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7 Underhanded Sports Tactics (Including how to knock out a deaf guy)

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As Chris Connolly found out, cheating is unimaginative, brutish, and plain crass. Underhandedness, on the under hand, requires a certain moustache-twirling panache—a boldness that beguiles us, no matter what the rulebooks say! Here's to 7 of the Greatest Underhanded Sports Tacticians of All-Time.

1. The Real McCoy: Giving New Meaning to Hitting Below the Belt

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Seeking to psych out challengers in the days leading up to big fights, Hall of Fame boxer Charles "Kid" McCoy frequently feigned illness or spread rumors of an injury. Then, when the bout came around, McCoy would show up in perfect form. (This supposedly prompted reporters to wonder whether they'd be seeing "the real McCoy" in the ring.) But McCoy's lowest blow? In 1893, when he fought a deaf mute. Toward the end of the fourth round, McCoy simply dropped his gloves and walked back to his corner as though the bell had sounded. When the deaf fighter turned to do the same, McCoy ran over and knocked him out.

2. Red Auerbach: The Host From Hell

Coach Arnold "Red" Auerbach, the cigar-chomping mastermind behind the great Boston Celtics teams of the 1950s and 1960s, wasn't one to let any advantage go unused. Auerbach knew his home stadium inside and out and manipulated it to create one of the greatest home court advantages in the history of sport. To foster a feeling of alienation among opposing players, he would assign visiting teams a different locker room in the Boston Garden each time they came to town. To foster a feeling of nausea, he reportedly made sure at least one toilet in the visitor's quarters was stopped up and overflowing. And finally, to foster a feeling of "it's so hot I'm gonna die," he contrived to have the building's boilers stoked and steaming right before tip off and again at halftime.

3. The Spanish Paralympic Basketball Team: Playing Dumb

The grand champions of sport ethics obliteration have to be the members of the 2000 Spanish Paralympic basketball team. How low could they go? After the team snagged a gold medal, it was revealed that 10 of the 12 players had never been tested, and were, in fact, not mentally challenged.

4. Eddie Stanky and The Stanky Maneuver

One of the all-time greats at probing the limits of sports rulebooks was second baseman Eddie "The Brat" Stanky. The best evidence of Stanky's creative rule interpretations came in 1950, when baseball commissioner Ford Frick had to forbid Stanky from using what had become known as the "Stanky Maneuver," a dubious defensive tactic in which he took advantage of his position behind the pitcher by "jumping up and down while waving wildly in an attempt to distract opposing batters."

5. Jason Grimsley and The Ol' Bat-and-Switch

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When suspicions arose that Cleveland Indians slugger Albert Belle had been corking his bat, it made for a cloak-and-dagger spy-fest. Tipped off about Belle's bat during a 1994 game against the White Sox, umpires confiscated it and took it to a locker room for later investigation. Knowing Belle's bat was doctored, and not wanting to lose their best offensive player to a suspension, the Indians dispatched pitcher Jason Grimsley to sneak into the room and switch out the bat for a legal model. Grimsley climbed through about 10 feet of ducts and a false ceiling to pull the switch. The plan might have worked, if only he hadn't replaced it with an autographed Paul Sorrento model. The caper was quickly discovered, and Belle soon found himself suspended.

6. Donald Crowhurst and Some Not-So-Smooth Sailing

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When 36-year-old Donald Crowhurst entered the British Sunday Times Golden Globe round-the-world yacht race in 1968, all he had going for him were an experimental plywood sailboat, a little sailing experience, and a gift for underhanded improvisation.

Crowhurst set out with good intentions, but soon encountered problems with his ship. Dubious about his craft's chances in the brutal Southern Ocean near Antarctica, Crowhurst simply detoured across the Atlantic and holed up off the coast of South America at a position much farther along the course. As he waited for his competitors to catch up, Crowhurst sent out bogus radio reports claiming he was in second place. The scheme came to a tragic end, however, when he learned that Nigel Tetley, another racer, had capsized in an all-out attempt to catch him, or, at least, his reported position. Overcome with remorse, Crowhurst scratched out a confession, stepped off the side of his vessel, and committed suicide by drowning. We didn't include this story to depress you; we included it so that you couldn't accuse us of endorsing cheating.

7. Gene Bossard and the Field of Streams

For groundskeeper Gene Bossard, lending the Chicago White Sox an underhanded hand was the family business. Gene managed the turf at Comiskey Park from 1940 to 1983, and when he stepped down, his son Roger took over operations. Together, the Bossards were known for doctoring and dampening the diamond to give the Sox a true home field advantage. In fact, opposing teams took to calling the infield "Bossard's Swamp," because Gene kept it watered down to benefit the Sox's sinkerball pitchers and to slow opposing baserunners.
Bossard's most infamous trick, however, seems to be inventing the "frozen baseball." Perhaps Roger Bossard explained the phenomenon best: "In the bowels of the old stadium my dad had an old room where the humidifier was constantly going. By leaving the balls in that room for 10 to 14 days, they became a quarter- to a half-ounce heavier." The Sox manager during the frozen ball era in the late 1960s? Number 4 on this list, Eddie Stanky.

NOTE: This piece is excerpted from Chris Connolly's terrific 10 Underhanded Sports Tactics piece from Vol. 5, Issue 5 (available at the mental_floss store, here).

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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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