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Weekend Word Wrap: cryptic words

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I was tempted to categorize this post in my running feature, Things considered a big deal in Europe but not in the States, because, sadly, cryptic puzzles haven't really caught on here like they have in England, where they were invented and popularized. Originally an extension of the crossword puzzle, Edward Powys Mathers is thought to be the first person to write cryptic clues exclusively (first for The Saturday Westminster in 1925 and then The Observer).

So what is a cryptic puzzle clue exactly? Well, the short answer goes something like this: it's a clue that contains a word puzzle within it. To solve the larger puzzle, you first have to solve all the tiny puzzles buried in the clues. And, just to make your job more interesting, you also have to figure out what kind of puzzle the author is employing, as there exists a small pantload of different varieties. Because we'd be here all the-blog-long, I'm only going to run down a list of the clues you need to know today before I send you off on your own to solve some fun clues created especially for us by my friend Tom Toce. (For the seasoned puzzle solvers out there, feel free to skip on past this part.)

First off, almost every cryptic clue is divided into two parts: the definition and the wordplay. Sometimes the definition will come first, sometimes the wordplay will come first. Part of your job is to figure out how to read the clue before attempting to solve it. On top of all this, there will usually be a parenthetical number at the end of the clue, as well. Don't freak out! It simply lets you know how many letters are in the answer.

Now then, here are six very common cryptic puzzle clue categories:

The Anagram clue: In this clue, one side of the clue contains an anagram. You will also find an anagram tip-off word, or indicator that lets you know there's an anagram in the clue. Often-employed tip-off words include strange, mixed up, muddled, wild, and drunk. Here's an example of an anagram clue:

A slice of meat looks strange on a skate (5)

So here, "a slice of meat" is the definition, found on the left side of the clue, while "looks strange on" is your tip-off that there's an anagram in the clue and skate is the word to be rearranged. The answer contains 5 letters, so it can only be STEAK. Steak is a slice of meat and it's also an anagram of skate.

The Hidden Answer clue: As it sounds, here one part of the clue has the definition and the other has a hidden answer stretched over multiple words. There will also be your good friend again, the tip-off word, or indicator. For container clues, these include hides, incorporates, is part of, and going through. Here's an example of a hidden answer:

Smart youngster incorporates best picture in 1955 (5)

Here, our 5-letter answer is defined on the right side of the clue: "best picture in 1955" "“ and that would be MARTY, of course. And then the word incorporated in sMART Youngster, is, of course, also MARTY.

The Homophone clue: This is a fun one, maybe my favorite. Here you're looking for two words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same way. The tip-off word will always be related to sound, speech, or the ear, etc. Here's an example:

Sounds like the part he played in that film went down hill (4)

So here, the clue begins with a tip-off phrase "Sounds like," and then you get your homophones: "the part he played in that film" is a role and "went down hill" is another roll. Because both homophones contain 4 letters, here, the answer would be ROLE, not roll, because the homophone closest to the indicator is always the correct answer. (Obviously if the two words were they're and their, the parenthetical number would give you your answer.)

The Deletion clue: In this clue, one or more letters need to be removed. Most often, words lose the first letter (called "beheading") or the last letter, or sometimes even internal letters. Indicators that there's a deletion needed include chop off, remove, off, take, etc. Here's an example:

Paint without tea to develop an ache (4)

Here the definition is on the right side of the clue "an ache" and the word play is on the left Paint-t=PAIN.

The Double Definition clue: In this one, there is no wordplay. You just have two definitions to deal with, and sometimes the two are homographs, to boot! Here's a classic example:
Shoe coating from Warsaw (6)
Get it? "Shoe coating" is polish and someone "from Warsaw" is Polish! Fun, right?

The Combination Clue: Here you'll find two different puzzle-clues in one clue. I know what you're thinking: oh joy. But, honestly, they are pretty cool once you get the hang of "˜em. Other tip-offs you want to look for in the clues: the word even usually means you only want to use even letters in a word (the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and so on), while odd sometimes means the odd numbers (but also might mean there's an anagram, so be careful!).
As in crosswords, other languages as well as abbreviations can be used. "In French" often means you have to translate a word into French. So if you see "she said in French" you're probably looking for elle. Saint might actually be St, which could be used in a container. Here's an example:
Saint Baseball Referee joined up for base of tree (5)
Answer? STUMP, of course. (Saint = st + ump "baseball referee")

For a complete list of all the different types of clues, you can check out this cool site here. But, as I promised, today's warm-up clues really only use the types I just described above.

Tom Toce put these 10 clues together for us. (Hint: Each answer has something to do with Albert Einstein.) Tom has published puzzles in The Sondheim Review, Contingencies, and on the NY Times Puzzle Forum Web site.

albert-einstein-1.jpgHave fun with "˜em and check back at the end of the weekend for the answers. In two weeks, we'll try a much harder, full-scale cryptic puzzle and the first to solve it will get a nifty mental_floss book from our store. So practice now and gear up for the biggie, coming soon"¦ Meanwhile, let's see who can get all 10 of these first! Bragging rights, anyone? anyone?

  1. Christmas around the 7th?--dynamite, man (5)
  2. William or Harry takes 2000 pounds to school (9)
  3. Re-order three in medium (5)
  4. Sam's hysterical church service (4)
  5. Dad, the big top is there for all to see (6)
  6. Swiss city to go up in flames, I hear (4)
  7. Grant for one theory of relativity (7)
  8. Manger destroyed by the Nazis, for example (6)
  9. Emit retro publication (4)
  10. Eurydice left out the cubes (4)
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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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Opening Ceremony
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:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


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]