or the Battle Goddess. Feeling the front of the shield will clear up who is who, the Hun Warrior has a single stud on the front of his shield, where as the Battle Goddess' shield has a smooth front. The Hun Warrior’s sword is also a unique piece to look out for. Its flat profile with its pointed tip and its cross-guard part way up the shaft make it easy to differentiate from the other character’s accessories.

The Hun Warrior.

Character #3 - Fairy Tale Princess:

To find the Fairly Tale Princess you need to feel for the 2x3 sloped brick that forms her legs. Once you find this you are either on to the Princess or the Wizard. So now it is a matter of deduction. The Princess has the frog, which is a rather odd shaped small piece. She also has her hat, which is conical at the top and has an integrated hair piece and a plaited hair section that comes halfway down her torso. The Wizard on the other hand has a 1x3 "rod" that forms the bottom part of his staff and a telescope piece that forms the top of his staff, so if you cannot find these lurking at the bottom of a well shook bag you will have the Princess.

The Fairy Tale Princess.
Character #4 - Video Game Guy:

Finding the Video Game Guy is all about finding his remote control, a 1x1 flat tile. Once you have found a 1x1 flat tile you need to try to work out if you have the Video Game Guy or the Jester. The Jester has two 1x1 tiles, so if you find a second in the packet you have the Jester. Move obviously however, the Jester has a large hat with two bent over “horns”. So once you have found a 1x1 flat tile it is an easy task to tell between the Video Game Guy and the Jester by working out if the Jester’s hat is present in the packet.

The Video Game Guy.

Character #5 – Battle Goddess:

The Battle Goddess has three primary components that allow you to find her. Firstly her long thin spear with its pointy tip is a dead give away. Secondly feeling for a large round object (her shield) with a protuberance on its back (the handle) gives her away. Even though the Hun Warrior also has a round shield of the same size, the two can be easily differentiated. The Battle Goddess' shield has a smooth front and the Hun Warrior’s shield has a stud in the centre, allowing them to be distinguished from each other. The Battle Goddess also has a large helmet, with an integrated hair piece, that is relatively wide at the back and comes down most of the length of her torso.

The Battle Goddess.
Character #6 – Space Miner:

The Space Miner’s packet is a relatively bulky packet as his "spacesuit" and his helmet are rather large components. So if the bag is bulky it may be the Space Miner, however it may also be the Wizard or the Fairy Tale Princess. So the tactic to use when trying to find the Space Miner is to search for his mining tool. The Space Miner's tool consists of two pieces. There is the body of the tool (the orange part) which has a handle at right angles to its length. The second part of the Space Miner’s tool is the drill bit (the grey part) which is a small component which is shaped like a cone with a bar at one end. The Space Miner’s visor is also a small and unique part in this series, and if this is at the bottom of the packet it will be easy to identify.

The Space Miner.
 Character #7 – Lifeguard:

The Lifeguard's accessories are the key to finding this guy. Both his binoculars and his floatation aid are unique in this series, and the floatation aid is the most distinctive of the two. Feel for its broadly oval shape and its pointed tip. There is nothing else like it, so once you have it you know that you have saved the lifeguard for yourself.

The Lifeguard.

Character #8 – Prospector:

The Prospector is very simple to find, just feel for his pickaxe. Once you find a long thin component in the packet you can easily distinguish it from other similar items in the series (e.g. the Wizard’s staff or the Battle Goddess’ spear) by feeling along its length until you find the head of the pickaxe. The pickaxe is so distinctive that there is no need to even bother feeling for other clues to confirm the Prospector’s identity.

The Prospector. 
Character #9 – Jester:

The Jester can be identified by his hat, which has two bent over “horns". The Jester also has two playing cards which are 1x1 flat tiles. These tiles are also easy to find, but be sure you find both of them. If you have just one it may be the Video Game Guy who lurks in your packet.

The Jester.

Character #10 – Dino Tracker:

The Dino Tracker can be identified very quickly by giving the bag a good shake and searching the bottom of the bag for her little green syringe. The syringe is a very small cylindrical part with a bulbous tip at the thin end. As the part is so small it finds the bottom of the packet easily and as such it is easy to find. If you want further confirmation that you have the Dino Tracker, then feel for her bow which is unique in this series. Her hair piece is also unique and distinctive, as she has a long thin pony tail that runs the length of her torso.

The Dino Tracker.
Character #11 – Pizza Delivery Guy:

The Pizza Delivery Guy is the only minifigure with a 2x2 flat tile (the pizza box) and a 2x2 round tile (the pizza). Both of these flat pieces can be found easily, making the pizza guy one of the easiest to identify minifigures.

The Pizza Delivery Guy.
Character #12 – Rock Star:

The Rock Star's guitar is the key to his identification. Its flat profile and its star shaped body make it very easy to find and there is little chance that it can be confused with anything else.

The Rock Star.

Character #13 – Swashbuckler:

The two components that can be used to identify the Swashbuckler are his sword and the feather from his cap. After shaking the bag well the Swashbuckler's feather will find itself at the bottom of the bag. This relatively flat piece with its pin (where it connects to his hat) can be found quickly and if you are careful you can distinguish it from the piece that fits into the top of the Battle Goddess' helmet, which is larger and curved. The best item to look for however is the Swashbuckler's sword. The long thin sword with its bulbous tip and its rounded cross-guard is very easy to identify if you can find it in the bag. The Swashbuckler does have a large hat, however his hat is very similar to that of the Prospector, so if you find the hat be sure to check which of the two guys you have by feeling for other pieces.

The Swashbuckler. 
Character #14 – Piggy Guy:

I found Piggy Guy one of the harder characters to feel for in this series, but the trick is to find his hat and the apple. Although his hat has its distinctive pig ears, through the material of the packet it could be confused for the Jester’s hat or the Hun Warrior’s hat. So if you are in any doubt be sure to check the packet for other items (e.g. the Jester’s cards or the Hun Warrior’s sword) to ensure that you are not holding those characters. Piggy Guy's round apple with its stork and leaf can also be used to identify him, however it is easy to confuse this with other items unless very careful feeling is executed. So take your time with this guy, else he may be a pig to find!

The Piggy Guy.

Character #15 – Genie Girl:

Genie Girl is easy to find, due to her unique large leg piece with its distinctive curving tail. After finding this, if any confirmation is needed look for her Genie lamp near the bottom of the packet.

The Genie Girl.

Character #16 – Spooky Girl:

The Spooky Girl has two distinguishing features. Firstly there is her hair, which is relatively large, but is most importantly a soft rubberised piece. So if you find something large and slightly squishy in the packet then you have just found the Spooky Girl! She also has a teddy bear which can be identified by its arms which are angled down at 45 degrees to its body.

The Spooky Girl.

And finally a quick note on the Lego Minifigure series numbers. This series is officially known as series 12, however some websites mistakenly call this series number 14. The reason for this error is that after series 11, the Lego Movie blind bags were released followed by the Lego Simpsons blind bags. It seems that some websites labelled these series as 12 and 13 respectively and assumed that the current series would be labelled 14. But unluckily for them they are officially labelled as series 12! So watch out for confusion!

I hope this Lego Minifigure Series 12 feeling guide will help some fellow Lego hunters find the characters they want with ease and help to remove the curse of getting duplicates of characters by buying the minifigures totally blind!

Happy hunting!

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Friday 19 September 2014

Halting Hitler at the Basingstoke Canal

The Basingstoke Canal was built between October 1788 and September 1794 to facilitate the movement of commercial products around Hampshire. At its inception, the canal originally followed a 44 mile course from Basingstoke (roughly where the cinema in the Festival Place shopping precinct is located today) to the Wey and Godalming Navigations near Weybridge. Part of the canal's original course was a loop running around Greywell Hill (near the Basingstoke end of the canal). By 1794 this loop was replaced by a tunnel that cut through Greywell Hill which shaved 7 miles off the length of the canal.

The Basingstoke Canal proved to be a failure commercially, so in 1910 it stopped being used for commercial purposes and it gradually fell into decline and was mostly derelict by the mid 1960's. The 1970's saw some interest in restoring the canal and it was purchased by the County Councils of Hampshire and Surrey. After about 18 years of restoration, 32 miles of the canal were formally re-opened in May 1991 and these remain navigable today. The western section of the canal from the entrance to the Greywell tunnel to Basingstoke is however derelict and impassable. The Greywell tunnel began to collapse in 1932, and parts of the canal in Basingstoke, including the former canal basin, have been lost to modern development.

Due to fears of Nazi invasion during World War II it seems that numerous anti invasion defences were put in place along the canal as part of the defensive scheme known as the General Head Quarters (GHQ) Line. The GHQ Line spanned a number of counties and was aimed at slowing any German invasion down and to prevent German soldiers and tanks from making inroads from the south coast.

I recently took a walk along a 12 mile section of the Basingstoke Canal, heading west from Crookham Village in Hampshire to Up Natley in Hampshire, and I was amazed to find that a significant number of these World War II anti invasion defences still remained to be found on the canal side. What follows is a summary of what I encountered...

Setting of from Crookham Village heading towards the outskirts of Basingstoke the first anti-tank defence that was evident was a series of “Dragon’s teeth”, that were on the opposite bank to the tow path. Dragon's teeth are pyramidal shaped concrete blocks that were deployed to impede the movement of tanks and other vehicles.

Dragon's teeth rising out of the canal and up the bank.

The next WWII defence that was visible was not on the canal side, but was on the opposite side of the canal from the tow path, set back in the middle of a field. A line of anti-tank cylinders crossing the field could be seen, as the below (rather low quality) picture shows. Like the Dragon's teeth, these reinforced concrete cylinders were primarily put in place to slow down the advance of vehicles. The line of cylinders shown below can be clearly seen in aerial maps at a lat/long of 51.254094, -0.876844.

In a field opposite the canal, a line of anti-tank cylinders can be seen crossing the field (under the electricity pylon). 
Further along the canal (again on the opposite side to the tow path) even more anti-tank cylinders were easily visible. Similar to the Dragon's teeth, these cylinders start in the canal and disappear up the bank into the undergrowth.

Anti-tank cylinders on the canal side.

Next up was a pill box on the tow path which was partially hidden in the undergrowth. The front of the pill box was hexagonal in shape whilst the back was flat, making it (as far as I can tell) a Type 24 pill box. The inside of the pill box was accessible.

Pill box number 1 - lurking in the undergrowth. 

Looking towards the entrance to the pill box. Just inside the pill box the anti-ricochet wall can be seen. On the exterior wall, to the right hand side of the entrance, a metal hook can be seen protruding from the brick work. Hooks like this would have originally be used to hang camouflage netting from to help conceal the pill box. 
Walking further along the tow path another batch of anti-tank cylinders were clearly evident. If you inspect the cylinders closely you can see that they have metal loops on the top and what seem to be metal pipes protruding from near their bases. These loops and pipes would have been used to pass metal wire through, connecting a number of cylinders to each other and making them more of an obstacle.

Anti-tank cylinders.
The loop and pipe on the nearest cylinder can be seen. 
What appeared to be another Type 24 pill box was next on the tow path. This pill box was also accessible.

Pill box number 2 - guarding the canal.
The rear of the pill box.
Looking at the entrance.
One of the firing positions inside the pill box.
At this point in the walk it became clear that the tow path was littered with submerged concrete blocks that sported round holes in them. I believe that these were also a form of anti vehicle obstacle, and the holes look similar to sockets for anti vehicle road blocks.  These sockets may have once housed bent RSJs to prevent progress of invaders along the tow path. Or conversely they may have once housed anti-personnel or anti-vehicle mines.

Scattered all along the tow path. Sockets for anti-vehicle road blocks or mines? 
Carrying on, yet another pill box appeared on the tow path. Unlike the previous two pill boxes this one was square in shape, but again had the internal anti-ricochet walls. The pill box was again easily accessible.

Pill box number 3 - in the distance.

This pill box was square this time, not hexagonal.
Looking out of one of the firing positions. 
A mounting point for a machine gun?
Blacksmith's Bridge near Dogmersfield was the next point of interest. Just to the south of the bridge more anti-tank cylinders could be seen running up from the canal and over the bank. These cylinders can be seen on aerial maps at lat/long of 51.264191, -0.889303.

The bridge itself also housed some anti-invasion defences. Clearly visible on the bridge were some concrete sockets that would have once housed mines. The bridge is located at 51.264363, -0.889122.

More anti-tank cylinders.

On Blacksmith's Bridge, concrete sockets that would have once housed mines.

Walking further towards Basingstoke a fourth pill box was found lurking near the tow path. This pill box was different to the previous three, in so much that to enter it you had to go up a flight of stairs. The pill box did seem to only have one floor inside, as opposed to being a two-level residence.

Pill box number 4.
The entrance.
The internal stair case.
The fifth and final pill box that I found was located on a bank over looking the tow path. This pill box was another hexagonal shaped structure, and so possibly another Type 24 pill box.

Pill box number 5 - on the bank overlooking the tow path and the canal

Taking a break from WWII, near North Warnborough the tow path passes the ruins of Odiham Castle (51.261396, -0.961561). Odiham Castle was built by King John over the course of seven years between 1207 and 1214 and remained in used as a hunting lodge until the late 1500's.

Odiham Castle - the remains of the keep.

After Odiham Castle the canal and the tow path continue as far as the entrance to the Greywell tunnel (51.257685, -0.971399). As mentioned previously,  the tunnel began to collapse in 1932 and now it is gated off to prevent entrance. Whilst humans cannot access the tunnel, other animals can, and the tunnel is said to be home to the biggest colony of roosting bats in Britain.  In 2006 it was estimated that the tunnel was home to 12,500 bats, which included the largest known colony of Natterer's Bats. Other bats that are said to reside in the tunnel include Daubenton's Bats, Whiskered Bats, Brandt's Bats and Brown Long-eared Bats.

The Greywell tunnel is 1,120 meters long, and when it was in operation it had no tow path inside it. The lack of a tow path meant that any boats passing through it had to be "legged". Legging involved the barge crews propelling the barge through the tunnel by wedging themselves between the barge and the tunnel and walking their legs along the tunnel wall while pushing their backs against the barge. Legging a barge through the tunnel is said to have taken up to six hours to achieve!

Whilst the tunnel is now impassable the course of the tunnel can be followed on the map and the old course of the canal can be picked up again at the western edge of the Greywell tunnel (51.260827, -0.986784). The western tunnel entrance is also gated off and the canal on the western side of the Greywell tunnel is dry in places and is no longer maintained.

The western entrance to the Greywell tunnel.

Looking inside the Greywell tunnel - there is still some water in there. 
The course of the canal can be followed further beyond Up Natley in the direction of Basingstoke and with the odd touch of very minor trespassing further evidence of the canal's previous course can be found. For example, following the Andwell Drove Track, which heads south from Greywell Road, a disused canal tunnel can be found (51.262371, -1.010430). The Andwell Drove Track runs over the top of the tunnel, so you have to leave the track to explore it.

Beyond this tunnel progress in the direction of Basingstoke along the canal became problematic, due to very dense undergrowth. So it was decided to call it a day, with the thought of retuning in the winter when the undergrowth is less dense.

A disused tunnel with the Andwell Drove Track passing over the top of it. 
The tow path through the tunnel. 
During my walk I discovered a significant amount of WWII anti-invasion defences, however I did not deviate far from the canal side. I imagine that I missed a lot of other anti-invasion defences that remain to be found set back from the sides of the canal or hidden in the undergrowth. There are also likely to be more anti-invasion defences to be found heading east from Crookham Village towards the Weybridge, so there is bound to be plenty more for the curious walker to find. So go and have a look!

Pictures, Hampshire (September 2014).

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