Element ID TBC | Design ID 14769
This element turned up in my 70002 Lennox' Lion Attack, a set which I happened to pluck from my build queue yesterday for no special reason other than it was close to my bed where I lay mafted by the unseasonable English warmth. Clearly it doesn't always come in that set - as 70002 has been available all year and as far as I can see, and no-one has mentioned this alternate part yet - so please don't buy the set expecting to get your hands on it! In fact, good luck getting your hands on it quickly, as there's no way yet to easily obtain it on BrickLink or Replacement Parts. Think of it as a poor man's Mr Gold for now.
It's a new mould of part 4150, of which the element ID for the white version is 415001. The original mould (since 1983, according to BrickLink) came with an "X" underneath, where usually on LEGO® parts you would expect a tube. This new part 14769 has now reverted to tradition after 30 years and used the tube instead. A small change, but significant and as per usual I'm intrigued by it, for a few reasons.
Functionally it is surely an improvement, as you can now use the tube as a connection point just as you might with any other 2X2 plate or tile. This standardisation of the ability to interconnect is a central tenet of Godtfred Kirk Kristiansen's great 'light bulb' moment in 1954, "System in Play". Sure, this change to the 2X2 Round Tile doesn't open up a world of new building opportunities, but I can recall being frustrated in my efforts by that strange "X" at least once in the past, when trying to use a tile on a 1X1 Round Brick to create a cute little table.
The X is also present on the similar part 2376 Round Plate 2X2 W/Eye (although you probably think of it as 'that handle thingy used to string up big baubles from the Star Wars Planet sets') which got a redesign in 2009. Under Design ID 74698, it comes with the tube, plus the 'eye' was amended to match Technic half-beams. The BrickLink Catalog large image shows the amends well.
Which all begs the question, why was an X used originally? My guess was that this new tubed version would have better clutch. But after conducting some (admittedly highly unscientific) tests which basically consisted of sticking a few on a plate and removing again, my feeling is that actually the X version provides slightly better clutch. Nothing worth writing home about (or perhaps indeed writing a blog about), but it might have been enough for TLG to go with the X at first? But I could well be quite wrong. Does anyone know why they went with the X? Are there other parts I haven't thought of that also have the X? I can think of one other...
Following on from my last post about logos on studs, you could also argue this "X to O" standardisation is also an improvement to the Brand. The addition of tubes was critical to LEGO's success back in the '50s, when it was just another self-locking building brick with a frustrating lack of clutch, and was by no means the original. Dare I risk excommunication from AFOLdom by pointing out LEGO was a clone brand? ;O) However LEGO's patenting of the tubes in 1958 was original, and their patent included various other binding arrangements such as the "X", as you can see in this close up of the original test mould submitted with the patent.
That gorgeous squelchy mass connecting the bricks is the residue from the moulding process, but of course what is most gorgeous is the glimpse into What Might Have Been for LEGO bricks. The dotty version bottom right is my aesthetic favourite, but I'd wager that LEGO's second favourite after the tubes was the X version. My sole basis for that claim is that the X brick was in fact released in Italy in the early '70s, and here I am indebted to Gary Istok's fascinating read, The Unofficial LEGO Sets/Parts Collectors Guide (1949-90s), which I recommend purchasing as a download.
Musings aside, we can expect the tubed 2X2 round tile to gradually replace the X version. But how will this new version get incorporated into databases? Minor changes to moulds don't always get recognised at BrickLink, but with the functional change this new part will surely require a separate entry in their database. Or not! - part 2376 doesn't have separate listings on BrickLink for the X and O versions, which would be irritating when you specifically require one type. Obviously TLG have assigned a new Design ID (14769). My only way to obtain this was from looking at the embossed number on the part itself; the inventory in the instructions for set 70002 lists the Element ID for the old X version, confirming the tubed version is an alternative part introduced recently. Neither ID has yet been added to TLG's online system, as used by Brickset's parts search tool, but that is not unusual. I guess we need to wait for the instructions for a new set containing this element to be listed in order to obtain the Element ID and to learn whether TLG will give it a different name to the X version.