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Highest Instruction Step Numbers - On the rise!

davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 810
And now it's time for another installment of Strange LEGO Statistics with DaveE.  I'm your host, DaveE.

[insert theme music]

A while back-- last year in fact-- I was building the UCS Slave I.  And when I got to the end, I noticed that the final step of the instructions was #113.  That seemed kind of high to me.  As in-- something felt strange about the number 113.  It seemed bigger than usual for some reason.  So I started wondering: what's the highest numbered instruction step in a LEGO set?

I figured the higher the piece count, the higher the step count (roughly, at least).  Makes sense, right?  So if I checked (say) the top 20 sets by piece count, and looked at their highest instruction number on each one, I'd have my answer!  Simple!  Well... not so much.

The Taj Mahal is still the recordholder for pieces, with 5,922 pieces.  Its highest step number? 39.  That's... low.

The UCS Falcon's at #2, with 5,197 pieces.  And its highest step?  97!  Well... better.  But the Slave I with less than HALF the pieces has a higher step number with 113?  Hm.

Tower Bridge?  81.  The Death Star?  193!  That's promising!  The old UCS Death Star? 35.  The Eiffel Tower?  73.

But before calling a victory for the Death Star, I checked out some Technic sets, just in case they were systemically higher than other sets.  Look at the 42038 Arctic Truck.  It's got an alternate model in there with a step count of ... well, I didn't even believe it.  It's only 913 pieces!  About 1/4 the size of the Death Star.  And... well... see for yourself:


Seriously?  257?  WOW.

So, I kind of gave up for a while.  If a set with less than 1,000 pieces could have a whopping 257 step number, then... I'd really have to check a LOT of sets to figure out the answer.

Well, here I am a year or so later, and I decided to investigate again.  I had saved my stats from before, and figured I'd delve a bit deeper.

The more I dug, the more I wanted to dig.  What started as an endeavor to catalog (say) all the sets with more than 1,500 pieces turned into cataloging the top 10 sets per year by piece count.  Which turned into the top 20.  Which turned into a mix of a whole bunch of things.

Anyway, I have now cataloged 774 different sets between 1990 and 2016-- mostly the bigger sets.  It was interesting to see (for example) how piece count correlated to the highest step.  There were definitely some patterns, although there were always outliers, and definitely trends with time as well.

Here's what they look like as a scatter graph by year:


So, that's graphing each set's highest step number against the year it came out, revealing a very interesting trend.  LEGO step numbers have been increasing gradually.

That's not surprising, of course.  Back in the early 1990s and before, LEGO did all their instructions by hand.  They would photograph EACH step, and then have someone draft over it by hand so that it looked like a line drawing.  This was pretty expensive and time consuming.  So they did their best to cut down on the number of steps shown in sets.  Plus, the sets weren't as big back then.

When rendered instructions started showing up in the later 1990s (I'm not sure exactly when the transition was-- even after doing all this checking, which I thought would help make it clear), it was cheaper.  So they could afford to make more steps, adding fewer pieces at a time.  Plus, it was probably (I'm guessing) easier for kids to understand that way.

But by the early 2000s, I'm pretty sure they were all rendered.  So... besides making bigger and bigger sets, why has the step count continued to go up?

I don't really know.  But it sure has.  In 2016 this is mind-blowingly obvious.  Most of the sets haven't even been released for 2016-- so I can't check their step counts.  But 2016 is already WAY in the lead in terms of high step counts.  The 42052 Heavy Lift Helicopter has #304.  The 70317 Fortrex has #295.  The 10251 Brick Bank has #267.  60130 Prison Island has #260.  And we haven't even seen the instructions for the Bucket Wheel Excavator, the Porche 911, The Village, or bunches more.  SOMETHING has changed in 2016 in the way instruction steps are numbered.

But getting back to the question at hand, because I can hear you asking:

WHAT'S THE SET WITH THE HIGHEST NUMBER?

You can see it there in the chart.  Step number SIX-HUNDRED.  I'm still in awe.  It's the new 75827 Ghostbusters Firehouse:



So.  I'm off to ask someone at LEGO exactly why this has had such a dramatic change.  I'm expecting they'll have a thrilling and exciting answer, such as "Uh, I dunno.  It was easier."

Tune in next time, and perhaps we'll finally uncover the mystery that seriously nobody has been interested in knowing, ever, except me, apparently.

DaveE

[theme music]
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Comments

  • TigerMothTigerMoth Member Posts: 2,343
    Of what significance is the highest step number? It doesn't reflect the number of steps.

    You mentioned the Taj Mahal. Yes, the highest step number is 39 - in book 2, but there are two others books. Even in book 2, there are (at least) two other sets of steps, with the count resetting between each of them. The other books also have multiple sets of steps, and some of those steps more than a dozen sub-steps.

    Of course, with that particular set, more or less everything is repeated two or four times.
    Paperballpark
  • Jackad7Jackad7 Wisconsin Member Posts: 498
    edited May 2016
    Wow. You sir, are a dedicated individual. I say that with admiration.
  • MissKittyFantasticoMissKittyFantastico AustraliaMember Posts: 197
    davee123 said:
    So.  I'm off to ask someone at LEGO exactly why this has had such a dramatic change.  I'm expecting they'll have a thrilling and exciting answer, such as "Uh, I dunno.  It was easier."
    Or you'll have a bag put over your head, be shoved into a van, and end up in a windowless room with a light shining in your face and a Lego employee yelling "What do you know about our instruction step counts?! Who have you told?!"

    Maybe I watch too many movies though.

    I actually didn't know that was how they used to create instruction pages, with the tracing.  I have had that feeling now and then, when finishing a 'step' that was adding one piece, that I thought I remembered them involving adding more pieces at a time, but never really followed up on it.  Nice to have an answer, cheers :)

    (...and elsewhere in the building, some nervous minion is telling Kjeld Kristiansen that the information's online, but he's just leaning back in his chair and saying "Exactly as I have foreseen," and yeah he's dressed like the Emperor obviously...)
    Jackad7BumblepantsOldfanchuckpcatwrangler
  • CCCCCC UKMember Posts: 18,142
    It would be so much easier if they just glued the parts together and supplied them in a box ready made. Think of the paper they'd save in instructions too :-)

    Sethro3
  • FauchFauch FranceMember Posts: 2,341
    I like how after 599 steps, you end the model with a... garbage can lol
    andhechuckp
  • MaffyDMaffyD West YorkshireMember Posts: 2,653

    Okay, not to knock any of the rigour involved in your quest so far, but you need to go further! :-P

    I think we need to know which sets have the most repetition in their instructions (number of x2 & x4 & xwhatever) and also the sets with the longest subassemblies. And the sets which have the longest subassemblies with the greatest number of repetition!

    And correlate those with the research you've already carried out above.

    I await your report with much anticipation - shall we set a deadline of October 2017? That sounds about right. Good luck!

  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 810
    TigerMoth said:
    Of what significance is the highest step number?
    .... You haven't watched my show before, have you?
    It doesn't reflect the number of steps.
    Nope.  Or, well, not very consistently anyway.  Generally speaking, to get a higher "max step number", you need more steps, but there's nothing to stop you from getting a much, much, lower number.

    Usually, you get lower step numbers for a few reasons:

    (1) There are a lot of sub-models.  Things like, say, train sets will have instructions for each train car, and every one starts at #1.  Or you'll have a police chase set with two cars and a small piece of scenery-- each one starting at #1.  When the models aren't connected to the "main model", they're usually on a separate set of instruction numbers.

    (2) Sub-assemblies.  Often, sub-assemblies are made on a separate numbering, and only when they're placed back on the main model does the step count increase (despite having many intermediate steps).

    (3) Re-numbering after sub-assemblies.  This is surprisingly prevalent in many sets.  Take a look at the #10030 UCS Star Destroyer for example.  The numbering starts with the frame of the main model, and gets up to step 35.  Then it moves on to start building the large panels that lay on the frame, and each one starts at #1 rather than #36 (or wherever).

    But here's the interesting part:  The 1st panel goes from #1 - #23, and then comes back to the main model.  And when you attach it, it goes back to the "main model" number of #36 and then #37.  Next panel?  Again, starts at #1, and then comes back to the main model with #38 and #39.  And then the third panel.  Again, starts at #1, and goes to #25 of the sub model. BUT, when it comes back to the main model, rather than being step #40 of the main model... it's step #26!  They treated the main model's numbering as if it were a continuation of the sub-assembly.  And the next panel does its #1-25 thing again, but then comes back at #27!  So they just randomly "forgot" about #39, and never moved on to #40.

    So.  With that said, 2016 is crazy.  What they seem to be doing now is changing the logic of (2) and (3) above.

    Take a look at #75098 Assault on Hoth.  Rather than re-number their sub-assemblies at #1, they keep incrementing the main model number:



    Woah!

    So, as of 2016, this seems to be the trend, and it's resulting in higher step counts (I still don't know WHY they decided that this was a good idea).

    If they ever doing away with (1) above (the separate numbering for sub-models rather than just sub-assemblies), then the maximum step number might actually be relevant!

    But until then, it's just a random tidbit of meaningless trivia, without much meaning attached.

    DaveE
    andheMattsWhatbandit778SalamalexLegoboychuckpcatwrangler
  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 810
    Or you'll have a bag put over your head, be shoved into a van, and end up in a windowless room with a light shining in your face and a Lego employee yelling "What do you know about our instruction step counts?! Who have you told?!"
    This is exactly why I posted.  THE WORLD MUST KNOW.

    DaveE
    andheLegoboycatwrangler
  • CCCCCC UKMember Posts: 18,142
    How about doing (i) total number of steps / sub-steps (probably recounting the x2 and x4 type) and (ii) total number of building pages in the manual(s) ignoring adverts etc.

    Then normalise the number by doing part count / pages (or part count / steps) to give the average number of parts added in a page or step. That way we could see if small sets are similar to big sets in terms of numbers of parts added per step.
    Brickfan50
  • AanchirAanchir United StatesMember Posts: 2,823
    edited May 2016
    davee123 said:

    Take a look at #75098 Assault on Hoth.  Rather than re-number their sub-assemblies at #1, they keep incrementing the main model number:
    Woah!

    So, as of 2016, this seems to be the trend, and it's resulting in higher step counts (I still don't know WHY they decided that this was a good idea).

    If they ever doing away with (1) above (the separate numbering for sub-models rather than just sub-assemblies), then the maximum step number might actually be relevant!

    But until then, it's just a random tidbit of meaningless trivia, without much meaning attached.

    DaveE
    I don't know the LEGO Group's justification, but I can see a number of advantages.

    For one, when building with my siblings, we used to keep track of who started each sub-section so the person whose "step" it started on could go back and put it on when it was finished. Incidentally, this means that if one person was doing even-numbered steps but a subsection began on one of their steps, they'd suddenly be doing odd-numbered sub-steps. Eventually we got it down to a science but it was still a little unnecessarily complicated. Now, we can just do every other or every third step without sub-sections altering that numbering.

    Also, keeping sub-steps in sequence with regular steps means that if you lose your place in the instructions, it's a lot easier to find it again. Few people pay attention to what page number they were on last, but it's much easier to remember what steps you did recently. And if there's just one of each step number, you won't be as likely to wind up on the wrong sub-section.

    Finally, it gives a bit of a better sense of where you are in the build. Now, if you're halfway through the step numbers, you're probably about halfway through the building process, instead of there possibly being lots of sub-sections that will change how much is built within each full step.

    All in all, it helps simplify something that may have been confusing for a lot of builders, especially younger ones. ("wait, we've been building for half an hour; how are we still on step five?")
  • MattsWhatMattsWhat Studley, UKMember Posts: 1,643
    If you had asked me before today if the steps were numbered I'm not sure I would even have known.  What does this add to the building process at all? It's not like I open randomly and just attach whatever bricks it says on the page to whatever I already have assembled before jumping in at random again.  (Maybe I would if they weren't numbered).  Perhaps it stops people missing something out - but you'd notice what you were holding didn't look like the picture surely.
    As for why it is a better system now, a better question might be - what is the point of numbering the steps at all if there is more than 1 of any number?  At least now, I could phone Lego and ask them about a part in step number X.

    @Aanchir why was it important to do odd or even steps - why not just take it in turns (regardless of step number)?  And also - this is just for my own sanity - what did you do when you got to those steps where you just have to lay two pieces next to each other.  Was that someones go?  I'd be pretty gutted if that was my go.
  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 810
    MaffyD said:
    Okay, not to knock any of the rigour involved in your quest so far, but you need to go further! :-P
    I so wish I had the patience to do more.  I was honestly amazed at how much patience I had for doing what I did.

    Ideally, what I really wanted to know was "most number of individual steps".  That (while still pretty useless) is at least a bit more interesting.  But it takes a LONG time to count up everything, and each step really has to be scrutinized to see if certain sub-assemblies ought to be counted as distinct "steps" or not (and whether or not to call different models a continuation of steps in things like Creator sets).

    If I had my druthers, I'd love to see:
    (1) Number of total steps in the instructions
    (2) Avg. number of pieces added per step
    (3) Highest number of pieces added in a step
    (4) Highest step number
    (5) Number of total sub-assemblies
    (6) Maximum "Stack Depth" of the sub-assemblies
    (7) Number of instruction booklets
    (8) Number of pages in the instructions
    (9) Number of models possible (things like alternate instructions)
    (10) If the instructions use more-or-less all the pieces of the set (a lot of Basic/Freestyle/Etc sets have instructions for a very small subset of pieces)

    And... probably more.  But I can't make myself do it.  I think our only hope for that is some sort of image-recognition software that can pick this stuff up automatically.  I hereby nominate J. Random College Student who's looking for a good CS project.

    DaveE
    MaffyDBrickfan50catwrangler
  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 810
    Aanchir said:
    I don't know the LEGO Group's justification, but I can see a number of advantages.
    Yeah, there are a few possibilities that I can imagine as reasons.  Mostly for the ones you mentioned, although the other one I came up with being "kids like impressively large numbers".  That is, your typical 9-year-old doesn't want to brag about building all the way up to step 36, but MIGHT be more comfortable bragging about step 152!  So it might increase the builder's sense of accomplishment.

    DaveE
    andhecatwrangler
  • AanchirAanchir United StatesMember Posts: 2,823
    MattsWhat said:
    If you had asked me before today if the steps were numbered I'm not sure I would even have known.  What does this add to the building process at all? It's not like I open randomly and just attach whatever bricks it says on the page to whatever I already have assembled before jumping in at random again.  (Maybe I would if they weren't numbered).  Perhaps it stops people missing something out - but you'd notice what you were holding didn't look like the picture surely.
    As for why it is a better system now, a better question might be - what is the point of numbering the steps at all if there is more than 1 of any number?  At least now, I could phone Lego and ask them about a part in step number X.

    @Aanchir why was it important to do odd or even steps - why not just take it in turns (regardless of step number)?  And also - this is just for my own sanity - what did you do when you got to those steps where you just have to lay two pieces next to each other.  Was that someones go?  I'd be pretty gutted if that was my go.
    Well, effectively we would mostly take turns, but it would just be distracting every now and then wondering "wait, did we skip my step? I thought I was doing odd-numbered steps" only to realize that oh right, this sub-section began on an even-numbered step. It's easy to get distracted like that especially if there are other things going on. And other "bumps" in the process sort of evolved out of how things were numbered. If a sub-assembly begins on a certain step, and the next full step doesn't begin until AFTER the sub-assembly is finished and attached, then arguably the person who started it should also get to put it on, right? With the new numbering it's easier to just take turns without even thinking about whether a particular page is a step or a sub-step.

    And yes, no matter how we do things, the steps where you just lay two parts next to each other or flip an assembly over can be a bummer, and sometimes we'll let the person who gets a step like that just take the next "real" step as well. But other times seeing who gets the short end of the stick can be part of the fun — after all, it means a sweet sense of vindication if the person who last got a meager step like that ends up getting a really cool step later on. :P

    Other quirks in our building were entirely our own choice, though. If we got to a 2x or 3x sub-assembly, then we'd also quit taking turns and have each of us build one individually (if the number of copies was not strictly divisible by the number of people building, the person whose step it was actually on would pick up the remainder). We still generally do that regardless of how the steps are numbered. It's just more fun to let everybody build at once than to take the time to build the copies one at a time.

    Generally, my brothers and I get along well so there aren't any arguments, and we're not afraid to break our own rules to make things simpler or fairer or more fun. For instance, I generally apply all the stickers no matter what step they're on because I greatly enjoy it and my brothers trust me to do a good job with them. But simplifying the numbering should make things easier for people who haven't had years to develop any kind of "system" for how a build should be shared.
    catwrangler
  • SprinkleOtterSprinkleOtter Member Posts: 2,742
    Your technic numbers are a bit skewed- those are for the alternate models, as well as the original.
  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 810
    Your technic numbers are a bit skewed- those are for the alternate models, as well as the original.
    Yep!  Same with Creator sets, too.

    In fact, at least one of the technic sets is actually ambiguous about which is the main model!  #8284 was released with different box art, depending on the country.  In Europe, it was released with the tractor model as the primary model, but in North America, it was released with the dune buggy as the primary model!

    Most of the time, the alternate models had lower step numbers, but there were a bunch where they were higher.  A few were really egregious outliers, like #42039, which had a high step of 373 (but that was the alternate model).

    Generally, Technic had higher step numbers anyway, although having "bonus models" included in instructions gave them "extra chances" at having high counts.

    DaveE
  • PaperballparkPaperballpark UK / KLMember Posts: 3,511
    I think you need to do a chart for total number of steps, and another for total number of 'main model' steps and total number of 'sub-model' steps.

    Only then can we get a true picture of which set truly has the most steps.

    ;)
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