11 Awkward Canadian Game Shows

Some of America's best-known game show hosts are actually Canadian -- including Alex Trebek, Monty Hall, and Alan Thicke. But in Canada, the game show landscape has featured plenty of painfully weird ways to win a few bucks (sorry, Loonies). Here's a rundown of the most awkward Canadian game shows.

1. Anything You Can Do

This early 70s show pitted men against women "physically, mentally, and any other way you can think of." The most awkward element of the show was the requirement that the teams perform physical stunts, acting out stereotypically male or female jobs like "paperboy" or "chorus girl" (the latter involved putting on panty hose, garters, then kicking in sync). Host Gene Wood left the show after a contestant was injured during a paperboy stunt; Don Harron from Hee Haw filled in after that. Here's a clip from an early episode, showcasing the super-awkward gender dynamics of 70s TV:

2. Beyond Reason

This short-lived psychic game show ran for three years, starting in 1977. According to the CBC, "The panelists included an astrologer, graphologist and a clairvoyant. Armed only with a birth chart, a handwriting sample and a personal possession, the psychic panel tries to guess the identity of the hidden guests." Panelists were given points for each "correct surmise." Although this seems like such an easy game to rig, the panel frequently failed to identify the guest -- though their cold readings are hilarious to watch. Example of an exchange:

Graphologist: "In November 1931 you entered a service, and you were very active until November 1949."

Guest: "Um. No. Um, well, in a sense, yeah."

[Moments later] Graphologist: "You've had problems dealing with the shoulders and head region."

Guest: "No."

BEHOLD (seriously, at least stick around until you see the panelists):

3. You Bet Your Ass

This slightly pervy game show appears to be a standard trivia quiz...except each round is ass-themed. The rounds of the game include, no kidding, "Piece of Ass," "Up Your Ass," and "Ass on the Line." It aired on Canada's Comedy Network. Here's a clip:

4. Talk About

Talk About only aired for one season in Canada, from 1989-1990. It bore striking similarities to the 1986 board game Outburst: teams are given a topic and encouraged to talk about that topic, hoping to hit on specific keywords. The more keywords are mentioned, the more money the teams get. The most notable thing about this game show is that it debunks the notion that Canadians say "aboot." Enjoy the shoulder pads:

5. Headline Hunters

Headline Hunters spanned the 70s through the early 80s, and was hosted by Jim Perry. The game featured three players trying to guess a word based on faux news headlines related to that word. It's a bit like Jeopardy, but weirder and more stressful, with a clackity teletype noise going as the contestants listen to headlines. Note, this is not to be confused with Headline Chasers, hosted by Wink Martindale.

Jump to 1:10 if you want to see the show...or start at the beginning to enjoy some retro Canadian commercials.

6. Second Honeymoon

In a twist on The Newlywed Game, 1987's Second Honeymoon brought three married couples and their children on television, then proceeded to put virtually all the pressure on the kids. Host Wayne Cox asked kids to figure out how their parents had responded to a series of questions. More points were awarded for kids' knowledge of their fathers than their mothers, and in the final round, Mom joined the action, in a high-stakes mother-child attempt to know the mind of the family patriarch. That single final question about the father was worth more points than all questions involving the mother. The winning family won, literally, a second honeymoon -- while the remaining families drove home in awkward silence.

7. This is the Law

This 70s game show featured a completely absurd premise: short films were shown depicting a character called The Lawbreaker breaking an obscure Canadian law. Contestants were then asked to identify what law was broken. The Lawbreaker was played by Paul Soles, who is best known as the voice of Hermey the Elf in Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Sadly, you won't recognize his voice -- because the The Lawbreaker's films don't include dialogue. So weird:

8. Strategy

In 1969, Alex Trebek hosted this short-lived "human board game" show. I couldn't find a clip of it online, so I'll just have to share its description from Wikipedia (emphasis added):

Contestants consisted of teams of couples who were situated on a large circular maze covering the studio floor. Their goal was to move towards the centre of the maze by correctly answering questions during their turns. Contestants could be set back by their opponents by being blocked or by landing on booby traps which were secretly laid on the maze. Couples won by reaching the centre of the maze or by being the closest to the centre at the end of the program time. Winning contestants did not return for successive episodes in contrast with typical American game show practice, nor did winners return for a later championship series.

Substantial prizes such as furniture and appliances were awarded which were unusually generous by Canadian game show standards.

Let's win some furniture and appliances, honey!

9. Supermarket Sweep Canada

For three years in the 90s, Supermarket Sweep had a Canadian spinoff. It was a lot like the American version (which was a staple of daytime TV when I was a kid in the States), except the supermarket was much smaller. Enjoy this completely ridiculous bonus round:

10. The Moneymakers (aka Bingo at Home)

In 1969, Jim Perry (of Card Sharks fame, mentioned above for Headline Hunters) hosted this bingo-themed game show that involved a lot of math, home phone numbers, and trivia. Perry explains, after quite a bit of bingo-playing: "If 7799 are the last four digits of your telephone number, listen carefully and we'll tell you at home how you can win Bingo at Home!" Wikipedia adds this dry mathematical detail: "Its bonus round featured a moving decimal point." Ouch.

11. Just Like Mom

Just Like Mom had a five-year run starting in 1980. It involved mothers and their sons/daughters answering questions, spinning a prize wheel, and...wait for it...baking. Yes, the middle round of the show involved a 60-second bake-off in which the kids had to make food from a recipe and the mother had to eat the horrifying result. It's truly bizarre. To confuse things more, sometimes the moms were actually aunts or even dads. Get ready to gag:

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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