Pick-a-Brick Cost Comparison Analysis

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How to get the most parts in a PaB tub has been a topic of discussion among AFOLs since the first brand stores opened in the early 2000s. In fact, LEGO even published a press release about it back in 2003.

Now, new AFOL Michael Bradford has written a paper on the subject, considering such things as how to pack the parts, whether a large or small cup is better value, and also how the brand store cups compare with those available in some Discovery Centres.

Personally I haven't the patience to stack the bricks in the shop and, surely, once they've been stacked they are not new any more, right? (or is that just me?...).

I'd be interested to hear what lengths you go to to maximise your PaB purchases or whether you just pile 'em in and hope for the best...

40 comments on this article

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By in Belgium,

When I got PAB at lego stores, I used to start with small parts, so the bottom part of the cup wouldn't be wasted with empty space. I stacked bricks, but not plates as they can be difficult to take apart again.

A store employee once gave me a tip to put a few 2x4s in the lid 'stud' :)

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By in France,

Well it's an in-depth analysis but doesn't really tell us anything new.

If I have time I stack. It's a fun challenge more than a cost thing for me though.

I only really get bricks for myself from PAB, so whether or not they are new vs used is of no issue. As soon as I get them home they become used and reused and reused .... Also, I'm not sure anything from PAB is really new when you consider how many kids (and adults) have run their hands through the bins.

When it comes to gaps, I might fill them with fillers that I don't want if there is nothing I do want, just to fill space and those parts might go on BL. But those parts don't get stacked, just poured in with gentle shaking.

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By in Taiwan,

Besides the stacking and gentle shaking of small pieces to fill in spaces that I'm guessing most AFOLs employ, I tend to build an insert for the lid using a plate and couple windshields. Then I fill that with more tiny pieces. People look at me strangely. They're probably right to do so.

Edit: Wow, that paper is a good read. Not only do I feel better about my OCD tendencies, but it was worth it to learn about the K2 box and also that the best PAB value is quite counterintuitive.

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By in United Kingdom,

Dear TLG - for environmental reasons, please get rid of those ghastly plastic beakers and replace by a cardboard box. Unlike the bricks inside, I suspect the box gets thrown away 90% off the time. I know in theory they can be reused, but how many actually do? So lets go cardboard.

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By in France,

^ I use the cups at home when sorting parts and re-use them when going back to a PAB wall.

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By in United States,

Unless I've another "shopper" with me who is in a rush, I will spend up to 3-4 hours filling/stacking/shaking/organizing cups near the PAB wall. For me, it is 1/2 the fun of buying PAB parts :) getting home and really seeing how much I was able to place in the cup.

Also, I find that this exercise becomes a nice way to start conversations with others who are shopping, too (reason it takes me hours to fill them :). My favorite are the grandparents to talk to. So many questions, and for some reason, I think they sometimes view my stacking habits as a gateway to conversation. Simply love filling these cups!

@richselby, if you end up with enough cups, I suggest buying the Lego-themed ice-cube makers. Then, inveite people over for a Lego-themed party. Games like Creationary can really be a blast. Plus, people are always amazed that their glass has its own lid/cover.

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By in United Kingdom,

I am not sure they are suitable for drinking out of. I know they resemble a cup and they are watertight, but do we know if the plastic they use is of food-grade? Perhaps there are solvents/residues left from the production process.

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By in United States,

I've only gotten the free holiday PAB boxes. The technique I employ is "pile 'em in and hope for the best..."

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By in United States,

I'm too self-conscious to do too much stacking and fiddling. I feel like I'm being annoying/creepy to the employees and parents if I hang out too long. I don't want to be one of "those" nerds! Just a regular, polite nerd.

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By in United States,

The one time I filled a (small) Lego store cup, was because I was trying to purchase trees. So, I first fit the trees into the cup to see how many I could get. Then I looked at the free spaces, and filled these with the bigest parts that would fit, then removed them all, and filled with layers, using the dots, flowers, and other small pieces to fill around.

I gave my small Lego store cup to the kid next store... I suppose I should borrow it back before my next trip to a Lego store.

I the last few trips to Lego stores, the piece walls only had simple bricks, or fancier parts that wouldn't work with my Harry Potter sets. (wrong colors)

On my trip to the Westchester (Yonkers) NY Discovery center 3 weeks back, they had small Yellow LEGO bags at the wall. There were only standard 2x3 bricks, and some other bricks, in pretty colors. Nothing special... And they didn't accept my Lego card.

I did have several nice conversations with people also shopping (yes one Grandmother among them).

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By in United Kingdom,

Since when is 'ounces' a unit of volume? ;D

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By in United States,

Be careful about who sees you packing the cups. I usually shake the cup to settle the small pieces down, and one time my mother-in-law saw me doing this. So when she went with my daughter to the LEGO store to get a cup she tried to employ the technique she saw me doing. This turned out very bad as the entire contents of a nearly full large cup went all over the floor.

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By in United Kingdom,

Are there any competitions to see who can pack the greatest mass of parts into a PAB beaker (with lid)?

I've never been to a LEGO convention, but I'm thinking that would be cool. You could have two versions: bring-your-own where you turn up to the convention with your pre-prepared PAB beaker filled with any LEGO elements you own and a timed competition where you fill a beaker with as much as you can from a selection of parts provided by the organisers.

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By in Canada,

When I've had the time, I will stand and stack. I feel it's worth it in the end and can get a couple hundred pieces more (in some cases).

When the D. Grey box elements were around I went to the trouble of placinf elements in them before stacking them to maximize the use of space. A little too far perhaps, but again, worth it.

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By in United States,

For those of you who are self-conscience about the way store employees see you, rest assured most of them are happy you are getting your $'s worth by stacking!

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By in Canada,

I once randomly stuffed a PAB cup in the store just shaking and jamming random pieces in because I was in a hurry. Then when I got home I wanted to see how much more I could have gotten into the cup if I took the time and was surprised to find I couldn't get all the elements back into the cup using stacking.

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By in United States,

The first time I went to a LEGO Store, I did have an employee inform me about filling the gaps with smaller pieces to max out the number of pieces I was getting.

There's merit to it.

Depending on what's available at the store when I go in now, as I've been a few times, depends on what I focus on when filling my PAB bucket.

I'll fill the gaps still. but I haven't done the stacking of bricks.

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By in United States,

I love when people come into the store and pack cups! As fan myself, I love connecting with the local community- and some times not so local- and talking about what they are working on. Not only is it nice conversation for me on what could be a very dull day but I imagine that the other person enjoys talking about our shared passion too!

Dont worry about looking nerdy or creepy or think youre being annoying to us.

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By in United Kingdom,

no lego stores in n.ireland , what price do they charge for these cups?

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By in United States,

For me, since I have a Star Wars collection and I put things in action scenes, I usually only get 1x2 clear bricks. The best way to get the most is to stack them all along the sides and in the middle, then a bunch of loose ones in the cap. After a few trial and errors of using centrifical force, you get it to not quite seal up which still passes at the store and they tape down the cap.

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By in United Kingdom,

^Do believe it's £6 for Small, £11 for Large. If you reuse your cup, 50p off Small and 75p off Large but can only have one reduced in price.

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By in United Kingdom,

I invariably re-use my cups if my trip is a planned one (not just off-the-cuff), but I always get discount off all of them - the most I've filled at once is 3 large.

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By in United States,

Awesome article! I wonder how many odd looks I'll get if I use the stacking method for 1x2s and wear those blue plastic surgical gloves to keep hand oil off the pieces? :-)

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By in United States,

I typically lay bricks in layers similar to the picture in the initial post above, though never actually connecting the bricks. Small pieces go in the bottom and top. When the cup is full, I cram whatever tiny pieces will fit in the remaining gaps, regardless of my need for those final tiny pieces. Only once have I calculated the value of all pieces using Lego's Pick-a-Brick function on their website. The results were that I obtained $28+ worth of Lego for the $14.99 large PAB cup. As a miserly person, I feel patience in packing PAB cups is worth it.

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By in Canada,

I personally bought a pick a brick box 2 years ago in Seattle. I built a large solid cube of 2x4 to fill it. Every inch used and a great way to get bricks and a cheaper price.

It cost around 200$ for the box. Perhaps they no longer have these?

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By in United States,

@richselby: I always reuse the cups for storing other LEGO pieces...

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By in United Kingdom,

Hi. Having never had the chance to visit a Lego store, as there isn't one in Scotland yet, (roll on May 10th) I therefore don't know the procedure for the pick a brick wall and filling the cups. From what I have read, do you pay so much for the different size of cup and try and fill it with as much bricks as possible. The more the better for your money as opossed to those pick a sweet walls in the cinema's where you put in your sweets and are charged by the weight. Is this the case?

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By in United States,

I actually did my own comparison with water, ( http://www.brickcreator.blogspot.com/2012/12/lego-pick-brick-cups-vol-1.html ), but my results were different with the large cup edging out the small cup. When I was at LEGOLAND California about five years ago, you could buy bricks by the pound. What a great deal, I thought, but hen I noticed it was $36 per pound! They did have quite a selection though, almost 2 full size pick-a-brick walls for comparison.

@fuelbreak - Many years ago I went to the LEGO store in the Mall of America in Minnesota and remember something like that. It was a solid container for $100 and you could put whatever bricks you wanted in it. I didn't buy one, but I remember being able to get many more bricks into large cups when compared with cost. Alas, I haven't seen them since.

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By in United Kingdom,

I tend to take my time when packing bricks in the cups, but always go for the smaller ones as I have done a similar volume test to Michael.

@fuelbreak - I have heard of these large boxes, has anybody been able to get one recently or have they indeed stopped?

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By in Canada,

I like to pack mine, so I was very pleased when I saw that the holiday boxes were square-based ( a lot easier to pack)!

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By in Norway,

I recently visit a Lego Store and filled 10 big cups. 14,99 USD each. I counted the pieces and there was about 7600 of them, an avarage of 760 pieces pr cup (from about 320 pieces at minimum to 1060 pieces maximum). I didn`t stack anything but shaked gently from time to time. I filled them logically, smallest pieces to fill the bottom, then bigger pieces and filled all gaps with the smallest again. I filled the stud in the lid as well. The staff taped the lid. Pretty satisfied with the result.

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By in United Kingdom,

Sadly the Lego store in Birmingham closed down before I came out of my dark ages, I'd have loved to have had a go at Pick A Brick, but whilst it was open I was more interested in... whatever teenagers are into.

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By in United Kingdom,

Great article. I've always gone for large cups so will conduct some experiments of my own!

I love the stacking challenge and typically spend an hour per cup, chatting with staff and customers. Staff often take pity and help!

Funny story. I once went as far as stacking 1x2 plates (trans-clear = ouchy fingers.) A woman saw me and said to her son, "I'd love to have his job!" I couldn't let it pass so replied, "I don't work here." She let out the most astonished and disbelieving laugh I've ever heard!! Obviously her first ever contact with a crazy AFOL...

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By in United Kingdom,

Fill your cup then ask them at the till to pour the contents into a small bag. They always give me the re-use discount and weirdly they always seem surprised that someone doesn't want the cup. Terrible waste of plastic and money for TLG and bad design too, the lids don't fit properly so you can't use them for anything much at all.

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By in United Kingdom,

Interesting article. I ws fortunate enough to visit Dallas last year and got to go to the Grapevine Discovery Centre - At the time the had no cups and so I was able to fill a small bag for $7.99 with a 10% discount because of my VIP card. The selection wasnt great but good enough at that price. I checked when I got back to the U.K and each bag was at nearly 2 PAB small cups. Cracking value.

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By in Canada,

In the Lego press release it said that the record was 138 2x4s in a large PaB cup. I found that I could fit 140 in one (the lid was not completely closed, though it was on, does that count?).

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By in France,

^ There are different records, depending on whether you snap the lid on, or are allowed to have it just touching and taped.

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By in United States,

Pure genius... all. The marketing dept at Lego probably focused on the random selection of parents w/small children in tow and not AFOLs with too much time on their hands when they came up with the concept. The centrifugal approach I found works well and is a lot less OCD. Randomly place the parts in and give the container a shake. Gravity and entropy will do the rest.

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By in United States,

I have found that it is a better value with the small cups. I can get 85 2x4s in a small cup which is also half price with a large. Double the bricks makes it $14.99 for 170 bricks. Plus free filler.

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By in United States,

Last summer I went to the Legoland DC in Grapevine and stuffed 450 tommy guns into there smoothie cups. Not bad for $8!

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