New Kid on the Blocks

He's got LEGOs, and he knows how to use them. A LEGO Master Model Builder and head of LEGOLAND California's building team, Patrick DeMaria makes his living laying LEGOs. He oversees the Carlsbad theme park's 5,000 models -- where more than 30 million LEGOs replicate national treasures, from the Capitol Building to Shaquille O'Neal -- and is hitting the bricks to find the newest member of his construction crew.

Local LEGO devotees can vie for a piece of the plastic pie this Tuesday, December 9, when LEGOLAND's Master Model Builder Search sets up shop at the Art Institute of Phoenix. Applicants age 18 and up can preregister online for an interview with LEGOLAND reps -- and are encouraged to bring in portfolios of their previous LEGO accomplishments. Candidates who rock the first round will move on to phase two: an on-the-spot building competition. The pressure is building. Literally.

"Participants will have 2,000 LEGO bricks, and 45 minutes, to create a model," DeMaria explains. "The specific theme of the project will not be announced until the clock starts, so contestants will truly have to exhibit creativity, strategy and calmness under pressure."

After judges critique the constructions, the best builders from each of the tour's nine stops will be invited to Carlsbad to interview for the job. The chosen one will be anointed a "Model Citizen" -- the seventh member of the elite team that brainstorms and builds the models at LEGOLAND. Experience and education are secondary to imagination; some of the current Master Builders are self-taught artists, others have degrees in architecture, 3-D multidisciplinary design or fine arts.

Stephanie Dowling, director of public relations and marketing for the Art Institute, anticipates more than 100 Valley applicants. Those wanting to tower above the competition best get stacking.