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Miss Flame in the Bedroom with the Shoe: 4 Board Games that Changed With The Culture

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Plenty of board games have debuted special editions, integrated electronics (who wants to roll dice anymore, anyways?), and upgraded to fancy carved pieces. But here are four classic games that had to change their rules just to stay relevant in the culture around them.

1. The Game of Life

Photo by flickr.com user c.a. muller

Unsurprisingly, the quintessential American culture game has gone through quite a few changes to keep up with American culture. From the first printing of the modern version in 1960, the dollar amounts have gone up in each new edition to keep track with inflation (it just wouldn't make sense to keep paying $40,000 for a mansion). In keeping with the rising cost of education, the game's college debt has increased from $40,000 in the 1992 edition to $100,000 today. The game has also added do-gooder spaces and replaced the original "poor farm" ending with a retirement option. Even the game piece has changed -- in 1980, the vehicle was switched from a convertible to a mini-van to reflect the cars families were really driving.

2. Scrabble

Scrabble's official dictionaries have seen several changes to adapt to evolving language. New editions have integrated slang words, like a 2011 update to Collins Official Scrabble Words (the official list for British players) that added worlds like "grrl," "thang" and "blingy." In another high-profile incident, complaints from interest groups led to authors of the American counterpart, The Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary to remove nearly 200 offensive words from its 1996 edition, including Jew (defined: "to bargain with"), fatso, fart, gringo and some four-letter curses. Eventually the words were allowed back in for official tournament lists, but were removed in the dictionaries for school and club use.

But nothing will compare to the purist outrage felt in 2010 when Mattel announced that it was updating Scrabble to allow for (gasp!) proper nouns in a bid to expand the game's popularity. The rules were actually for a spinoff game called Scrabble Trickster and Mattel said the original would remain capitalization-free.

3. Monopoly

When the British company Waddingtons took up the American Monopoly, they had to make some obvious changes. The locations were all replaced with London streets and properties and the dollars were swapped out for British pounds. But one of the more interesting changes was also one of the more subtle -- the normal income tax square was replaced with flat tax (in the U.S. version, you can pay either 10 percent of your holdings or a $200 fee) and the luxury tax was replaced with a higher "super tax" to align with actual British tax codes.

Photo by flickr.com user Tostie14

4. Clue

In its original patented form, Clue, or Cluedo, actually had ten characters, nine weapons and 11 rooms, far more than made the final cut. But international editions have made some unusual changes to the game, including some unusual choices of weapons. The Japanese version, for example, replaces the wrench, candlestick and lead pipe with an iron, a trunk and, most suspiciously, a shoe (check out some of the game cards here). A Spanish version of the game not only changes the host's name from Mr. Boddy to Dr. Lemon, but also switches the rooms in his manor around to include a bedroom, solving the age-old question of where anybody slept. And the character of Miss Scarlet has been renamed in several international editions, largely owing to "scarlet woman" being slang for prostitute. In Greece, she's known as "Ms. Flame" and in a Spanish version she's identified as "Senorita Amapola," or "Ms. Poppy."

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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