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38 Essential facts about Frankenstein (Fact #37: He's on a postage stamp?!)

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Halloween is upon us... and there's no better time to take a look at one of the most famous horror stories in literary history: Frankenstein!

In this two-part article, we'll discover some truths (and dispel some myths) about Dr. Frankenstein and The Monster. Tomorrow, in Part II, we'll focus on Mary Shelley's novel. Today, everything else!

ON FILM:

Q: When was the Frankenstein story first made into a film?

A: Way back in 1910, when the Thomas Edison Company produced a one-reel film simply titled Frankenstein. The original negative was apparently destroyed in a fire in 1914, and the movie was thought to be forever lost. More than 60 years later, Wisconsin film collector Al Dettlaff discovered that his archives included a nitrate print of the rare movie.

And here it is.

Frankenstein

Honestly, this film has it all. Suspense, special effects, overacting... and this was 1910! Nearly a century later, how far has Hollywood really come?

Q: Did Thomas Edison himself produce, direct, or have other involvement in the film?

A: No, other than being owner of the company that made it. Frankenstein was filmed at Edison Studios in the Bronx, New York.

The Three Faces of FrankensteinQ: Which horror movie legend played The Monster: Lon Chaney Jr., Boris Karloff, or Bela Lugosi?


A: The answer is "yes." Karloff played the character in the famous 1931 film Frankenstein, while Chaney took the role for The Ghost of Frankenstein and Lugosi played it in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.


Q: Who played Victor Frankenstein and Igor in the classic 1931 film?


A: Nobody. Those characters didn't exist in that film. The doctor's name was Henry Frankenstein (although he's never referred to as "doctor"), and his assistant was Fritz. Victor Moritz was the name of the doctor's friend (who seemed much more interested in Elizabeth than Henry).


Q: So when did Igor come about?

A: Ygor, as he's properly known, first appeared in the 1939 sequel Son of Frankenstein.

Beatles references, Blackenstein, Playgirl magazine and why everyone was scared of Franken Berry cereal, all after the jump...

Q: What are the official sequels to the 1931 Frankenstein film?

A: The "Universal Studios series," as it's known, runs as follows:

Frankenstein (1931)
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
House of Frankenstein (1944)

And because they're Universal films from the same era that also feature The Monster, some lists also include:

House of Dracula (1945)
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

crosses.jpgQ: Is there any imagery to watch out for in the 1931 film?

A: Absolutely. Check out the crosses in the graveyard at the beginning of the story; compare them to the windmill at the end (and notice how Henry falls on one of them). The "dancing skeleton" in the surgical theater seems to shadow what's to come. When Henry finally leaves his laboratory to spend time with Elizabeth, he tells her, "it's like heaven being with you again" - perhaps the afterlife that he's denied the bodies he's culled for his experiments. And speaking of those bodies: while Henry's not hesitant to disturb the dead, he's not willing to kill. When it's suggested that he destory his monster, he calls it "murder."

Q: Who brought The Monster "to life" in 3D?

A: Well, there are two answers to this question. View-Master did in 1976 with a series of three reels. More famously, Andy Warhol did in his three-dimensional feature film, Flesh for Frankenstein. [Author's Note: A friend and I saw this film in a theater in downtown Athens, Georgia, in the early 1980s. We were the only two in the place, and the only thing I remember about it is some guy's liver at the end of a long pole, sticking in your face. Ew.]

Q: How is The Monster related to another towering menace, Darth Vader?

A: David Prowse, the British weightlifter who was the man inside the Darth Vader suit in the original Star Wars film trilogy, also portrayed The Monster in three films, including 1967's Casino Royale.

Q: In what year was the feature film Frankenstein 1970 released?

A: 1958, of course.

Q: And in what year was the feature film Frankenstein '80 released?

A: 1972, naturally.

Q: Finally, in what year was the feature film Frankenstein '90 released?

A: 1984. Duh.

Q: Who portrayed The Monster on film, and went on to pose nude for Playgirl?

A: Gary Conway. His first film role was as The Monster in 1957's I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. (He lied, he was 21.) He became a well-known TV star, appearing on Burke's Law and Land of the Giants in the 1960s, and then went nude before the camera as the centerfold in a 1973 issue of Playgirl.

BlackensteinQ: There was Blacula... why wasn't there Blackenstein?

A: Actually, there was. The 1973 film told an updated version of the tale, featuring a paraplegic Vietnam vet who was reconstructed into The Monster.

Q: What 1966 movie was offered to theaters as a double-feature with Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter?

A: Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. Yes, really.

Q: What late vocalist appeared in 1990's Frankenstein Unbound?

A: INXS's Michael Hutchence, in the role of Percy Shelley.

Q: What twist on the Frankenstein story has earned more than $150 million at the box office, almost all of it in the years following its 1975 release?

A: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In the film, a quirky doctor named Frank N. Furter (Tim Curry) brings his creature (Rocky) to life. Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick and Richard O'Brien (who wrote the story and played Riff-Raff) join up to sing "Over at the Frankenstein Place."

Q: What is the Kevin Bacon Number of the most famous Monster, Boris Karloff?

A: Two. Karloff appeared in The Venetian Affair (1967) with Ed Asner, who appeared in JFK (1991) with Kevin Bacon. (Asner is best known for his role as Lou Grant on TV's The Mary Tyler Moore Show.)

MariaQ: What famous scene was initially cut from the 1931 Frankenstein film because it was deemed too gruesome?

A: The one where a confused Monster hurls little Maria into the water. At the beginning of the segment, The Monster joins the young girl in throwing flowers into a pond, but after running out of flowers, the baffled creature hurls Maria into the water, and then runs away when he sees that she doesn't float like the flowers did. Boris Karloff asked that the scene be removed.

Q: What's the most humorous takeoff on the Frankenstein story?

A: Without question, it would be Mel Brooks' 1974 film Young Frankenstein. Enjoy some interviews and outtakes here and here.

TV/ANIMATION:

Q: Franklin 'Frank' Frankenstein was a member of what short-lived cartoon band of the 1970s?

A: The Groovie Goolies. The fictional music group joined Sabrina, the Teenage Witch on an animated series before eventually getting their own show. An album was also released in an attempt to cash in on the show's success.

Q: What actor portrayed both a "serious" Monster in Frankenstein 1970 and a darned goofy one on the sitcom Monster Squad?

A: Mike Lane. The six-foot, eight-inch actor was a natural to portray Frank N. Stein in the (mercifully) short-lived 1976 TV series Monster Squad, about three wax museum horror figures that came to life. In case you ever wondered what Fred Grandy did before The Love Boat came along, now you know.

Q: In Yellow Submarine, which member of The Beatles drank a potion and transformed from The Monster into his "normal" self?

A: John Lennon.

Frankenlennon

~ ...and that's how Frankie baby was born ~Q: How did the 1960s sitcom The Munsters escape the legal wrath of Universal Studios over the use of a Frankenstein's Monster-like character (Herman Munster)?

A: Because the TV show was a Universal production. Convenient, eh? It's a wonder Fred Gwynne lasted as long as he did (two seasons) in his role as Fred Munster. Not only did the makeup take three hours to apply every morning, but the costume weighed 40 pounds and caused him a considerable amount of back pain.

Q: What type of creature was Hanna-Barbera's Frankenstein Junior?

A: Oddly, a crime-fighting robot. Ted Cassidy (The Addams Family's Lurch) voiced the character, with Dick Beals (Davey of Davey & Goliath) as his young inventor, Buzz Conroy. The characters appeared in a short-lived mid-1960s cartoon series titled Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles.

Here's a quick clip.

Franken BerryQ: Who voiced Franken Berry in the cereal's original animated commercials?

A: Bob McFadden, the late performer who lent his pipes to dozens of cartoon and commercial characters over the years. The elderly-sounding voice that, for many years, provided the tagline "Pepperidge Farm remembers"? It was his. He also talked for the parrot who cried "Ring around the collar!" in the long-running commercial for Wisk laundry detergent.

Here's a trio of 1970s TV commercials, beginning with the introduction of Franken Berry. (If you're a cereal hound, you might enjoy our recent cereal quiz, Spoon Candy.)

Q: What other TV commercials have featured The Monster?

A: There have been dozens. Here are a few of our favorites:

Twix
Shasta
Teddy Ruxpin
Volkswagen
Pepsi
Radio Shack
and, yes, even Osteo Bi-Flex

IN SONG:

Back Off BoogalooQ: Frankenstein appeared in the promotional video (and on the picture sleeve) of what Ringo Starr single?

A: "Back Off Boogaloo." Enjoy the video here (or at least pretend you did).

Q: How did Edgar Winter's instrumental hit "Frankenstein" earn its name?

A: Because it was spliced together from many, many bits of tape that Winter had recorded himself, playing various instruments.

While this video shows The Edgar Winter Group performing the song live, Ed played all the instruments himself for the studio cut.

Q: What rocker called his signature red patchwork guitar "Frankenstein"?

A: Eddie Van Halen. (See if you can spot it "“ and other signature rock instruments "“ in our A Few Strings Attached quiz.)

Q: What classic rock hit was inspired by a scene in the Mel Brooks film Young Frankenstein?

A: Aerosmith's "Walk This Way." Steven Tyler revealed that the band saw the film late one evening after a recording session for the Toys in the Attic album. He was inspired by a gag scene where Igor prompts Dr. Frankenstein to "walk this way" and then shuffles along (which the doctor mimics). Tyler liked the phrase, and he and Joe Perry used it as the title of what became one of the band's best-known songs.

Q: What Halloween song was made into a Frankenstein movie in 1995?

A: "Monster Mash." And let me tell you, this movie has everything. Bobby 'Boris' Pickett (who sang the hit tune "Monster Mash") as Dr. Frankenstein. John "˜The Cryptkeeper' Kassir as Igor. Candace Cameron dressed up like Shakespeare's Juliet. A Count-and-Countess Dracula. Choreographed dancing. Jimmie "˜J.J.' Walker. And, yes, Elvis. Why this movie is not out on DVD is indeed a mystery.

Q: What vocalist sometimes returned to stage for an encore on the shoulders of a roadie dressed as Frankenstein's Monster?

A: Freddie Mercury of Queen. His song "Bicycle Race" from the 1978 Jazz album included references to many pop culture characters (including Superman and Star Wars) and characters from these films were also used as fodder for the role.
Other musical acts have made reference to the character, include Alice Cooper (with "Feed My Frankenstein") and Parliament, who recorded the album The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein.

POP CULTURE:

Q: What 1985 Nintendo arcade video game challenged the player to a match of strength against a purple Monster clone named Frank Junior?

A: Arm Wrestling. The young Frank was the fifth and most difficult of the game's opponents, and can distract a player by spitting flames into his face. The game was a spin-off from Nintendo's popular Punch-Out!! game. And, thanks to a joystick, it was less violent than this arm wrestling game.

Q: Why did Franken Berry cereal caused some real fear when introduced in late 1971?

A: The artificial coloring resulted in red stools, which alarmed parents and doctors who thought it was blood.

Q: Where can you visit an attraction called The House of Frankenstein?

A: Actually, there are (at least) two such places. One is in Lake George in the Adirondacks in New York state, and the other is just north of there, on Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

Q: Has The Monster ever appeared on a U.S. postage stamp?

A: Not once, but twice! In 1997 and again in 2002.

postage stamps

Q: After more than a decade away from the Legitimate Theatre, what actress returns to Broadway next month as Elizabeth in the Mel Brooks stage musical Young Frankenstein?

A: Megan Mullally, perhaps best known for her role as Karen Walker on TV's Will and Grace.

Q: In Part 1 of this UnFAQ, we learn that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was spurred on by a natural disaster. Dean Koontz updated the story in a series that began in 2004; what natural disaster served to stall his Frankenstein series at Book Two?

A: Hurricane Katrina. In the book, Dr. Frankenstein is a present-day New Orleans resident. Koontz had to start over on Book Three after the flood, and has apparently struggled in his attempts to incorporate the real-life tragedy into the story. The third book was initially due in 2006, and fans are hopeful that the revised publication date of this third book "“ Summer 2008 "“ will hold true.

Part II tomorrow!

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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