What It’s Like: Assembling the 3,000-piece LEGO S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier

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It’s 9:30 at night and I have yet to finish an article that’s due in the morning. I should be polishing up my rough draft and checking facts, or at the very least, stressing about it with a glass of scotch in my hand. Instead, I’m two hours deep into playing with LEGOs. And I have no intention of stopping.

You remember those big-ass 500-piece LEGO castles you put together when you were a kid? Feeling your patience tested as you searched for the one piece you swear they left out of the kit? Or almost finishing, then having to pull apart the entire castle because you left out a small, but vital, piece about three hours ago? This is the anxiety that was triggered when Paste agreed to let me write an article about putting together LEGO’s 3,000-piece S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier. If the trauma of sifting through 500 pieces for a single block was enough to make me shudder 25 years later, putting together this behemoth just might drive me insane.

Fortunately, it turns out LEGO has done some growing up in the last few decades as well. The kit (the newest of a series of licensed projects that includes iconic set pieces like the Death Star, the Tumbler from Batman Begins, and Boba Fett’s Slave 1 ship) doles out the 2,996 pieces in about 25 separate plastic bags, all numbered in the order that you’re supposed to open and assemble them.

It’s a great tactic to prevent the user from getting overwhelmed at the sheer volume of tiny bricks, but the inch-thick instruction manual (400 pages!) made me skeptical about just how much I’d actually enjoy putting this bad boy together. I took a deep breath, took a swig of coffee, then snapped the first two pieces together.

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The excitement of playing with LEGOs for the first time since I was a kid should have faded into tedium after the first hour, but that hour faded into two before I had to quit for the night. The Helicarrier was nowhere near done, but was that an outline of the hull sitting on my table? You can bet your ass it was.

The next few days, I found myself at the kit as often as I could, stealing an hour here, an hour there. I felt a constant compulsion to keep going, and part of it was the fact that I could see the carrier coming together more and more as time passed, but there was something else to it as well: clicking thousands of LEGOs together is oddly soothing.

The repetition of finding a piece and clicking it onto the section in my hand was downright hypnotic: one afternoon, I resolved to work on it for half an hour. I ended spending two hours on it and working right through an appointment.  

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There were some lows—tearing the dining room apart trying to find a clear brick that fell off the table (it somehow fell into my pant cuff); getting a sore back from leaning over the table all night, and having to lie about why I missed the aforementioned appointment.

After seven hours spread out over a few days, I finally put the last piece on the Helicarrier. The kit is huge and shockingly detailed, from the stacks of cargo and forklifts on the deck to the windows that show the little LEGO microfigurines that I put in the control room. At nearly three feet long, it’s an imposing piece, and I’m taking an inordinate amount of pride knowing that I put it together.

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This must be how Da Vinci felt after he sketched the outline of the Vitruvian Man. Except the Vitruvian Man doesn’t have spinning propellers.

Take that, Leo.

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