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According to this video tutorial, on blender 2.71 to select just one of two objects that have previously been joined (with control + j), you hover your mouse over the object, and press L. ( Thats a lowercase L )

However, this does not do an island select, but instead pops up a menu, none of which do what is expected.

How do you do an island select on blender 2.7x?

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As you have joined the two objects, they are now one object. In order to edit/select the geometry of an object, you must be in edit mode.

You can press ↹ Tab to toggle edit mode, or set the mode via the selector in 3D view > header:

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Once in edit mode, L works as expected:

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Note that you can also select geometry connected the selected geometry with ⎈ CtrlL:

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